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Monday, May 27, 2024
The Observer

‘Endlich daheim’: Finally home

These words were tattooed on my high school math teacher’s forearm — to serve as a dual reminder of the time he spent living in Germany, but also to be thankful for his return to his personal home in the United States.

For many Notre Dame students, in an adjacent way, the acceptance letter serves a similar purpose. First comes the notification online. Elation. But when that oversized envelope comes in the mail, it is an even greater feeling. There you have it. Your own physical Notre Dame acceptance letter. It begets joy — with the subtle reminder that if you want to enroll, the $800 enrollment fee (or however much it is) is due by July 1st (or whenever it is). What then happens to that acceptance letter? Likely, it is tossed into some file somewhere to save for safekeeping. It’s something that you can be proud of — something to show your grandparents. Something concrete.

But then, as a first-year at Welcome Weekend, you’ve truly made the jump. You’ve made the necessary deposits, the necessary loan applications to the federal government, to Discover, to Sallie Mae, to whomever. You’ve journeyed far. Some of you have had to change planes a few times. But you’ve all come together here at Notre Dame, during those hot, but somehow extraordinary, last few weeks of August. You check into the dorm for the first time. The rector greets you. The Welcome Weekend staff unloads your belongings with great haste. Music blares. And what awaits you as you enter the dorm? Your own, physical, Notre Dame ID card. 

To me, this ID card was a reminder that I had truly made it. I was now a Notre Dame student. This ID card was what I had worked hard for all of high school. This ID card would open all the doors. And as a transfer, I never received one of those physical letters, so this card meant all the more. Much more than just a piece of plastic, the card was symbolic. It was something that I could keep ad infinitum — maybe, something to show to future grandchildren. 

Not to mention, this card is helpful. It is used for so many things. If I want to go for a stroll in solitude — to take a walk by the lake without feeling my phone in my pocket buzzing — I can do so. I can pray at the Grotto, just myself and the Lord, without Google/Apple/whomever calculating the number of steps I took, or my heart rate, or my location or whatever else they hope to know about me.

This card is incredibly useful. And yet, the student government administration is putting its future in jeopardy. The student government lists on their progress tracker a priority to create mobile ID cards, presumably for the betterment of student life. I argue that this plan has a great number of issues with it, and that it should only proceed if there is assurance that physical IDs will permanently remain.

Do not get me wrong. I’m in favor of mobile ID cards. I have no problems with the creation of mobile IDs. However — and call me a cynic — but I also see problems with the arrival of mobile IDs. I fear the advent of mobile ID cards will be a great excuse to eliminate the physical ones. Gone. A brief reason would be provided —similar to the one for mobile ticketing, I’d imagine (if someone wants to explain to me how mobile ticketing is safer and more contactless than physical tickets, then by all means do so. I’m pretty sure you can hold up a ticket to a barcode scanner without another person touching it). Even if physical ID cards are still an option, there’ll surely be more bureaucratic hurdles for students who want them. I highly doubt the process of receiving a physical ID will be as simple as it is now.

When I was at my former institution, they had physical IDs. But since I left, they made the decision to go to mobile IDs. I talked with my friend John back east. Speaking on the new physical IDs, he remarked, “It’s been an absolute train wreck.” My old school now has a chart on their website which details which students are, and which students are not, eligible for a physical ID. Doesn’t the existence of such a chart scream absurdity?

There are my reasons, and there are even greater reasons. Going to mobile IDs comes with the dangerous assumption that everyone has the latest technology which would support a digital ID. Until I bought a new phone in August, I wouldn’t have had the capabilities for a mobile ID on my phone. I had my prior phone for 7 years, which did not have NFC capabilities. It wouldn’t work at the Chick-fil-A. I’m not sure what my fellow Stanford man Josh Haskell would do.

Further, the University policy currently states: “All students must maintain and carry a current campus ID card for the entire period that they are affiliated with the University of Notre Dame.” So, unless the policy changes to “all students must carry with them a smartphone that is charged at all times,” I don’t see how this is possible. The idea that students would now have to carry their phones with them everywhere is unacceptable. I see no reason why I should have to bring my phone to mass. Or to the Grotto. Or class. But that would be the case if physical IDs were liquidated.

And phones die, too. Yes, maybe the NFC capabilities might still let you into the dorm, depending on how long the phone has been dead. But you still can’t show the picture of your ID when the phone invariably dies. I can only imagine the plethora of problems for NDPD.

The creation of mobile IDs only encourages more phone use. For a University that seeks to grow students in knowledge and wisdom, the student government’s policy actively contradicts this goal. We all know that the ability to engage in deep critical thinking has gone down the gurgler since “smart” phones came into existence.

And may I ask: What problem does the creation of mobile IDs solve? I haven’t heard anyone complaining of the burden of carrying a plastic card around. Yes, people might lose them from time to time, but the people who lose their ID cards constantly are the same people who break their phone 5 times a year. Physical ID cards work just fine. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

My letter in no way seeks to attack the student government or Notre Dame. Rather, I want the student government to ensure that if they pursue mobile IDs, physical IDs remain an option. Students should get a choice — and the choice should be equal, too. No gradual phase out of physical IDs. No fees for physical ID cards, either. If a student wants a physical ID, it should be just as easy as the process for a mobile ID. If it comes down to only mobile IDs or only physical IDs, I encourage the University administration to go with that is tried and true. Go with the concrete. Please, keep physical IDs for future generations of Notre Dame students. Someday you’ll pull open that junk drawer, discover that old picture of yourself at Notre Dame and you’ll smile.

Clayton Canal


Nov. 29

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