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In defense of limiting ID card access

| Monday, September 2, 2019

Notre Dame recently instituted a controversial policy with regards to accessing residence halls on campus. In short, students who do not live in a given residence hall will no longer have access to that hall. The University claims that this is in the interest of campus safety. I believe that this policy change is in the best interest of Notre Dame, despite the numerous arguments to the contrary.

First off, I reject the idea that the practice of entering a residence hall in which one does not live will become any more difficult. I live in the smallest and most remote hall on campus and there is nearly always someone available to open the door to an outsider, usually without question. Anybody who has forgotten or lost their ID card knows this is true for his or her own residence hall.

I’ve heard the claim that this is not a matter of practicality, but a matter of principle. Why should we be limiting the communities Notre Dame claims to be promoting and protecting? That question misunderstands the nature of the hall community our University cultivates. The goal is not total liberty to go where one chooses and associate with whomever one likes; if it were, we would have been able to choose our residence halls for our first year. Instead, Notre Dame fosters communities grounded in mutual support and common experience, where we become brothers and sisters not because we choose to do so but because we are called to do so. Prohibiting access to other residence halls does not impede but reinforce this sense of community by making clear the connection between the hall community and the building we are assigned to grow in together.

That is not to say that the incidental exclusion of off-campus seniors also promotes the true nature of residential community. I heartily disagree with the University’s proposed policy to exclude these students from hall events such as dances and interhall sports. These students are an integral part of their respective hall communities, and the administration should focus not on disincentivizing off-campus living but on fixing the problems that currently exist with residential life.

However, I think the access these students have to their former residences can be limited without harming the communities within those residences, and the safety rationale described by the University demands that limitation. Off-campus seniors tend to have respect and sway in their former residences without being under the supervision or management of hall staff. They cannot be held responsible in the way that all other community members can. Given the wrong set of circumstances, one can easily imagine seniors entering a residence hall and engaging in dangerous or discriminatory behavior without the staff knowing they are even in the building.

With the new policy in place, at least all non-residents entering a building will have to knock or in some way engage with a resident, making it much more likely that hall staff will be aware of the visitor’s presence. Off-campus seniors should be welcomed, but safety must be the first priority.

Others have objected that the policy will disproportionately affect minority students by excluding those who moved off-campus for financial reasons or because they felt ostracized in their on-campus communities. While I agree disproportionate effects should be taken into account more often in decision-making, I don’t see in this instance why that would be the case. As I’ve already argued, I don’t think it will truly be much harder to access residence halls, so I am unsympathetic to the claim that low-income, off-campus students will be hurt by the change. Furthermore, the exclusion of minority students on campus won’t be solved by their inclusion once they move off-campus; the University needs to address ostracization at its roots, not try to mitigate its effects.

I also believe the aforementioned safety rationale proposed by the administration to be compelling. I feel safe on Notre Dame’s campus, but that’s also because I’m a larger-sized male who comes from a safe and secure background. If I were a smaller person, a woman, or had experienced trauma, I might very well feel unsafe in a building to which 8,500 people had instant access. I would feel much better knowing that everybody in my residence hall was either a resident or someone let in by a resident. Safety and security is something Notre Dame must take seriously, and increasingly so; if our society seeks to genuinely combat the devastation of sexual assault on college campuses, of course every reasonable measure should be taken to do so.

I understand where people are coming from when they decry the University’s decision to restrict residence access. But I think those people are misguided and fail to see the underlying efforts to protect our most vulnerable. Notre Dame isn’t interested in giving its students every possible freedom to move about campus; it’s interested in protecting and developing its residence communities, and this is the right move to do so.


Vince Mallett is a junior at Notre Dame majoring in philosophy with a minor in constitutional studies. He is proud to hail from Carroll Hall and northern New Jersey. Vince can be reached at [email protected] or @vince_mallett on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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