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Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024
The Observer

An ode to Alumni Hall

Moving off campus as a student at Notre Dame is a political decision. Certain types of people seem almost offended when I told them I was planning to move off campus, shocked that I would dare abandon my hall. The patented Notre Dame Introduction turned awkward upon my departure, as I graced my syllabus weeks with “I’m Ben Testani, I’m a senior studying international economics, formerly in Alumni Hall and currently off campus.”

Yet to me, and many others, there is no “formerly” associated with my hall after I moved off campus. I took the lessons of my former rector to heart — Notre Dame by choice, Alumni Hall by the grace of God. In the fall of my freshman year, I breathlessly explained to my parents on the phone how I was instantly an Alumni Dawg for life. I joined interhall football and lacrosse teams to varying degrees of success. I accepted the fact that I hated Dillon Hall without question by the end of the first night of Welcome Weekend. And when I moved off campus, I intentionally signed a lease with seven other Dawgs.

When I was lucky enough to be selected as a columnist for this school year, I struggled to propose a theme for my columns. I knew I wanted to write about something that was important to me, so I pitched my editors on a column from the off-campus student’s perspective. The fact that this type of perspective is even somewhat unique at our University shows the housing dynamic we have as students at Notre Dame. Voluntarily expanding your personal Notre Dame bubble is viewed by some as shunning the traditions and community which have been cultivated for years and passed down from rector to rector, seniors to underclassmen, Assistant Rectors to Resident Assistants.

Throughout the year, I stretched the definition of the “off-campus perspective” further than some alumni have stretched the definition of a successful football season (no, Coach Kelly should not be fired for losing one game to the eventual national champion) since their own graduations. I authored columns about the cost burden of room and board and gender inequality between the dorms, but my editors also graciously gave me the freedom to write about the net decrease in student wages over time and my own struggles with mental health. But for my last column, I wanted to return to my originally stated theme one last time and give my hall a proper send-off.

It is no secret that I, along with many other members of the Notre Dame community, staunchly oppose the impending six-semester housing mandate and off-campus student exclusion policy. The financial cost alone is enough for me to support every student’s right to live on or off campus at whichever time in their undergraduate career feels right for them. But what if that is not necessarily the strongest reason to continue allowing students to move off campus? What if it is possible to actually become a better hall community member from off campus?

Once I no longer lived within the physical borders of Alumni Hall, many of my gripes with the dorm felt trivial in hindsight. While the hall is, without question, in desperate need of renovations to put its quality of life on par with the newer buildings, I found myself thinking back less about my broken heat and four-legged roommates and more about feasting on Dawg Pizza at 2 a.m., escaping hall debates without any condiments staining my clothes and the camaraderie of the fourth-floor study loft during midterms and finals. Living outside the dorm gave me the perspective needed to not only suggest improvements for the hall but also to remember all the fun times fondly.

Furthermore, even from my house two miles south of campus, I remained an active member of Alumni Hall. I coached the interhall basketball team, and we will be claiming the title since our season was cut short while we were still undefeated. I signed a petition circulated by underclassmen Dawgs urging the hall’s new rector not to change the way freshmen rooms are distributed since I believe the current setup is the best way to transform Pups into Dawgs. I attended official hall events both on and off campus, and I hosted more casual hall events at my house with my roommates. Living off campus allowed me to participate in Alumni as much as I wanted to without feeling any pressure to do more than I desired. 

On the other hand, some of my best friends gave up large portions of their senior years to be RAs, working long nights and weekends to keep Alumni safe. I would argue that neither they nor I loved the hall more — we loved it differently. They knew they could best contribute to Alumni as hall staff; I knew I could contribute best from off campus. We used our senior years exactly as Notre Dame taught us — finding where we excel and putting our efforts into those areas. 

In a few short weeks, I move from a Notre Dame undergraduate to a Notre Dame alumnus. At the same time, I also become a member of an even more rarified group. I will be a proud member of the Alumni alumni. I did not join this group when I moved off campus. I was not stripped of my status as a Dawg by choosing to spend my senior year elsewhere. The desire to save money, cook my own meals, spend time with friends after midnight, buy liquor and take private showers do not outweigh my desire to represent Alumni Hall with pride. 

While I will soon be moving to the young professional stage of my life, I encourage my fellow and future Notre Dame students to keep an open mind about what moving off campus means for the Notre Dame community. These are not lesser or second-class Notre Dame students. They are students who chose Notre Dame out of thousands of colleges and universities around the world. They study and work at many of the same places as you do. They might work out beside you in the Smith Center or cheer next to you in Purcell Pavilion. And they love their halls too.

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 btestani@nd.edu or @BenTestani on Twitter.

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