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Howard Hall rector, residents reflect on community, diversity

| Friday, April 20, 2018

The smallest women’s dorm, boasting 148 residents and 45 single rooms, is nothing if not mighty.

Howard Hall, home of the ducks, stands out because of its Gothic architecture and incredibly tight community, sophomore and hall president Gracie O’Connell said.

“It’s so small, you get to know so many people in it,” O’Connell said. “It’s old, so, you know, we’ve got some character.”

Howard Hall, usually the second-smallest women’s dorm, beat out Badin Hall this year because of the additional residents Badin could accommodate in Pangborn.

Howard Hall was built in 1924 as the cornerstone of South Quad. It became a women’s dorm in the 1987 and now hosts annual events such as Totter for Water, Howard Halliday and the Lenten Chapel Crawl, among others.

“We had an event called ‘Combat National Lame Duck Day,’” O’Connell said. “We gave out 500 pieces of cake outside of DeBart one day.”

Howard’s rector, Amanda Springstead, graduated from Notre Dame in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in theology and philosophy, and she lived in Welsh Family Hall as an undergrad.

“It was my time living on campus here at Notre Dame that was really what made me want to go into higher education,” Springstead said. “I wouldn’t trade my experience in Welsh Fam for anything, but as a fit for me as a rector, Howard’s definitely a perfect place for me to be.”

The biggest difference between Welsh Family and Howard is the size, Springstead said. The smallness of Howard facilitates community participation in the dorm.

“Hall council every Tuesday is kind of attended by everyone,” Springstead said. “You just come down, pile into the Pond, which is our lounge. … We have a snack and we chat and people tend to linger afterward.”

Springstead’s family lives in South Bend, so their standard poodle, Lola, gets to spend time in the dorm and join the women for a monthly event, Cookies with Lola, in Springstead’s apartment.

Springstead started as a rector in 2014, the same year as the current senior class entered Notre Dame as freshmen.

Senior and RA Maggie Gentine remembers being incredibly nervous on move-in weekend her freshman year, but those nerves were quelled once she met the Howard Hall student leadership, she said.

“It was really welcoming, and everyone was smiling and just wanted to invite you into their home,” Gentine said.

Since Welcome Weekend, Gentine said she has appreciated living in Howard.

“It’s pretty much like my family or my second home,” she said. “It’s a tight community, and everyone gets to know each other pretty well.”

In order to foster that family feel, O’Connell said she plans to revamp a program within Howard this year to honor the diversity of the dorm. The program, called the Howard Community Series, allows residents of the dorm to give a lecture about their own identity or experience.

“I think it would be really cool to bring that back so girls could talk about different issues,” O’Connell said. “I think it’s important to talk about issues that aren’t usually brought up in classes.”

In the past, speakers have spoken about their role as allies of the LGBTQ and minority communities, O’Connell said.

“To be able to make it a safe environment, where everybody is comfortable to talk, I think that would be really key,” she said.

In Howard, making sure everyone feels comfortable is very important to the entire community, Springstead said. Due of the high number of singles, residents from other dorms who opt to float for a single often end up in Howard, keeping the population somewhat in flux year to year.

As another one of the community features of Howard, the RAs plan consistent programming, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights.

“That way, people also have the option to do something else fun,” Gentine said. “There’s always something for people to be doing in case they don’t know exactly what to do on the weekends.”

O’Connell said the women of Howard stand out because, although they are few, they are very vocal and passionate members of the campus community.

“It’s such a privilege to serve the women in Howard Hall,” O’Connell said. “It’s so awesome that they chose me to be their leader. … I want to do my best to make them happy and make this upcoming year the best for them.”

Springstead said she also feels lucky to have returned to her alma mater and serve as a pastoral leader for the women.

“I think we have a really wonderful group of women here, and I’m just really proud to be able to be their rector,” Springstead said. “They teach me things every day.”

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About Mary Bernard

Mary Bernard is a senior with a major in Anthropology and a minor in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and is the Social Media Editor for The Observer, managing and overseeing all things audience engagement.

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