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What Would Hesburgh Do?

The Observer Editorial Board | Friday, August 31, 2012

When the men of Zahm House took on “The Hesburgh Challenge” in honor of the dorm’s 75th anniversary on Sunday, they did not mean the infamous library drinking game. Instead, they smoked cigars with Fr. Hesburgh by the Reflecting Pool to celebrate their agreement to continue his legacy of tolerance, inclusiveness and service.
Zahm House is a hall of many traditions: Ignats the Moose, the Spring Carnival and a rivalry with the neighboring Keenan Hall Knights, to name a few. But as part of their pledge, the residents promised to eliminate one tradition in particular: the dorm’s self-mocking chant, “Ole, ole, ole, Zahm’s gay, Zahm’s gay,” in solidarity with and out of respect for all sexual orientations. Each resident also promised to participate in at least one House- or University-sponsored service event.
In an iconic photograph that hangs just inside the front doors of the LaFortune Student Center, Hesburgh clasps arms with Martin Luther King Jr. at a rally for civil rights. He opened the University’s admissions pool to women during his presidency, expanded the University’s service opportunities and was one of the visionaries behind the Peace Corps. Hesburgh’s presence on our campus has long been a reminder of his beliefs in inclusivity and his support of a united community both at Notre Dame and in the world.
When Zahm inducted Hesburgh as an honorary fellow and member of the dorm, he commended the residents for their bravery in standing up for what they think. The members of Zahm House, including one member of this Editorial Board, took the Hesburgh Challenge, and they now ask the rest of campus to follow their lead in maintaining an attitude of acceptance.
For freshmen, this may call into question the slew of dorm rivalries that defined much of Orientation Week: Zahm vs. Keenan, Alumni vs. Dillon, Pasquerilla East vs. Pasquerilla West. Although competition can be healthy, sometimes rivalry gets out of hand. As seen at Dillon Hall pep rallies in the past, “school spirit” cheers can quickly turn into derogatory slurs against rival dorms. In addition, the continued use of stereotypes like “BP pig,” “the outcasts of Carroll” and “Hotel Ryan” in casual conversation makes it difficult for Notre Dame students to attest to their “inclusivity.”
This year, Frosh-O activities focused less on serenades and the pesky “ring by spring,” but many upperclassmen protested the change, saying the awkward experience of Domerfest is a part of the Notre Dame tradition.
But what makes a true Notre Dame tradition? Nothing about yodeling Taylor Swift tunes to a terrified fellow freshman can be found inscribed on the Main Building. Nowhere on the football field are there instructions on how to tear down your rival dorm. Traditions are what we make them to be. The legacy we leave behind is entirely up to us.
As intramural sports ramp up and the quest for “Hall of the Year” begins, Notre Dame’s 29 residence halls have an opportunity. Every year the dorms compete for “Hall of the Year” through excellence in six categories: academic, liturgical, athletic, multicultural, social and environmental. Each of us exhibits skill in at least one, if not all, of these fields, and can undoubtedly find some way to bring home pride to our dorms and store up memories of struggle, success and failure.
Hesburgh wants to leave a legacy of tolerance and unity, but he also emphasized dorm identity. He described Zahm House as “outstanding,” with a character of “zeitgeist” and “a kind of daring.” Just as Zahm donates all proceeds from its pizza parlor and hosts the Spring Carnival for local Michiana children, various charitable signature events across campus give each dorm a distinct – and usually fun – way to serve.
Keenan Hall has Muddy Sunday. Cavanaugh has the Dance-a-thon. Fisher has its eponymous Regatta. Pasquerilla East has Silent Night, Silent Auction. Each event draws hall residents under a common banner and invites the entire Notre Dame community to join in inclusion and service.
For freshmen, this attitude is particularly important, especially as they test the waters outside their dorm identities and start investing themselves as individuals in the clubs and organizations they signed up for at Activities Night.The Notre Dame community shouldn’t have to neutralize all dorm traditions to excel, to make memories, to develop real relationships. Residence halls can retain their quirks and rituals, and even their rivalries, while still maintaining a spirit of inclusion.
So ask yourself: What Would Hesburgh Do? Follow the Zahmbies’ lead, and take the real Hesburgh Challenge. Just as Zahm adopted Hesburgh himself into its hall community, so should the rest of the dorms incorporate his mantra of inclusion into their daily lives.