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‘Catholic school, vicious as Roman rule’

| Wednesday, April 8, 2015

All outgoing seniors are asked to complete an extensive survey that covers everything from your religious views to the details of your academic schedule. There were a thousand or so questions — underclassmen can decide if that’s an approximation or an exaggeration — but the last caught my eye. Why did I decide to live on or off campus during my senior year? Oh, boy.

I lived on campus for three years — Morrissey Manor — then moved off. My first year in Morrissey built my core friend group and shaped my time at Notre Dame, and I wouldn’t change it if I could. By senior year, however, I was ready to leave dorm life. I may have been ready earlier, in fact. I can’t say how common my reasons are, but any underclassmen considering their prospects should listen up. Other seniors are welcome to join in and commiserate.

From a financial standpoint, it was a pretty easy decision for a student coming out of the working poor. The University gave me a generous financial aid package, for which I am grateful, but I was still cutting it close, and a decent amount of my aid was from federal loans. When you move off campus, I learned, you directly receive any financial aid that would have been applied to your room and board.

Off-campus housing meant more space and better amenities for a much lower cost. Morrissey had some of the smallest rooms on campus with no air-conditioning or elevators, yet the cost of living — $13,846 annually — was the same as someone living in new, spacious halls like Ryan or Duncan. My rent at Stadium Club Apartments is $399.50 a month each for my roommate and I — including internet and utilities — making it $3,995 for a 10-month lease. With a kitchen, I buy groceries and cook for myself, saving money and eating on my own schedule.

The financial reasons were enough, but I had stronger personal reasons. The administration treats us like children — children in the 1950s at that. Gender segregated dorms are odd, but you get used to them. Parietals are more difficult to get used to — apparently friends of different genders can’t be trusted together after midnight, or 2 a.m. on weekend nights. I suppose those two extra hours make sense, as weekend nights are characterized by fewer academic responsibilities and a higher likelihood of drinking — surely making illicit activities between the sexes much less likely.

During my time on campus, I knew students kicked out of the dorms that had been their homes for daring to have sex at a Catholic university. I love Notre Dame, and when I came here I was told that the religion was always there for those who wanted it, but that it wasn’t forced on you. “Follow our puritanical sexual morality or risk homelessness” is a betrayal of that promise. I like being able to have friends of any gender in my home at any time, but maybe that’s a needless liberty. I like being able to have sex in my own bed without losing my home in the middle of a semester, but maybe that’s unreasonable. After four years at this University, sometimes it’s hard to tell.

Then there’s NDSP. I don’t want to run afoul of any police, but at least with South Bend police I know the laws they’re enforcing and the powers they possess — and I can refuse them entry into my own home. In my dorm, NDSP officers patrol without the consent of the residents. They have governmental powers of arrest but private rights to secrecy, which rubs me the wrong way. An NDSP officer once crawled under the door of a bathroom stall I was sitting in, unlocked it, dragged me pants-down into a crowded hallway with two more officers, demanded I take a breathalyzer test on the grounds that it looked like I had been drowsing on the toilet, then arrested me when I refused. This was the place that was supposed to be my home. I spent 15 hours in the St. Joseph County jail as if I had been arrested by a public police force, but NDSP doesn’t have to release its records or answer for it publicly. It’s much harder to know my rights — was I lawfully arrested, or was I criminally violated by a posse of self-important hall monitors? Thankfully, a judge threw out the charges they trumped up against me — a lesson in keeping your mouth shut.

As I said, I love that I lived in Morrissey. I honestly wouldn’t have made the same tight-knit friendships I have now if my room wasn’t so unlivabley small that I was forced to constantly spend time in the common room. Being on campus for freshman orientation and that first year was great for integration into the Notre Dame community. But for the sake of my personal finances, my personal dignity and my personal safety, I’m glad I live just down the road now.

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