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Rules and relationships

Kate Antonacci and Karen Langley | Friday, September 9, 2005

For sophomore Brenna Doyle, the biggest problem with gender relations at Notre Dame is not romantic relationships. It’s friendships.

“The strain to make meaningful friendships with members of the opposite sex is the unhealthy aspect of gender relations on campus,” said Doyle, a member of the Senate Gender Issues Committee. “I feel like it’s harder to make friends of the opposite sex without people assuming that we are more than friends.”

Doyle is not alone. Students who echoed her sentiments blamed their frustration largely on the University’s traditional residential rules, but said transitions from freshman to senior year can ease the often tense campus climate.

=Single-sex dorms

While single-sex dorms have always been the rule at Notre Dame, they stand out at a time when most universities have men and women living together in the majority of dorms. But some students like being different.

“Single-sex dorms add a different dimension to gender relations that most schools don’t have to worry about,” said Walsh senator and sophomore Erin Hankins. “Because of single-sex dorms, students get a chance to form very strong, healthy relationships with others of the same sex.”

“It limits the number of people of the opposite sex who you are going to come in contact with and meet,” freshman Nick Kovachevich said. “But it also makes you a lot closer with your guy friends and brothers.”

Some students, however, said this limitation made finding friends of the opposite sex and forming healthy friendships significantly more difficult, especially when considering the background of many Notre Dame students.

“A lot of our students come from single-sex high schools and did not have daily contact with the opposite sex during those four years,” O’Neill senator and sophomore Steve Tortorello said. “Because of this, many students aren’t used to forming genuine friendships with the opposite sex – that is, relationships that are based on something more than just flirting.”

Sophomore Dan Justice sees a more dramatic result of single-sex dorms.

“It makes [the campus] into two zones with guys’ dorms as party dorms,” he said. “No one bothers to go to girls’ dorms. It makes for zones where you can get away with stuff and where you can’t.”

Though many upperclassmen said they have enjoyed their overall experience at Notre Dame, some students expressed feelings that more friendships could have been formed with members of the opposite sex had the dorms not been single-sex.

“I am glad to have the friendships that I have with guys here, but I think that things could have been better,” senior Elizabeth Bullock said. “So I would say that I am content with my friends, but not content with the opportunities I had to make more or closer friends.”

Bullock said her main problem was that “Notre Dame doesn’t treat its students like adults” and does not give co-ed housing as an option.

“I think that co-ed dorms would be a good step,” Bullock said. “Even if they didn’t want to make all of the dorms co-ed, at least give students an opportunity to make that decision for themselves. But rather than trusting the students to make good choices, they decide that we’ll live with members of the same sex and that seeing the opposite sex after midnight is inappropriate.”

While single-sex dorms are the cause of much controversy, some students believe they contribute to Notre Dame’s uniqueness and are not worth changing.

“I don’t think it would be worth sacrificing the dorm unity and atmosphere that we have now to move guys and girls into the same dorm to help the relationship thing,” senior Andy Burkavage said. “I think that the University has a lot more to lose from getting rid of the current situation than they have to gain from the integration of co-ed dorms.”

Parietals ups and downs

It’s not just the single-sex dorms creating controversy. Parietals are a constant source of debate that divides students and administrators.

The University rule limiting late-night visiting hours was instituted “to foster the personal and social development of residence hall students and at the same time respond to the safety, security and privacy needs of students sharing common living space,” according to DuLac, Notre Dame’s official guidebook to student life.

Undergraduate residence halls set their opposite-sex visitation hours as specified by DuLac: visiting hours are not to begin before 9 a.m. on any day and are not to extend past 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights and midnight on other nights. Graduate student housing allows for 24-hour visitation.

“The University’s values are to develop well-founded adults,” said student body vice president Lizzi Shappell, who defended the parietals policy.

Many students, however, blame parietals for the unhealthy development of male-female relationships, even if they are not romantic.

“I think that parietals have a big effect on gender relations,” Bullock said. “It doesn’t prevent the ‘hook-up’ from happening between guys and girls, but it stops the normal behavior like watching a movie late at night or staying up to talk.”

Pangborn senator and sophomore Lisa Rauh agreed with Bullock, saying parietals seriously impeded budding male-female friendships.

“At most universities, even if there are single-sex dorms, people have the opportunity to get to build these important platonic relationships with the opposite sex because there is no time limit on how long a conversation can last or two people can hang out,” Rauh said. “It is difficult to be in the midst of a great conversation or discussion, and suddenly it is midnight and that person, because they happen to be of the opposite sex, has to leave.”

While outlets like Reckers or 24-hour spaces are provided for students to continue such conversations, many students find it difficult to foster such friendships in loud, public places.

Shappell said parietals “seem to hyperactivate any social time between the sexes, especially on the weekends at dorm parties.”

