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Changes, unrest mark ND policy history

Justin Tardiff | Monday, November 14, 2005

It was a riot that shook Our Lady – literally.

Two thousand students brandishing beer cans stormed the Main Building on April 18, 1984 in a frenzied response to an alcohol policy report released two days earlier, which they ripped and strewed over the rotunda, leaving toilet paper and distressed administrators in their wake.

Dissatisfaction with residential life is not a modern phenomenon. While the most recent campus drama has been not under the Dome but concerning the Dome itself – the decision to begin the regilding process before last May’s commencement had seniors up in arms – the 1984 protests were indicators of student unrest that has been present in different degrees throughout the decades.

Policy changes have punctuated Notre Dame’s history. The transitions may be smooth or rocky, but the changes and the emotions evoked are to be expected.

“The party is over”

On April 16, 1984, the University Committee on the Responsible Use of Alcohol – established in response to a November 1982 report on “Priorities and Commitments for Excellence (PACE) at the University of Notre Dame” – released a new alcohol policy report.

Banning private parties was its most controversial aspect.

“The students do not consider drunkenness an act that requires disciplinary measures. This attitude must change,” committee chair Father William Beauchamp said in an April 17, 1984 Observer article. “The whole party scene leads to alcohol abuse. So we’ve got to eliminate it.”

Many students were particularly angered by the report’s limited view on acceptable social gatherings – “Whenever alcohol containers are open, the total number of people in one room may not exceed four persons, or two times the number of students assigned to sleep in that suite” – calling it a direct assault on their freedom to assemble.

The night of April 17, more than 1,500 students began a “spontaneous rally which climaxed with fireworks and horns,” according to an April 18, 1984 article.

Banners swept campus, draping dorm windows. Dillon threatened secession. Cavanaugh asked the simple question, “Why?”

More than a week after rallies rocked campus – and national media picked up on the story – student body president Rob Bertino and vice president Cathy David took a calmer approach in an April 26, 1984 Observer column.

“It is not so much what was done, but the way in which it was done, that we find disturbing,” the two wrote, stressing the need for student input in policy changes.

The report also recommended the ban of hard alcohol.

“Two or three martinis are most liable to lead to alcohol abuse to an 18- or 19-year-old than a beer,” Dean of Students David Roemer said in an April 18, 1984 article – a refrain echoed by administrators today.

Other recommendations included bans on dorm room bars and the presence of underage students at hall parties where alcohol was served.

“When I first came here, we were at ‘A,’ which was totally dry,” then-University President Father Theodore Hesburgh said in a May 7, 1984 article. “Then later we went to ‘Z,’ which was pretty wet. Now we’re going to ‘M,’ which is somewhere in between the two extremes.”

“Alcohol is alcohol is alcohol”

Students returned in August 1984 to find the previous spring’s proposed alcohol policy revised and finalized.

This time, tailgates came under fire.

“No student, student organization, or residence hall may organize or sponsor ‘tailgaters’ on campus or on any adjacent fields or parking lots at any time for the purpose of serving alcoholic beverages,” the report read.

The originally proposed report had not made such a restriction based on the explanation that “it would be almost impossible to eliminate alcohol at tailgaters on football weekends.” But the Board of Trustees found fault with this reasoning.

“When they brought this up, it seemed to make a distinction between alcohol abuse and where it was done,” said John Goldrick, then-associate vice president for Residence Life. “And it seemed not to address the final issue – the responsible use of alcohol. It became a matter of legal liability as well as educational liability.”

The ban on private parties still stood, although the numeric limit on guests was left to rector discretion. But hard alcohol was back.

“Alcohol is alcohol is alcohol,” Goldrick said. “The distinction has not been made in these regulations.”

Then-Vice President for Student Affairs Father David Tyson said hard alcohol was acceptable when consumed moderately.

“The primary reason for the change in policy is if the University says that consumption in moderation is allowed then we allow the consumption of alcohol,” Tyson said. “I don’t want to have policies that are meaningless, or not enforced.”

In marked contrast to the previous spring’s uprising, student reaction was subdued.

“In my opinion now, we really haven’t got a fight,” Bertino said. “I think we would be more or less wasting our time.”

“We’ve tried to avoid extremes”

The next significant policy change came in August 1988 along with a new University President – Father Edward Malloy. After a year of review, the Task Force on Whole Health and the Use and Abuse of Alcohol produced a new policy banning alcohol at hall formals.

The policy limited residence halls to one hall formal each semester and set restrictions on funding for the dances – specifically, no University or hall funds, or funds collected from the sale of dance tickets, can be used to purchase alcohol. The hall was also banned from distributing or supplying alcohol in any public or private area.

“I think this is a moderate policy that requires some degree of compromise. It’s awfully hard to make everybody happy,” Malloy said. “We’ve tried to avoid extremes and find a middle route.”

“Save the SYR”

It was almost 15 years before University alcohol policy changed once more.

