Homeless individuals have frequently been using the International Affairs Building (IAB) as a source of shelter and complimentary food. These reports have raised concerns among students and faculty about the security of the International Affairs Building.
Aline Sara (MIA ’14) “noticed an older man with his newspapers, a few bags, and food” while she was working on a group project in the 6th floor café on a Friday night. “He didn’t look like a Columbia University community member,” Sara said.
When Sara returned to school at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning, she found the man where she had left him. “It was pretty clear he had spent the night.”
This issue is not exclusive to the IAB. Anya Schiffrin, director of the International Media, Advocacy and Communications specialization, attended an event recently at the Heyman Center, a building with undergraduate dormitories, where a Columbia University ID (CUID) is required for entrance. The professor encountered a homeless person with torn clothes and several bags wandering around freely before sitting down at a panel discussion.
“I was shocked at how defensive [Public Safety] was when I called to inquire about their policies,” Professor Schiffrin said. Schiffrin was told by Public Safety that responsibility for attendants of events fell to event organizers.
“I don’t really see why we pay for security guards to staff events if they are going to pass the buck back to the students and faculty organizing the events on campus.”
When Vice President of Public Safety, Jim McShane, was contacted, he said he was “unable to accommodate” a request for a comment.
“The IAB is rarely mentioned in public safety reports, and facilities and security were ranked very high on the student satisfaction survey,” stated Associate Dean, Patrick Bohan. Bohan mentioned that Columbia has an open-campus policy and that most buildings do not require a CUID upon entry.
“If people feel uncomfortable, they should call Public Safety, which is available twenty four hours,” he added.
Other schools with campuses in New York City, such as Fordham University and NYU, have much stricter policies regarding public access to school buildings.
At Fordham University’s Law School near Lincoln Center, security is present at both entrances, and students must present their IDs upon entering. Similar procedures exist at NYU’s main campus in Greenwich Village.
When asked whether Columbia or the IAB should have such a policy, reactions among SIPA students were mixed. To many students, the thought of having to swipe an I.D. at the door is not appealing.
“I studied in a closed campus environment for undergrad, and you couldn’t even get onto the campus, much less the buildings, without an ID,” said Yigit Canay (MIA ’14). “I much prefer his open-campus policy that Columbia has because it is less exclusive.”
Aymane Saidi (MIA ’13), however, felt that non-community members could pose a security risk. Once the IAB is closed to those without CUIDs, “someone should walk around to check that everyone in the building is a community member. I haven’t seen that happen.”
Even so, SIPA is part of a wider context as a global public policy school located in New York City, which boasts a large number of homeless people. Though Sara highlighted the possible security issue, she also expressed that she was torn about the matter.
“Part of me would feel bad about seeing them out in the street or kicked out of the building.”
Just last month, the Coalition for the Homeless released a report estimating the number of homeless people in the metropolis at more than 50,000 – a level unseen since the Great Depression.
Micha Meredith (MIA ’14) questions why students at one of the world’s most prestigious public policy schools do not get more involved in local issues. “At SIPA, I think it’s easy to lose sight of pressing issues that concern all New Yorkers.”
SIPA students may only spend two years in New York, “but they enjoy the benefits of this culturally rich city and should find time to contribute to this place we currently call home.”