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New Welcome Week format emphasizes inclusivity, longevity

| Friday, August 20, 2021

More than 2,000 first-year students move into their residence halls Friday and begin a new chapter at Notre Dame. The University, including nearly 300 student leaders split between the St. André Bessette Committee and the Steering Committee, will embrace the class of 2025 during its first few college days.

With fewer COVID-19 restrictions and recent program adjustments, Welcome Week 2021 will look different from last year and years before the pandemic.

Among the key changes, Welcome Week program directors Lauren Donahue of the Division of Student Affairs and Andrew Whittington of the Center for University Advising said the Week seeks to promote better connections to Notre Dame’s academic environment, create a more inclusive environment and encourage students to explore the University community even after the official Welcome Week programming concludes.

“We’re excited to keep the things that make this experience at Notre Dame beautiful, but I don’t think this will look the exact same as it did in 2019, and it won’t look the same as it did in 2020,” Donahue said.

Photo courtesy of Chris Hayden
New Dunne Hall residents pose with candles before the Class of 2022 visited the Grotto for the first time. The visit to the Grotto culminated the annual Welcome Weekend, when transfer and first-year students are oriented to campus.

Whittington emphasized that each new class deepens and enhances the University’s vision.

Honoring Welcome Week tradition, first-years will experience a class trip to the Grotto, welcome Mass, Moreau course kickoff, class photo, residence hall events, Domerfest and remarks from University President Fr. John Jenkins, provost Marie Lynn Miranda and new vice president for student affairs Fr. Gerard Olinger.

In line with the University’s COVID-19 policy, parents and guests who arrive with students must wear masks when indoors except when eating or drinking. Students with a vaccine exemption must also wear masks in most spaces.

Many larger Welcome Week events will take place outdoors where masks will not be required. Parents and visitors helping students move in will be allowed in the residence halls, but visitors will be prohibited once classes begin.

Since many first-years did not have an opportunity to visit campus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Welcome Week programming includes more tours than usual to help students learn their way around campus.

In response to student feedback indicating a desire for more academic engagement during Welcome Week, a first-year lecture series debuts this year.

“We want [first years] to feel an affinity for Farley Hall, but also begin to identify with the intellectual environment of Notre Dame,” Whittington said.

Each first-year student will sign up for any lecture of their choosing regardless of their intended major or school. Whittington described the lecturers as some of the “most dynamic and interesting faculty members across all colleges and schools.”

The lectures provide an opportunity for first years to engage with their academic identity in a more personal way than the larger pre-assigned lectures of the past.

Donahue and Whittington also decided on several title changes for this year’s first-year programming.

Notre Dame students who welcome first-years in their residence halls will now be known as the St. André Bessette Committee, instead of hall captains. Donahue said the nominal change offers St. André Bessette — a doorkeeper and the first saint of the Congregation of the Holy Cross — as an example for committee members to follow when interacting with first years.

In every residence hall, one St. André Bessette Committee member for each resident assistant and two co-chairs accompany students during their first days and weeks at Notre Dame. Donahue said she saw many first years become long-term friends with these ambassadors during her four years as the rector of Cavanaugh Hall.

Another name change is the program itself, titled Welcome Week, as opposed to Welcome Weekend. The distinction aims to signal to first-years their adjustment to Notre Dame might take more than a few days.

“A student’s transition and orientation to this place doesn’t end in 72 hours,” Donahue said.

First-year programming extends beyond one weekend, lasting throughout the entire first year with the Moreau First Year Experience course and a new program designed to connect students based on a variety of shared interest or goals in the weeks after classes begin. Information on this new program is yet to be released.

Students and alumni may notice another change in this year’s Welcome Week — the absence of the so-called serenades.

In past years, first-years within each residence hall often learned song and dance numbers to perform for other dorms upon meeting. Donahue believes these serenades have a history of exclusion and an unwelcoming message.

“The word serenade and the culture around serenades is archaic,” Donahue said. “The word serenade itself implies a message that most students are not intending.”

Donahue explained that serenades of the past often included sexual innuendos and heteronormative messages that created an unwelcoming or awkward environment for many students.

“There are lots of pieces of our identity that are not known on the surface,” Donahue explained. “We are not encouraging students to sing serenades. We are not encouraging people to repeat and promote that kind of culture.”

Songs or cheers that express dorm pride without exclusive messages will be permitted.

Skyler Hamilton, a senior in Farley Hall and a member of the Steering Committee — a group of student leaders who work behind the scenes to help plan welcome programming — is disappointed there will be no serenades.

“My favorite event or thing to do was the serenades, but we can’t do the serenades this year, so that was kind of a bummer,” she said.

She also noted that Domerfest will be different this year as organizers shift the focus from a purely social event to an event more reflective of the University as a whole.

Regardless of the serenade status, University and student leaders hope first years understand the value they bring to the community.

“These students have demonstrated a resiliency, and a commitment, and an expertise, and just a tremendous gift that they could have given to any number of university communities across the world, and they chose Notre Dame,” Whittington said. “That just makes me incredibly grateful for the gifts that they’ll give to our community and the ways in which they will renew our spirit, make us better, and transform every corner of our campus.”

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