Regarding proposed off campus ‘differentiation’ policies
Letter to the Editor | Thursday, December 12, 2019
As a young alum who cherished my senior year living off campus in addition to my three years on campus, I’m baffled by the University’s seemingly punitive policy proposals towards future seniors choosing to live off campus and am even more confused after reading The Observer’s reporting of the meeting with associate vice president of Residential Life Heather Rakoczy Russell on Monday.
Whereas I agree with Rakoczy Russell’s assertion in the lede of the article that the first question asked among ND alumni is “Where did you live?” and the residence halls are a “defining feature of the undergraduate experience,” I reject several key premises on which she advocates “differentiating the rights and privileges of on- and off-campus students” in the hope of increasing the share of on campus seniors from 34% to 50%.
Rakoczy Russell’s characterization of on- and off-campus living is completely inconsistent with my off-campus experience. She reportedly said at Monday’s meeting, “When something happens in the life of a friend — a great joy or a great sorrow — and you’re there by his or her side, that’s different than somebody who lives off campus.” I disagree that off-campus seniors are inherently less connected with their on-campus friends for the same reason I think Carroll residents are capable of maintaining close friendships with Mod Quad residents. Seniors are more than capable of arranging their schedules and social lives to align with the friends they have made, similar to how they will learn to prioritize their friendships post-graduation.
What’s especially troubling about Rakoczy Russell’s characterization is the proposed exclusion of off-campus seniors from dorm intramural teams and dorm dances would make the supposed schism even worse. For example, I officiated hundreds of intramural flag-football and basketball games as a student that not only brought together on-campus and off-campus friends as teammates but also invigorated dorm pride as off-campus seniors attended playoff and championship games to cheer on their former dorms. Therefore, I reject Rakoczy Russell’s notion that the special bond in residence halls is “not tied to whether or not you can participate in on-campus activities as an off-campus student.”
Additionally, as reported by The Observer, “With more students living off campus, Rakoczy Russell said, many off-campus houses have become unofficially affiliated with on-campus residence halls. Away from the supervision of hall staff, she said, those off-campus houses host parties that facilitate binge drinking and lead to instances of sexual misconduct and assault.” It appears naïve to imply the goal of keeping more seniors on campus could have a material impact on reducing sexual assault, which is tragically prevalent on campus, too. Is there data available that indicates sexual assault is disproportionately prevalent at off-campus house parties as compared to on-campus dorm parties at ND and that moving 14% of the senior class on campus would have a noticeable effect? For what it’s worth, I queried my backup of my 2011 to 2015 student email for NDSP crime alerts and found 19 instances of reported on-campus sexual misconduct (reported as sexual assault, forcible fondling and attempted rape) during my seven semesters as a student, of which 13 reportedly occurred within residence halls and six elsewhere on campus.
Requiring six semesters of on-campus living seemed extreme to many alumni (including myself), but enacting exclusionary policies towards future off-campus seniors is a new low.
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.