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Confusion swirls over policy enforcement

Maddie Hanna | Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Notre Dame rumor mill is in business, churning out “did-you-hear” stories of unwarranted ResLifes doled out by the administration. Allegations of unequal treatment swirl, angering some students while confusing others.

The talk may or may not be true, but one thing is clear – many students believe the University’s rules and regulations are not always fairly or uniformly enforced.

“That’s the thing about ResLife – you never know what the punishment is going to be. They can treat you normally and fairly, or they could be so harsh you couldn’t imagine,” said a female junior who wished to remain anonymous.

She made her first trip to the Office of Residence Life and Housing earlier in the semester for a parietals violation.

The University stands by its disciplinary system while acknowledging the inherent difficulty in the process.

“Is it imperfect? Absolutely,” said Bill Kirk, associate vice president for student affairs. “It’s an educational process. Ideally we would be able to find the way to best educate each individual with what’s going on. That’s not always possible. I think we do our best, and I think the folks in Residence Life take a personal interest in each case, they deal personally with a lot of those students, so they try to tailor a lot of those punishments and penalties. But it’s imperfect.”

“I was completely terrified”

It was a Friday night, and the female junior had returned from a gathering off-campus with her friends and dozed off in her bed. It was 12:30 a.m.

She was stirred by the sound of her boyfriend entering the room. Still drowsy, she asked him to climb into her bed, where they began to talk – and fell asleep.

Flash forward to 2:30 a.m., a phone call and a knock on the door that awakened the two students.

“One of the assistant rectors announced that she was coming into the room and opened the door,” the junior said. “It was not until she turned on the lights and asked [my boyfriend] to leave the room with her that I noted the time, 2:30 a.m., and understood that it was past parietals. The AR said nothing else to me, other than asking for my name.”

The junior’s boyfriend entered the lobby of her dorm at 1:45 a.m., she said, and signed in with the resident assistants – a standard practice in this dorm during football weekends.

“I felt like it was pretty obvious we weren’t trying to break parietals,” she said. “Why would he sign in 15 minutes before? I emphasized over and over again [in a later conversation with my rector], we weren’t trying to break parietals, we would have tried to sneak him in or something … He wouldn’t have just walked in. That’s completely stupid.”

For something she called “completely stupid,” the junior and her boyfriend each got sent to disciplinary conferences in the Office of Residence Life and Housing and were assigned 20 hours of community service apiece. The boyfriend was banned from the junior’s dorm for the rest of the year and also given University counseling, she said.

Then the junior learned this wouldn’t have necessarily happened in other dorms.

“Since it happened in [my dorm], we both got sent to ResLife. [My rector] was dead set on sending us both,” she said. “My boyfriend’s RA had talked to him and said if it happened in his dorm, it would have stayed within the dorm, you would have gotten a fine.”

Even if the parietals-breaking had occurred in another women’s dorm, the RA said the boyfriend only would have received a fine, the junior said.

“I don’t understand why there was such disparity,” she said.

Further coloring the incident was the junior’s frustration with its timing. Her disciplinary conference wasn’t scheduled until a month after the incident occurred – a process drawn out by the rector’s failure to call the junior to her office for a meeting until a week later.

“After the whole process I was completely terrified,” the junior said.

“What a bunch of petty s**t”

It may take a long time for some rectors to tell students they’re facing disciplinary action from the University, but others don’t tell them at all, students said.

Junior Dan Brown was sent to the Office of Residence Life and Housing last spring after helping to get six kegs into St. Edward’s Hall for a party.

He was then kicked off campus with three weeks left in the academic year.

Brown doesn’t deny wrongdoing – the party’s purpose being “to stick it to the man” – but he felt his disciplinary process was riddled with injustices.

St. Ed’s rector Father Tom Eckert declined to comment when asked about an incident involving Brown.

“As a policy, I don’t comment on students’ disciplinary proceedings,” Eckert said.

Brown said he had driven right up behind St. Ed’s using a security key card he had obtained. The kegs were smuggled into the dorm via recycling bins.

“The hall staff all knew about it, except for one RA,” Brown said. “The rector was gone. What happened was the parties went off without a hitch, we got the kegs off campus [and] returned.”

Eckert, upon hearing “rumors from other rectors” that this party had occurred, then went into a freshman’s room that contained a beer pong table, Brown said.

The table was covered with scribbles and messages, but Brown said one in particular caught Eckert’s eye – “There was a keg in here.” Brown said Eckert then “extrapolated” that a keg had indeed been present.

A freshman “afraid of losing his scholarship” told Eckert that Brown had purchased the keg, Brown said.

“The rector, in his SS-like need for secrecy, doesn’t come down to talk to me or ask me,” Brown said. “He sent me to ResLife. Fortunately, I was able to figure out this kid told on me. Nobody else got in trouble.”

Brown said the way he was reported made it impossible to even attempt to defend himself at his conference.

“The way ResLife works – there’s a presumption of guilt,” Brown said. “They [rector and ResLife staff] get the heads-up ahead of time and have pretty much already come to the conclusion. There’s no transparency in it. It’s not like you can ask questions … there’s really no fairness at any levels. You can appeal it, but you don’t have access to the same evidence they do. If someone tells on you [you can’t do anything].”

After being put on disciplinary probation and forced to move off-campus, Brown said he “lived a nomadic life,” keeping his belongings at his brother’s apartment but sleeping in places like O’Shaughnessy Hall, Hesburgh Library and the Riley computer cluster.

“Those bastards – they kick me off with three weeks left to go,” Brown said. “What a bunch of petty s**t. I have the lifetime ban from St. Ed’s because they don’t want me … the rector shivers every time he sees me.”

