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Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024
The Observer

Gender inequality in dorm system is about more than parietals, alcohol

Many people have written in The Observer about gender inequality in the dorm system at Notre Dame. Typically, they focus on issues such as uneven enforcement of parietals or alcohol rules between the men’s and women’s halls. These are valid complaints, and most Notre Dame students would probably agree that men’s halls are far less strict than women’s halls. Think back on the last time you attended a pre-game, dorm party or even a game watch in a women’s hall. I remember when I had my personal moment of reckoning with this discrepancy. Before attending Pasquerilla West’s fall dance my sophomore year, my friends and their dates met not anywhere in PW but rather in Knott Hall to avoid any potential infractions stemming from pre-dance festivities. The agency of the Weasels to control their night was taken away from them at their own dance.

I believe most students here would have stories of their own about a Du Lac violation going unpunished in a men’s hall to the shock of their female friends, but all of the “evidence” for this issue is anecdotal. I would like to focus instead on a more concrete example of gender disparity that is becoming more and more prevalent on campus as the University throws itself wallet-first into a wide range of dorm related changes. As part of the policy changes supposedly starting next year, many of the dorms on campus are scheduled for renovations to bring their facilities more in line with those of the newest halls like Baumer and Flaherty. In an article from the spring of 2019, University leadership described planned renovations as including “a full kitchen as well as food sales in new and renovated men’s dorms and a full kitchen on each floor in women’s dorms.”

Presently, six of the women’s halls have kitchens on each floor, and it is reasonable to expect the soon-to-be completed Johnson Family Hall to have this many as well. Since the Pangborn community is technically Johnson Family Hall in Pangborn this year, that means seven of the eventual 14 women’s halls have kitchens on every floor. By contrast, only two of the women’s halls have a paid food service (i.e. Zaland or Dawg Pizza) in-house, with Johnson Family Hall’s status to be determined. By contrast, 14 of the men’s halls have paid food services in-house. The current Dillon residents carried over Bullwinkle’s Pizza Bagel Service to Baumer Hall with plans to re-establish the eatery in newly renovated Dillon while Baumer launches their own place to eat next school year. Meanwhile, not a single men’s hall has a kitchen on every floor. Most of this information can be verified on official Residential Life pages for the dorms, but in an effort to be as current as possible, I emailed the president of each dorm to confirm their current amenities.

Why does the University think women’s halls need kitchens while men’s halls need businesses? That is another example of a great question the student body could ask our administration if they ever elect to meet with us about the new housing policies. In my correspondence with the hall presidents, multiple women’s hall presidents expressed interest in opening their own food service in the dorm. Their absence stems from lack of space, not lack of enthusiasm. It is no secret the business world continues to be harder for women to break into than men. Our own Mendoza College of Business is just 36% female, as of the most recent year statistics were available. Running a pizza kitchen or café or deli, as our dorms do with great success, requires plenty of business acumen and presents an opportunity to learn about entrepreneurship in a controlled setting. These places also make money. George Lyman, president of Dunne Hall, told me the profits from Pizza Dunne Right go toward funding the dorm retreat in the winter. Not only are student jobs created (with very student-friendly hours, as most of these eateries are only open late at night) but more money goes into the dorms, allowing them to offset costs for dorm-wide events.

Less important, but still valid to wonder about, is why the University thinks men do not want or need as much kitchen space as women. Personally, living in Alumni Hall, I never once saw the kitchen used for any cooking beyond microwaving oatmeal. It is completely devoid of any useful kitchen implements. John Esposito, president of Stanford Hall, called their kitchen “outdated.” Presumably, this will change after each hall’s eventual renovations, but there will still be a blatant discrepancy in the amount of kitchen space available to the men and women on this campus.

It is possible that there exists an explanation for the kitchen and food service policies that has nothing to do with archaic gender stereotypes, or that the long-term plan of the University will eventually rectify the amenities across both genders. The fact remains, however, that we as students have no way of knowing what the truth is, as the University continues to operate as opaquely as possible. Until Notre Dame becomes a place for dialogue, those of us without a voice in the conversation will be left to wonder about the reasons behind the changes.

Ben Testani is a senior studying international economics, Arabic and Spanish. He comes to Notre Dame via Central New York, and, while currently residing off-campus, will always be a proud Alumni Dawg. He welcomes feedback at or @BenTestani on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.