Residential life politics are politics too
After what one can only assume was five minutes of deliberation at a board meeting, the University has sent word of another policy change to affect daily student life. On the heels of poorly received news of the 3-year housing rule and greater restrictions for off-campus seniors, the administration has delivered another blow to student autonomy. According to an email from Notre Dame Police Department (read: NDSP), students will only be allowed to enter their own residence halls using their ID cards. Previously, students could enter any dorm outside of parietal hours. This is reportedly because of safety issues, as the University attempts to keep up with the ever-more rigorous “national best practices.”
It is peculiar that the administration should choose to focus on this particular area of campus safety when there appear to be so few complaints about it. Granted, I do know there might be a number of dorm room break-ins by fellow students, but the initiative distracts from a far graver weakness in campus security: The astounding, documentary-inspiring number of sexual assaults on campus. Undoubtedly, the administration would retort that this safety measure helps prevent sexual assault by ensuring only welcomed guests are allowed in the building. But if the administration thinks that the greatest source of campus sexual assaults is intruders sneaking into dorms in the middle of the night, then it is perhaps even more oblivious to student life than we realize.
If administrators have trouble scrounging up data to suggest that campus has been made safer, then they will simply say the benefits are immeasurable but tangible. Yet those who created this policy will be blinded by its obvious inconveniences. Students rushing to finish a group project before the midnight deadline will know exactly how costly it is to be interrupted every few minutes to answer the door; administrators will not. The Keenan kid who comes down with a cold will suffer the consequences of running to St. Edward’s without lugging a winter coat; administrators will not. If the administration is harmed by this policy at all, it will be from the lawsuit that can only be expected given the mind-blowing chill of an Indiana winter, and given how many students’ parents are lawyers.
Anyone who is not a student might not give the new safety policy a second thought. After all, “it may not make anything better, but it is certainly not hurting anyone.” Students will be quick to point out, however, that waiting for several minutes in the bitter cold is an astronomically high price to pay for an initiative that does not, in actuality, make anyone safer. This concern may seem trivial, even farcical, but not making anything better while inconveniencing everyone is a ridiculously low standard for new initiatives. By that logic, dorms should be guarded by trolls who demand riddle answers before entry and South Dining Hall should make students burn off all the calories they are about to consume before dining.
And while the policy’s official aim is to make campus safer (in some vague and unprovable way), its unofficial goal is to further isolate off-campus seniors. The administration has made clear it wants those who live off-campus to feel excommunicated by banning their participation in dorm events and other forms of camaraderie. Now off-campus seniors who wish to be part of their dorm communities are quite literally locked out of their most intimate connection to this school. Even the supposedly untouchable, uber-inclusive spiritual life seems to be edging out former residents who must now wait at the door to be greeted on their way to Mass. Nothing says “all are welcome” more than locking people out of their former home.
Beyond the sheer inconvenience of it, restricting entrance into dorms sends a mixed message. When freshmen first step on campus, they are welcomed into the Notre Dame family. They are told that they are forever linked by bonds of faith and curiosity, the audacity to strive for greatness and the humility to serve. These bonds make fellow students not just classmates, but lifelong friends and spouses. But make sure to lock the doors; you can’t trust anybody these days — not even the Notre Dame family.
One might be wondering why a politics column is commenting on such a mundane and local affair. Yet “mundane and local affair” is the best working definition for the type of politics that most directly impacts lives. Our democracy was created so that people of power would be held responsible for their actions, so that those affected might be able to properly express their indignation. Citizens do not passively observe local affairs — they work to influence them.
Of course, this University is not a microcosm of representative democracy. If it was, there would not be so many sudden changes in policy without proper student consultation. Rather, this administration has proven time and time again that it expects students to assume a default position of docility. As is the case with the bureaucracy that strangles our society at large, administrators solve imagined problems with cumbersome, unintended effects because they know so little about the people they attempt to govern.
Yet while Notre Dame is not exactly a democracy, it is hopefully a place that instills active citizenship in the minds of future business, cultural and government leaders. Thus, this administration should not just expect pushback, but— for the sake of our democracy — should hope that it will be forced to answer for its actions and abuses of power.
Sophia Sheehy is a junior from Cavanaugh Hall. She is the co-President of BridgeND, a multi-partisan political club committed to bridging the partisan divide through respectful and productive discourse. It meets on Mondays at 5pm in the McNeill Room of LaFortune Student Center to learn about and discuss current political issues, and can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @bridge_ND.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.