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Res Life, this is your fault too: Thoughts on the Disbanding of Zahm

Before I say anything, I would just like to ask the Notre Dame administration: please, please can we have one week without some enormous drama please? I’m honestly begging you; I’m just trying to finish a single ounce of school work without a major interruption. 

With that being said, I’m sure we all saw the announcement on Monday that the Zahm community will be dissolved at the end of this year with Residential Life citing “years of unsuccessful intervention to alter a troubling culture” as the reason for the dorm’s transformation into a swing hall for communities receiving renovations. Higher profile Notre Dame accounts, like Barstool, ND chicks, and coronavirusnd flooded Twitter and Instagram with the news, and there seemed to be a general consensus that, despite the dorm’s poor reputation and trashy freshman year parties, Zahm will be missed. Zahm residents soon gathered on God Quad that evening and marched around campus, shouting “Protect this House.” However, in the comments sections beneath these dramatic displays, many female students pointed out the fact that the “frat culture” that perpetuated in the dorm for decades did so at the expense of women who were sexually assaulted and silenced by residential life. Former Saint Mary’s student, Colleen Dunne, was the first to note the blatant disregard for the dorm’s history of sexual assault allegations, as she said:

“Sending love to all the girls who have been roofied & assaulted there (in astounding numbers), with the zahm rector and RAs knowing and doing whatever it takes to cover it up including RAs taking drunk girls into their own rooms until they sober up. Trying to change the future by riding their frat boy culture does not change the horrors of the past”

Colleen’s post encouraged countless other Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students to challenge the “#freeZahm” narrative that began to grow exponentially on social media, many of whom facing hateful comments from Zahm alumni who sought to discredit their allegations. 

selective focus photo of a gold iPhone 6s home screen Photo by Benjamin Sow from Unsplash

Clearly, there are many layers to this massive change in the dorm system, but the fact that residential life as a whole refused to acknowledge the role that the institution played in allowing the “troubling culture” in Zahm to reach such extremes struck me as the most troubling. Zahm is a reflection of the inherent sexism in residential life policies and practices, but these flaws are not entirely unique to Zahm. Years of “unsuccessful intervention” would not be necessary if the culture was not allowed to perpetuate in the first place. In creating the dorms as a pseudo-fraternity system, the same dangers of hazing, irresponsible drinking and sexual assault are unfortunately inevitable. Coupled with Parietals and the sexism when it comes to actually enforcing rules regarding drinking in the dorms, women at Notre Dame have always been, and continue to be, at a much higher risk in any dorm, not just Zahm. 

Girl's night Unsplash

The dramatic response by Zahm students and the Notre Dame student body on social media also reminded me how strongly Notre Dame students are drawn to a spectacle. The ability to turn any event on campus into a meme continues to take precedence over empathizing with other students, like women who have been victims of sexual assault as a result of “troubling culture” in men’s dorms. It is understood that Zahm residents would be upset by the dramatic change, but the demonstrations on Monday night seemed out of proportion given the complicated history of the dorm. Despite the tendencies of many students to get carried away by this social performance, countless individuals made the point about how there was so much energy put forth to try and “save Zahm,” but many Notre Dame students are silent when it comes to other significant movements on campus like Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ advocacy and prevention of sexual assault. If anything, this spectacle should be a wake up call to anyone who could look the other way when it comes to the problematic party culture on campus. Just because it didn’t happen to you doesn’t mean it never happens, and if residential life really cares about making campus safer for women, it goes beyond Zahm. 

Protest Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

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