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From the Archives: The Sorin Seven — roommates, bar owners, hall excommunicates

, and | Monday, March 1, 2021

Diane Park | The Observer

Editor’s Note: This is the first story in a two-part From the Archives series on the Sorin Seven. The second story was published on Wednesday, March 17.

The front page of The Observer on Nov. 2, 1976 reeks of drama.

The headline: “Roemer throws seven off campus for parties.”

The photo: the bleak, dilapidated remains of what once was the third-floor Sorin Hall bar.

The photo’s caption: “Mirrors and wood paneling — all that’s left of the Doo Drop Inn at Sorin.”

Don‘t worry — we were just as curious as you are. This week’s edition of From the Archives chronicles the plight of the Sorin Seven — a story of fireworks, campus exile and administrative oversight.

And if you look closely enough, the story of the Seven is strikingly similar to the state of campus politics in the age of COVID-19. Looks like some things never change. Death, taxes and Du Lac violations, right?

Observer archives, Nov. 2, 1976

Dean Roemer kicks Sorin Seven off campus, cites Du Lac violations

November 2, 1976 | Chris Smith | Researched by Maggie Clark

Wild behavior in dorms is an anomaly these days: Masks are the norm, quiet hours seem to be 24/7 and interaction is largely limited to those who reside in the same rooms. But this was hardly the case in 1976 — in fact, the once-infamous “Sorin Seven” embodied rebelliousness within Notre Dame’s on-campus community. 

The seven resided in a four-room suite on the third floor of Sorin Hall, which included a large circular room — known by the Seven as “the turret room.”

“[The turret room] was fixed up, paneled and set up as a bar. It was called the Doo Drop Inn,” Dean of Students James Roemer told The Observer. “They had parties. They brought up a keg for one party. A rather loud, rowdy atmosphere surrounded the Doo Drop Inn. Thus, they are violating University regulations.”

But the Seven’s antics extended far beyond those of a typical dorm party — additional allegations against the Sorin residents included water balloons and beer bottles being thrown out of the window, as well as “[c]ontinued use of fireworks in the hall and out the windows, to the extent that carpeting and walls were burnt.” 

Despite their blatant rule-breaking behavior, the seven men said they “were unaware they were considered a problem in Sorin Hall,” but accounts from Sorin hall staff indicate a lengthy series of disciplinary interventions. 

“There were informal and formal warnings given,” Jim Dragna, resident assistant of Sorin’s third floor, said. “We had hall staff meetings — sometimes until four in the morning — over this group. … The thing built up. It went too far. Finally, we had to go to Roemer.” 

And once the issue was passed on to Roemer, the ensuing disciplinary action was swift. The students were given written notice of their relocation on the morning of Thursday, Oct. 28, 1976, and were expected to be out of Sorin by 6 p.m. the following Sunday. 

Observer archives, Nov. 2, 1976

Several members of the Sorin Seven — junior Jeff Bartlett and seniors Sean Gibbons and George Gulyas — spoke to The Observer about their sudden removal, arguing the decision was an overreaction.

“We all got letters stating that we were to be in Dean Roemer’s office the next morning,” Sorin Seven member Jeff Bartlett told The Observer. “When we arrived in his office, his decision was already made. He had seven typewritten letters stating that we were out of Sorin Hall, and that we were never to step foot in Sorin again. We were never approached for our side of the story.”

The Sorin Seven also took issue with Doemer’s hasty handling of the issue.

“What we’re so upset about is the way they went about it,” Bartlett said. “We were only given four days — Thursday through Sunday — to find someplace to stay.” 

But above all, members of the Sorin Seven argued Roemer’s decision was unwarranted because their group — albeit “rowdy” — served Sorin in a multitude of ways.

“We took an active part in our hall,” Gibbons said. “[Jeff Bartlett] was a section leader. Three of us played interhall football for Sorin. I was on the hall judicial board.” 

And the group’s actions within the halls of Sorin — even those deemed “violations” by Roemer — only strengthened the hall’s community, according to Gulyas.

“Our suite was always open for anyone to come in,” he said. A friend of his even went as far to describe the space as “more or less a hall lounge.” 

