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Clarifying the Trespass Policy

The recent arrest of former Toscanini’s employee Theodore Bell for trespassing in the Coffeehouse demonstrates the confusion surrounding the policy for trespassing in the Stratton Student Center. To avoid further confusion, and unfortunate incidents such as that of the Bell case, the Institute must clearly and publicly articulate exactly what it considers trespassing.

The policy of subjecting the whole building to a “no trespassing” prohibition, as is currently posted on the entrance to the Student Center, is ludicrous. One logical interpretation of this restriction is that no person unaffiliated with MIT is allowed in the building. But the Institute profits when those unaffiliated with MIT frequent the small businesses on the lower floors of the center. Clearly, those outside the community wishing to conduct business in the Student Center should not be excluded. To exclude outsiders from the upper floors, which house student activities, the reading room, and an Athena cluster, seems more sensible. Such a policy would be much better than current practice, where Campus Activities Complex director Philip A. Walsh says, “It’s hard to give a hard and fast rule.”

In practice, the trespassing policy is carried out on a case-by-case basis; a suspected offender is subject to the whims of the Campus Police officer who accosts him or her. A system that relies so heavily on officers’ personal judgements is unfair and unacceptable. An activity constituting trespassing to one officer may not be such an activity to another.

To prevent a situation similar to Bell’s from arising again, the Institute must work swiftly to meet three goals. First, it needs to draft a clear set of rules regarding exactly what constitutes trespassing in the Student Center. Second, MIT must openly disseminate these rules through posting and publication, ensuring that all members of the community and those outside the community visiting the Student Center are aware of the Institute’s regulations. Third, and perhaps most importantly, the MIT community must expect and demand fair enforcement of the trespassing rules. Anything less than a wholly equitable administration of these policies will waste any effort exerted in creating a sensible -- and publicly known -- policy for trespassing in the Student Center.