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Observer Editorial: Junior Parents Weekend isn’t one-size-fits-all

| Friday, February 17, 2023

Junior Parents Weekend is an opportune time to reflect on nearly three full years under the Golden Dome. For Notre Dame students who began their college careers under the shadow of steep COVID-19 infection rates and assiduous HERE ambassadors, the weekend is an opportunity for families to come together and celebrate how much the class of 2024 has grown. But as juniors prepare for the festivities, we must acknowledge this weekend is not easy for everyone.

The name alone implies that students have two parents with the financial means to travel to South Bend and shell out nearly $300 for both of them to attend programming. For many students, this is simply not feasible. 

On top of the cost, the University assumes a certain level of knowledge about JPW and the University itself, and those with an existing family connection to the University are more likely to feel welcomed by the programming. Notre Dame is known for admitting a high number of legacy students — students with a parent or close relative that attended the same institution. Each Notre Dame class typically consists of 20 to 25% who are children of alumni. It can sometimes feel like every student has a sibling, parent, uncle or great-great-grandparent who went to Notre Dame. 

As JPW approaches, bear in mind that some students may have lost a parent or guardian; some may be navigating the dynamics of divorced parents; others might have a difficult home life. Parents of international students may face difficulty coordinating flights and travel documents, and first-generation, low-income families might confront similar obstacles. Even with support from the Office of Student Enrichment, availing those resources and financial assistance comes with plentiful stress, expectations and hoops to jump through. There also exists a social barrier for some families. Same-sex parents of Notre Dame students may experience an added level of stress in trying to visit a campus with policies and people that can be less than welcoming. A lack of inclusive activities, such as non-religious events or services, may even deter parents from considering visiting at all.

So, check in on your friends this weekend. Spend time with them, especially if you know the title of “Junior Parents Weekend” may surface insecurities, doubts or worries. And if you don’t feel like this weekend is for you, take comfort in your own tri-campus family — whoever that may be, whatever that may look like. No matter your situation, take time to reflect this weekend and participate in the events you wish to attend. Even if your parents or guardians can’t attend, this weekend is still for you.

We hope this editorial serves as a reminder that Junior Parents Weekend can and should be treasured, but we should do so without assuming all students will be able to bring their loved ones to campus. While we do not want to ignore the storied tradition of JPW, the University can and should do more to be inclusive in its programming toward those who might not have the means to celebrate their college accomplishments with their family. 

While accommodations exist for families who might struggle to make it to campus, they are not widely publicized in messages about the weekend, and this lack of acknowledgement only deepens feelings of isolation. It should not be on individual students to uncover, dig for or seek out the assistance they need. In its communications about the weekend, the University seems to send the message that if you don’t have two parents who are willing to travel to South Bend, you aren’t “normal.” The student body should push back on that narrative by championing a more inclusive weekend and reassuring friends that they should celebrate however they feel most comfortable.

So when you inevitably run into juniors and their parents walking around campus or checking out the South Bend bar scene, remember that there is no right or wrong way to share the tri-campus with your loved ones.

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