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Why you should care about Zahm’s common rooms

| Thursday, March 27, 2014

Last Thursday at 1:45 a.m., Zahm residents received an email from their rector, Fr. Gary Chamberland, telling them that the Housing Office had decided a mere 15 days before room picks to nix a decades-old dorm tradition.
When Zahm residents gathered for room picks last year, they had seven “forced” room setups to choose from, including the coveted “eight-man” on the second and third floors. In this setup, one rising senior picks a single and pulls another senior into a single across the hallway. Those same seniors pull six rising sophomores into two triples. All of them share “the eight-man,” a large common room immediately adjacent to the rooms where their beds are. This is repeated on the third floor. A similar situation on a smaller scale exists for the five “five-mans.”
Next Thursday, for the first time since at least the 1970s, Zahm will gather for room picks and the two “eight-mans” will not be up for grabs. The Office of Housing is eliminating them to create standardized university lounges, and threatening the “five-mans” by interfering in Zahm’s long-held practice of pooling multiple rooms into one pick.
Yesterday, we had the pleasure of taking a tour of Zahm. After leaving, we agreed that we empathize with the Office of Housing. Because it’s really hard to write sensible policies for dorms in which you’ve never set foot. After touring the “House,” this is the only explanation we can conceive of for the Housing Office’s decision and subsequent unwillingness to discuss a compromise.
Zahm has reacted to a frustrating situation with nothing but class, despite administrative deafness and intransigence. Residents have issued two internet petitions, published a well-thought-out Viewpoint in this paper and solicited emails and phone calls and letters from Zahm alumni and Zahm parents. Several alumni with advanced degrees signed on to their petition pledging to not donate anything above the requisite $100 to enter the annual football ticket lottery until the decision is reversed.
The residents also took affirmative steps to try to reach an amicable solution with Housing. They drew up an alternative proposal which would achieve the same occupancy target (a net reduction of eight beds) without eliminating the eight-mans. The Housing Office summarily rejected it, giving only cursory indication that they had even considered the plan.
When Housing dismisses outright an alternative plan that achieves the same stated goals and has the residence hall’s approval, it is hard to see this as anything other than a concerted effort to eliminate or fracture seven of Zahm’s most desirable community hubs, without giving sufficient notice or warrant for doing so. Housing’s record over recent years makes it easy to view this particular Office blunder as part of a broader move, intentional or not, to limit the number of areas in which our 29 halls can really claim to be “unique.”  In 2012, the Housing Office (then the Office of Housing and Residence Life) informed St. Edward’s Hall 18 days before finals and three weeks after room picks that they intended to replace our trademark lofts with modular furniture. For a number of reasons, that decision was retracted, but Housing’s penchant for issuing rules without consulting the students evidently was not.
If Housing’s rule was really designed to attain the “optimal mix of residential, social and study space” as their email suggests, we would not expect those who will reside, socialize and study in the affected Hall to react as they have. Why Housing feels that it can discern this elusive “optimal mix” without consulting the students is quite puzzling. If Housing is sincere in their pursuit of optimal mixes or of other unrelated aims like increasing the number of on-campus seniors, then they should immediately scrap the practice of issuing sweeping decisions only days before they are supposed to go into effect and engage residents in an honest conversation.
Housing claimed in an email to Zahm that “[T]he University’s efforts to realign Zahm’s residence hall room configurations were undertaken with a respect for and a responsibility to preserve its rich fraternal bonds.” Their implementation of the decision belies any such notion. Policy disagreements aside, “respect” requires openness and transparency when considering important decisions. Here, both are lacking.
Finally, if this must be handled within the bureaucratic confines of the Main Building, then we suggest that the Admissions Office take a close look at how the Housing Office’s actions will affect student tour guides who so reliably call “dorm life” Notre Dame’s biggest asset. There’s a lack of communication under the Dome if the Housing Office believes strong-arming students into a standardized vision of dorm life constitutes best practices. With this miscommunication set to continue, we implore the 7,800 Notre Dame students who do not live in Zahm to recognize bad precedent when they see it, and voice their discontent accordingly. Those crazy Zahm kids will thank you.


