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NDSP issues surveys to Zahm

Katie Perry | Friday, March 10, 2006

Notre Dame Security/Police distributed a written survey last month to several Zahm Hall residents in order to investigate a Jan. 28 incident involving a group of the dorm’s residents who threw fruit and vomited on Keenan Hall – a move that left some respondents both puzzled and angered.

The questionnaire, an electronic copy of which was obtained by The Observer, asked several questions – some broad, others specific – about the incident. According to a Jan. 28 e-mail sent to the dorm by Zahm rector Father Dan Parrish, “a group of [approximately 10] Zahm men, wearing red shirts, threw fruit at Keenan Hall and vomited on and near Keenan’s southern wall.” Most of the fruit and vomit fell in the vicinity of Keenan rector Father Mark Thesing’s windows, he said in the email, a copy of which was obtained by The Observer.

Parrish declined comment for this story, and NDSP associate director Phil Johnson told The Observer he would not talk about any “ongoing investigation.”

A Zahm resident – who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions related to the survey – said he received the document “about Feb. 3.”

“I was just coming back from the gym and an NDSP detective came to my room and handed [the survey] to me,” he said. “She explained that I had to answer the questions and that she was doing an investigation. That is all she would really tell me – not why or for what purpose.”

The source said he was given the survey because his name was “randomly mentioned by someone,” and knows of about six other people who were also given the survey. It was collected “about Feb. 10,” he said.

“[NDSP] wants scapegoats and they will find them,” the resident said.

The Observer obtained a copy of the eight-page survey, which had the business card for NDSP investigator Laurie L. Steffen stapled to its front. Steffen would not comment on the survey and referred to Johnson.

The first page of the document outlined explicit instructions for respondents to follow while taking the survey and asked them to “realize” a list of statements before they began answering questions.

“Every word is important and each one might be checked later on,” the survey stated. “This is not a draft and you have only one chance to write down the answers. So, before you write we would like you to think as to how you are going to phrase your answers.”

The final item on the list of preliminary instructions admonished respondents against “making corrections on the questionnaire” in spaces other than those “provided for that purpose.” Corrections would be taken into consideration, the survey read.

“It said, ‘Would I like to change my answers?'” the Zahm resident said. “That question doesn’t even make sense. Why would I go about filling out the whole survey and then change my answers saying that I lied?”

The questionnaire asked residents to share any knowledge they might have pertaining to the “Fruit and Vomit incident” and write in details “ideas that would account for it.”

“Tell us what happened on Jan. 28 covering from the time you woke up until the time you ended the day,” the questionnaire read, leaving nearly an entire page blank for response.

Directly addressing the issue, the survey asked if respondents knew who was involved in the incident, what the causes were and if they had any part in the fruit and vomit found on Keenan Hall.

The survey also asked respondents to “list the five most important causes that could have created this situation” and how they might go about conducting the investigation.

“I think [the survey] was the right way [to conduct the investigation] if they were on a witch hunt looking for specific people to get in trouble,” the Zahm resident said. “However, I feel like most people didn’t have much information because it was like two weeks after [the incident]. Most answers were probably vague.”

The final page of the questionnaire included eight questions – some of which asked respondents to assess their own psychological states.

“How do you feel now that you have completed this form?” the survey read. “While filling out this form what were your emotions? … Were you afraid while completing this form?”

The Zahm resident said such questions about emotional states made the investigation of the incident “seem like a murder case.”

“To tell you the truth, it didn’t change my emotions,” he said.

The survey also asked residents if they thought NDSP should believe the answers provided and imagine what they would say “if it was later determined that [they] lied on the form.”

The Zahm resident who received the document maintained he “didn’t actually do anything to Keenan” and said NDSP blew the situation “beyond out of proportion.”

“This is college,” he said. “It should be noted that no one had malicious intentions. It was a simple prank. I think that NDSP and ResLife should learn the good old saying, ‘Boys will be boys.'”

In a Feb. 6 letter to the editor submitted to The Observer, Zahm Hall publicly apologized for the incident with the intent to “call attention to a group that dissents from [the Zahm] family.”

“It’s time to set the record straight,” said the letter signed by the “Men of Zahm Hall.”

The letter listed the positive aspects of the hall’s reputation, but firmly said such things have been made obsolete “in light of what [the dorm’s] reputation has become.”

“It doesn’t matter how many activities we participate in or how well we do in competitions,” the letter stated. “What matters is our biggest cause for pride, our reputation, has slowly digressed into a cause for other dorms to hate us and ridicule us and for this wonderful University to look down on us and discipline us.”

Despite blaming Zahm’s damaged image on a minority of residents, the letter said a silent majority “has done little to stop” incidents like the one on Jan. 28.

“We … want to express our deepest apologies for our continued disrespectful behavior. We’re sorry for giving you all the reasons you need to hate Zahm,” the letter said, promising to “move forward in a positive way.”

National Association for Police Organizations communications director Gene Deere said she was “not aware” of any overseeing institutions or guidelines regarding such investigative surveys on college campuses.