On dorm pride and dorm protest
BridgeND | Wednesday, April 24, 2019
There has been a lot of pushback against the University’s announcement to prevent future off-campus seniors from participating in dorm activities, and rightfully so. Yet, there is an honest concern that the administration might dismiss this indignation, believing that students would have been upset no matter what policy it had come out with. But the movement that took place after the announcement must not be excused for some vague, nebulous anger among entitled students who would have been discontent regardless.
The student body, which so rarely adopts the vigor of militant civic engagement, took to protesting, petitioning and storming the steps of the Main Building. The unequivocal roar from a student population that so often greets injustice with a meek grumble demonstrates the gravity of this issue. So why are students so invested?
Put aside the exclusion of certain types of students who might want to leave campus. This column cannot possibly address all the many, valid objections to this new policy, so it will focus instead on the administration’s disrespect of dorm loyalty and its unique place in the Notre Dame experience. When a freshman steps on campus, their hall is the first group they can feel a sense of belonging to, it is their first taste of what it means to be a part of the Notre Dame family. As section friends become lifelong ones and hall events become yearly highlights, dorm identity finds a special place in the hearts of most students.
None of that changes when they move off campus. Dorm communities, much like the Church, extend beyond the physical boundaries of the building. In fact, off-campus seniors greatly enhance community life. My freshman year I had the honor of playing on my hall’s interhall basketball team. After long practices and big wins, the team would bond at the house of our captain, an off-campus senior. My most cherished memory at Notre Dame is celebrating our championship victory at that house. It was then that I realized how special my dorm was. I pity the underclassmen who will not enjoy such an experience. Isolating some of us weakens all of us; excluding seniors punishes underclassmen.
Not only does community life exist outside of the physical buildings, but for older dorms, it exists despite them. One of the many unintended consequences of this policy is its discrimination against those who happen to be randomly placed in an older dorm. It is much easier to live on campus all four years if your building has air conditioning, big common spaces and high ceilings. It does not take a Mendoza student to realize the irrationality of paying more to live in a cramped room in a dorm with a bat problem (Sorin) or a hall with perpetually clogged plumbing (Cavanaugh). Recognizing as much and deciding to move off-campus does not make you less a member of that community; it makes you sane. And yet, in the eyes of the administration, by virtue of making such a decision you deserve to be exiled and isolated from your most intimate connection to this school. To those who live in halls named after priests and not donors, it is the intangibles like community life that instill pride and substantiate claims of superiority over dorms built more recently (say, in this century). The University’s new “living enhancements” are stripping those intangibles away in tremendous fashion. The de facto outcome of this policy is that older dorms not only suffer from inadequate living conditions, but their community life is halted by the absence of upperclassmen.
Even still, the most concerning aspect of the new housing policy is its ambiguity. The troublesome clause reads: “students who choose to move off-campus will no longer enjoy all of the rights and privileges of residents.” Although it lists the examples of interhall sports and dances, it suggests the potential of even greater denial of rights. Who is to say that the University won’t prevent off campus seniors from attending dorm Masses or participating in signature hall events? While those measures seem preposterous, they are no more outrageous than the “differentiated experiences” the University has already proposed. If those who live off campus are going to be treated as outsiders who happen to take classes here, if the University refuses to extend the definition of its community beyond campus limits, then I guess we have a lot of off-campus scholarship athletes who need to be replaced. Maybe if our star football players were prevented from playing, then the policy might be seen as less selectively exclusionary. It could be cast in a better light, perhaps as just a foolish attempt to unite us, rather than a bold-faced money grab aimed at alienating anyone who refuses to pay an exorbitant sum for the privilege of living in often inadequate conditions and being babysat by a rector.
Sophia Sheehy is a sophomore and a proud resident of Cavanaugh. She plans on living on campus senior year, despite the dorm’s clogged toilets and roach problem, though she recognizes the idiocy of that decision should not entitle her to special privileges within the dorm community. She is the co-president of BridgeND, a club aimed at bridging the political divide in this country. BridgeND meets Mondays at 5p.m. in the McNeill Room of LaFun.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.