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Notre Dame rules, regulations stir discontent

Justin Tardiff | Friday, November 11, 2005

Editor’s Note: In order to offer an honest, candid portrayal of discipline at Notre Dame, The Observer granted anonymity to several sources who will appear in this series. The Observer felt it was essential to include these sources’ perspectives in a fair, well-rounded report, but they would only speak on the condition of anonymity because they feared repercussions from the University.

There’s dysfunction in the Notre Dame family.

A buzzing undercurrent of frustration and confusion regarding the University’s disciplinary procedures flows from student to student, puzzling administrators.

Sometimes the resentment is so strong it colors a student’s entire Notre Dame experience.

“This isn’t the Notre Dame that the alumni talk about,” said a male senior who wished to remain anonymous. “I don’t want to say it’s absolutely terrible.

“But had I not gone abroad, done Bengal Bouts or met people at work, I would have said, ‘I wish I went to another school.'”

Notre Dame’s rules and regulations – explicitly outlined in duLac, the University’s official handbook – are simultaneously contentious to some students and foreign to others, whose only experiences with discipline are second-hand stories spread by word of mouth.

“There’s urban legends, or lore, that goes around campus,” Associate Vice President of Student Affairs Bill Kirk said.

There’s also disillusionment, a sentiment shared by a surprisingly large number of students that does not always trickle up to the Main Building, where administrators are quick to praise Notre Dame’s residential community and the support – if also constraint – it provides undergraduates.

“I think that students, generally speaking, respect [the University’s rules], and they understand them, and they choose to live on campus … We’re chock full. We don’t have any space in the residence halls,” Kirk said. “I think that students like campus life. They enjoy being on campus in the residence hall, in part because there’s a sense of order and discipline.”

Many students do support Notre Dame’s unique residential system – a focal point in Admissions Office brochures and a campus tour must-mention. And it’s integral to administrators’ vision of Notre Dame.

“You take the expression ‘We are Notre Dame,’ we take that pretty seriously,” Kirk said. “We are together, one body, very much related to our mission as a Catholic university, we’re one body in Christ, the whole idea that we are in this all together … [The community] should be life-giving, allows students to succeed academically.

“That’s the bottom line.”

But for other students, the Notre Dame community has different connotations.

“I’d say it’s a bunch of hot air,” said a second male senior, who also wished to remain anonymous. “Had I known in advance what would happen … I would have planned on moving off campus certainly after two years, maybe one and a half. You meet all your buddies by then anyway.”

“This is a raid. Line up”

For the first senior, the seeds of discontent were planted his freshman year with the Jan. 24, 2003 bust of the Boat Club – then a Thursday night bar destination with an anything-goes reputation popular with underage Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students.

As a first-semester freshman, the senior went to Boat Club every other Thursday, nights he remembered as “not even to get wasted, but to get off campus” and unwind with his friends.

When Indiana State Excise and South Bend police officers entered the bar and started writing citations to more than 200 underage students – assisted by Notre Dame Security/Police (NDSP) officers armed with University directories – the senior’s perceptions of the University started to change.

“It leaves a bitter taste in your mouth,” he said. “It’s not because you care for our well-being, but because we’re a source of revenue. You don’t want to help us.”

The senior’s complaints stem not from the minor in a tavern and minor in possession of false identification citations issued to him by police, but from the disciplinary measures pursued by the University following the incident.

He, like dozens of his peers, faced fines and community service hours from both St. Joseph County and the Office of Residence Life and Housing as well as legal fees after Boat Club levied lawsuits against many of the cited students for damages the bar incurred.

“It’s double jeopardy,” he said. “You do that, [cite me] as a private citizen. Not as a Notre Dame student, but as an underage student at a bar.”

The senior chose pretrial diversion for the citations and settled the lawsuit outside of court, but the legal conclusion of the incident didn’t end its impact. The greater issue was how it changed his – and many others’ apprehended in the bar that night – attitudes toward the University.

“I wasn’t out drinking and driving, wasn’t chugging liquor in the dorms … I was responsible,” the senior said. “I handled it like an adult and felt like I was treated like a kid.”

That treatment has a negative impact on the closeness of the community, he said.

