Library policy unnecessary, exclusionary
Last Sunday, a friend and I entered Alexander Library to catch up on work due the following week. When the clock struck 10 and library staff began to enforce the new policy requiring students to show identification, we refused to be identified, protesting a policy we saw as classist, exclusionary and unnecessary. More than an hour later, Rutgers University Police Department officers escorted us out of the library.
Two things struck me about the evening: First, the policy was incredibly labor intensive. Library staff needed to check each of the several hundred students’ IDs, and later, they needed to guide RUPD officers to the locations of those who refused to show them. When I was escorted out of the library around 11:30 p.m., there were four police cars parked on College Avenue. This alone is concerning. The fact that there was a fairly large police presence in the library, not to protect students but to eject unhoused, should certainly raise eyebrows. If this policy continues, it seems reasonable to believe that a similar police presence will be required every night.
Secondly, the policy’s first night showed how clearly unnecessary it is. My friend and I had no trouble finding seats, and the crowd only got smaller as the night wore on. Alexander is an enormous building, and only a small number of non-students spend time there. This policy is enormously labor intensive, but accomplishes very little.
Supporters of the policy often complain that non-students make them feel uncomfortable. Karenn Marin, in a widely shared article for The Odyssey Online, writes that, “Students who utilize the library are there to study and to concentrate on their schoolwork. It is only the homeless people that mistakenly feel that it is appropriate to push couches together to create makeshift beds for themselves.” She further argues that Rutgers is under no legal obligation to help anyone other than students. Homelessness, they say, is a sad fact of life, but it is not our problem. Marin goes on to note that “it is a sad situation in which the homeless find themselves in, but it is not the responsibility of the school to find a solution for them.”
They are likely correct. Rutgers, as the New Jersey branch of the American Civil Liberties Union has pointed out, is not breaking any laws in implementing this policy. But perhaps we need to rise above our legal obligations and consider our moral obligations. As Shireen Hamza eloquently noted in her Targum op-ed last week, there is always a waiting list for the men’s shelter in New Brunswick, and the only women’s shelter requires a woman to have at least one child. Women without children, couples and those who cannot find a space in either shelter are left to spend the night outside. For many, this policy means an extra four hours in the freezing cold.
Too often, we think of the unhoused as unnamed mass and not as individuals. Each and every person affected by this policy has a name, a family, thoughts, feelings, hopes and dreams. They deserve our compassion, they deserve our help, and they deserve our respect. Students need to change their uninformed, classist ideas about society’s most marginalized. Rutgers can do better.
Nicholas Hansen is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in political science.