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Zahm’s collective punishment

| Friday, March 26, 2021

I’m writing to express my deep concern and bewilderment at the University’s decision to disband the Zahm House community. Information available to me suggests that this decision has been made not to address any specific, recent incident or transgression but to punish the Zahm community for a long pattern of misbehavior by some hall residents. I’m hard pressed to understand why the entire community of today’s Zahm House should be held accountable for the behaviors of their predecessors or even a small minority of the hall’s current residents. To scatter today’s “Zahmbies” across the campus, and on unconscionably short notice, is a great injustice to the overwhelming majority of hall residents who have done nothing to deserve being uprooted from a community and location that they love. Notre Dame’s well established policy of “in loco parentis” demands discipline and accountability. When the university’s rules or policies have been violated individual transgressors have been disciplined by administrators. But, to my knowledge, the Zahm situation represents the first time that Notre Dame has exacted collective punishment. Collective punishments are plainly unjust, are prohibited under international humanitarian law in all circumstances and, in war time, are clear violations of the Geneva Convention.  If there are serious current behavioral issues that require addressing why not punish individual offenders and, more broadly, seek a more constructive way to address cultural issues that reportedly exist at Zahm, like forming a council of Zahm House resident thought leaders, the rector and a representative of the Division of Student Affairs to address issues? After all, “in loco parentis” entails not only meting out punishment when it is due, but also providing guidance, support and yes, protection. If a solution like this cannot be found and Zahm is actually disbanded then I would consider this to be a failure of leadership and creativity, particularly in the Office of Student Affairs.  A more constructive approach like this would also be more in line with our Lord’s directive to: “…forgive not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” If the University needs transitional housing for residents of other halls that are being renovated then the administration should find another solution that avoids destroying Zahm’s proud, vibrant, colorful and occasionally irreverent spirit that first took root in 1937. 

My son (ND ’09) was a resident of Zahm House for three years and so I have direct, personal knowledge of the hall, its traditions and spirit. The men of Zahm who were my son’s classmates were and are, like most ND students and graduates, exceptionally bright, spirited, hardworking and committed. Today, to a man, they have advanced degrees, have achieved great professional success and contribute to their communities as physicians, attorneys and corporate executives. Without exception they are deeply proud of their membership in the Zahm brotherhood. During their student days the strength and warmth of this brotherhood was on full display during Sunday Mass at the hall’s St. Albert the Great chapel. And I can tell you that they and their predecessors and successors at Zahm House are extremely upset by this proposed action.

The Division of Student Affairs website proclaims: “Ask any Notre Dame undergraduate about his or her experience on campus and the story will usually start in the residence halls. It’s where they made lifelong friends, got plugged into the campus community, contributed to decades-old traditions and made a few new ones, and found out just how special it is to live under the dome. This is no accident. From the University’s founding, residential life has been a central tenet of the Notre Dame experience, and is perhaps the most distinctive feature of the undergraduate experience at Notre Dame.” This statement precisely describes the reality that I know of Zahm House and its disbandment would make a mockery of it. 

Much has been made of the so-called “cancel culture” phenomenon that has taken root on both sides of the political divide in this country. Now I fear that it has gained currency at our beloved alma mater. First, the cancellation of Luigi Gregori’s Columbus murals in the Administration Building and now the proposed cancellation of Zahm House and the sensibilities of its many alumni. 

Father Jenkins, you have the power to reverse this unwise and unjust decision. I strongly urge you to do so, especially during this penitential season of forgiveness.

Respectfully yours in Notre Dame,

Thomas F. Carroll 

class of 1974

Mar. 24

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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