In response to the recent news that the University will be closing the Zahm House community, we have witnessed an outpouring of support for the men of Zahm. There has been an alternate response, however, which has assumed this decision is based on an alleged history and continued existence of sexual assault and rape culture within the walls of Zahm.
We are writing as two female Notre Dame students whose brothers, cousins and best friends call or have called Zahm home. We are also writing as two individuals who have a deep passion for women’s rights and zero tolerance for sexual assault and rape culture. The existence of sexual violence on college campuses, including our own, is appalling and an issue that deserves greater attention from universities and students nationwide. In writing this letter, we do not in any way mean to invalidate the lived reality of those who have had these experiences on our campus or possibly within the walls of Zahm. Our goal is instead to call attention to the fact that by playing into what has, over the years, become a persistent and reckless characterization of an entire dorm community, our peers are ignoring the larger issue at hand.
Tweets and social media comments have surfaced using terms such as “predators” and “people who assault others” to refer to the Zahm community as a whole. These comments not only completely miss the mark on the reason Zahm House was closed, but in their stereotyping, they once again bury the opportunity, indeed the necessity, to address the issue of sexual assault campus-wide.
It is unreasonable and beyond unfair to characterize the 177 men living in Zahm House, as well as the thousands more alumni and off-campus students who affiliate with the dorm, as “predators.” A student’s random placement into a dorm community should not subject them to the unwarranted reputation that accompanies the dorm. The group of Zahm men that we know, love and consider family are not only trustworthy and honest, but also make active choices to stand up against rape culture and sexual violence. These men are the ones who walk us home from the library when we are studying late. They listen honestly when we talk about our experiences of being women on this campus. They are the ones we turn to in social situations when we feel uncomfortable or are receiving unwanted attention and need a way out. They are the ones who make sure we have safe rides home from off campus venues. For us, they are the people we should not need, yet, sadly, often turn to when we feel unsafe as women on our own campus. They are not “predators,” and they too have zero tolerance for the actions of which they are being broadly accused.
No dorm is perfect and Zahm has had its issues, but there is great danger in blaming one residence hall for the very real problem of sexual assault and women’s lack of personal safety on our campus. Real change will not come from harmful generalizations. If we want to raise awareness about sexual assault, the conversation should not center around the University’s decision to close Zahm. Rather, it should be centered around campus-wide policy change, a push to empower and support victims and an attempt to shift the culture that leads to these devastating realities.
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.