The most glaring change to the Georgetown University residential experience this academic year has perhaps been the introduction of cell phone-based electronic locks on all non-apartment-style dorms.
“These easy-to-use new locks improve the safety and security of on-campus residences and reduce the hassle and cost of lost keys,” a university spokesperson wrote in a Sept. 8 email to The Hoya.
In July 2022, the university announced that the dorm room locks in 12 of the undergraduate residence halls had been converted from physical keys to Switch Tech Bluetooth-activated locks, while digital GoCard access to enter a residential dorm and use the elevator remains the same as before.
Some students report, however, that the new technology hasn’t fulfilled the university’s goals. The increased probability of being locked out as a result of dead phone batteries and glitches in the technology itself means that the new system seems to pose more problems than it solves.
The Editorial Board calls on Georgetown University to supplement the new system with adequate fail-safes: creating outdoor charging stations, eliminating lockout fees in instances where the technology fails and offering reliable tech support.
For students, uncharged phones are a significant liability. The GoCard technology to enter residence halls still functions when a phone initially dies, but will also eventually stop working once the battery runs out of reserve power. When students are locked out of the building at night, they report feeling concerned for their safety.
For Quinn Ogle (COL ’25), getting locked out of a dorm building at night sparks fears about safety.
“Especially at night, if I couldn’t get into my dorm, I would wait for five minutes in case someone could let me in, otherwise I would wait in a public area like Lau,” Ogle told The Hoya.
Likewise, Saisha Dani (SFS ’25), is uncomfortable with the idea of being alone and unable to enter her room.
“In a situation where my phone is dead and I am stranded outside my dorm at night, I definitely feel unsafe,” Dani said.
Furthermore, students cannot call the Georgetown University Police Department (GUPD) or their Residential Assistant (RA) if their phones are dead, and must walk to the Harbin Key Room or the GUPD station. This situation can become especially dangerous in poor weather conditions or if the student is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. All of these problems existed when the sole technological barrier to entry was the GoCard. However, the new digital keys require a resident to open an app on their phone to activate the lock, making it impossible to enter a dorm room without a functioning phone even if someone helps them enter the building.
Realizing it would be a large and likely expensive overhaul to revert to the physical key and GoCard system, the Editorial Board recommends the university install charging stations in front of every dorm so students can quickly and easily charge their phones if needed. While this solution does not entirely eliminate the risk of a safety threat, these stations will significantly decrease the amount of time a student spends stranded outside their dorm, and therefore decrease the likelihood of an incident that threatens student safety.
Furthemore, dead phones are not the only problem the new system poses. Students have reported experiences with glitches with the lock mechanism that prevent them from either locking or entering their room, both being a serious threat to their safety.
For instance, Prisha Punjabi (COL ’25) told The Hoya that her physical lock does not currently work.
“My lock doesn’t work at all. The door doesn’t lock from the outside, making the app useless, and it means that anyone can walk in at any time,” Punjabi said.
In the event of a technical glitch or mechanical problem, the main point of contact would be the student’s RA or the Harbin Key Room. However, the university charges students $10 to have their rooms opened by an RA or university employee after 10 p.m. This penalty puts a burden on students to pay for a problem that may be the result of a technical glitch beyond their control.
Logan Richman (SFS ’25) experienced anxiety caused by a technical problem that would have ultimately required him to pay the fee.
“My roommate and I got back to the dorm around 10 p.m. and went to unlock the lock but touching it wouldn’t wake it up, and we tried for a few minutes until it finally did,” Richman told The Hoya. “But there was definitely a fear that we would be locked out, and have to go to the Harbin Key room and pay the fee.”
The university must eliminate lockout fees for any issues related to the app or lock failing. As students adapt to the electronic locks and the new school year, penalization for circumstances that are beyond their control is unjust.
Furthermore, the university should partner with Switch Tech to offer easy tech support in order to address technical issues and glitches. Reliable access to free help will lessen student anxiety, improve safety and reduce the burden on RAs and university staff, who may not have the same level of technical knowledge.
The Editorial Board applauds the university for taking action toward improving campus security and reducing the inconvenience and expense of key loss. But hopefully, with added measures, the execution of this system can match the integrity of its intention.
The Hoya’s editorial board is composed of six students and is chaired by the opinion editors. Editorials reflect only the beliefs of a majority of the board and are not representative of The Hoya or any individual member of the board.