Everything but me
Edward Brunicardi | Thursday, September 24, 2020
I’m not a sucker for clever marketing, but damn, Notre Dame is good. From the moment that acceptance letter is opened, we not only become a part of this University family; we become it. Unhindered access to national-class football, rich Catholic traditions and a Fighting Irish identity all become aspects of our lives that are all but impossible to ignore. For an aspiring college student who wanted nothing more than to be surrounded by a community of entrenched traditions, Notre Dame was everything high school me could have hoped for. Yet at the same time, it was everything and anything but me.
For full disclosure, when it comes to understanding identity, I have long been very confused. I grew up wealthy because my parents invested in real estate, and then suddenly wasn’t after 2008. I grew up knowing a Catholic grade school, yet bonded over the public school life in my later years. I am Irish, I am Italian, I am Indian and I am Chinese. I am capable of hoisting so many labels, and at the same time, feeling like I belong to none. College, though, seemed to be a time to get away from that. With so many different people and interests, the pressure to copy what’s popular would no longer be a thing, because there would be no one thing. Instead, I could put together the parts of myself that didn’t fit before. I could discover an identity that finally felt enough.
But in a way, the tight-knit community Notre Dame offers makes this exploration next to impossible. In both its high stakes spirit over religion and religiously followed football, the belonging you would expect to form yourself has already been superficially imposed. And for some, that belonging works. After all, nearly a quarter of all students here are legacy, being raised on the idea of Our Mother’s University. Other non-legacies too have been going to stadium games since they were kids, and many more have been longing to get in touch with their Catholic roots at the premium of Catholic universities. Nothing should detract the joy these people feel from being here. Likewise, though, nothing can feel more exclusionary to kids who may not feel the same.
Unfortunately, countless Notre Dame students have been living with these feelings for years. As a wave of people each dealing with their shared problems alone, we try to fit in with the most popular festivities on campus. And, when it comes time to truly flaunt what makes us unique, we opt for oversimplified labels about our identity in order to seem relatable and cohesive. Ironically, though, it is in this attempt to stop being an outsider and join an established community that we end up robbing ourselves. We rob those opportunities to understand our own identities in a deeper way, and we rob those chances to find a community of people who share the same nuanced passions that we do. Perhaps considering this, one shouldn’t be too shocked at one of the most shocking statistics our Campus Inclusivity Surveys hosts: that nearly a quarter of students have “seriously considered leaving Notre Dame.”
Despite all this though, many times we stay. Not because everything is perfect in our lives right now, or that we expect for dramatic change at the publication of columns like this. Rather, I believe it’s because we know there is a chance for things to get better. And if you were to ask me personally where it starts, I’d say this — acknowledge that these feelings of belonging aren’t a burden to be taken on by only those who feel different. It is a burden felt by all of us at Notre Dame, to be better at engendering a community willing to define themselves by more than what’s popular and hearing others out when they try so. In simple ways, that means taking the risk of working to listen and working to ask. It means figuring out the weird parts of your friends, and asking the questions we might usually try to draw attention from. Because as easy as it is to say that we should be ourselves in this tight-knit community, I think it’s time we do the harder part — to love the countless ways in which we aren’t.
Edward Brunicardi is a sophomore at Notre Dame pursuing a major in Political Science and a minor with the Hesburgh Program of Public Service. Though he may have had all the creativity sucked out of him in high school, writing serves as Edward’s best chance at getting something back. He can be reached at [email protected] or @EdwardBrunicar1 on Twitter.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.