On March 19, 2002, Vice President for Student Affairs Father Mark Poorman announced the ban of hard alcohol in residence halls, the end of in-hall “screw-your-roommate” (SYR) dances and the enforcement of the rule that only students of legal age may host tailgates in designated parking lots.

Student government printed thousands of signs reading “We need a voice” and “Save the SYR” for students to hang in windows across campus. Student leaders expressed discontent with the University’s system – similar to Bertino and David in 1984.

“The real frustration of executive cabinet was about students having a voice in these decisions,” senior class president Peter Rossman said in a March 20, 2002 Observer article. “It could be any big decision, not just alcohol.”

And while it wasn’t the 2,000 students of 1984, 600 students marched to the Main Building on March 20, 2002.

Wielding “Save Liquor” signs and flaming copies of duLac, the students chanted “We Want a Voice” and rallied around their frustration.

“This is about dorm unity. This is about a hell of a lot more than hard alcohol,” said Joe Muto, O’Neill Hall president-elect, in a March 21, 2002 Observer article. “If you want to take my Mardi Gras [O’Neill SYR] away, if you want to take my dorm unity away, then you’ll have to pry them out of my cold, dead hands.”

Muto added that he refused to be “pushed around by a bunch of celibate, white men.”

The ban on in-hall SYRs, a practice steeped in Notre Dame tradition, was particularly controversial.

“The SYRs had just seemed to come out of the blue,” Amy O’Connor, Club Coordination Council representative, said in the March 20 article. “To think when my brother comes here, he’s not going to get to go to an SYR in his dorm, is something I can’t believe.”

The rationale behind outlawing in-hall SYRs was linked with that behind banning hard alcohol. With in-dorm dances, too many students could periodically go back up to their rooms and take shots, Farley rector Sister Carrine Etheridge told the South Bend Tribune in October 2002.

The South Bend Tribune reported on the Notre Dame “drinking game” on May 12, 2002. Fifty ambulances were sent to campus during the 2001-02 academic year to bring inebriated people to Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center, the article read.

But after the policy change, that number began to drop – eight people during the first eight weeks of the fall 2002 semester, compared with 25 during the same period the year before, the Tribune reported Oct. 13 2002.

“We realized pretty plainly, pretty clearly after that that we had a problem that needed to be addressed and haven’t had anything close to that kind of problem since,” Associate Vice President of Student Affairs Bill Kirk said. “It’s all about education.”

“Suspension or dismissal”

Before 1949, there were no visitors allowed in residence halls without rector permission. The precursor to the University’s current parietals policy – which never fails to elicit strong opinions on both sides of the issue – was established in 1949, when the student manual allowed female visitors in private rooms before 9 p.m.

That time moved up to 6 p.m. in 1952, and in 1956, women weren’t allowed anywhere on campus after 9 p.m. unless going to or from the Student Center or “any other official place of entertainment,” the student manual read.

The 1961 Student Guide included a section entitled “The Student as a Gentleman,” which read, “The Notre Dame student clearly sees that it is not fitting to entertain ladies in a men’s residence hall. Neither the visitors nor the hall’s residents would be at perfect ease.”

The University began to gradually open the campus to women in 1967, with a directive allowing women guests in student rooms on occasions announced by the Dean of Students, such as football weekends and Mardi Gras.

In 1969, the Board of Trustees approved a “Hall Life Experiment,” quickly followed by changes in 1970 implementing a parietals system allowing women guests in men’s rooms until 11 p.m. on weeknights and 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.

With the coming of 1972 came the official admittance of women to Notre Dame. No longer guests on campus, women were members of the residential community. Parietals were extended until midnight on weeknights.

The gravity of the rule was fully articulated with the 1984 addition of a sentence to duLac: “Overnight parietals violations involve suspension or dismissal.”

In 1986, the administration approved a minor change in the parietals policy allowing rectors discretion to extend Sunday night parietals to 12:30 a.m.

“In pretty good shape”

duLac states that the Associate Vice President for Residence Life will make a “best effort” to inform the Campus Life Council – a group composed of adminstrators, faculty, rectors and students that serves as an advisory board to Poorman – of policies under consideration in the next edition of duLac before the group’s March meeting.

“[University policy] doesn’t change a lot,” Kirk said. “It’s in pretty good shape. I think the rules accurately and fairly completely state the expectations of the University with regards to behavior.”

Kirk said the decision to revise policies originates from meetings between the senior staff of the Office of Student Affairs, which includes himself, Poorman and the other associate and assistant vice presidents.

“If there’s some substantive regulation that we need to address or change, we would consider that and pass it to the Office of Residence Life to develop a regulation to that The Office of Residence Life produces an official regulation, which is then presented to the Campus Life Council for feedback,” he said.

While change is inevitable, the majority of the rules and regulations outlined in duLac have stood the test of time, largely due to their roots in traditional Notre Dame values and the idea of education. The third article in this series will examine current regulations, rationales and their roots.