Pat Roemer contributed to this column.
Alex Caton and Pat Roemer are juniors living in St. Edward’s Hall. They can be contacted at acaton@nd.edu and proemer@nd.edu, respectively.

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


About Alex Caton

Alex is a junior political science major living in the caves and ditches of St. Edward's Hall. He has written for the Viewpoint section since spring 2013

Contact Alex
  • Scott Aufderheide

    Alex Caton and Pat Roemer, you are my two new favorite people. Throughout our struggle, we’ve been inspired by the actions of St. Ed’s two years ago. On behalf of Zahm House, I thank you for your support for our cause and in helping students understand that this indeed affects all of us.

    • Alex Caton

      Thanks Scott. We really appreciate it and hope that it helps in one way or another. Your column on Wednesday was excellent, by the way, and I hope that Housing decides to meet the dorm halfway. You dezerve it.

  • Anonymous

    This is an incredible article, and very well written. Thank you.

  • Anonymous

    A well written Viewpoint article? I don’t know what this world is coming to…

  • Anonymous

    Notre Dame Office of Housing
    Open M-F, 8am to 5pm

  • John

    Zahm’s common rooms do not make it a less safe hall than other male halls.

    Here are statistics for the last five years from NDSP’s public daily crime logs (http://www3.nd.edu/~ndspd/nwsblot/).

    ALLEGATIONS of rape, sexual assault, and sexual offence were claimed to have taken place in the following men’s halls (2010-2014):

    08 Keough
    04 Knott
    04 Stanford
    03 Alumni
    02 Carroll
    02 Sorin
    02 Zahm
    01 Dillon
    00 Fisher
    00 Keenan
    00 Morrissey
    00 O’Neill
    00 St. Edward’s

    Number of ambulance calls for intoxicated students in men’s halls (2010-2014):

    19 Dillon
    19 Morrissey
    14 Stanford
    13 Alumni
    13 Keough
    12 Zahm
    09 Keenan
    08 Duncan
    08 Knott
    06 Fisher
    06 St. Edward’s
    05 O’Neill
    03 Siegfried
    03 Sorin
    02 Carroll

    Counts of batteries and aggravated or simple assaults committed inside men’s halls (2010-2014):

    06 Dillon
    06 Siegfried
    03 Keenan
    03 O’Neill
    02 Alumni
    02 Fisher
    01 Duncan
    01 Stanford
    00 Carroll
    00 Keough
    00 Knott
    00 Morrissey
    00 St. Edward’s
    00 Sorin
    00 Zahm

    Counts of drug violations inside men’s halls (2010-2014):

    07 O’Neill
    05 Carroll
    05 Dillon
    04 Saint Edward’s
    04 Siegfried
    03 Keough
    03 Morrissey
    01 Alumni
    01 Fisher
    01 Keenan
    01 Knott
    01 Stanford
    00 Duncan
    00 Sorin
    00 Zahm

    • Mike

      Has it occurred to you that the numbers for Zahm may be so low due to the alleged cover-ups that occurred in the recent past?

      • Luke

        ha, are you serious? Your right. This issue regards common room clearly is related to cover-ups.. What a gloriously stupid hypothesis.

    • The Plagues


      Add more ambulance runs for intoxication to both Dillon and Alumni.

  • Johnny Whichard

    As a Sorin Otter, all I can say is I couldn’t agree with you Zahmbies and Steds guys any more! Housing has attacked us for our lofts claiming they are against fire code thus forcing us to remove center panels making the lofts cliffs for us to fall off of. Why not let us sign a waiver of our own safety and understanding we might burn in a fire? Because the central power of the Housing/CommStandards is naive and overbearing. Leave Sorin alone. Leave St. Ed’s alone. Leave Zahm alone. The current people in power have made several tragic mistakes and have damaged dorm individuality and character. By making male dorms’ disciplinary processes identical to female dorms’, our “social gatherings” are moving more and more off campus putting underclassmen in inevitable legal jeopardy and putting all of us in more danger of the dangerous streets of South Bend. When you talk to older alumns, they mention their epic keggers and wild partying. I fear that soon Notre Dame will not have decent social gatherings as the anti-subsidiarity regime under the dome grasps for more power. Keep fighting the good fight. We old dorms need to stick together.