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Johnson Family Hall residents look forward to new building, despite restrictions

| Monday, August 17, 2020

Anticipated since December 2018, Johnson Family Hall — the University’s newest women’s dorm on East Quad — opened its doors this August to its first cohort of 221 residents.

This is the first semester Johnson Family Hall is part of East Quad, but the Valkyries began building their community across campus in Pangborn Hall while the new dorm was under construction.

Hall president junior Tajae Thompson said that during their time in Pangborn, the women had a chance to form bonds that only continue to strengthen. (Editor’s Note: Thompson is a former Scene writer for The Observer).

“It’s the same community but in a different building,” Thompson said. “It’s the people who matter.”

Courtesy of Tajae Thompson

Residents of Johnson Hall gather in front of new building during Welcome Week festivities.

Building on the relationships they formed last year, the Valkyries are now settling into the new dorm, welcoming first-year students and taking advantage of the gathering spaces outdoors and across the hall’s first floor.

Rector Amanda Springstead, who has led the community since February 2019, said the new building lends itself to the sort of residential environment she hopes to foster.

“I’d like to see the availability of our whole community to just gather,” Springstead said. “We have so much good open space here for those opportunities.”

Junior Indonesia Brown, the hall’s fall semester vice president, said being part of a new dorm makes the sense of community especially strong.

“We all got to choose that we want to live here,” she said.

Electing to live in a brand-new residence hall comes with unique opportunities, especially for forming new traditions.

Sophomore Lucia Carbajal, a resident of Johnson Family Hall who also serves as the dorm’s SUB representative, was initially unsure about moving into a dorm without the established traditions that are a hallmark of Notre Dame’s residential life. Since coming to campus, her perspective has changed.

“The dorm life was something that drew me to Notre Dame,” Carbajal said. “I quickly realized that means we can make our own traditions. … We get to decide the mascot, the hall colors, what our signature event is going to be. It’s neat to be able to pick everything out.”

The hall’s mascot, the Valkyries, hails from Norse mythology and depicts women warriors.

“Powerful, strong soldiers is what we wanted to go for,” Thompson said. “It’s a great mascot — something different, something unique.”

The community is also developing its own signature event: laser tag on the quad to raise money for charity. Although the COVID-19 pandemic made it impossible to hold the inaugural event last spring, the Valkyries look forward to establishing laser tag as a Johnson Family Hall tradition when conditions allow.

As the new dorm forms its identity, the Johnson family — the lead donors for the hall — has maintained a relationship with the Valkyries. Springstead said the family has met the community over Zoom and plans to visit in person when health circumstances permit.

“They text and I send them pictures of things that are happening in the hall,” Springstead said. “It’s been a really good relationship.”

At the end of the year, the Valkyries hope to be able to send a yearbook to the family.

“It’s cool to be able to forge that connection with them and involve them in things that are happening,” Brown said.

Constraints caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic have challenged the Valkyries to rethink how they will build community this year, but Springstead is confident Johnson Family Hall will rise to the occasion.

“We’ve had to be more creative, but that is nothing new for this community,” Springstead said. “We throw around terms like ‘trailblazing’ and ‘pioneering,’ and that’s so much of what our community is.”

For now, despite the unusual circumstances, community remains the emphasis for the Valkyries.

“My hope for the community is that everyone feels safe, supported, and welcomed here, and that this is a really inclusive and loving home for everyone who lives here,” Springstead said.

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