Many students also said that parietals are a way for the University to make sure that students do not engage in sexual intercourse, which is a violation of school policy.

According to DuLac, sex “requires a commitment to a total living and sharing together of two persons in marriage.” Any student found in violation of this policy is subject to disciplinary suspension or permanent dismissal.

Some students think the idea that parietals prevent students from having sex negatively affects relations between genders.

“In order to create a healthy environment here, this idea that parietals are about sex really needs to go,” Rauh said. “It can add a sexual connotation to platonic male-female friendships, at least those behind closed doors after midnight. To foster a better atmosphere for gender relations, the Notre Dame community needs to, if you will, make it more natural. Relationships are natural when they happen when people choose, not just between the hours of 9 a.m. and midnight.”

The University’s policy actually has the opposite effect on some students, freshman Ashleigh Cross said.

“It almost creates more of an emphasis on wanting to be in the other sex’s dorms and rooms,” Cross said. “And [it also creates an emphasis] on wanting to break parietals more because they exist.”

Parietals have been an issue of much debate in recent years. On April 30, 2001, nearly 300 students camped out on South Quad in protest of the administrations opposition to extending late-night visiting hours. Though the Campus Life Council had just approved a resolution allowing visitors to be in dorms at 9 a.m., rather than 10 a.m., students were unsatisfied because the group defeated a proposal to extend parietals on weekdays.

Living off-campus

Many students choose to live off-campus during their senior year, though some make the move earlier. This trend, students said, has fostered a healthier environment for male-female relations.

“Moving off campus tends to signify reaching a certain point in a career at Notre Dame,” Senate Gender Issues Committee chair Ali Wishon said. “Healthier gender relations are one of many advantages of moving off. Moving off-campus allows for much more independence and freedom.”

Part of that freedom, Wishon said, means no longer having to “fear parietals.”

“It is much easier to relax and spend time at the apartment or house of members of the opposite sex, without constantly having to be aware of the clock,” she said.

However, parietals are not the only rule students leave behind when living off-campus.

“I think people move off-campus to escape the rules in general, not just parietals. By the time people are seniors, the relationships that you have with the opposite sex seem to be set in stone,” said Bullock, who lives at the Clover Ridge apartment complex. “Being off-campus doesn’t change that. It just means that there’s not a rector or an RA peering over your shoulder.”

Other students, however, said moving off-campus is just a better way to prepare for life away from the Dome, and not meant as an escape from the rules of the University.

“I would say that the decision to move off campus is more a decision to become more independent in preparation for life after graduation than anything to do with relationships,” Shappell said.

And moving off-campus does not guarantee healthier gender relations, Burkavage said.

“I think even off-campus people are as segregated as they are on campus – as far as living with people of the same sex,” Burkavage said. “Obviously I think some people live co-ed, but all my friends who are off-campus live with people of the same sex.”

Changing relationships

“[Gender relations at Notre Dame are] more healthy than at bigger state Universities,” junior James Ramos said. “I think random hook-ups here are less prevalent.”

Ramos, who said two of his closest friends at Notre Dame are female, said relationships do seem to change over time.

“Guys are more accepting of being friends when you get older,” as opposed to earlier in college where “it’s more about hooking up,” Ramos said.

Sophomore Ashley Modak agreed with Ramos’ theory of relationship evolution, with serious relationships becoming more and more common as a student gets older.

“I think the major change from freshman to senior year is the level of maturity,” said Shappell, a former worker at the Gender Relations Center. “Students become more serious about relationships.”

But many students disagreed with Ramos about the healthiness of Notre Dame relationships.

Shappell noted that while moderate relationships do occur, random hook-ups and intense relationships – including the “ring-by-spring” phenomenon that marries off students by senior year – represent the vast majority of interactions on campus.

“Random hook-ups are very common when students are partying,” she said. “Serious relationships are also seen across campus. Anything in between, however, is rare.”

Junior Matt Houser was even more emphatic in saying there was no middle ground with Notre Dame relationships, especially since he thinks the environment pressures males to start romantic relationships.

“I think that the relationships here are seriously messed up,” Houser said. “First of all, there is no dating. Two people hook up when they are drunk a few times and then all of a sudden they are together.”

Cross said random hook-ups have little to do with Notre Dame and a lot to do with college culture.

“That’s an everywhere thing,” she said. “It has to do with alcohol and people trying to find themselves during their first and second years.”

Regardless of where the heart of the gender relations issue lies, Doyle said the transitions from year to year help students become more at ease in their environment.

“Students become more aware of and comfortable with the gender relations at Notre Dame as they progress from freshman to senior year,” she said.

There’s no easy solution to the problem, Shappell said, but there are ways to improve the situation.

“I think it is difficult to pinpoint what exactly is missing from gender relations at ND,” Shappell said. “However, I think that they could be improved with increased dialogue about gender relations issues and another look at the parietals system.”