The guardians of Peirce Hall: A night with a security desk attendant
Updated: Apr 21
By Emily Rosenberg
It is 9 p.m. on a rainy Wednesday night.
The lobby of Peirce hall is so quiet, the hum of the HVAC system fills the room like a symphony. The overhead lamps are excruciatingly bright and reminiscent of an ’80s movie.
Mike passes his time adding sherbert orange bands to a rubber band ball. As the ball gets bigger, he starts to bounce it up and down on the marble desk he sits behind.
The ball, which has grown to the size of a softball, tumbles across the wooden floor of the lobby landing next to a smaller desk adjacent to Mike’s.
Mike said he would pick up the rubber band ball, but he can’t - it is against the rules.
In fact, Mike can’t leave the desk to go to the bathroom, visit a friend, get a drink of water, or buy a snack, unless he finds another employee of Residence Life to watch the desk while he does so.
A security desk attendant’s (SDA) job is simple. They sit at the front desk of a residence hall and watch the door and computer monitor to ensure everyone who walks in the building is a person with keycard access.
Glenn Cochran, associate dean of student life, said the role of the SDA is to “enhance safety and security by screening and monitoring all individuals entering the residence hall main entry, greet residents and guests, enforce policies, maintain accurate records, and refer residents and guests to appropriate staff.”
He added, “The presence of SDAs helps make residents feel more secure in their campus home. There are many residents who know individuals they would not want showing up at their door, and the role played by SDAs helps.”
Mike, an SDA, will be working the desk for the next few hours.
The desk must be maintained 24/7. Therefore, SDAs take shifts at all hours of the day and night. Once they are on their shift, they cannot leave their desk unless it is an emergency or they call an employee of residence life, such as another SDA, to watch the desk for them while they are gone.
Mike said he typically watches Netflix during his shift - his favorite show is “The Walking Dead.” Tonight, he spent time talking to people in the lobby and making a new friend. Jenna, who worked the shift prior to Mike’s, said there’s a lot to being an SDA, but what she loves most about it is talking to the residents who walk in and out of the building.
She said over the six months she has worked as an SDA, she has made three or four new friends.
Jenna only works six hours per week, but said she cherishes her time there because she can get in the zone and focus on finishing homework. Then, when she finishes her homework, she’ll move on to reading a book - right now she is working through “Our Violent Ends” by Chloe Gong.
Another woman walking through the lobby is wearing headphones and is carrying two boxes of just-add-water mac-n-cheese. As soon as she sees Jenna, she tears off her headphones to engage in a conversation. “What is that book?” she asked Jenna. Soon, they burst into bubbly laughter.
When Jenna and Mike switch shifts at 9 p.m. Devon, the resident assistant (RA) on duty for the night, also opened the RA Office for visiting hours.
SDAs are also responsible for signing in residents’ guests into the building by logging the resident and guest’s name and ID. While signing in a resident, Mike was asked, “So you’re kinda like the guardians of the building?” He responded, “Yeah, I never really thought of it that way, but that’s kinda cool.”
Mike also explained an important part of an SDA’s job which is filing incident reports. He said these are reports SDAs and RAs have to make to Residence Life when misconduct occurs.
“It’s all on camera,” Mike said, adding that when incident reports are filed, University Police need to review footage. He made a slightly embarrassed smile, realizing that that means there’s also footage of him continuously dropping the rubber band ball.
Beyond the rubber bands, Mike also revealed that there is a hammer and a doorknob in the drawer of the desk.
Throughout Jenna and Mike’s shifts, around 24 people signed in and out of Peirce Hall, while 10 walked up or down the hallway.
And there was no shortage of eccentricity in the people who entered and exited. One group of women scurried into the building wearing bright pastel pajamas and boasting about the Eras Tour. Another couple walked in wearing sparkling silver outfits, as if they’d just come back from a concert. And another man, wearing a bright neon Nike T-shirt, gray sweatpants, and neon orange crocs, clanged his keys loudly through the hallway.
Two men walked by twice throughout the night at different times, but for the same reason - they were locked out of their dorm and needed an RA to unlock their room. Mike said this rarely happens, so it was “weird” that it occurred twice in one night.
At 11:55 p.m. Mike looked tired. But now he was flipping through the pages of an online pamphlet, studying for his pilot license - determined.
However, come midnight, he shut his laptop and stood up from the desk for the first time in three hours as the next SDA took the reins. The residents of Peirce Hall were getting ready for morning classes, and most were already tucked silently in their warm beds.
But the security desk attendant would remain awake and on duty.