Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Tuesday, March 5, 2024
The Observer

From the Archives: Off-campus living over the years

Though the fall semester is not yet halfway over, The Observer’s recent off-campus housing guide notes that “as October arrives, sophomores and juniors (and even first-years) begin to think about their off-campus migration.”

To add some historical perspective to this trendy topic, From the Archives looked back at off-campus living over the years at Notre Dame and Saint Mary's. The still-relevant concerns and opinions in these blurbs can aid potential off-campus migrants in their housing decisions, while the stories of off-campus parties contain entertaining insights for anyone who may spend a Saturday night in one of South Bend’s numerous student abodes.

​​Off-campus housing trends and student concerns

Oct. 15, 1990 | Oct. 16, 1990 | Oct. 17, 1990 | Kate Manuel | Researched by Cade Czarnecki

In a three-part series, the Observer examined the state of off-campus housing in the 1990s, highlighting contemporary trends but also revealing student opinions that remain pertinent today.

The 1990-91 school year saw an uptick in students moving off-campus. There were 1,157 undergraduates that declined on-campus housing options and chose to seek out their own off-campus arrangements, up from 1,085 the previous year.

A closer look at the demographic split reveals an interesting story: almost five times as many senior males moved off-campus as senior females. Surprisingly, this was actually representative of a decreasing gap between off-campus men and women.

A three-part series in the 1990s indicated the increasing popularity of off-campus housing. Observer archives, Oct. 15, 1990.

When asked why she chose to move off campus, Cecelia Burger, a senior woman, cited a desire for independence and respite: “I want to be on my own. It does give me a place to physically remove myself from the stress of campus.”

Yet, Burger also noted that there are drawbacks of moving off campus, such as the social life. She mused, “If you really want to be around people all the time, don’t move off campus.” This sentiment was echoed by many. Off-campus students shared that they often felt isolated from on-campus students and events.

The other main consideration for off-campus students was security. Looking to address some of these concerns, Observer news writer Kate Manuel reached out to Notre Dame’s security department.

The department explained that Notre Dame was not “directly responsible” for the security of off-campus students. Notre Dame security believed its role in the lives of off-campus students was only to assist local law enforcement if necessary. Still, Notre Dame security made an effort to advise off-campus students of best practices.

A series of mailings were sent out to off-campus undergraduates reminding them of security practices, such as looking for “hidden areas” where burglars could hide and contacting the police department before they leave for breaks. The latter bit of information was shared because “[Local police departments] will put your house on a list to be checked at least three times in a twenty-four hour period: one time every eight-hour shift at a minimum.”

Today, off-campus students continue to embrace their option to live more independently off campus. However, the aforementioned concerns of social life and security remain important considerations.

Inside the SMC off-campus housing campaign

March 19, 1969 | Ann Conway | Dec. 10, 1969 | Jim Hayes | Jan. 16, 1970 | Observer Staff | March 17, 1970 | Prue Wear | Researched by Thomas Dobbs

Lacking the off-campus option their Notre Dame neighbors had, a student-led campaign to allow off-campus housing was first initiated at Saint Mary’s during the Student Body President race in March 1969. As a commitment to the student body, candidate Susan Turnbull pledged that “off-campus housing be approved and in use by 1970.”

The following year, Turnbull, now Student Body President, met her campaign promise and launched a petition to the Board of Trustees on Dec. 10, 1969, to convince the Board to “re-evaluate their position against off-campus housing.”

The proposal addressed a relevant issue for Saint Mary’s: given an operational deficit of $460,015 in 1969, Saint Mary’s was apparently considering “admitting more students than can be comfortably housed.” 

Allowing off-campus housing, the petition argued, would enable the school to grow its student population and tuition revenue without having to construct more dorms or force some students into crowded conditions.

In a follow-up editorial, proponents further claimed that off-campus housing would “allow for greater opportunity for individual freedom and responsibility.”

Anticipating safety as an obvious concern with off-campus living, advocates pointed out the lack of safety on the Saint Mary’s campus. They claimed that off-campus housing “should be much less suspect than Saint Mary’s where just this past Christmas Campus Security was unable to halt the nightly theft of 30-foot trees and where numerous assaults, attempted and completed, have occurred each year.”

St. Patrick's Day of 1970 was indeed a lucky one for Saint Mary's students as the Board of Trustees approved off-campus housing for the first time. Observer archives, Arch 17, 1970.

Although the Board of Trustees offered no statement on the state of campus safety, the Board passed the off-campus housing proposal on March 17, 1970, as an experimental one-year trial. This policy ultimately proved permanent and remains an option for seniors today.

Off-campus parties encounter police crackdown

Sept. 5, 1984 | John Lavelle | Researched by Avery Polking

In the 1980s, several stories of unruly off-campus parties made Observer headlines and resulted in stricter police regulations.

One article from September 1984 detailed the “large, out of control parties” of up to 600-700 people which police deemed intolerable. This specific instance involved seven on-the-scene arrests and two more the following morning. 

Officers insisted this was ordinary enforcement with no extra pressure specifically on off-campus parties, despite a new alcohol policy at Notre Dame which seemed connected to the increase in arrests. However, it appears that actions may draw clearer conclusions than words.

The next year, the Observer covered a direct warning of this increased pressure by the police. It involved noise-measuring devices to determine a party’s level of public disturbance. Over 65 decibels at night and 72 decibels during the day warranted tickets for individuals involved. 

South Bend police officers seemed more benign in their communications than students may have liked to admit, giving recommendations on ways to abate trouble on the weekends. Some advice included calling substations to inform them of party details beforehand, but no insight was gathered on students’ receptiveness to these comments.

A proliferation of "large, out-of-control" parties at off-campus apartments like Campus View (pictured above) in the 1980s led to increased police activity and arrests. Observer archives, Sept. 5, 1984.

Another off-campus incident in the 1980s that drew particular attention was when two resident assistants were fired for supplying alcohol to underage students. From the RAs’ perspectives, though, their punishment was too severe.

For context, the RAs were at a party where they started selling empty cups to other, often underage, students who would then fill them with alcohol. One of the students relieved of their RA position defended themselves, saying they didn't think that what they were doing was illegal. Another defense was the fact that neither of them was actually drinking that night, with one claiming, “all I had was a glass of milk.”

Despite their objections, though, these two students were fired from their duties as resident assistants, their relationship with the University seeming more like that of employees rather than students in this situation. 

Today’s off-campus parties seem devoid of similarly dramatic scenarios, so these stories provide a glimpse into an apparently turbulent time. But a more salient insight can also be gleaned from these situations: be wary of ill-advised actions from people who drink milk at parties.

Contact Spencer Kelly at

Cade Czarnecki at

Thomas Dobbs at

Avery Polking at