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Superficiality: Frosh-O’s real flaw

Observer Editorial | Friday, August 26, 2005

What’s your name? Where are you from? What dorm are you in? What’s your major?

Sound familiar?

If you’ve experienced Notre Dame’s freshman orientation weekend, it should.

Conversations limited to these four questions are the rule of the weekend, an annual rite of passage for the University’s newest students. And for every Ben-New Jersey-in Morrissey-studying French who becomes a lasting friend, there are countless more who fade into the background of scavenger hunts, ice cream socials and swing dances.

Such events are designed to encourage dorm unity, promote campus traditions and give freshmen a sense of connection to a new community – all of which highlight positive aspects of the Notre Dame experience. Dorm unity, especially, is invaluable to Notre Dame’s identity.

But Frosh-O often instead serves as an introduction to a stressed gender culture that extends beyond freshman year.

As a mass of 18-year-old men and women face each other amid their Frosh-O commissioners’ demands to mingle, the awkwardness of puberty and childhood gender segregation inevitably returns. Freshmen are forced to forge speed-dating style relationships based on little more than the “Four Questions” and physical appearances.

It wouldn’t be so bad if the awkwardness ended after orientation weekend, but abnormal gender relations at Notre Dame far outlast the luaus and karaoke.

An underclassmen culture of sweaty dorm parties fosters upperclassmen relationships that typically fall into one of two categories: the superficial hook-ups or the serious ring-by-spring.

Perhaps this is the reason enthusiastic upperclassmen and members of Frosh-O staffs often give the impression that freshman orientation is a once-in-a-college-career chance to meet lifelong friends or maybe even that special someone.

Who could blame them? Two or three years ago, they were told the same thing.

This now-or-never pressure, combined with activities that unnaturally encourage freshman to pair off, creates an atmosphere that both student government and administrators have rightly recognized as problematic.

They responded this year by encouraging dorms to include more single-sex events in their Frosh-O schedules. But the reality is that many freshmen still want to meet members of the opposite sex – just without the awkwardness of being paired with the girl who picks your tie or the guy who’s designated your Latin dance partner for the night.

There’s a better way for Frosh-O to achieve the same goals of unity, tradition and acclimation without placing further pressure on already frazzled freshmen. And while recognizing and discussing the problem of “pairing off” is a constructive step, Frosh-O events suffer less from hypersexuality than from hypersuperficiality.

Notre Dame would be wise to examine the possibility of less-structured, group-based activities – such as a service project, sporting events or, God forbid, turning freshmen loose unsupervised to visit other dorms – that might promote more natural, meaningful and lasting relationships.