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Zahm identity faces future change

Maddie Hanna | Thursday, November 30, 2006

Editor’s note: This is the second story in a two-part series examining changes to residence life within Zahm Hall and what those changes mean to the campus community.

When freshman Brad Monroe pulled up to Zahm in August, unloading boxes and belongings, he didn’t really know what to expect – not of college, but of his dorm.

Zahm, after all, was a place where “crazy, lewd and obscene acts” supposedly happened on a regular basis.

“I’d heard Zahm had a bad reputation over the years, but everyone just emphasized the fellowship,” he said. “It hasn’t really lived up to the expectations as far as doing crazy stuff, but the closeness of the dorm, I see that every day.”

It hasn’t taken long for freshmen to notice a gap between the “old” Zahm – which lives on in word-of-mouth primarily within the dorm’s walls – and the “new” Zahm, a hall that seems to have shed much of its more infamous past.

To Zahm rector Father Dan Parrish, the dorm should be “a place where the heart grows as well as the mind.”

“Because that’s what a Holy Cross education is all about,” he said. “You don’t just come here to check into an apartment, or a frat house, or whatever – you come here to be part of a Christian community. And in so many ways, when we started this in 2003, we realized that every part of the Zahm community needed to be rehabbed and cared for. …

“I think there’s a much greater level of care for every part of the Zahm community now, and people feel that.”

It’s a far cry from crazy, lewd and obscene – and that’s something former residents say current students will never understand.

“People who live in Zahm now don’t know what it was like before,” said Matt Walsh, a 2006 alumnus who lived in the dorm during his sophomore year and second semester of his junior year. “… Traditions are going to fade away.”

Senior Kevin Gimber, former Zahm president who lived in the dorm for three years, also noted how “there’s no one living in Zahm” that remembers the past.

“These freshmen don’t know any different,” he said.

Implications of “indifference”

Those freshmen, who say they’ve heard stories about the Zahm of years past, agree that’s the case.

“I guess our rector has been cracking down more and more, which sounds like it was needed,” freshman Tim Thayer said. “I think people who have gone through the changes and saw what Zahm was before prefer that.

“But I’m kind of indifferent.”

Parrish also touched on that idea of indifference – not indifference to the dorm, necessarily, but indifference to its image as “some sort of frat house on North Quad.”

“And even as we’re leaving behind some of that each year, people still try very hard to force it on us,” he said. “I think as in any dorm, there is a great spirit here, and it’s also something I’ve told the hall government every year, that the majority of the hall is the silent majority. And I would say it’s somewhere between 60 and 80 percent of the hall [residents] that either don’t buy into some of … the events that are more in the eye of the public, or they just don’t give a dang about it.

“But there’s also a great, a very strong vocal minority as there is in any group, that kind of sets the tone for what will be, and that’s what you see,” he continued. “Because you don’t see the people who aren’t as interested in that, because they don’t get together and go out on the quad and do things that are, you know, in public.”

If the freshmen will set the tone of the future, however, it doesn’t seem like the fraternity comparisons will continue. Based on what upperclassmen have shared, new residents said an evolution of the dorm’s culture was probably for the best.

“People complain about Father Dan, they talk about how it used to be, [you] could do whatever you wanted with the old rector, but I think [more rule enforcement] was necessary,” Monroe said.

Freshman Mike Perez first encountered “negative rumors” about Zahm when he stayed in the dorm during Spring Visitation Weekend.

“No one would fill me in on any details but would instead say, ‘Ooh, Zahm,'” he said.

So this summer, when the incoming freshman found himself assigned to Zahm Hall, he “wasn’t too excited” about hearing anti-Zahm jokes for the next four years of his life.

But those verbal jabs, he said, don’t really mean anything.

“I quickly learned through Frosh-O and other activities … that there is more to Zahm than what you hear,” he said. “Zahm is a brotherhood and I’ve come to embrace it.”

But will everyone embrace it in the future?

Seniors and alumni said they think an increasing number of upperclassmen will move out of the dorm in the future.

“I think it will continue, because now the trend has been set,” said Joe Cussen, 2006 alumnus who served as dorm president during the last of his three years in Zahm.

But Cussen also pointed at what he said was a “campus-wide” trend of moving out of the dorms “as a senior, or even a junior” – a trend he said now seemed to be catching up to Zahm.

“I wouldn’t even call it a problem – it’s a big change,” he said.

“For better or for worse”

For now, however, Zahm’s freshmen express a seemingly high level of satisfaction with dorm life.

“Zahm does catch a lot of heat from other dorms – that kind of sets us apart, but that only strengthens us as a group,” freshman Brian Price said. “We have reputations, you know?”

Within the Zahm community, Price said he has found “a strong sense of tradition that you just want to uphold.”

“It’s a family within a family,” he said.

Upperclassmen have mentioned big changes within the community over the past several years, Price said, but he doesn’t believe much has changed.

“I mean, that’s been talked about,” he said. “I guess, that’s been tough for me – it’s been hearsay for me – but the overall environment has remained the same, in terms of everyone being close-knit.”

While Thayer said he wasn’t very familiar with other men’s dorms, he agreed there was an especially developed character that set his hall apart – a “common bond” among residents established “just by being in Zahm.”

“For better or worse,” he said. “I don’t know.”