OPINION: New library security measures only provide illusion of safety

Shideh Ghandeharizadeh | Daily Trojan

The Doheny, Leavey and Von KleinSmid Center libraries will require students and community members to present valid identification to enter the space starting on Sept. 4, according to an announcement from USC Libraries Dean Catherine Quinlan. Those without a university ID must present government-issued identification, or an ID from another school, until the standard 9 p.m. cut-off. Previously, students only had to scan their cards after 9 p.m.

Presenting a form of identification may seem like the easiest way to bolster security, but in reality it is the least efficient way to do so, especially in an active shooter situation. Requiring a plastic card at the library front desk is a passive and ineffective solution to valid security concerns. The changing security policies only inconveniences students, and does little to prevent threatening situations. The policy also weeds out individuals who face institutional barriers to accessing an government-issued ID, and makes it easier for the University to identify and distinguish them from students.

The only thing a formal identification document offers is the illusion of safety; it suggests credibility and association with an issuing institution, whether it be USC, another school or the government. But they only guarantee that a person possesses credibility at the time of issuance.

The possibility of a mass shooting is a primary security concern within many academic settings, and USC’s campus is not exempt. Security must be a major priority, but mass shootings will not be avoided with stricter accessibility rules into university buildings.

Perpetrators of the deadliest university mass shootings in American history have been former or current students of that institution.

The top two deadliest university shootings in American history — at Virginia Tech and the University of Texas at Austin —  were conducted by current or former students who had access to campus areas or presented false identification.

Seung-Hui Choi, a then-Virginia Tech University senior, began his shooting rampage in a co-ed residence hall, which he had access to with a scannable key card. Choi fatally shot two people in the residence hall before murdering 30 more students and faculty, as well as wounding 17, in an engineering building.

Charles Whitman, a former University of Texas, Austin student, obtained a parking permit by showing false identification as a research assistant, three years after leaving the school. Whitman was then able to enter the school’s observation deck, where he shot and killed 15 people, including an unborn child, and injuring 31 others — with a  final victim dying 48 years later from wounds sustained in the attack.

It is no coincidence that these deadly shootings were conducted by former or current students, specifically students who presented a form of valid identification. Identification is the easiest and most arbitrary form of credibility, since it brings peace of mind while never truly guaranteeing the safety that students, faculty and other university community members deserve.

The best practice for library safety is providing thoroughly trained and vetted on-site security personnel, according to the Library Journal. To combat students who may experience justified discomfort with security personnel nearby, security officials should be properly trained to provide an inclusive and safe environment for students.  Safety resources should also be posted on all visible areas in library buildings so students can immediately get help.

While administration may have approved the decision to provide identification for all the right reasons, the concept of campus safety is a tightrope. They should tread lightly, being careful to prevent both on-campus injustice and fatal tragedy. If the University truly wants to invest in the improved campus security, requiring a simple flash of ID badges is insufficient, and more decisive measures must be taken.