We deserve better
Letter to the Editor | Tuesday, March 23, 2021
As college students, we are in a prime time for development and education, where information about consent and/ sexual harassment will be absorbed and implemented now and in our future. Unfortunately, this does not mean every institution is ahead or even with the curve. Last Monday, the residents of Zahm House got a shocking email informing them that this coming fall, their residence hall will no longer exist. Zahm will be turned into a holding dorm similar to Pangborn, and the men who live there will either be dispersed throughout other residence halls or moved to off campus housing. Unsurprisingly, this out-of-the-blue declaration was met with a myriad of responses. The most public, however, was the crowd of hundreds of students who gathered in front of the main building and proceeded to march across campus. While the University cited several reasons in their letter as to why the community is being dissolved including vandalism and disrespect, one reason was noticeably left out: sexual misconduct. Any Notre Dame fan is familiar with Zahm’s reputation on campus for being a party dorm, and any person walking across North Quad on a given weekend night will understand why that is the case. While blasting early 2000’s pop music is not a punishable offense, Zahm’s reputation also consists of being a dangerous dorm for women.
During my first few weeks at Notre Dame I was warned by several people not to go to a Zahm party unaccompanied, and if I went and drank, to keep an eye on my cup at all times. Although the girls I had heard the advice from did not have any evidence to back up these allegations, there have always been rumors about sexual harassment happening behind those walls and statistically, 26.4% of American undergraduate females have experienced some form of sexual violence. The issue of Notre Dame not addressing this in their letter is problematic because the school is choosing to ignore a problem that everyone knows about.
If the University is endorsing the idea that rape culture is fostered most heavily in Zahm, dissolving the dorm is not a solution. If all or most of the men who live there have predatory tendencies, the University is giving them permission and encouragement to continue that life off campus, and without any sort of supervision, which would inevitably lead to more cases, especially because 6.8% of undergraduate males have also experienced sexual assault, and this trivializes their pain and experience. Because it is statistically unreasonable to assume that all rape culture problems at the University exist in Zahm, disbanding the community is actually detrimental to the safety of students.
For those men and women at the university not living in Zahm who have committed such offenses and have not been reprimanded, the dorm closing is a relief. Obviously, the University cannot shut down every residence hall, and blaming all atrocities on the men of that community gives them a relative cushion from being punished.
The University has clearly also not considered how blame may be placed upon victims who have had the courage to speak out. For those survivors of sexual harassment on campus whose assailants have not been reprimanded, Zahm closing is far from a good solution. Victims of sexual assault who have been brave enough to speak out may have done so in the hopes that their attacker be prevented from doing the same thing to someone else, but no victim wants everyone punished. A potential victim may want his or her attacker reprimanded, but he or she doesn’t want every man to be punished. Instead, attackers should be educated and held accountable for people who are attacked. Punishing all of the men of Zahm will undoubtedly cause survivors to come under fire for reporting in the first place and be blamed for the closing of the dorm.
I do not write this letter offering a surefire solution to ending rape culture on campus, but I do know that it has to start with education — something that the university has not made mandatory. Whatever the real reason was for closing Zahm House, sexual harassment deserves to be a part of every residence hall conversation, and Zahm’s reputation should have been addressed. Until more resources have been provided, nothing is going to change — aside from the fact that the “Here Come the Irish” banner and energetic music will be missed.
Please do better, we deserve it.
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.