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Keep dorm identity alive

Editorial Board | Friday, April 20, 2012

It’s April, and that means the surest rite of spring is in the air – prospective students are visiting campus for tours and information sessions to learn about Notre Dame. Admissions counselors and tour guides are putting on the metaphorical full-court press, telling the harried students and their stressed parents all about the things that make Our Lady’s University so unique – which means dorm life will inevitably come up.

“Dorm life is absolutely unique here,” tour guides will say. “Every dorm has its own culture, its own unique traditions and its own feel.”

That’s true, and we love dorm life at the University. But recently, some of its most unique – and best – aspects have been modified and changed in ways that worry us.

The most recent example, of course, is that of St. Edward’s Hall. While a number of dorms still have lofts, none of them have integrated the wooden structures into a dorm culture quite like St. Ed’s has. The Office of Residence Life and Housing, however, recently informed the Gentlemen of a two-year plan to move every room in the hall to modular furniture, robbing some rooms of the ability to have lofts next year – after room picks, no less. Rather than participating in a communal activity that transforms small rooms into real living spaces, the Gentlemen now have to figure out how to use both the closet in the room and the wardrobe provided with the modular furniture.

Sure, in the grand scheme of things, this doesn’t seem like a particularly big deal. In taking away lofts, though, the University has minimized liability at the expense of a unique part of dorm culture.

And it isn’t the only time it has done so.

For example, Keenan Hall has experienced more strict censorship during its past two years of its signature event – the Keenan Revue.

While we understand the University’s reasoning behind these moves, we simply don’t approve of them. To be fair, dorm culture still thrives and greatly contributes to the Notre Dame student experience. We’re not arguing the University has killed everything (or even most things) special about residence life – St. Edward’s still has its famed Yacht Dance, interhall sports still thrive and people still feel connected to their respective dorms. These events just set a bad precedent.

In our view, the University should do a better job of collaboratively finding ways to address its all-too-real concerns, while protecting the very system that makes the Notre Dame undergraduate experience so unique. For example, instead of simply moving to modular furniture, the University could make loft inspection and approval a more thorough process overseen by Risk Management instead of by hall staff. Notre Dame must address these problems in a way that promotes both the University’s pragmatic interests and the culture that has made it so unique.

If the University really wants to showcase its dorm culture to all of the students visiting – and we think it should – then it should find better ways to promote dorm culture. After all, what’s the point of telling a prospective student about an expertly-engineered St. Ed’s loft that won’t exist by the time they get to participate in room picks for the first time?