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Domers defend dorm life at Notre Dame

Katie Perry | Friday, March 24, 2006

Editor’s Note: This is the last of a three-part series examining the absence of fraternities and sororities at Notre Dame.

At a Nov. 16 Student Senate meeting, Zahm Hall’s representative proposed a resolution that would formally recognize the dorm as “Zahm House” – a move that invoked laughter before its failure to garner enough support among voters.

Zahm senator Pat Knapp alluded to other dorms – like Morrissey Manor and Sorin College – that have dropped the “Hall” in their names, asserting that “such names and cultures build community among the student body.”

Student body president Dave Baron supported the resolution. Praising Zahm’s uniqueness on campus, he said he had no problem with the proposal because it “foster[ed] dorm identity.”

But Dillon senator Dan Bowen opposed the resolution and said Zahm was “trying to leave the impression they’re a fraternity.” Such a claim would be “very contrary” to Notre Dame tradition and policy, he said.

A chance for change?

Zahm residents may or may not have intended to blur the lines of distinction between residence hall and fraternity, but their motion demonstrated the desire some students have for an officially recognized Greek system at Notre Dame.

Keough freshman E.J. Alston expressed dissatisfaction with the current residence hall system and said he wished University policy permitted fraternities and sororities.

“I think having a Greek life would boost the social scene on campus and make it more fun,” Alston said. “If there was a Greek life, I would pledge for the experience because I have heard good things about [the Greek system].”

Director of Admissions Dan Saracino said the University’s housing system “definitely” attracts prospective students and that students interested in attending Notre Dame never express concern over the absence of a Greek life on campus.

“The lack of frats and sororities makes Notre Dame a special place and – instead of being a drawback – gives the University an edge over other top colleges,” Saracino said. “We’re proud of this. It makes us unique.”

Students said despite any support Greek organizations might have among undergraduates, the University will likely maintain the tradition-based policy.

“I do not think Notre Dame will ever include a Greek system because of one thing – they haven’t yet,” Alston said. “Also, they have yet to get rid of parietals or institute multi-sex dorms, which would have to come first and appear to be difficult to have changed.”

Keenan junior Brendan Hanehan said he “can’t envision a scenario” in which Notre Dame would ever implement a Greek system.

“I think the University prizes its own unique form of residentiality too much,” he said.

Alumni freshman Michael Angulo said he does not think Notre Dame “will or should ever allow” fraternities and sororities on campus.

“I would never pledge in a frat – I don’t think they are the best places for me to find my college social life,” Angulo said. “I think dorms at ND are cool [be]cause you can be as involved or [not] involved as you want.”

Community and character

Alston said halls are like fraternities and sororities in that there is a strong bond between residents. But there are “obvious” differences between the two systems, he said, such as the presence of RAs and the enforcement of dorm rules.

“I don’t think dorms become as crazy as a fraternity would,” he said.

Hanehan said University dorms successfully create a “community feeling without being elitist,” as students are randomly placed into residence halls at the beginning of freshman year. You never have to “pledge” to enter dorm communities, he said.

“Hazing is much less of a problem in Notre Dame’s dorms,” Hanehan said. “Our dorm system keeps the best aspects of Greek life – community feeling, athletic competition [and] spirituality – and eliminates the worst aspects, [like] elitism and excessive hazing as a requirement for membership.”

Many students cited the socially unifying nature of Notre Dame’s residence hall system as a positive aspect that parallels Greek social societies at other institutions of higher learning.

“Notre Dame’s dorms promote a feeling of community among residents that I think is very similar to what I’ve observed of the Greek system,” Hanehan said. “I also think that each dorm develops a unique character, much like frats and sororities do.”

Angulo said each dorm at the University has a “very strong communal feel.”

“To a certain degree, I think that such a dorm set-up is a bad thing,” he said. “It sometimes takes away from the university community feel of the campus. [But] at the same time, Notre Dame is a relatively big school and it helps to have your own set group, while still being able to branch out.”

Room for improvement

Some students said the current system restricts undergraduates from “branching out” in terms of social interactions with the opposite sex. Notre Dame’s single-sex residence hall tradition “easily inhibits good relationships between guys and girls,” Angulo said.

“I really think that all-guy and all-girl dorms are not as bad as frats and sororities, but they are not as good as a gender-integrated dorm life, [like having] guys and girls floors in dorms,” he said.

Alston said despite the obvious advantages of Notre Dame’s dorm system – “the bonds and friends you make” – there is “no intermingling of the sexes in the dorm.”

“I am satisfied by the system in place at [the University], although I think we could use some sort of voluntary co-ed apartment arrangement for at least some of the seniors,” Hanehan said.

Welsh Family rector Candace Carson said the residence hall system as it exists is an “attractive thing,” though she is not surprised to hear students calling for co-ed dorms.

“There’s always the big issue of parietals [and] same sex halls, but when students are not in front of a group people they say they like it … They like the privacy,” Carson said. “I think because of who we are, we’re always going to have something to question. For us to all be happy all the time would make me wonder what’s going on.”