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Campus card system could use a redesign

Campus cards: You can’t really get anywhere at Brandeis without one. They’re the keys to most residence halls, debit cards for WhoCash and golden tickets to all of dining services. They make make laundry and library borrowing possible and are supposed to make campus life much easier. Yet there are so many things left to be desired when it comes to these pieces of plastic, especially when it comes to building access.

A main concern with campus cards among students is how easily they are to lose. Chances are you or a friend of yours has lost a campus card in the past and had to pay the price for a new one. The process can be long and grueling, especially if the card is lost during the weekend, when the card office isn’t open. In the interim, access to dining halls and campus buildings can be equally tough, and if you don’t have a lot of friends (and a cell phone to call for help) you’ll be spending your weekend outside.

Another large problem with the cards is that they are not always as reliable as we tend to think they are. I previously mentioned that cards are the keys to most residence halls. The big exclusion is the Castle, where anyone who wishes to enter either needs a key or someone to show them in. This would be an understandable limitation if the entirety of the Castle’s rooms were the kind that are only accessible from the outside, but this is not the case. Students without Castle or universal keys are unable to access this residence hall in castle like they can with every other residence hall on campus. In all fairness, there are not many situations in which it would be necessary for a non-resident to have to access the Castle which wouldn’t involve people who already live there who could help them in. However, let’s assume that you need to access the Castle to help out your sick, bedridden friend. Your bedridden friend cannot let you in, so you will need to wait on someone else to enter before you’re able to help. The lack of card readers on the Castle’s main doors creates, frankly, an unnecessary impediment to those who may actually need to enter.

Even if card readers are installed outside the Castle, however, problems may still ensue. The current Software House card readers installed around campus might be built to last, but eventually exposure to the outdoors, especially during harsh winters like the one we are emerging from, will get to them. For example, one of the readers outside Massell’s Shapiro residence hall froze more than once, denying students access to the hall. Given that the Castle doors are no more sheltered from the elements, the chances for reader freezing are very real.

If students are to have access to every residence hall on campus, it stands to reason that they should have access to the Castle. So if nothing else is done with campus cards, the very least the university could do would be to distribute universal keys. These do exist on a smaller scale for students who, due to religious observances, cannot swipe their cards at certain times. However, these are also inefficient, and it stands to reason the university wouldn’t want to distribute these keys on a large scale due to the risk of them falling into malintentioned hands. In fact, with prior security issues in East, the university would be foolish to hand out more easily lost keys.

What the university should do to rectify the problems of the less-than-reliable campus cards would not be a huge step up from what they already have. I believe that replacing the cards and the card readers has the capacity to kill two birds with one stone. A better option for both accessibility and reliability would be to replace the entire card swipe system with a proximity based reader system. This type of security replaces the need to swipe with holding a proximity fob up to a reader that has a smaller likelihood of failing due to weather. For anyone who was locked out of Shapiro during the last ice storm, this would be a significant benefit. The proximity fob can be easily placed on a keychain without much obstruction, diminishing the chances of loss, and if stolen they can be deactivated electronically to prevent non-students from entering residence halls.

Although it may not seem like it, the proximity fob idea also works well with dining and the use of WhoCash. Everyday at Usdan, around 12 p.m. it seems the entire student body descends on the dining hall. The time it takes to swipe in might seem minimal, but anyone who’s been stuck in the line for 15 minutes knows how frustrating it can be. Replacing the swipe readers with proximity readers at dining locations could expedite the process of getting into a dining hall and using your points. In addition, changing the system could also expedite the use of WhoCash at various campus locations like in laundry rooms and at the bookstore.

I’m not totally advocating the termination of campus cards as forms of identification, but their other uses could be better performed. For the good of the university, our campus cards should be phased out and their importance diminished until they’re just an ID. In the meantime, more reliable options should be explored for student satisfaction.

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