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Observer Editorial: Building our home under the Dome

| Friday, September 22, 2017

Last week, Notre Dame announced that beginning with the class of 2022, the University will require students to live on campus for six semesters.

Although vice president for student affairs Erin Hoffmann Harding said during a town hall held Sept. 13 that the administration sees this decision as “solidifying a trend that already exists,” many students in attendance expressed disappointment and frustration about the requirement.

Every student has a different experience while living in a dorm on campus. While student life in the dorms may be the best aspect of the Notre Dame experience for many, for others it may be the opposite­. Currently, the majority of Notre Dame students choose to live on campus for six semesters, while 15 percent of juniors and 2 to 3 percent of sophomores choose to move off campus.

Regardless of your views on the new policy, every student on campus now has the distinct opportunity to vocalize his or her opinions in order to work with University administrators and improve the dorm culture at Notre Dame before the requirement takes effect. Although the changes to residential life will not affect any current students, we as a student body have the opportunity to shape residential life — and the Notre Dame experience — for classes to come.

Along with the announcement of the six-semester requirement, the University informed students of plans to build two new dorms, an initiative to make dorm culture more consistent across campus and possible senior incentives for those who remain on campus past the required six semesters. The plan for the senior incentives “was necessarily a bit vague,” Hoffmann Harding said at the town hall, to allow for greater collaboration between University administrators and students.

Possible incentives Hoffmann Harding suggested in a Sept. 12 interview with The Observer included additional leadership roles for seniors in dorms, more flexible meal plans and greater autonomy for senior room picks. Students now have the opportunity to give feedback on these ideas and suggest ideas of their own by engaging in a conversation with University administrators.

Additional engagement among dorm communities and across campus could also serve to ease the transition to the six-semester requirement. At Saint Mary’s, students are already required to live on campus for six-semesters, and one byproduct has included a more closely-knit, campus-wide community. Following the College’s example, Notre Dame could supplement the dorm community by strengthening the campus community at large.

The conversation regarding these new policies must extend beyond ideas for possible senior incentives and additional bonding exercises. For some Notre Dame students, the decision to move off campus stems from more than just the desire to explore new food options or live with friends who were previously spread across several dorms on campus.

Students at the town hall raised significant concerns with the changes, ranging from financial difficulties, to minority students feeling alienated or targeted in dorms, to survivors of sexual assault feeling trapped on campus with an assailant. These are very real concerns for some members of the Notre Dame community and ones we need to address if the six-semester requirement is to be effective in enhancing residence hall culture.

Will the University offer additional financial aid to students who might not be able to afford to live on campus for six semesters? Will the administration work with minorities on campus and groups which represent them to address the difficulties of being a member of an underrepresented community in a dorm? Will survivors of sexual assault be able to move out of a dorm that might remind them of where they were assaulted?

We urge students to speak up and ask these questions in a constructive way as we work toward improving our dorm and campus cultures, and we ask the administration to offer more opportunities for students to do so. These questions — along with many others that may not have been asked yet — cannot be answered in a single hour-long town hall meeting.

Most students already choose to remain on campus as part of the residential community at Notre Dame. By embracing the fact that this community is going to change, we have the potential to ensure it changes for the better. We can ensure that those who would choose to move off campus are as happy to remain on as those who would choose to stay.

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