“Picking and choosing Biblical beliefs”

The University’s rules about drinking are outlined in duLac and are guided by Indiana State Law.

“Any person under 21 years of age is underage in the State of Indiana. All students are expected to comply with Indiana law at all times. Students may be subject to disciplinary action for underage consumption, possession or transportation of alcoholic beverages,” duLac reads.

Kirk explained the logic behind Indiana’s drinking age – a logic that also applies to the University’s policy on hard alcohol.

“When I grew up, [the drinking age] was 18. I liked it when I was 18, but I understand and appreciate the reasons and rationale for it being 21 now. So I think what our regulations do, they say for example, hard alcohol is prohibited in a residence hall, even if you’re 21, because we’ve seen that regardless of your age, that abusive drinking takes place more likely with hard alcohol than it does with other kinds of alcohol,” Kirk said.

But students say while policy is one thing, enforcement is another.

Sophomore David Gruener, who vehemently opposes the parietals policy, said he felt the University’s rules wrongly “superceded” government rules.

“It’s picking and choosing which Biblical beliefs you enforce,” sophomore David Gruener said. “Getting drunk underage is all right, and breaking the law is OK, but having sex isn’t. I struggle with that when you can get suspended for having a girl laying on your couch after hours.”

Gruener’s argument was based on what Brown described as the University’s “blind acceptance of people drinking.”

“You can get s**tfaced, obliterated drunk in the dorms and nobody has a problem with it, but if you smoke pot … I mean, out of principle, they feel obligated to get you kicked out of school,” Brown said.

Brown thought this might be due to Notre Dame’s historically Irish culture, where alcohol and tradition go hand in hand, he said.

“We don’t condone any drinking when they’re not 21, but we allow it,” said Brown, giving his interpretation of the University’s guidelines. “What the hell does that mean? Everybody knows you can drink in the dorms. Then you go to tailgates and do the same thing and you get sent to ResLife. And you’re supposed to be apologetic. Why? Because I wasn’t drinking alone in my dorm room?”

Not even one semester into their Notre Dame experience, freshmen said they saw conflicts regarding policy enforcement.

“It’s the way they allow some stuff and not others,” said freshman Michael Kaiser, referring to the University’s ban on hard alcohol. “Well, you’re allowed to have beer, maybe not technically. But the RAs say you can have it in your room.”

It’s a different story, Kaiser said, “if you get caught bringing it into the dorm, on campus.”

A male RA who wished to remain anonymous said parties were completely acceptable as long as they stayed under control.

“For drinking, we make it very clear about the expectations. We encourage social gatherings because they build the community,” he said. “We’ll help you manage the party. You just need to be responsible, make sure the party doesn’t get too [crazy]. When people flow out into the hallways or it gets too wild and we hear ‘chug, chug, chug’ … we have to step in.”

“Boys will be boys”

Students may complain about inconsistencies within the system, but Kirk said many times misinformation is to blame.

“Important to understand is that [the Office of Residence Life and Housing staff members] don’t just manufacture these decisions out of thin air, there’s a consistency, even if students don’t see it,” Kirk said. “Because students typically only know the facts about their individual case.”

Director of Residence Life Jeff Shoup said sanctions were by and large uniform across campus.

“If you have a violation in your hall, and you’re talking to a friend whose had the same violation in another hall, you should be able to have a conversation if you wanted to and say, ‘We both got similar sanctions,'” Shoup said. “Now there may be some circumstances that may limit them slightly different than the other, but they should be similar, at least.”

But many students said they saw discrepancies in enforcement, especially between men’s and women’s dorms.

“The rules are much more strictly enforced in girls’ dorms,” said senior Caitlin Evans, who lives off-campus. “It’s a lot healthier in guys’ dorms … The RAs really get to know the students. A lot more things can happen out in the open [and] the RAs still know what’s happening. In girls’ dorms, a lot more is happening behind girls’ doors. There’s the fear of getting busted.”

That statement is supported by a female sophomore who wished to remain anonymous.

“I’ve broken parietals probably about six times,” she said, “in Siegfried, Keenan, Knott.”

She knew the rules and said she wasn’t afraid of being caught.

“But it’s never been in my dorm,” she said. “I feel like it’s stricter in girls’ dorms. I would never break parietals in my own dorm.”

Evans said it was hard to speculate as to the cause of the apparent differences in enforcement.

“There’s a really old attitude that still kind of runs here – ‘boys will be boys.’ But the same is true of girls,” she said. “Other colleges around the country are realizing this, too. The guys at Notre Dame aren’t necessarily crazier than the girls – they’re just allowed to be.”

Kelly Lawrence, assistant director of the Office of Alcohol and Drug Education, said he often has students who attest to stricter enforcement in female dorms during peer discussions.

“I hear that in the classes a lot,” he said. “I think what happens is most of the parties happen in guys’ dorms … that it’s maybe a little too strict in girls’ dorms.”

Dillon rector Father Paul Doyle said differences in enforcement were due to the subjectivity of hall staff – a necessary trait, he said.

“That’s what they’re paid for, to use their heads. It’s not black and white,” Doyle said. “There are 27 different human beings [as rectors], they’re not cookie cutters. Some people would like every dorm to be exactly alike, and I think that’s nuts.”

How does Doyle exercise his judgment?

“I usually let the girls go when I see something going on in Dillon,” he said.

While students and administrators may often feel lost in an tangle of accusations and defenses, numbers don’t lie. The fifth part of this series will examine data on referrals to the Office of Residence Life and Housing and how Notre Dame discipline compares to that of its peer institutions.