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The myth of Notre Dame’s bubble

Ryan Williams | Thursday, February 10, 2011

Earlier this year, The Observer designated the blog “Things Notre Dame Students Like” as “the No. 1 must-visit website for ND students.” By now, most of us have probably read or are familiar with this blog, a collection of various traits and qualities that the author thinks apply particularly well to Notre Dame students. This list covers a wide variety of topics, with everything from “Making Religion a Competition” to “Only Riding with One Cab Driver” included as things that Notre Dame students really like.

I’d like to propose my own addition to this list of things Notre Dame students like, and that is talking about “the Notre Dame bubble.” In case you aren’t familiar with this phrase, the Notre Dame bubble is the idea that everyone here has enjoyed a highly privileged upbringing and continues to lead a sheltered existence here on campus away from the harsh realities of the outside world. It is a stereotype that assumes that all Notre Dame students act as a monolithic whole, thinking the same thoughts, holding the same beliefs and opinions and possessing similar habits and interests. Now granted, there are a few prominent examples of groupthink on our campus, such as the increasing number of guys who inexplicable choose to wear Timberland work boots as everyday shoes, or the affinity for the cold-weather beating combination of UGG boots and a knee-length black North Face coat shared by so many girls. Encouraged by these examples as well Mr. Kessler’s blog, proponents of “the bubble theory” seek to define and publicize their view of what the quintessential Notre Dame student should be, and in so doing ignore many of the qualities that really make Notre Dame great.

Here’s some news for everyone in danger of buying into this outlook on life at Notre Dame: The whole idea of “the Notre Dame bubble” is bull. It doesn’t exist, and in reality this myth only serves to perpetuate some very unfortunate stereotypes about Notre Dame students. If I were a prospective student reading Mr. Kessler’s blog, I would be inclined to believe that Notre Dame is a school made up solely of rich white kids who know and care little about life beyond their campus, that all Notre Dame students are devout, socially conservative Catholics who attend mass every week and shudder at the thought of disobeying Church teachings, and that it is impossible to be friends with members of the opposite sex because “gender relations” (whatever that even means) are so strained.

The problem with these stereotypes is that they completely ignore the great diversity of thought, ideas and experiences that we have here at Notre Dame. Obviously, not everyone here is a rich white kid, because 80-percent of the student body is on some form of financial aid and 25 percent are non-white. Nor are we as ignorant of the outside world as some would have you believe, as evidenced by the 57-percent of Notre Dame students who participate in study abroad programs or the over 65-percent who regularly take part in service projects, many in disadvantaged locations throughout the local South Bend community. Just because our university is unfriendly to the LGBTQ community does not mean that we students are not supportive, and though the vast majority of the student-body claims to be Christian, there are still plenty of us who have little use for religion and couldn’t care less about Church teachings. As far as gender relations go, single-sex dorms and parietals only create obstacles if you let them, and most students here would say they have little problem forming solid platonic friendships with members of the opposite sex. Clearly, the conventional wisdom perpetuated about Notre Dame students is more often than not quite wrong.

Now, I do not intend this column to be an attack on Bob Kessler’s blog. I think on the whole most of us would agree that it is very entertaining and definitely points out some of the more egregious traits of Notre Dame students with wit and intelligence. Where I think the danger lies is in accepting all those stereotypes that he highlights as universally true and failing to acknowledge that they are not representative of the Notre Dame student body at large.

Each individual student at this university brings with them an immense wealth of talents, ideas and a unique outlook on life. Together we create an incredibly rich and diverse community, one that has the potential to help us all become wiser and more compassionate. This unique combination of experiences, perspectives and opinions is one of the qualities that truly makes Notre Dame an extraordinary and special university. It would be a shame to assume we are all the same, when in fact it is our differences that make us so lucky to call Notre Dame home.

Ryan Williams is a sophomore. He can be reached at twilli15@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.