Are Privacy and the Honor Code Compatible?

It’s the beginning of term, and the new frosh class are met with their first challenge of the year: attempting to socialize with random upperclass students. Each night for their first week at Caltech they rotate, attending events from all the houses, trying to find the perfect fit for their four years at Caltech. Then comes the cannon fire, and rotation comes to an end. The end of rotation brings every frosh a new housing assignment they have to move into. A very exhausting day follows as frosh move across campus, the dread of the boat problem and the first week of sets lingering overhead all the while.

On October 1st, the day of move-in, an email was sent out by Emily Sanger, the Bechtel RLC (resident life coordinator). The email contained 63 temporary room codes, opening every frosh’s private room in Bechtel. These temporary room codes, while allegedly only lasting a few days, gave access to many student’s personal belongings. It’s unknown how many students these codes were sent to.

When I received this email, I was very concerned not just for my own safety, but the safety of my fellow Bechtelites. This is especially concerning, because often when frosh or upperclassmen are involved in a Title IX case, they are moved to Bechtel. Several comments from frosh passed anonymously to the Tech include: “Very weird. I wouldn’t want to give my code to everyone.” “It was ok, only because nothing bad happened.”

I reached out to a non-Bechtelite upperclassman, Winter Pearson (CNS ‘23, Dabney/Blacker), to confide in them about my concern, and they offered to reach out to Sanger, acting as an intermediary. They asked Sanger about her reasoning behind the situation, and what led her to this decision. Sanger wrote back:

“Thank you for bringing this concern to my attention and advocating on their behalf. I am happy to provide some context.

Many students were having issues getting into their new rooms. To get the codes to folks in a timely manner while juggling other issues, I did send a screen shot of the temporary codes to those who were moving. Unfortunately, I run Bechtel room picks and help with access issues by myself. In order to continue assisting folks with various other problems during the day, I put trust in the students, my instructions in the email, and the Honor Code. However, I can certainly own that this was not an ideal distribution method.

Some context that may be helpful for the student is that these codes are not permanent. They will get new ones soon. Additionally, I know we had some concerns surrounding Title IX during rotation. Any related students did not receive the email with those codes. I made sure to double check that. If there are further questions, issues, or the student would like to talk to me directly, please let me know. Again, my apologies to the student and any others who may be affected. I have already been working on a new system for the future.”

Understandably in a stressful situation, everyone is prone to mistakes, but I had several concerns with this response. Firstly, I was staying in my room, and I had told Sanger the night before moving the room number I was staying in. Yet I still got this email, and my code was included despite there being nobody moving into my room. Secondly, in her statement she mentioned that Title IX related students did not receive this email. However, this is problematic for many reasons because it implies the only concerns from TIX are from repeat offenders. Lastly, the only apology Sanger issued was in her response to Pearsons email with the concerns and she has not apologized to the frosh in Bechtel.

A much better method of distributing these codes would have been sending them to each individual student. While this would have been more time consuming, the RLCs and RA’s biggest priority should be to keep their students safe. When asked how they were going to change this system in the future, we didn’t receive a response.