New housing restrictions
Letter to the Editor | Thursday, September 14, 2017
Sometimes it feels like you’re drowning. Despite being given the opportunity to take swimming lessons, being surrounded by lifeguard stands and being given an inner tube … no system is perfect. The lessons don’t teach you what it feels like to be pulled underwater by your own weight, the lifeguard stands empty out at sundown, and a device that holds you above water has not taught you how to swim. But say you wanted to change that — you sometimes felt like you were drowning, but you wanted to make sure that no one else felt that way ever again. Wouldn’t it be frustrating if the beach patrol’s response to your concerns was to make everyone swim out farther and spend more time underwater?
The recent decision by the University to enforce six mandatory semesters of on-campus living comes as a huge surprise. After having participated in one of the Office of Strategic Planning’s student focus groups, it seemed to me that the clear answer was to provide safer, more affordable alternatives to on-campus housing. Beyond the economic constraints of paying $14,890 a year for room and board, approximately $4,000 per year above the cost of living off campus, there are other qualitative differences between on- and off-campus living that are equally “essential components” to consider. As a point of respect and understanding, I would encourage those who want to promote a healthy living environment for students to think of our choices to live off campus as more than a function of our “unhappiness” and being “put off” by the dorm system’s flaws.
While some students benefit enormously from dorm life, a few particularly vulnerable populations benefit from exploring other options — a choice that students should feel free to explore at any point in their time at Notre Dame. In the interest of not speaking for them, I will focus more upon institutional (or campus climate-related) issues that the dorm system perpetuates. As it exists now, the dorms on campus either inadvertently abet or do not do enough to address rape culture, income inequality and inequitable attitudes toward biological sex, racial tensions, mental health and LGBT individuals. These issues are not only specific to those living on campus now, and it is unreasonable to think that they will change before the arrival of the class of 2022. The idea that the answer to breaking these cycles is increased upperclassmen leadership in dorms ignores the fact that institutionalized issues and power imbalances cannot be fixed without polarizing action from the administration.
The announcement speaks for itself — they have spoken to student leadership to decide what is best for future students. My only problem is that it seems that vulnerable populations have been left behind. Those of us who are part of those populations have clear ideas, none of which were to force students to stay on campus longer. We asked for co-ed dorms, we would get more single sex dorms under this plan. We asked for equitable enforcement of rules, there is no sign that this plan will fix that. We asked for a commitment from the administration to shift campus climate with regards to vulnerable students, but we have not seen change.
Making this decision is presumptive. It is making the assumption that you can teach people to swim by surrounding them with more people that cannot. It is making the water deeper and more dangerous in response to a fear of drowning. It tells students that it is their fault they cannot swim and it couldn’t possibly be the water’s fault. If we wanted to improve our campus, continuing to condition students to the existing system is not the answer.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.