“I just feel that Notre Dame wants to foster brotherhood and community spirit [but it’s] fostering a feeling of just taking care of yourself,” he said. “If NDSP sees you helping a drunk kid back [to his dorm], they won’t just cite him, they’ll cite you for the alcohol on your breath. Everyone’s just going to help themselves. We’re living in a microscope.”

The microscope, “the bigger fist coming down on people,” became overwhelming for the senior.

“It made me want to go abroad. It made me want to get out from under the Dome and be treated like an adult in a foreign setting,” he said.

And he did leave, exchanging the Notre Dame atmosphere he associated with hypocrisy and double jeopardy for the freedom of a yearlong abroad program junior year.

Now living off-campus, Boat Club nearly three years in the past, the senior said Notre Dame’s situation for students is worsening in terms of both on- and off- campus enforcement.

“You love Notre Dame because of the football, you love [that] when you graduate there’s great alumni, but not because every weekend you were having a good time,” he said, remembering his initial disappointment with in-dorm social relations. “When you’re not 21 and you want to have a social life, it’s hard to take risks. Playing Madden , or parties in a crowded, sweaty dorm room with some girl puking … gets played out after about four weeks.

“Even in the dorm, they’re very quick to make an example of students. You make an example, and everyone lives in fear.”

Kirk said it is natural for students to disagree with the University’s disciplinary approach – and that Notre Dame does not regret taking stances some students vehemently oppose.

“Nobody likes rules and regulations, necessarily … I don’t apologize for that. I don’t think anyone in Student Affairs would,” Kirk said, “[The rules are] good, appropriate, educational at their core … The rules don’t exist for any other purpose than to live together in community.”

However, he drew a distinction between students who simply don’t like the rules and students who have a logical, rational problem with their fairness.

“A reasoned argument as to why something might be overbearing – that would be appropriate,” Kirk said.

“You lied to our face”

The second male senior was kicked out of his dorm along with his roommate at the end of their sophomore year after what he called a “few small pranks” escalated into a flurry of accusations and denials that left him feeling “cornered” by the University.

“We were caught red-handed, and we admitted to that,” the senior said.

But when asked to account for more serious pranks – including causing water damage and egging a resident assistant’s door – the two friends were confused.

“[Hall staff] brought up all this stuff we hadn’t heard about … and said, ‘We know it’s your buddies. Bring them down and fess up,'” the senior said. “At that time, I didn’t know if my buddies had done it or not. My roommate and I took the stance, ‘We’re not going to give out names.'”

Five meetings later, the rector told the senior and his friend they had three options – move off-campus, move out of the dorm or take their case to the Office of Residence Life and Housing.

“But they’re going to believe what I say at ResLife,” the senior recalled his rector saying.

After the rector said the two friends could switch to the same dorm, the senior and his friend decided to pursue that option.

He didn’t anticipate the complicated process involved and especially not the e-mail he received from another dorm’s rector the next day – “Your rector suggested you don’t live with your roommate.”

“Basically what it came down to is he [my rector] lied to us,” the senior said. “He jumped all over us, asked if we called him a liar … We’re saying, of course not. But the whole time thinking, ‘You lied to our face.'”

While neither he nor his friend were referred to the Office of Residence Life and Housing, the senior called the way the situation was handled “ridiculous.”

“They always sort of talk about your brothers in the dorm – [then] to penalize me for not lying and saying my dormmates did something, I was kicked across campus,” he said, adding the move did little to encourage his immersion in a new hall community.

“I didn’t become a part of the new dorm at all. If anything, it encouraged me to go off-campus more and party more,” the senior said. “I slept at least several nights a week at apartments.”

It was probably a side effect unintended by the University, the senior said. But he didn’t mind.

“I came here for reasons other than the community lifestyle or whatever they want to have in the dorms,” he said.

But for students like junior Sarah Ball, that community lifestyle is essential to the Notre Dame experience.

“I love my dorm – it’s been like a sorority,” said Ball, who lives in Breen-Phillips. “Everyone’s so far away from their families, but they basically have a family to be with [here], with automatic friends.”

This dorm family is just a part of the bigger Notre Dame family, Ball said.

While today’s students may have conflicting views of the Notre Dame experience, one thing is certain – recent frustrations are merely examples of long-simmering tensions between the student body and the University administration regarding disciplinary procedures, as the second part of this series will examine.