Town hall meeting addresses concerns regarding recent housing announcement
The Office of the President released an un unexpected announcement at midnight on Wednesday, September 13, stating that next year the university will begin to require students to live on campus for six semesters. The announcement, which was sent out in the form of an email, also alerted students to a town hall meeting held less than 24 hours after the email’s release.
Wednesday evening, dozens of students filed into 101 DeBartolo to ask questions, air their grievances, and get more information. University President Reverend John Jenkins, CSC, opened the gathering with a brief speech regarding Notre Dame’s values of the “education of the mind and heart” and a “sense of community,” which he said would be enhanced by the new six-semester policy.
“As I think about it, you certainly learn a lot in your biology classes, your math classes, philosophy classes, whatever,” said Fr. Jenkins, “but you learn a lot by just dealing with one another, by being part of a community, being supported and supporting others. I think that’s a part of what you learn at Notre Dame. And we think the residence halls are a critical part of that.”
After Fr. Jenkins’s speech, Erin Hoffmann Harding, Vice President of Student Affairs, took the stage to describe the planning behind the new policy and to field questions. Hoffmann Harding cited statistics on the ethnic makeup and socioeconomic backgrounds of on- and off-campus students. She stated that wealth was the most reliable predictor of students’ choice to remain on-campus. Scholarship students, Hoffmann Harding said, were more likely to live on campus than to move away. In terms of other demographics, men were more likely to move off-campus than women, and minority students were more likely to remain on-campus.
Speaking about age statistics, Hoffmann Harding also stated that in the past, 2-3% of sophomores have chosen off-campus living, compared with 11-15% of juniors and over 60% of seniors. Factors controlling students’ choice to “opt out of the community,” as Hoffmann Harding put it, included the presence of off-campus friends, a desire to explore the community, and complaints about campus food.
According to Hoffmann Harding, international students wanted to move off-campus so they could cook meals from their own cultures. Other students found offense with the cost of the campus meal plan, opting for cheaper food bought from stores or restaurants and more control over meal preparation.
Student questions and comments covered a wide range of topics relating to the announcement. One student wondered how the new policy would affect admissions. Another asked about the implications of the new policy for transfer students, to which Hoffmann Harding replied that “details [were] still to be worked out.” Another student cited parietals as a factor that drove students off campus. Fr. Jenkins responded, stating that Notre Dame’s value system is an integral part of the community.
Students also asked questions related to dorm quality. Many students agreed that the disparity of comfort and quality between dorms—Duncan Hall versus Dillon Hall, for instance—rendered a universal room and board price unfair. One student even complained of Carroll Hall’s ongoing infestation problem, citing the dorm’s “bat count.” He pointed out that off-campus housing actually allowed him to live closer to his classroom buildings than did housing in Carroll, and for less money. Hoffmann Harding spoke to the bat problem among other issues, arguing that the university is working “really hard” to eliminate the flying vermin. She also stated that plans are in the works to renovate and remedy disciplinary disparities between the dorms.
Certain students see the move as a cash grab; others view it as a logical extension of Notre Dame’s community spirit. Still others worry about the legal and administrative complications the administration’s mandate could introduce, especially in regards to Title IX policy. During the question-and-answer, one student asked if exceptions to the six-semester rule could be made for survivors of sexual assault who felt threatened on-campus and wished to move off. After expressing sympathy for the sexual assault survivors the student mentioned, Hoffmann Harding stated that she had no “definitive answer” but would be open to discussing the topic in the future.
“The one thing that I’m really concerned about is that when they brought up the topic of sexual assault, survivors of sexual assault, Erin Hoffmann Harding wasn’t able to give a recommendation for protecting them on campus,” said sophomore Elizabeth Boyle. “So I’m nervous that the already existing issues of Title IX implementation on this campus will just continue to be perpetuated through this new housing requirement.”
Some students, however, were not satisfied with the administration’s responses. After the hour-long session,, students lined up for the chance to discuss the decision with Fr. Jenkins and Hoffmann Harding after the talk had ended.
Although the six-semester rule will not directly affect current students, next year’s incoming freshmen will be the first to feel the new policy’s effects and to provide experienced feedback to the administration.
Alison O’Neil is a sophomore Biological Sciences major. She enjoys reading, running and feeding squirrels on the quad. A mutant squirrel bite has left her able to communicate with the animals, allowing her to work her way up the squirrel ranks and become Supreme Squirrel Overlord. Contact Alison at firstname.lastname@example.org.