The University’s Pangborn problem
Letter to the Editor | Tuesday, April 9, 2019
“It’s ridiculous that the University insists on calling them ‘Morrissey community in Pangborn,’ just call them Morrissey,” a friend of mine declared the other day. I found it odd that he would bring this up suddenly — it certainly wasn’t an issue when there was ‘Walsh community in Pangborn.’ No, this was a recent gripe and driven partially by some sense of fear. Both of us live in Alumni, and it’s become pretty clear that we are next up for renovation after Dillon. While both of us are juniors — and not worried about having to live in Pangborn ourselves — Alumni being housed down the road has implications far beyond a year in military barracks with temporary urinals.
Recently, I learned that my fears about the temporary relocation are realized in practice. According to a Walsh resident, current juniors (who started their stint in the temporary dorm) are moving off campus in startling numbers. While the Morrissey community remains strong, there are many who left this year — seniors more easily convinced to go off or juniors dipping early. Next year, the University is asking for volunteers to fill up the dorm with women — a residence hall of women, many strangers to each other, that will try to make the dorm their home for a year to form friendships and sisterhood and a sense of belonging before being transplanted to the other side of campus.
With the new three-year housing policy affecting the freshman class and every one after them, it seems the administration is hell-bent on forcing a “strong on-campus community” on us. Even if the relocations and renovations are necessary, I don’t see how anyone can say that referring to Pangborn’s current residents as “Morrissey Hall” is in any way inaccurate or unfair. It is the goal of the University to make these halls our home for four years, and it is the community in them which does this. I didn’t choose to be placed in Alumni, but every semester I choose to come back, and I certainly didn’t do it for the living conditions. It is that repeated decision which makes it my home. Maybe the renovations are necessary, but I was certainly not consulted on any decisions — even our rector Fr. George was only given the ability to “tweak” decisions that had already been made by higher-ups — decisions that will have massive implications for the place that he personally has called home for over 40 years. Referring to the dorm not by its community but by its temporary building is just one indicator of the hypocrisy implicit in this and many other University decisions.
Then why is it that the administration insists on making home feel impersonal? I’m sure some people are excited about “Pizza Pi” opening on West Quad, but if the University had asked even five students about their thoughts on the issue, it’s difficult to imagine that closing Reckers had any motivating factor beyond money. Another friend of mine put it like this: “It seems like the University is making decisions by saying, ‘Why ask for permission when you can just force forgiveness?’ They’ll do what they want, open up the floor for ‘student panels,’ ignore everything we say and then count on us slowly forgetting how things were, and that we’re upset. You can’t fight the University — they always win.”
But the University doesn’t always win. When members of Grace Hall were moved out of their tower and into West Quad, there were literal riots, and O’Neill walked out of the fires with a unique community, dorm and section culture, and a mascot all stemming from its residents’ old senses of home. Even Sorin’s annual tradition celebrates the time the University was forced to cut their electricity in order to get them to “reunify” with the rest of campus after the dorm seceded due to ideological disputes concerning the Vietnam War.
I’m not suggesting anyone riot because their dorm is being renovated, but I have begun to hear all too frequently the same sentence from upperclassmen to justify apathy: “At least I won’t be here when it happens.” Of course we aren’t, but who are we leaving our dorms to, and what are we leaving them with? I see my underclassmen as little brothers. How can I leave them with a worse situation just because “I won’t be there” for the worst of it? When I arrived at Notre Dame, the traditions in my hall weren’t exactly what they are now — many are shaped and changed by the residents and the circumstances that allow us to do certain things year to year. But some things have remained for years — decades, even. In the slightly modified words of an administrator here at Notre Dame: “That [is] tradition, that’s just stupid s— you do every year.”
So then, what is tradition? University-run events? My parents (class of ‘79) lament the current state of An Tostal, and — wouldn’t you know it — this decline has occurred as student groups gradually gave the power of organizing it to the University. Traditions are weekly meetings in dorm basements for weird foods, group outings to make use of the Rock diving boards Wednesday nights and sharing some Taco Bell after Mass, just to name a few from my own experience. All of these become harder with each new semester and every new University rule. If you don’t push back when someone tells you that your traditions are stupid, soon enough they won’t be traditions at all.
Whether you’ve taken Moreau or gone any more in-depth into the subject of the Holy Cross, you probably know that the residence halls are central to the mission of Notre Dame to educate the heart and the mind, to form men and women out of the first-year students that come here. In the 34th Constitution of the Holy Cross it is written: “We grow close to one another as brothers by living in community.” So I ask you, is this how we plan to create that environment? A community where we are forced to stay for three years and asked to pick up and leave for a year without warning? Where any and all of these policies are made in a veritable ivory tower and only later relayed to students? The “Pangborn Problem,” then, is this: Until the University begins to make decisions for its students — and with its students — instead of operating as a business with 8,000 accounts receivable messing up their perfect grass, it will continue to destroy the community, traditions and culture which they are so desperate to cultivate.
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.