Emergency exits come in handy in times of fire, earthquake, flood—and apparently blistering student activism.
The University of California-Berkeley, a school famous for its history of student protests dating back to the 1960s, built an emergency escape door in its main administrative office last weekend in case future protests get too rowdy, according to campus newspaper The Daily Californian.
The newly installed exit cost $9,000 and is a direct response to a series of protests last year in which students staged a sit-in outside Chancellor Nicholas Dirks’ office, essentially barricading administrators inside. (Campus police officers eventually forced the students out of the building.) The door is in addition to a $700,000 fence erected around the chancellor’s house, which a university spokesperson told the Daily Cal has been been the target of ”increasingly violent attacks,” including vandalism and torch-throwing.
Pragmatic as the two measures may be, they’re drawing their share of criticism—particularly from students and educators who wonder whether the university is sending a message that it wants to avoid or dismiss confrontation, rather than address students’ concerns. Terms like “elitist,” “inaccessible,” and “out of touch” have been thrown around, though the school says that the move is to ensure collective safety.
As American universities grapple with mounting student protests over issues that range from racial tension to faculty diversity to broad administrative strategy messaging is becoming more important. Schools, like companies, put out a certain image when they make physical changes; there’s a reason the open office floor plan has become so popular.