Arriving on Notre Dame’s campus as a freshman is inherently stressful. New faces, an unfamiliar environment, and a barrage of social pressure are all part of the freshman landscape, so the university has long devoted much attention to helping its newest Domers in their transition to college life.
Frosh-O, recently rebranded “Welcoming Weekend,” features tons of coordinated dorm activities that allow new freshmen to meet the others in their class and get acquainted with Notre Dame. One of the most memorable Welcoming Weekend traditions is the “serenades,” in which the incoming freshmen of each dorm learn a silly song and dance and then perform for other dorms, often a dorm of the opposite sex.
In general, even the people who dislike other aspects of Welcoming Weekend say that the serenades were enjoyable and entertaining, but as beloved as the tradition is, it has not escaped criticism over the years. Serenades have been scrutinized for making students uncomfortable and for their heteronormative (assuming that everyone is heterosexual/that heterosexuality is a given) nature.
“The primary problem that people have found with serenades is that even though they are not mandatory, people feel that they must participate in them…in order to be part of the dorm, and that can put people in uncomfortable positions when it comes to being ‘forced’ to serenade the opposite sex, or feeling the need to act very over the top if someone is a more reserved person,” says Shannon Montague, Student Body Chief of Staff Emeritus, and former member of the Student Campus Orientation Committee.
Recently, rumors began flying (largely fueled by the social media app Yik Yak) that the Office of Student Affairs, which organizes Welcoming Weekend, was planning on getting rid of serenades entirely. As of now, there is no official intent to cancel serenades, but there will likely be guidelines for appropriate serenade content in the future.
Some feel that the debate over serenades is trivial when compared to the larger gender issues on campus, like the inherent heteronormativity of the dorm system.
“Our school is very traditional; we have boys’ dorms and girls’ dorms, and we should look at bigger things like that before getting rid of serenades,” remarks Grace Curtin, one of Pasquerilla West’s Welcoming Weekend leaders for the upcoming school year. She also notes other changes in Welcoming Weekend’s policies over the years, such as the abolishment of the practice of assigning each boy and girl a date for Domerfest.
On the other hand, perhaps paying more attention to the small things (like serenades) will prompt more mindfulness in gender relations at Notre Dame. The student body president for the 2015-2016 school year, Bryan Ricketts, ran on a platform of inclusion and support for all members of the Notre Dame family. On the subject of serenades, he points out that overly gendered content can hurt how people see each other. “These are your academic peers, not just potential relationships,” he says, “It’s not just about how ‘sexy’ your dorm is.”
Whether you loved or hated serenades as a freshman, it seems that they are here to stay—as long as respect for all members of the student body remains the #1 priority.