Observer archives, Oct. 18, 1977
While the actions of the Sorin Seven were not condoned by University administration, the group became legendary within the Sorin Hall community — some students even planned parties to celebrate the anniversary of the Seven’s eviction.

Gibbons agreed with his roommates, arguing Roemer’s ruling was groundless.

“We feel as though we’re getting hurt for trying to improve the hall,” he said.

COVID-19 seems to have altered the landscape of Notre Dame dorm life. We can hearken back to the Sorin Severn as a reminder of the limited freedom students were once extended — sure, there were boundaries, but there was also a level of liberty.

Sorin community members speak out, defend Sorin Seven

November 5, 1976 | Letter to the Editor | Researched by Chris Russo

In the wake of the Sorin Seven’s abrupt ejection from campus, six students, none of whom were members of the infamous group, penned a Letter to the Editor. Their words expressed sympathy for Sorin Seven as they mocked the University’s reasoning for their punishment. They also offered a harsh critique of the University’s handling of the matter and the possible implications for social life on campus. 

The co-authors — Patrick Mannion, Arnold Gough, Tony Miller, Bill Tomkiewicz, John Van Gilder and Michael Thomassen — employed humor to satirize the Sorin Seven’s “transfer” off of campus. 

“If [the use of fireworks and water balloons] were always punished by such severe measures, quite a few people would have to greatly curtail their extra-academic ‘fun,’” the students wrote. “Fireworks will be hidden and balloon sales will plummet, [their] use solely reserved for decorations and by female impersonators.” 

Despite their satirical tone, one cannot help but notice the co-authors’ overt commentary on the University’s response to the Sorin Seven. They write that the administration’s actions “should put quite a scare into a majority of students,” reasoning that the Sorin Seven’s alleged activities were not uncommon behaviors throughout campus. The authors argue that Dean Roemer should have pursued a more “conservative and judicious” response, worrying that group members were unfairly labeled as “troublemakers.” Roemer stated that his decision to transfer the student off-campus was not a disciplinary action — still, the group was banned from stepping foot in Sorin Hall for the remainder of their undergraduate careers. 

The authors’ critical attitudes might even speak to the current relationship between the Office of Community Standards and students — both on campus and off. They admiringly claim that the Sorin Seven broke up the “monotonous atmosphere which usually permeates the campus.” They persistently question the efficacy of the University’s response to rowdy behavior, advocating that the Sorin Seven’s habits are a necessary component of on-campus life. 

And even when the Seven did make it off campus, they still felt controlled by an administrative iron fist — a sentiment many current off-campus students might resonate with. In a Letter to the Editor written almost a year after their removal from Sorin Hall, three members of the Seven offered their dual perspective of overbearing administrative oversight.

Observer archives, Oct. 15, 199
Three members of the Sorin Seven posing in front of their new home on Eddy Street.

“We were transferred off-campus last year for ‘playing loud, rowdy music at odd hours and constant drunkenness,” the students wrote. “At that time, Dean Roemer was quoted in The Observer as saying, ‘This type of behavior belongs off campus.’ But now they want the power to regulate off-campus ‘alcohol abuse, marijuana and premarital sex.’”

Ultimately — and unsurprisingly — the students argued that administration has no place dealing in the extra-academic affairs of off-campus students.

“If we can’t continue to do these things in our own home without worrying about N.D. Security surrounding the house, then what is sacred anymore?” the students wrote. “They may be our ‘parents,’ but we don’t live at ‘home’ anymore.”

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has dampened gatherings on campus, students have continued to find social outlets. Changes in campus housing policy have opened the door for more students to live off campus and avoid some restrictions. This action has helped to curb partying on campus, but the authors of this 1976 letter may argue that this will reinforce any semblance of a “monotonous atmosphere.” 

While rules and guidelines laid out in the Campus Compact have attempted to curtail transmission of the virus in social settings, one cannot help but wonder where we might have found the Sorin Seven during the pandemic.

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About Evan McKenna

Evan is a senior at Notre Dame from Morristown, Tennessee majoring in psychology and English with a concentration in creative writing. He is currently serving as the Managing Editor of The Observer, and believes in the immutable power of a well-placed em dash. Reach him at [email protected] or @evanjmckenna on Twitter.

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