Zahm’s fight to preserve community
Scott Aufderheide | Monday, March 24, 2014
On behalf of many residents in Zahm, I would like to write about an issue we have been having. Over the past couple days, Zahm has been in a struggle with the Office of Housing over adjustments to our residential life. Most of these adjustments, such as downsizing for more space for each resident, changes to how some rooms are picked and fire safety changes, are trivial and not matters of contention. However, of great concern is the decision to convert what are currently eight-man common rooms on the second and third floors to university lounges and to break up the five-man common rooms into doubles and triples.
Now for those of you who are still reading, you are probably thinking that an adjustment like this is not something to really fret over, so we will go into some explanation.
When you think of Zahm House, the first thing you probably think is “wild/crazy.” The second thing you probably think about is “community.” Whether or not you agree Zahm has the best dorm community on campus, you can likely agree that its reputation is well-known through the passion that Zahm residents show for their dorm and their brothers.
Zahm’s sense of community is largely centered around the common rooms named above. They are the social and communal hubs of each section where people come together for such activities as game watches, movie nights and the occasional social gathering. The common rooms are the first place freshmen are brought to during orientation to meet their new brothers, and, whenever recent alumni visit, the first place they go to is the common rooms because they know that is where they will be able to meet new Zahmbies and reunite with old friends. The common rooms are the places where Zahm men of every year and background can congregate to create the exceptional bonds of friendship that last a lifetime. By no means are they “private social space(s),” for the residents who claim them, as the Office of Housing suggested in their email to us. Instead, they are held to Zahm’s open-door policy, so anyone can come in at any time and thereby foster the growth and friendship that our community holds so dear.
In statements addressing our concerns from the Office of Housing and our new rector, specific emphasis was put on the fact that the university lounges to be created are intended to be used as social spaces. We have tried to convey, to both the University and our rector of two months, Fr. Gary Chamberland, that they indeed already serve this purpose. We tried to convey the importance that the common rooms have to our community and brotherhood, and that any University imposed lounges would not only be detrimental to the Zahm community but also a waste of University funds.
The way these changes have been implemented and the way they were revealed to us are particularly concerning. We have found it increasingly disturbing that the administration claims to have our best interests in mind, while making no effort to understand how our community works. By our rector’s own words, the proceedings of these changes were hidden from us until they were finalized and even the Resident Assistants were not informed until two days before that. We thought a united opposition to the proposed plan, as well as an explanation about the true nature of the common rooms would persuade the University that these lounges would be both harmful and unnecessary. Despite a unanimous voice clamoring that these lounges are not wanted, not needed and bad for the community, and even despite offering alternative plans for a compromise, it was decided these lounges are in our best interest.
It is unfortunate when a university does not care for or respect its students, especially given Notre Dame’s Catholic mission and supposed emphasis on how important student life is. With everything Notre Dame has done for us, we can probably say that the University does indeed care for us, but it certainly does not respect us, as evidenced when the voices of over 200 residents are ignored. This problem therefore extends to everyone, not just Zahm. A university that holds student life and experience as one of its most important components should include residents in the formation of policies that concern them, and residents should not be blatantly ignored when unanimous concerns are raised for their community.
Graduating seniors have been asked to think about their favorite parts of Notre Dame and take them into consideration when making a pledge to contribute donations for next year and for years to come. For most of us, Zahm has been one of ⎯ if not the single ⎯ greatest part of our Notre Dame experience. We therefore cannot contribute to a system that supports actions detrimental to the Zahm community, and we instead pledge that, as alumni, we will not make any donations to the University until the common rooms are restored.
In addition to our own pledge, many parents and current alumni have already joined our effort to support the common rooms by withholding donations. If the disregard for residential life and opinion that has been displayed by the administration towards Zahm’s common rooms concerns you as it does us, we urge you join our pledge as they have.
A hall is where you walk; a House is where you live.