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Notre Dame dorm system: encouraging gender discrimination?

| Thursday, September 21, 2017

We know this might shock you, but we have a gender problem here at Notre Dame. This problem presents itself most apparently through the dorm system. Though the dorms do have many positive attributes and we both still have a lot of love for and loyalty to our dorms, we must not sit complacently by when we see how harmful the dorm system can be. To the Notre Dame student population, it’s no secret that policy enforcement in the dorms is highly gendered. After conducting focus groups and engaging with sects of student leadership, this should be no secret to the administration either. To his credit, Fr. Jenkins vaguely alluded to this issue in the email that was sent out, writing, “Others were put off by a lack of consistency in procedures and rules across residence halls.” However, this discussion demands a much finer edge than simply pointing out inconsistencies amongst the dorms. Acknowledging a problem does not fix that problem, though it is the first step.

After three years studying gender and inequality in all its forms (race, class, ability, sexual orientation, etc.) at this university, we are not in the mood to mince words and avoid stepping on toes. The dorm system, as it currently stands, actively supports, allows and encourages gender discrimination to occur on this campus. Let us count (some of) the ways.

First are those inconsistent rules that Fr. Jenkins mentioned, though this is far from the only problem here. Students report this, everyone understands it, yet nothing is done. Social gatherings and underage alcohol consumption is widely tolerated in men’s residence halls and more harshly punished in women’s residence halls. Many readers will understand this. Many may not. Ask your friends who live in women’s dorms what their experience has been with authority, and listen to the answer. Yet, students regularly point to how evening out the rules and procedures regarding drinking and parties would result in an overall greater enforcement of the rules instead of an overall relaxing — but why does this have to be the case?

When the people who live in female residence halls are not allowed to make the same decisions as those who live in male residence halls, when they are held to different expectations on the basis of their assigned sex, structures of inequality and discrimination are reproduced daily. It also allows male residence halls to become the only on-campus sites of social gatherings and alcohol consumption, creating an environment in which male residents control setting and access to alcohol, and female residents are left powerless over these aspects of a night out. Female residents depend on their male friends in order to drink — leading to a lack of control over what they drink and what goes into that drink. We hope it is not difficult to see how this power differential increases the probability for sexual assault. It is correct to say that policy enforcement is inconsistent, but it is crucial that we note that this is an inconsistency based on gender.

Secondly, the dorm system makes Notre Dame a rigid, binary gender environment. By designating residence halls as male and female, the University excludes individuals who may not find a home within this binary. Gender non-conforming individuals find themselves imprisoned by the dorm system; they are forced to choose male or female, yes or no, in a way that is incredibly detrimental to their self image, mental health and development as a human. Those who run Notre Dame want us all to grow while we are here. Yet, they only want us to grow in a way that is acceptable to them (and honestly, the Catholic Church, but that’s a whole other issue).

In this way, the dorm system is fueled by heteronormativity. The male-female distinctions in the dorms are based on the assumed heterosexuality of the hall’s residents, so LGBTQ or gender non-binary folks are excluded on the basis of sexual orientation as well as gender identity. These people have the same right as other students to feel at home in their dorm — their home on campus — yet they have to live within a system that doesn’t even consider LGBTQ identities as a possibility. Further, though the institution of parietals has the purpose of building community, the common perception is that it is to prevent students from having sex — a perception that assumes that anyone a student would be having sex with would be from the opposite end of the gender binary. This assumption is naive and dangerous.

Thirdly, and finally, in regards to parietals, we want to ask you a question: why do we have to assign genders to our definition of community? Parietals are often defended by the argument that these rules build community. We’d like to hear the University’s operational definition of “community”; aren’t we all one Notre Dame community? Wouldn’t we have the same sense of belonging and loyalty to our dorm if, say, the person who lived below you had a different gender than you? Why are we confining our residence halls to exist only within the gender binary, and what do we really gain from that?

