A community needs a soul if it is to become a true home for human beings. You the people must give it this soul.
–Pope St. John Paul II
Notre Dame’s unique residential life program is a source of pride and a selling point for the university. Whether it be from the wide diversity in facilities, the three-year on-campus living policy, or the sacramental life of each dorm community, Notre Dame dorms are singular among premier American universities. Incoming Notre Dame freshmen eagerly anticipate the notification from Residential Life with their random housing assignment which will allow them to answer the first question they are asked by anyone connected with the university. Their assignment will also radically shape their next four years of college.
At their best, residential dorms at Notre Dame offer every incoming freshman an immediate sense of community and a chance at organic friendship. Students naturally become part of a community that is grounded in unique traditions and stories that acknowledge their foundation in knowing and serving Christ. Signature events, Masses, and apparel help demonstrate the distinct personalities of each dorm and traditions which are passed down to generations of future dorm residents. Students graduate with fond memories of their dorm communities, friendships, and traditions.
Over the past school year, however, internal problems in Residential Life have come to the surface as several rectors have suddenly departed or been asked to leave in the middle of the year, including in Ryan Hall, O’Neill Hall, Badin Hall, and Walsh Hall. The lack of quality rectors is not a recent problem for the university. Nine new rectors were welcomed in 2019, seven in 2020, and nine again in 2021. On top of the constant leadership changes, a new co-ed undergraduate community was recently announced at Fischer Graduate Residences to accommodate the ever-increasing housing shortage on campus and to serve as an option for transgender-identifying students.
Although dorm communities offer a plenitude of positive experiences, the discord in university leadership regarding dorm communities is often more explicitly reflected in the daily happenings of each hall. For example, many dorm Masses, the liturgies most Notre Dame students attend for their Sunday obligation, are notoriously irreverent. Some of the more milder cases feature a “friendship song” in place of the Lamb of God and dorms chanting their mascot name and banging on pews during the recessional hymn. Any Catholic who recognizes the True Presence of Christ and Holy Sacrifice of the Mass immediately feels uncomfortable with the clear substitution of worship of God with the worship of “community” and a fun experience for residents.
Equally obvious as the liturgical abuses to which dorm residents have become accustomed is the state of degenerate behavior enabled by dorm leadership in the name of dorm identity and “community.” Dorm leadership and university administrators focus on the elimination of the traditional Welcome Weekend practice of serenades and the encouragement of wearing ally pins for the sake of “inclusivity,” while turning a blind eye to dorms hosting week-long binge drinking events and performances such as the Keenan Revue, which has the explicit intention to “push the boundaries” of conversations at Notre Dame by providing the audience of more than 5,000 with a 2 hour long series of graphic sexual jokes and strip-tease performances.
While these shortcomings are certainly tragic, the residential foundation of Notre Dame still maintains its potential to be one the most formative aspects of a Notre Dame undergraduate education. It is important though, to first understand, “Into what are dorm residents currently being formed?”
Upon arriving at Notre Dame, students, especially men, are immediately immersed in a community of others who, much like themselves, are highly athletic, religious, personable, and accustomed to a certain degree of academic rigor. This is by no means a universal experience; however it is objectively reflected in admissions statistics, where close to 50% of incoming freshmen served as captain of a varsity sport and over 80% of students described themselves as Catholic.
Because of this, residents often find themselves with a considerable amount of friends, social life, and strong sense of community within just months of arriving in South Bend. These bonds of community are then oriented toward a multitude of ends. For many dorms, orientation towards partying and social life becomes its defining characteristic. Others become consumed with inclusivity and value “community” for its own sake. In either case, the dorm community lacks a clear end and instead settles for being the place for circumstantial friendship and weekend social activities.
If Notre Dame wishes to maintain its claim of strong community over other prestigious universities, then its administration, faculty, and students must continue to actualize the formative potential of residential communities as genuine places of faith formation. The social life, traditions, and excitement of dorms as they are need not go away—nor should they. Instead, these foundations of community should not be viewed as ends in themselves; rather, all must recognize the ultimate goal of community to be the mutual pursuit of holiness.
Alumni, students, and those involved with the Rover often find themselves consumed with high-level administration decisions; controversial events on campus; and the happenings of world politics at large; but this dissatisfaction sometimes can be misdirected. Some of the most important decisions regarding the Catholic character of Notre Dame and the university’s mission are often executed not by executives, but by lower-level university bureaucrats, staff, and the actions of students themselves. These seemingly small and often unnoticed hirings or policies form the future of the university and student body far more than any panel or controversial comment by a faculty member can. Members of the Notre Dame community should always remain attentive to these critical institutions so that they can continue to be celebrated and loved by the community for generations to come.
Nico Schmitz is a junior in the Program of Liberal Studies from Los Angeles, California. If not catching up on reading or watching Dodgers baseball, he will get back to any comments or concerns you send to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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