Notre Dame incorporated
Letter to the Editor | Friday, February 9, 2018
In my four years at Notre Dame, the University has prioritized revenue streams over student welfare at every opportunity, acting on policies that resemble corporate fiduciary responsibility more than Catholic moral imperative; from constrictive and aggressive parking to glitzy mass-construction projects, these decisions increase the school’s bottom line at the direct expense of the student body.
Now, we can add undergraduate housing to the list. Fr. Jenkins, apparently ignorant to how the public perceives his opinionated pronouncements, has decided that all students need to be on campus at least three full years to be capable students. At best, this is negligence towards the needs of his flock; at worst, this is a form of mandatory price gouging.
It’s not hard to imagine why a student might want to live off campus for the majority of his or her college career; most students around the country prefer to do so. They could be like me, who depends on the financial security afforded by off-campus housing, saving over $300 a month in a three-story house or over $8,000 over three years.
Or they could be like Ignacia Vasquez, a senior who’s also lived off campus since sophomore year and cites a lack of personal privacy and gender discrimination in her decision to move off campus.
“The dorm system divides the ND community more than it brings it together,” Vasquez said. “The fact that many women’s dorms aren’t ‘party friendly’ because of their rules, or the ways in which rectors manage those dorms, pushes students to always party in men’s dorms. When this happens, men control the space, the party and the alcohol.”
This can result in unsafe social spaces for students, especially regarding sexual assault, another area where Notre Dame has consistently failed to assume any moral authority
Alexandra Altobelli, another senior who moved off her sophomore year, echoes Ignacia, adding that female dorms on campus tend to have a “sorority culture,” and students can feel like they are being babied by their rectors and RAs.
“I felt the dorm did not promote a healthy culture and would use the RAs as a ‘surrogate’ mother, constantly watching over your every move,” Altobelli said. “ … You constantly felt like you were being judged for any ‘bad decisions’ as they watched over you with a disapproving eye.”
In addition, Altobelli believes moving off campus has taught her how to live as a self-sustaining adult. While the system may have good intentions, it overall treats students like children who don’t know what is best for themselves, she said.
“Living on campus means all your meals are cooked for you, your living space cleaned … you also lose the valuable chance to learn to manage your own household expenses before you go out into the ‘real world,’” she said.
Responding to these criticisms, Fr. Jenkins told the student body that “Notre Dame isn’t for everyone.” What I heard was that Notre Dame isn’t for poor people. And when defending his new policy in his annual faculty address, Jenkins played the familiar card of innocent naivete. He argued off-campus living restricted “leadership opportunities” and segregated students. Not only is this unsupported by virtually any evidence, it’s incredibly insulting to virtually the entire student body. Are we adults, or are we paying $60,000 per year to be swaddled? Are we here to be educated as leaders or micro-managed as followers?
Vasquez, like me, was frustrated by Jenkins’ disingenuousness.
“Living off-campus hasn’t kept me from taking advantage of leadership opportunities,” she said. “I have an on-campus job as student manager at North Dining Hall, and I’m the co-founder and vice president of Feminist ND.”
Altobelli could say the same, as she has been actively involved with the ND Rocket Team, currently leading a group of 20 students.
Furthermore, living off-campus isn’t segregation. The only segregation happening is between Notre Dame and South Bend, a separation almost unparalleled in the American college experience, to the disadvantage of both groups. It’s one that divides the community into dueling perceptions of snobby, cloistered rich kids on one side and trashy townies on the other.
Notre Dame’s ideological failures are frequently defended with the cry, “It’s a private institution!” But private ownership doesn’t mean Notre Dame has the right to discriminate against gender or class, and the housing policy is blatantly discriminatory. While ND is working on creating a variety of “exceptions” to protect itself from discriminatory claims, labeling students as ‘exceptions’ is de facto discrimination. Because there are only a few reasons which you would obtain an exception to move off campus (poor, LGBTQ, sexual-assault survivor), students are automatically outed and grouped into these categories. Altobelli believes that, as she says “not having the ability to leave the dorms unless you fit into a narrow ‘exception’ category could leave students feeling like they don’t belong.”
If Notre Dame wishes to maintain any moral ground going into the 21st century, it needs to adopt progressive, rather than relentlessly regressive, student policies. I believe Notre Dame does wish to retain moral authority and that its administration is capable of listening to its students. I invite all of us, undergraduates and graduates alike, to mobilize in defense of our basic human rights — including the right to live where we choose, according to our own consideration of our interests. Isn’t that what a leader would do?
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.