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Residential life associate VP speaks to senate about on-off campus differentiation policy

| Thursday, March 5, 2020

Associate vice president of Residential Life Heather Rakoczy Russell spoke with the student body senate during Wednesday’s weekly meeting concerning the on-off campus differentiation policy. 

Rakoczy Russell met with the Hall Presidents Council (HPC) last week to discuss the same policy. The controversial policy was first proposed in April 2019 and was met with widespread resistance during the same time, including a protest led by students outside of the Main Building and a petition against the policy that amassed over 5,000 signatures. The policy is set to go into effect for the 2021 fall semester, first affecting the class of class of 2022, who are currently sophomores. The policy is coupled with the senior enhancement and incentive policy which will provide free laundry, the elimination of the $250 per semester up-charge for singles in dorms and $2,000 incentives given to certain students to commit to on-campus living their senior year.

The on-off campus differentiation policy gives priority to on-campus residents for interhall sporting events and hall dances. Additionally, “current hall residents [would] comprise the leadership of all hall events and activities,” according to the current draft.

Rakoczy Russell first stressed this policy is not a “senior exclusion policy.” 

“If I were to believe this was meant to exclude anyone, I would have signed the petition,” Rakoczy Russell said. “I would have been on God Quad.”

She went on to explain the policy. She gave three specific reasons as to why the policy was created.

“First and foremost, we believe there is something really special about residential life at Notre Dame,” she said. “The second reason is that [the senate] and HPCs of the past would have been champions of this policy.”

Rakoczy Russell explained one of the main reasons the on-off campus differentiation policy was created was to solve inconsistencies between dorms regarding how off-campus former residents were affected by rules regarding parietals, participation in dorm sports and dances, use of common spaces and policies concerning alcohol use among others.

“The genesis of this question came from students like you to solve inconsistencies,” she said.

She later mentioned many of these inconsistencies fell on gendered lines between the dorms.

“[The third reason for the policy] is because we’d like you to share the values, with those who are open to it, the values that you are taught while you live in the residence halls,” Rakoczy Russell said. “We hope that if you chose to go off campus, you take the good things you have learned and invest them where you are — meaning South Bend.”

She explained part of this policy is to incentivize seniors to stay on campus, but should they choose to go off campus, they will have chosen to look beyond the dorm community to establish their own community among other off-campus residents and within the larger South Bend community. She said this could look like off-campus dances and charitable service work in South Bend.

Rakoczy Russell stressed the policy has been discussed with numerous groups including the sophomore class council, HPC, hall staff and more, and has since gone through various revisions. The result was, as she said, a policy “that would be narrow enough to to give guidance, broad enough to allow exceptions and simple enough to be an elevator speech.” 

Senators then voiced their opinions with the associate vice president of residential life. Sophomore and Alumni senator Jack Rotolo talked about how the policy will affect students on top of the new six-semester, on-campus requirement which will also go into affect with the class of 2022.

“I’m a little worried [off-campus seniors] are going to feel removed from their community, the only community they’ve known for three years,” he said.

Howard senator Michelle Sobolewski voiced a similar concern.

“Speaking as a sophomore,” she said. “I was curious why it was rolled out during our year?”

Sobolewski was concerned that the policy would result in a culture change specifically felt by the current sophomore class.

Rakoczy Russell responded by saying the change was chosen to be rolled out alongside the six-semester on-campus policy. 

Multiple seniors expressed they thought the measure to be punitive. Rakoczy Russell reiterated several times against this view.

“It’s not meant to inflict pain,” she said. “It’s meant to address concerns about consistency and sometimes inequity.” 

Rakoczy Russell also noted several times that the new policies under the current draft, especially concerning Rec Sports, dorm dances and dorm leadership, will be allowed exceptions under the discretion rectors and rector supervisors. These exceptions would be made in consideration of current and past policies exhibited by similar dorms on campus.

“I want diversified unity,” Rakoczy Russell said.

The policy will be finalized during the week of March 23. However, Rakoczy Russell mentioned it is possible to change the policy in the future, much like the rules of du Lac.

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