As I am nearing the end of my time at Notre Dame, I had intended to write one of my final HerCampus Notre Dame articles about how blessed I have been by this institution. While this is still true, I was disheartened by an email that I received this morning from the Division of Student Affairs regarding changes to residential life that the University intends to implement to enhance the community in the dorms. While some of the policies seemed relatively reasonable, like the opportunities for seniors to pursue “Senior Fellow” positions, the expansion of meal plan options, and free laundry, the section on “differentiat[ing] on- and off-campus experiences” put me up in arms. As I was scrolling through the policy in class, I honestly couldn’t and still cannot comprehend what the University was thinking with this policy.
Following the implementation of the six-semester requirement, members of the Class of 2022 and subsequent classes must live on-campus for six semesters and may elect to move off for their senior year. The University acknowledges that living off-campus allows students to experience and acclimate to the independence of post-grad life, but asserts that moving out of their residence hall necessarily changes their relationship with their dorm community. The University uses this change to justify the upcoming “differentiation” policies, to take effect in the fall of 2021. The plan is as follows: “In the coming year, together with its partners in the Division of Student Affairs and across the University, the Office of Residential Life will draw clearer distinctions between residents of hall communities and those who opt to move out of them. Students who choose to leave will no longer enjoy all of the rights and privileges of residents (e.g., including participation on hall sports teams and presence at hall dances)”. To me, this policy will alienate certain groups of students and will weaken a lasting sense of belonging to one’s residence hall.
While many seniors choose to live off-campus for the independence that it allows, there are other students for whom living off campus is necessary for other reasons. A student may make the choice to live off campus for economic reasons or because they feel unsafe on-campus as a result of sexual harassment or assault. Other students still may choose to live off-campus because they feel more comfortable in an apartment than in a residence hall for one reason or another. Barring off-campus students from participating in residence culture because they choose not to live on campus places consequences on these choices, which for some are not choices, but rather are decisions of necessity. By implementing this policy as an attempt to get seniors to remain on campus, the University is implicitly sweeping considerations that are very real for some students under the rug, aiming their incentives at those students who move off-campus seeking autonomy and flexible meal options.
However, excluding off-campus students itself will threaten the vitality of on-campus residence halls because it will fracture interpersonal relationships formed in the dorms and weaken the sense of belonging to one’s residence hall. If people know that there will be barriers to lasting community for seniors to choose to live off-campus, I suspect that unspoken rifts will form as early as sophmore year, as the divide between those who will remain on campus and those who will move off is delineated. I’m not trying to be melodramatic nor to make the claim that these friendships will cease to exist. As an off-campus senior, I do have friends who live on campus, but I would be lying if I didn’t say that it requires a concerted effort on both ends to maintain those friendships. By eliminating off-campus seniors’ privilege to participate in those aspects of the dorm community, the administration is placing strain on those bonds of community that were formed in the dorms prior. This seems counter-intuitive and will affect the way in which sophomores and juniors with the intent to move off-campus connect with their dorm. I fear that two communities will form as residents move through their time at Notre Dame. I suspect that the impending severance of those moving off-campus pushing apart those who choose differently.
Notre Dame presents residential life as an opportunity to partake in “social, spiritual, developmental, and recreational activities that embody an education that is attentive to the formation of both mind and heart”, but is now walking towards a future where those activities are a moot point. Do off-campus seniors lose access to this development as they dip their toes into adulthood? This policy cuts off seniors who choose off-campus life in their final year at Notre Dame, while these students still need the community to support them as they prepare to step into the future. As a soon-to-be Notre Dame alumna, I pray that the “Notre Dame Family” language holds true after I receive my diploma and that my Home under the Dome doesn’t have an expiration date. For the reasons detailed above, I urge the University to reconsider the proposed differentiation policy, as it penalizes students who move off-campus by necessity and it threatens to undermine the very community that it seeks to foster.