Mixed responses from students about the closure of men’s residence hall

On Tuesday, March 16, the Division of Student Affairs announced the closure of Zahm Hall via a webinar with Zahm residents. The announcement, which came as a surprise to students, cites “several years of unsuccessful intervention to alter a troubling culture,” including “significant vandalism within and beyond the building (including the University’s Sculpture Park this year), demonstrated disrespect for University officials, unusually high turnover of rectors and other hall staff, and deliberate disregard for University COVID-19 testing protocols this fall” as the rationale for this decision.

According to the announcement, beginning Fall 2021 and continuing “for the foreseeable future,” “the Zahm building will serve as the swing hall for residential communities from halls undergoing year-long major renovations. The Sorin community will therefore live in Zahm during the 2021-2022 academic year.” Current Zahm residents “will have an opportunity to transfer to other halls, or elect to live off campus during the next academic year while still earning credit toward the residency requirement.”

The student response to this decision has been mixed. Some lament the loss of Notre Dame traditions that center around Zahm, such as the “Here Come the Irish” banner that adorns North Quad during football season, spirited gatherings within its halls, and the expletives directed at Zahm residents during football cheers. Others suggest that, in addition to Zahm’s history of vandalism and disrespect, the dorm fostered a problematic culture surrounding sexual assault that needed to be adressed. 

One student told the Rover that, as she sees it, “the decision did not come out of nowhere. Last fall, I talked to Zahm freshmen who said they were being taught to embody the Zahm stereotype and that they felt like they were becoming different people than they had intended because of their placement there.” The freshmen were told, she added, “that no girl could resist a Zahm guy.”

Among the current residents of Zahm, however, there seems to be a common feeling of frustration, loss, and continued brotherhood. Freshman Zahm resident Sam Ouhaj told the Rover: “after losing my senior year of high school and being isolated for so long, I was able to find a community and call the men of Zahm brothers. I can confidently say that the residents of this dorm do not and never will reflect the culture of Zahm that occurred years ago. I have been given only a few weeks to find a new dorm and I know few people outside of my residence hall due to the University’s COVID policies. This year has been difficult enough, and I don’t want to lose the men I call my brothers without protest.” 

On the night of the announcement, the men of Zahm took part in a small gathering in front of the administration building to air their grievances in response to the decision. This gathering later grew into a protest of hundreds of students from across campus, and ended in a chorus of the Alma Mater in front of Hesburgh Library. In addition to these efforts, Zahm residents are working with parents and alumni to raise awareness of their situation, writing letters expressing their dissent, and signing petitions to reverse the decision.

In a letter to the editor published in the Observer, past and current presidents and vice presidents of Zahm Hall expressed a desire to establish a dialogue with the administration about the future of their hall, writing that “The University’s claim that our community is irredeemable because of staff changes is plainly misleading and unsupported. Throughout this turnover, residents have had no communication with the administration — nothing that can be considered a long-term vision for the growth of our community…After extensive talks with current and former Zahm House staff, residents and alumni, our community wishes to open a dialogue with vice president for student affairs Erin Hoffman-Harding, associate vice president for residential life Heather Rakosczy Russell, M-Div., associate vice president for student development M. Brian Coughlin, M.A. and University President Fr. John Jenkins to delineate an action plan that strengthens our positive attributes and diminishes our negative ones in a way that affirms, empowers and protects the mental health and well-being of current residents.“

It is unclear if the university will be open to dialogue about the future of Zahm, but for the time being, past and current Zahm students are looking for alternative housing, while remaining committed to protecting their community.

Bridget Stockrahm is a freshman from South Bend, Indiana. She can be found playing euchre, wasting flex points on green tea lattes, and biking around campus, though not currently, because she forgot where she locked her bike. If you notice an abandoned bicycle near Debartolo Hall, you may reach her at bstockra@nd.edu.