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Meg Pryor

The Notre Dame “Family”: How the On/Off-Campus Senior Differentiation Policy is a Blatant Undermining of the Values This University Claims to be Built On

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Notre Dame chapter.

The student body made huge rumbles when a campus wide email went out on April 11, 2019 at 8:01 in the morning with the title of “Residential  Life Enhancements.” The email explained a number of new policy changes, including incentives for on-campus seniors and alterations to meal plan options. And then, hidden all the way at the bottom, were two brief sentences about “differentiation of on-campus and off-campus experiences.” Effective Fall 2021, off-campus seniors, “will no longer enjoy all of the rights and privileges of residents.” This incited immediate, campus-wide outrage.

The Observer filled with letters to the editors, viewpoints and informative pieces. Students angrily demanded change. Then, as movements of this nature often experience when facing powerful institutions, the traction died down. Conversations became less frequent as the ever-busy Notre Dame students returned to the grind of daily life. I’ll admit, even I entered a state of denial in which I insisted that the University would simply reverse such a terrible, widely-hated policy. Except there will be no reversal of the policy; instead an official statement will be made in early April. 

At Flaherty Hall’s weekly hall council meeting, our president and vice presidents shared the new information they had just received on the On/Off Campus Senior Differentiation Policy. They were given half a sheet of writing by the associate Vice President for Residential Life, Heather Rakoczy Russell, at the Hall Presidents Council meeting and told that they could relay the information to the residents of their hall; but the writing was not to be physically given or distributed beyond themselves. We were then told that we had essentially two-and-a-half weeks to share our concerns on adapting these unclear policy framings before an official statement went out and things were set in stone—two-and-a-half weeks that include midterms and spring break. I can’t help but feel that this pressure to evaluate the policy changes and elucidate our concerns in such a short amount of time adds another unnecessarily challenging hoop to jump through. The words of administration may say they want to hear our opinions and concerns, but their actions make it clear that our voices will not be truly heard or taken into consideration. Tension bubbled as the frustration of residents was made clear and our Flaherty council suggested holding another meeting within the dorm that week for any interested in talking about the policy and drafting a statement to send to Ms. Rakoczy Russell. 

For over an hour, we asked questions that had no answers and vented our inability to comprehend the legitimate value of this new policy. I walked away feeling filled with a bit of righteous indignation about the hypocrisy of the University, the inherit discrimination present in the policy, the twisted economic factor at hand and the misleading, sugarcoated way in which the situation has been handled. 

Notre Dame is a family right? “Welcome Home” was plastered on the top of our acceptance letters and covered the surfaces of walls, tables and screens when we first arrived. Now we are told that that home is conditional. By instituting this “differentiation policy,” the University is effectively telling me that I can consider Flaherty Hall my community only if I pay the $15,410 room and board fee my senior year. That possibly I’ll be made “an exception” to the rules and allowed to come back to events with permission. When I enrolled here, I never realized I’d need permission to be part of the family.

Here’s a link to the full policy if you’re interested in reading the fine print.

Focusing on point two of “Other Hall Life Efforts” (all the way at the bottom), I can’t help but feel that it reads like a parent saying, “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.” I almost feel like I can hear my own mother reprimanding, “you can make the decision to do that if you want, but there will be negative consequences for your actions.” Certain actions require negative consequences. Choosing to move off campus your senior year of college should not be one of them.

Let’s break down two of the main reasons students choose to move off campus. First, students move off for financial accessibility. Many choose to leave because renting an apartment turns out to be cheaper than the cost of room and board at Notre Dame. Second is the need to escape the oppressive gender binary system imposed and reinforced by this campus’ housing policies. It’s a much bigger, deeper issue that I won’t get into right now and I understand students are fully aware of what they are signing up for when they choose Notre Dame. However, I think that for an institute that preaches inclusion and acceptance through love and understanding, it must be acknowledged that for those who do not necessarily feel they fit the mold of “Notre Dame Male” or “Notre Dame Female,” living in a resident hall can be demoralizing and constrictive. Any individual who does not subscribe to such a narrow binary should not be made to feel even more excluded from the community by being prohibited from coming back and participating in events.

There is also the fact that our time here is supposed to prepare us for “real life” following graduation, right? Well that goes beyond being set up with a good job at Deloitte after May 16. We should leave here knowing how to live independently, and solely experiencing dorm life does not truly prepare us for that. Furthermore, the desire to live independently, with your own bathroom to clean and kitchen to cook in, is a completely healthy, natural, developmentally-appropriate step towards growth and adulthood. Because we choose to try to live slightly more like adults, we are suddenly excluded from the very place that helped us feel comfortable to branch out and gave us the foundational tools to grow.

Why is it important to “draw clearer distinctions?” Why is this university, that prides itself on a “unique” and “wonderful” sense of community, looking for a precise way to tell me that once I’m no longer paying the $15,410 for room in board I’m a different, lesser part of the family? How do I reconcile myself with the idea that the community I spent three years actively contributing to, the community that I worked hard to gain privileges in, is now going to deny me them on the basis of an off-campus address? 

I worry how this will affect the attitude and participation of all those entering our Notre Dame Family in the future. You can tell me that it will encourage them to simply stay on campus, but I suspect that it will simply make students feel less engaged and resentful towards the notion of their conditional acceptance in this community. How will First Years react to seeing the upperclassman that mentored them, took them in and made this stone building feel like an actual home, be shunned for choosing to make a natural decision that allows them to demonstrate more independence? This policy claims to enhance the experience of those that live on campus—it suggests that residents take priority and should come first. However, I believe that these policies will effectively degrade the experience of residents living on-campus. It becomes significantly less authentic, in the words of one Flaherty resident. Creating a division between on and off does not enhance anyone’s experience—it simply creates walls. Building walls is never a good idea, and it’s certainly not the enlightened, socially aware, compassionate ideal Notre Dame seems to pride itself on.  

When I go back to New York for holidays, I do not have to email my mom for permission to consider me on an “exceptional” basis to come home and participate in the Christmas celebration. I do not have to be my brother’s guest in order to gain a seat at the dinner table. I think it’s fair to say that it would be pretty messed up if I did. So why is it okay for my Notre Dame Family to treat me this way?

Honestly, Notre Dame, I’m disappointed in you. I expected so much better. You preach love, compassion, inclusivity and social awareness and yet are creating a policy that is blindly unaware and blatantly unsympathetic to the needs of those upon which it is being pushed. This policy causes me to feel a tremendous lack of respect from the very place I thought would support and foster me to go out into the world and make big, beautiful, positive changes. This policy feels like a punishment for wanting to step away from the heteronormative, homogenous system. I feel punished for wanting to take the mature step towards growth and preparation for the adult world that comes from living independently. Mostly, it makes me feel sad and hurt. It makes me feel that there is a monetary value attached to my presence on campus. It makes me think that the community I love so much, that claims to love me back, does not.

Emma Koster

Notre Dame '22

Hi! My name is Emma and I'm a junior at the University of Notre Dame. I'm so excited to be studying psychology, journalism, and digital marketing here at ND! In my free time I love to read, eat yummy snacks, and hang out with friends.