At Notre Dame, annual room picks often flirt with the dramatic, teetering between anticipation and dread. For many students, it's a strategic game of chess, where each move determines their living fate for the coming academic year. This ritual, while mundane on paper, is laden with the emotional weight of who one might call neighbor, ally or foe within the intimate confines of dormitory walls. Here, we delve into this collegiate conundrum, unveiling the satire and sentiment of students past, as they navigate the turbulent waters of room selection — a true testament to the trials and tribulations of campus life.
Dorms' Room Pick Traditions
Dorm traditions run deep at Notre Dame, playing a significant role in shaping the culture of each residence hall. Broad-reaching and influencing the operations of each dorm, the room-picking process is no exception to localized traditions.
Room picks have always been handled on a hall-to-hall basis. Dorm traditions have dictated the majority of the process with the occasional intervention by a faculty member in the dorm. Such was the case in 1969 when Alumni Hall Council was moving to eliminate the reservation of certain choice rooms in the dorm for athletes, as had been the norm. Father O’Neill, though, took a stand for the athletes and put an end to the effort.
In the following years, each dorm followed the precedent set by that dorm’s earlier classes in its room-picking festivities. In the 1970s, room picks processes generally fell into three categories: priority by GPA, true lotteries or use of a randomized “computer list” from the Housing Office.
Grace and Pangborn played host to the most notable GPA-based traditions. In fact, Pangborn had the GPA system written into its hall policies. Cavanaugh and St. Edward’s Halls were a few of the many dorms that had a lottery for room pick priority. Specifically, students raved about the social event that the room pick lottery became in the two aforementioned dorms.
Other quirky room picks policies comprised a points-priority system in Howard (points given for semesters at Notre Dame and semesters living in Howard) and a bid-application system to change sections in Stanford. Additionally, dorms like Dillon, Fisher and Flanner allowed for the “freezing” of one’s room from year to year.
Most traditions have subsided over the years not at the request of dorm residents but as a result of homogenization via Residential Life policy. In 2012, St. Edward’s Hall was informed that their distinctive lofts that played a large role in dorm culture had seen their final days as the University planned to introduce standardized modular furniture.
Similarly, Zahm lost its iconic eight-man rooms due to the perceived need by Residential Life to install lounge spaces in every dorm on campus. This eliminated the longstanding tradition of a senior pulling in another senior and together selecting six rising sophomores to meet the capacity of the eight-man room.
The room picks process is an often overlooked but incredibly distinctive tradition. Such traditions — even those which are now defunct — embody the individual character of every dorm.
The Satirical Outlets of Room Selection
Room selection at Notre Dame, a time-honored tradition, has often been the fodder for the wry humor that characterizes the student body's coping mechanism. It's a peculiar rite of passage, filled with the high drama of securing a desirable space and the low comedy of what happens when one doesn't. The pages of The Observer have chronicled this annual saga with a mixture of wit and satire that merits a retrospective glance.
Described by one student as "a survival of the fittest," the event transforms the brightest young minds into gladiators, vying for the honor of a decent room and roommate, leaving in their wake "bruised egos and shattered self-esteem.” The process has been likened to the machinations of Chicago politics, with all the "bribery, intimidation, shady dealings" and then some.
Take, for example, the comic strip from January 23, 2001, which illustrates the desperation of room picks in the face of dorm overcrowding. It seems that one's living quarters could be as precarious as choosing between a bathroom stall with a view — or one with better TV reception. The sharpness of the joke here is not lost; it cuts to the quick of the student experience, where even a modicum of privacy is a luxury and the communal spirit is taken to its extreme.
In a 1972 cartoon, a student is presented with strikingly similar choices: a bathroom stall, a trunk room corner or the ignominy of an abandoned shack in South Bend. The humor is as dark as it is light-hearted, capturing a truth about the comical uncertainty and dramatics of dormitory life.
And who could miss the satirical suggestion of Tessa O'Connor, who when questioned about her roommate draw, could only remark "Stuck with her." The bluntness of her words, paired next to the smiling face of her apparent roommate, highlights the inescapable humor.
The cartoons, like the student comments, serve as a winking acknowledgment of the absurdities that pepper college life. They remind us that behind the grand architecture and the solemn traditions, the heart of Notre Dame beats with a levity that can only be found in the candid confessions of its students.
As we leaf through these records of the past, let's pay homage to the satirists who've captured the trials and tribulations of room selection with a pen dipped in humor as rich and dark as the coffee in North Dining Hall. In their lines, we find a shared laughter that binds the Notre Dame family together, a knowing chuckle that says, "We've been there too."
It's this spirit of camaraderie, wrapped in the cloak of satire, that proves the adage true: Shared misery is half the misery, and shared humor is doubled joy.
Room Picks: A Lesson in Overcoming Disappointment
May 2, 1980 | Michael Onufrak | April 23, 1998 | Christine Kraly | April 10, 2006 | Patrick Moore and Lisa Gallagher | April 12, 2007 | Analise Lipari | April 12, 2007 | Elizabeth Purget | Researched by Lilyann Gardner
The general consensus amongst Notre Dame students is that dorm picks are a harrowing process.
The quest for suitable roommates and the avoidance of cramped dorm conditions often fail to create living situations that are far from ideal. On top of satire, many have turned to The Observer to voice earnest distress.
Common themes of broken friendships and unfair lottery numbers are pervasive throughout the pages, and there does not seem to be an end in sight given that someone will always be at the bottom of the list.
The prevailing dorm picks system continues to bring out the worst in students, and Michael Ornufrak (‘81) placed the blame on the intense desire to solidify one’s place in their community of choice.
“This sense of permanency somehow summons that ruthlessly competitive, ambitious demon which so many of us here at ND are susceptible to, right to the surface,” wrote Ornufrak in an Observer article from 1980.
The opportunity to remain in a familiar dorm setting with proximity to friends is highly sought after, but many have had to learn to accept disappointment and heartbreak. Fall study abroad students have specifically been hit hard as there is no guarantee that space will be available in their home dorm upon their return.
Christine Kraly (‘01), News Copy Editor, shared in an Observer article from 1998 that she recognized that every situation was different, but that the process was ultimately petty and not “life-threatening” if it didn’t go her way.
“When you think about it, what is all the stress over? Does it really matter who the lucky person is to wake up Friend C, or tolerate Friend A’s morning breath? No, because, regardless, we’re all still friends,” wrote Kraly.
A simple solution to these dorm picking problems has yet to be found, but until then, students must continue to be adaptable and open to new experiences.