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viewpoint

‘Two houses, both alike in dignity’

| Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The lack of understanding between students at Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame came to fruition when, upon learning that Saint Mary’s is a women’s college, a Notre Dame student asked me “Does that mean you guys stock your nerf guns with tampons instead of foam darts.”

This began many interesting remarks made towards Saint Mary’s students during my time here in the Bend.

I am a part of the five-year engineering program, where I pair mathematics with electrical engineering and Japanese. While this sounds like academic suicide, it’s undeniable that there’s a massive cross-fertilization happening at the intersection of math and technology. Ideas and techniques are spilling across academic spheres to crack open the problems of each discipline. Electrical engineering is where the action is; there’s a lot of science waiting to be trail blazed, and this five year program will put me at the frontier. I need that.

But when I arrived, my excitement collided with cultural realities on each campus. I felt both shame and pride working simultaneously in my buy-one-get-one-free student experience. While I discuss Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame, it’s important to remember Holy Cross in cross-campus relations. I cannot speak from that perspective, but I do want to acknowledge the tri-campus dynamic.

The Fighting … Belles?

There’s this notion of a split identity — not quite identifying with either SMC or ND — that comes into play when Belles make Notre Dame a significant part of their daily life. As a band member, my roommate is Saint Mary’s by residence and academics, but much of her student life revolves around marching band at Notre Dame. She’s completely immersed in a tight-knit community at ND, but irrelevant to the rest of ND’s campus culture. Moreover, many band kids felt excluded from the SMC campus community when they missed most of orientation due to band camp. As someone who has taken classes across the street, I can say that I’ve had similar feelings. When you spend so much of your time at Notre Dame it’s difficult to feel like you’re a part of the sisterhood, which is alienating. While this isn’t universally true, many students feel this way.

She Doesn’t Even Go Here?

One of the biggest misconceptions on Notre Dame’s campus is if Belles are allowed to enroll in classes under the dome, and it’s not hard to see why. Yes, technically speaking, Belles can take classes at Notre Dame. What no one seems to grasp is the difficulty of doing so. It’s nearly impossible to enroll in a class at Notre Dame if it does not fall into certain scenarios. First, there has to be a demonstrated need: Belles are not allowed to take ND classes as they please. Second, even if there is a demonstrated need, students are usually encouraged or even told to take a different path. For instance, one of my fellow classmates tested out of all Italian classes offered at SMC, and requested to enroll in an Italian class at ND at a more appropriate level to fulfill her foreign language requirement. Academic Affairs denied this request, and asked this student to pick a different language, or enroll in an Italian class below her level at SMC. I’m still amazed that I was allowed to enroll in an ND foreign language class, unlike many of my peers. It cannot be emphasized enough that in most cases, enrollment in classes at Notre Dame happens by chance.

This difficulty is especially important to understand because there were many times during my freshman year in which Notre Dame students and even faculty and staff made pernicious comments about the academic maturity and capabilities of my fellow Belles. When the interactions between Belles and their Notre Dame peers are reduced to inebriated socialization, a certain attitude forms. Belles, unlike their Notre Dame counterparts, aren’t ‘students who party,’ they are ‘partiers.’ Think about it: the first interaction between our tri-campus community is Domerfest, a school mediated party. And this is where many stereotypes begin that fuel cultural tensions between the two schools.

As one of three freshman at Saint Mary’s to enroll in classes at Notre Dame, I noticed I was constantly being monitored, with classmates and peers waiting for me to resemble a familiar stereotype. I placed a tremendous amount of pressure on my shoulders to represent an entire school to another, to confront these misconceptions and cultural tensions.

Every shortcoming exposed a fundamental flaw; every failure highlighted a lack of something crucial — competence, talent or brilliance. I knew I was operating from a place of privilege as a student at a school like this — I had no excuse to do anything but thrive. Never had I feared failure, and never had I compared myself more to others in my entire life.

I felt so alone here.

Luckily, I found impactful mentors who guided me through the year, but these sentiments embody a challenge for underrepresented students and inclusion. Gradually, I came to understand that I should not be responsible for proving my own self-worth, let alone the importance of an entire academic institution.

Catalyzing Change

While each administration has resources catering to some needs, there are few avenues for student feedback to fit a dynamic cross-campus climate. Some preliminary suggestions include more representation and inclusion in campus wide discussions and assessments. Furthermore, each campus needs to incorporate healthy interactions. I say healthy to indicate a balance; Domerfest, parties and football games aren’t inherently unhealthy but they should be preceded by casual, social events such as a campus tour or a meal in the dining hall. Remember: impact isn’t about what you do, it’s how we change because of it.

None of this is to imply that Notre Dame is to exhaust itself including Belles in every aspect of the Notre Dame student experience or ask Saint Mary’s to relinquish individuality for the sake of students. My hope is to encourage both institutions to remain endlessly sensitive to collaboration in the interest of students of each.

Savannah Bedford is a sophomore in the five-year engineering program. Many more important discussion points regarding tri-campus inclusivity were left out of this article due to word count constraints, so please do not hesitate to contact her at [email protected] for more information.

The Diversity Council of Notre Dame advocates for awareness, understanding and acceptance on issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status and other intersectional identities in the Notre Dame community. The viewpoints expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Diversity Council, but are the individual opinions of the author. You can contact Diversity Council at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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