Vassar Urban Enrichment (VUE) operates with the goal of improving the functionality, safety and accessibility of spaces on campus. In response to student complaints regarding WiFi coverage, VUE has drafted a petition to extend coverage to areas of campus not covered by the routers in residential and administrative buildings.
The petition aims to determine locations where coverage is in highest demand, target these specific areas for improvement and, should the petition pass, begin with upgrades as early as next semester.
Founder Antoine Robinson ’18 said of the org’s goals, “ What about our environment is either inviting or restrictive ? What spaces and areas , which were once accessible , have become ‘unsafe’ due to neglected maintenance and safety code requirements ? Why have these unique spaces become less of a priority? By engaging and collaborating with different fields of thought we can come up solutions that are creatively diverse and address multiple perspectives. ”
With regard to the WiFi petition specifically, Robinson asks, “Shouldn’t we question the versatility of the spaces we inhabit? In the case of Vassar’s campus WiFi plan, it is limited to buildings and their perimeters. Limiting the reach of WiFi has limited the way residents use and interact with campus spaces. Almost unknowingly, we limit ourselves to ‘WiFi available’ spaces because of limited accessibility to ‘other’ spaces and the college’s willingness to provide access to them. To make our campus more accessible and creative, there must be an effort to improve the flexibility of these spaces and provide a more broad definition of where work, creativity and community can happen.
Outlining the hopes for the petition, he adds, “The petition gages the demand for campus-wide WiFi. With the petition, VUE aims to recognize a need and desire for more expansive WiFi. By compiling data and asking students to note where they hope to see stronger/improved/present WiFi, VUE will present these finding to Marianne Begemann, Dean of Strategic Planning, and the CIS. Then, we hope to create a short list of spaces to address immediately (by next semester or next academic term). And to continue this project until we achieved full WiFi coverage.”
Robinson underscores the importance of accessible WiFi for students without conventional cell coverage, such as those without internet plans or those with limited data usage. Consistent and strong coverage, he posits, is a crucial aspect of the campus’s livability.
Complete, or at least expanded, WiFi coverage throughout campus will surely benefit the whole of the student body. However, how feasible is this reform? What would the potential fiscal repercussions be? CIS Service Desk workers often consider these queries, wondering if the funds that would be allocated to re-routing the WiFi system could be funneled into an area of greater need.
CIS Service Desk Assistant Kimberly Nguyen ’19 said of the WiFi complaints from students, “There are too many people trying to access the WiFi at the same time, and once it hits, I think, 15 people per access point, it starts kicking people off. It’s very inconvenient if you’re trying to stay on the WiFi [especially during peak hours]. During midterm season where everyone’s trying to do everything at the same time it’s going to be very spotty.”
Kimberly Nguyen fields myriad WiFi complaints from fellow students. “In the middle of the quad there isn’t going to be any WiFi coverage, and if you do have WiFi it’s because your device has good range.”
Her co-worker, who chose to remain anonymous, argued that WiFi coverage is more than sufficient on campus. “I’m just happy having WiFi all over campus. I know at home, I have trouble getting WiFi in my room and my router’s on the other side of the house. Here, in my dorm, Main and the library the WiFi is pretty strong, and those are the main places I study.”
Ultimately, it is too soon to predict the what outcome the petition will have. The VUE has data to collect and signatures to amass, and even if they can gather enough signatures, there will still be an administrative process to tackle.
Considering the costs and challenges involved, Kimberly laughs, “I think one of the ramifications of upgrading the WiFi is that…it’s gonna be a clusterfuck.”