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Food delivery robots signal the end of the Great American College Experience

| Friday, August 25, 2023

During football weekends this season, alumni and visitors will notice six-wheeled white robots roaming around campus. These food delivery robots, launched in February, deliver to students, faculty and staff from six campus eateries for a fee.

But these automated machines do more than just deliver food around campus. They signal the beginning of the end of the Great American College Experience.

The Great American College Experience is (mostly) not some “Animal House”-esque pipe dream. It’s about getting dropped off in an unfamiliar place and then meeting new people and trying new things until you actually start to get your life in order. 

The decline of the Great American College Experience is not unique to Notre Dame. Notre Dame may actually hold on the tightest. We still have dorms with no air conditioning, strong efforts to foster community and tradition and a liberal arts education. 

But apparently, Notre Dame thought it worthwhile to adopt delivery robots. Because it’s so difficult to walk 2-10 minutes to pick up a meal. If you’re somehow so busy that you don’t have time to nourish yourself, you could probably use some fresh air.

Notre Dame, along with campuses across the country, is modernizing. Old dorms undergo renovation, new dorms that resemble hotels more than dorms are built and state-of-the-art off-campus housing replaces the rickety houses of old.

These progressions are inevitable. At some point, people object to paying an exorbitant amount of money to live in glorified storage closets. Developers aren’t going to want to sink money into dumpy housing units. But the American College Experience can be Great because it forces us to prioritize. Nothing humbles a snot-nosed 18-year-old overachiever quite like moving into a trashy dorm. You shouldn’t want to spend long periods of time there. There’s a whole campus of people to meet and things to try.

By the same token, seniors do not need — or deserve — luxurious off-campus housing. Living off campus should teach you to officially learn how to clean up after yourself — once the coat of beer on the floor becomes unbearable. It should not be about acclimating yourself to potentially the nicest house you ever live in.

Nor should we encourage students to have food delivered. We’re part of a community. Step outside and at least look at it. Say hi to someone. And don’t tell me that you’re “busy.” Notre Dame students have survived for 181 years without food delivery.

Notre Dame is a different type of university. It’s even a different type of Catholic university. The campus community and alumni network here is special. But our school is prone to the same faults that plague all of higher education. Notre Dame spends money so it can raise more money. A lot of this money goes to great things: grants, financial aid, research, you name it. But when it comes to amenities, it might be worth it to step back. Just ask what the end game is.

This is not to say updating and building new dorms is wrong. Heck, the new ones still have communal bathrooms. But as Notre Dame continues to expand and pump money into projects all over campus, we need to make sure there’s a clear vision. Like many colleges, alumni overwhelmingly look back fondly on their time at Notre Dame. Why? Because of how nice the classrooms and dorms were? Probably not.

So while food delivery robots aren’t the end of the world, they set a bad example. Adopting technology that encourages students to silo themselves off in their dorms runs contrary to what makes Notre Dame great.

For now, I’ll try to restrain myself from going “Office Space” on the robots and smashing them with a baseball bat.

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

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About Ryan Peters

Ryan is a senior formerly in Knott Hall from Lake Forest, Illinois. He is majoring in business analytics and minoring in constitutional studies. He currently serves as Managing Editor for The Observer. Follow him on Twitter @peterrsryan.

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