Petition on Section 3, Item 2 of Upcoming Residential Life Policy Changes

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Written by: Nicholas Dedo (Resident Assistant, Alumni Hall)

Addressed to: The Division of Student Affairs & Residential Life

We, the undersigned members of the Notre Dame community, wish to respectfully express our vigorous disagreement with a key element of the Residential Life Enhancements, which were shared with the university community via email this morning (4/11/2019) and will take effect over the next few years.

Item no. 2 in the third and final section, “Other Hall Life Efforts,” entitled “Differentiate on- and off-campus experiences,” reads as follows:

  • "The residential experience is crucial to a Notre Dame undergraduate education that prepares and forms our students for life. Within the residence halls, students experience the benefits and privileges of community living through shared social, spiritual, developmental, and recreational activities that embody an education that is attentive to the formation of both mind and heart.
  • After six semesters, however, students may decide to leave their residential community and move off campus for the remainder of their time at the University. Many of the initiatives described above are designed to incent seniors to choose to stay on campus, enabling them to model how to live well in community, mentor underclassmen, and share the wisdom and leadership skills they have developed at Notre Dame. In contrast, choosing to live off campus allows students to have an experience that more closely resembles the independence of post-collegiate life. A choice to live off campus can be healthy and formative for seniors as well. However, this choice also naturally changes their relationship with their former hall community.
  • Timing: In the coming year, together with its partners in the Division of Student Affairs and across the University, the Office of Residential Life will draw clearer distinctions between residents of hall communities and those who opt to move out of them. Students who choose to leave will no longer enjoy all of the rights and privileges of residents (e.g., including participation on hall sports teams and presence at hall dances). The new policy will take effect in fall 2021."

This element of the policy changes is, in our assessment, directly contrary to the stated priorities of inclusion and welcome that are central to the mission of Notre Dame Residential Life. Instead, it is exclusionary to those individuals who make the choice to live off-campus, damaging to residence hall communities, and highly unlikely to have any impact on any student’s decision to remain on campus.

First, excluding students who make this decision from sports teams, hall dances, and other similar activities (the extent of which the policy leaves open-ended) alienates those people from the place they formerly called home. Their ability to remain part of that community is crippled, and the community they are alienated from is worse off as a result of their exclusion.

Second, hall programming and interhall sports teams will suffer. Lower attendance at dances, especially for smaller dorms, will only weaken those events and make them less appealing for residents to attend. Furthermore, hall dances are a key opportunity for underclassmen to interact with seniors who have moved off. They create a vibrant space apart from the unending bustle of academics and clubs for the entire community to come together. Turning away off-campus seniors at the door does nothing to enrich those events or that community. Instead, it creates a destructive barrier within it. 

Similarly, interhall sports allow freshmen who might never have met the off-campus seniors to be on a team with them and work together towards a common goal. In Alumni Hall, I've seen off-campus seniors consistently take part in Dawg Football, Dawg Basketball, Dawg Hockey and other interhall teams in large numbers, providing critical, positive leadership and organizational knowledge. In addition, many dorms would be fully unable to field teams without the participation of off-campus seniors. As it is, a number of dorms combine personnel to create joint teams, which is a tangible example of how difficult it already is for some halls to fill rosters. The implementation of this policy will, without a doubt, cripple this integral part of the residence hall communities.

Third, removing one’s ability to participate in programming and interhall sports will undoubtedly have a negligible impact on their decision to move off; as one of the undersigned put it, “No one is staying on campus for their shot at interhall bowling glory.” The decision to move off campus is influenced by a wide variety of other factors, including but not limited to: financial savings, apartment amenities, real-world experience, mental health issues, or, in some situations, feeling out of place in their residence hall community for any number of reasons. All of these factors will undoubtedly supersede hall programming and interhall sports in these students’ “pros and cons lists.” As a result, this attempt at "differentiation" will fail to accomplish its stated goal and will instead only achieve the negative impacts stated above.

As an RA in Alumni Hall, I am personally engaged seven-days-a-week in conversations to convince underclassmen to not sign leases and to stay on campus. I care deeply about the residence hall community I am part of and about the residence hall system as a whole. From the moment I arrived at Main Circle and had my belongings swept upstairs by complete strangers in black Delta-Omega-Gamma tank-tops, I have been welcomed here. Over the past four years, it has become my “home” in the most fundamental sense of the word. My time here has played a pivotal role in shaping me into the person I am today. If I had moved off-campus for my senior year, I would have missed out on a critical chapter of that experience and on a truly special opportunity to lead – even if I hadn’t been an RA.

For these reasons, I fully support the university’s effort to incentivize on-campus living for seniors. In this vein, the elements of the announcement underneath “Incentives for On-Campus Seniors” and “Residential Benefits for All Students” are, in our assessment, positive steps in the right direction. Things such as the $3000 Senior Fellow stipend, the $2000 credit for early commitment, and the elimination of the $500 single room upcharge demonstrate a serious commitment to mitigating the financial savings of off-campus living. Block meal plans, free laundry, and the standardization of working kitchens are further laudable steps in meeting the concerns of those considering a move off-campus. The floor is open for ongoing debate over whether these measures will be enough to effectively encourage those students to stay on and also address the imposed financial costs of the Three-Year Rule, but they have potential to have a serious impact in this area.

However, for these same reasons, I fear that off-campus students, already physically separated from campus life by the distance to their off-campus housing, will only be further alienated from student life by the policy at hand. Residence halls form the backbone of student life at Notre Dame, and each individual first experiences student life through their dorm. It is crucial for these students to be able to remain connected to the place they resided for the previous three years; this allows them to maintain the networks of friendship and support they’ve formed in the years spent under that roof. Formally denying them access to that community’s programming and sports teams greatly reduces their ability to sustain relationships with many of the people they’ve become closest to. Far beyond these tangible barriers, their exclusion from such elements of the community sends the signal that they are no longer welcome and are no longer part of that community. If that is the message the University wishes to send, then perhaps attendance at Sunday dorm mass, the beating heart of many dorms, should be reserved for residents of that dorm as well.

Finally, in a larger context, this policy change is harmful to residence hall communities in a far more negative way than any of the policy changes I have seen in my time here. While the Three-Year Rule is still a highly controversial topic of debate on campus today, I personally feel that its pitfalls center on heavy-handedness and apparent aloofness to the financial situations of some students – which the aforementioned incentives appropriately seek to address. In contrast, this policy change is directly contrary to the message of welcome and inclusion so central to Notre Dame’s residential mission.

I invite the signees of this petition to add their own thoughts and concerns below along with their signature. This petition does not fully address all aspects of this issue, focusing primarily on the social exclusion and damage to community. Particularly, financial implications as well as the perspectives of LGBTQ students and racial/ethnic groups are not fully covered, but these are important topics to expand upon in this discussion.

We respectfully urge the leaders of this University, specifically the leaders of the Division of Student Affairs and of Residential Life, to eliminate this element of the upcoming policy changes. Disincentivizing the move off-campus in this way alienates students who choose to do so, will weaken the events and teams that off-campus seniors are excluded from, and will likely have a negligible impact on their living decisions. We look forward to your response on this issue, and we are eager to continue the conversation on how to best sustain and improve residential life at Notre Dame. Thank you.

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The full list of upcoming policy changes can be viewed at this link.