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Dorm life helps define Notre Dame

Staff Editorial | Friday, March 24, 2006

Notre Dame’s residence life system is much more than a way to house students. A University trademark, dorm life is steeped in years of tradition and is a defining characteristic of the Notre Dame lifestyle.

Not all that unlike fraternities and sororities – in the eyes of the Office of Admissions, at least.

Prospective students on campus tours are often told that dorm placement is like automatic inclusion in a fraternity or sorority, only without the hassles of a lengthy and involved pledge-and- rush system.

After glancing through an Admissions guide, the statement seems valid. From semi-formals to service projects to interhall sports, each residence hall has its own customs and activities that encourage unity and foster pride among its residents.

But are residence halls really substitutes for fraternities and sororities?

While Zahm “House” might leave visitors with that impression, the answer is clearly no.

It’s true that dorm spirit creates a sense of belonging, something especially important for freshmen struggling to find a niche in the Notre Dame community. However, it’s not parallel to being offered admission to a fraternity. Admission to Greek life is often based on one’s physical appearance, race and income level – creating a community that encourages exclusivity and distances itself from the main campus. Notre Dame’s all-inclusive mentality is the refreshing opposite of Greek life’s exclusivity. Students in all of Notre Dame’s residence halls feel a connection to the University as a whole – a sentiment that would likely weaken if fraternities were allowed.

Inclusion in a fraternity or sorority connects students to members of their chapters across the country, and some Notre Dame students argue bonds between fraternity and sorority members are stronger than those between dorm-mates. But these are differences and not disadvantages. Devotion to a fraternity or sorority can often come at the expense of something greater – love for one’s school. Notre Dame may not be the place to forge fraternity chapter connections across the country, but Notre Dame’s alumni network is indisputably national.

The positives to not having fraternities and sororities are extensive – and the fact that approximately 80 percent of undergraduates live on campus is a telling statistic. For incoming freshmen, it’s certainly a relief to have housing arranged a month in advance with no need to worry about rushing a fraternity just days after arriving on campus. And that spirit of inclusion is exactly what’s needed at a school so often criticized for a lack of diversity and intolerance of alternative lifestyles.

The concept of the “Notre Dame family” may have lost some of its force after being used so heavily as marketing slogan for the school. But that family does exist and is stronger without students pledging absolute allegiance to a Greek house, belonging more to an organization than to a university.

Students coming to campus in hopes of finding a clear substitute for Greek life will be disappointed. But Domers, whether they’ve been here for just six months or graduated more than 60 years ago, will always belong to a unique and meaningful family.