So, yeah, we think the dorms encourage gender discrimination. And that’s just one of the many reasons the new requirement to live on campus for six semesters is irresponsible, dangerous and utterly goofy.

Molly Burton


Becca Fritz


Sept. 18

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  • warmupthediesel

    Complaining about male dorms hosting parties will get all parties on campus shut down. So….great job. Soon, you’ll all be stuck on an inevitably dry campus for three years….getting punished mercilessly by a centralized discipline system run by a bunch of jerks who have botched countless sexual assault scenarios, alcohol-related incidents, and other campus issues.

    And stop kidding yourselves. Gender-neutral bathrooms are nearly impossible to incorporate in the dozens of 100+ yr old buildings on campus. There are countless modern universities with gender-neutral bathrooms….if that’s more important to you, than say….a traditional Catholic-based education (no judgment! to each their own), maybe you should pick a school that aligns more with your priorities. Don’t pick the wrong school, show up, and complain.

    Common-sense and I agree with you on parietals. They cause more problems than they solve…ask any ND student from the last decade.

  • CUSEListserve

    First, I agree about the party difference in the dorms. It’s not fair and it is not as safe. And I appreciate how you acknowledge the counter-argument that rules will become harsher instead of more lenient. However, asking “why?” for the harshening of rules may lead you to this answer: If the concern is for the safety of the students, as the argument presents, then lightening rules on partying in dorms will only make the campus more dangerous. Not saying I agree, just what the argument would be.

    Second, as a gay student myself, while parietals can be dangerous for people who do not fit the gender binary, I don’t think the argument for LGB students is quite as strong. I think parietals is hilarious–it gives me an opportunity to be like “LOL you can’t stop me from having sex, it’s with a guy” and that’s pretty cool. Also, the benefits of parietals can’t be ignored: an opportunity to escape a dangerous situation by saying you have to leave, the calm in the dorm for sleep and studying, and being able to have an excuse for alone time.

    Furthermore, going back to the gender binary and parietals, the university could easily, and quite strongly, counter with this argument: The University is a private, Catholic institution. You know what you’re signing up for when you come to Notre Dame, and the university is not going to change its values for a few people. Not everyone can be happy, and the university will continue to abide by policies that reflect its beliefs.

    Your last question is also a reasonable question to ask, but, in a sense, it counters some of your earlier points. If sexual assault is the biggest concern, I fail to see how it would be better to have mixed-gender dorms without parietals. This also doesn’t align with the Catholic values of the University because, as you said earlier, parietals are to prevent sex. Also, if you’re arguing about genders being assigned to community, what are your thoughts on fraternities and sororities at other schools? Yes, those are optional, but if we had optional mixed-gender dorms, this would begin divisions Notre Dame doesn’t want at all, and divisions that could be detrimental to gender relations. There would be a distinct social difference between single-gender dorms and mixed dorms, and I can imagine that single-gender dorms would turn more towards fraternity/sorority tendencies as the students all want to live in a single-gender home. Notre Dame wants near complete randomness with rooming, so the university cannot give options to the students about the type of dorm they live in, nor can they switch to all mixed-gender dorms.

    I hear your arguments and the legitimacy of the claims, but, after attending the town hall for after the announcement of the six-semester policy, I think they fail to stack up to the university’s reasonings.

    There is definitely room for improvement, and, though the change will not be as large as you desire I encourage you to push for some change in the dorms! Bringing a different mindset to ND can only help community grow.

    Sidenote: One trivial thing I’m upset about in dorm gender differences is the kitchens–not only does this push the “domestic housewife” narrative of women (you’d think a university educating women to be the best in the world wouldn’t do this), but it also doesn’t allow the men access to enough cooking materials, which could be rough for six semesters on campus.

    Thanks for the article! I can tell you put a lot of thought into it and are very passionate about the issue and the future of Notre Dame students, even though it does not affect you. That’s extremely admirable, and to that, I say: power to you!