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Thursday, May 23, 2024
The Observer

One more time, with feeling: In response to the current campus climate

Editor’s note: This letter includes mentions of sexual assault. A list of sexual assault reporting options and on-campus resources can be found on the Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross websites. 

I graduated in January, but I still live in South Bend and come to campus frequently. I am still connected to this community, and I still check YikYak, an anonymous app wherein only people near you can see your posts. If you have the app downloaded, you have likely seen many recent posts about specific cases of interpersonal violence and whose side is in the right. I don’t want to discuss specific cases. I want to discuss how our treatment of each other in these dialogues about power and gender speak to several systemic issues in the tri-campus community. For example, YikYak was also recently flooded with degrading posts about SMC students being overweight – comments that even went so far as to demean people with eating disorders. The narratives about SMC students are rather pervasive at Notre Dame and do not bear repeating. They were likely taught to you early on in your time here and for many of you, they stuck. For hopefully fewer of you, they became an excuse to put women down — to assert your superiority over other people because you see them as beneath you or you are a woman and do not wish to be put into the same box.

This attitude of maintaining superiority is persistent here. On social media and in person, I have seen people use their uneasiness with one accuser’s story to discredit all women. I have seen people use accusations of assault toward people of color as an excuse to be racist. I have seen people use accusations of assault by people of color as an excuse to be racist. I have seen people belittle protestors of Title IX procedural issues and the danger in our campus culture.

When Notre Dame students degrade women for their weight it shows me that women are only worth kindness to some men if they find them attractive, by which I mean useful. Mindsets like these toward historically-oppressed groups are fostered on this campus, even if they are not verbalized. If you are thinking to yourself that these are isolated individuals making ignorant comments that are not indicative of the campus milieu at large, I ask you to challenge that thought. People upvote these YikYak posts. People say these things to their friends outside of the anonymity of the app. Most people who are not making these kinds of comments do not do anything to call out these attitudes when they encounter them. Our campus community has been hurting for a long time.

What I hoped would be addressed by the uptick in conversations about sexual assault at Notre Dame (instead of the expected devolution into picking sides and treating assault allegations like juicy drama, followed by the influx of degrading comments about SMC students) are the serious issues in the Title IX process as it stands. These are exacerbated the way most of us have been taught about consent and who the burden of preventing violence is on — victims and bystanders. Even our bystander intervention training is not taken seriously by many students. This stems from the simplistic and damaging narratives present within this university and elsewhere about gender and power. These narratives have torched my own life and the lives of others, and yet most of the tri-campus community was quick to move past the expressions of pain shared on Instagram and in protests by multiple students recently in order to focus on attacking either side of a specific situation or return to complacency.

I have watched the lives of people I love turn to darkness after assault. I have watched multiple men watch me protest to being groped and laugh. I have let the teacher embarrass me in front of the class for losing focus even though the boy sitting next to me is the one with his hand between my thighs, even though I have tried to push him off. I have watched people ignore the violence that their friends have perpetrated out of convenience. I have watched brave students in Show Some Skin tell the stories of other brave students who have experienced discrimination. I am sick of it. I am tired. I am grieving constantly for myself and the people around me, knowing that I cannot personally convince other people to feel for those around them and for our shared human experience.

This University needs transformation and better demonstration of compassion from its community members. Reviewing and reforming Title IX procedures, resources for survivors, staff training, curricula and residence hall culture would go a long way, but what really needs to change is our apathy toward the people around us. It does not matter if the facade is beautiful if it is crumbled beneath. The engineering is not sound. Every Relationship-Violence awareness month, Black History month and LGBTQ History month, members of this campus community speak out in hopes that finally, enough people will listen and take up examination of their actions to effect change institutionally, but every time we let the structural damage quickly fall to the wayside when it is no longer convenient or trendy to talk about it.

I love so many parts of this school, but so many of the load-bearing beams are cracked. I am begging you, one more time, with feeling, to keep the conversation ongoing and productive. I am begging students to fight for those around them. I am begging Notre Dame to consider examination and reforms of the culture it fosters.

If you want to discuss specifics of the reforms that need to be implemented or share your experience with campus culture and Title IX related issues, you can email me at I’m all ears.

Brenna Lewandowski

Class of 2022

Oct. 3

The views in this letter to the editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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