t’s a question I’ve been answering for 30 years: What are students like today?
Alumni returning to campus for reunion or a football game, the people I meet at a Universal Notre Dame Night, and assorted other inquirers all ask — what are the students like?
Do they go to Mass? Do they still have fun? Drink too much? How do the men and women get along now? Given the admissions standards, I bet they’re all a bunch of eggheads with their noses in the books all the time. Are they still good kids, well-rounded like we were in my day?
Mostly, I think, alumni want to know if the place is essentially the same as always and if the latest generation of Notre Dame students loves Notre Dame as much as they do. Are the traditions intact? Is it still family?
What I’ve been saying in recent years is that today’s students might just be the most impressive element in the whole Notre Dame package. Their credentials are stunning. Their diligence and drive give me pause. Their commitment to social justice and service borders on awe-inspiring. They’re really good kids. Typically normal, too.
I can report that Mass attendance has been pretty consistent for decades. And, as in any college community, there’s plenty of drinking. Gender relations are still a curious component of the Notre Dame experience. Notre Dame is definitely Catholic; religion, spirituality and moral deliberations pervade virtually all that happens here. The faculty would like the students to be more intellectually daring, more academically bold, but undergraduate education is still Notre Dame’s heart and soul. And that faculty and more ambitious institutional initiatives have made that educational experience all the more demanding, and rewarding. Undergraduate education at Notre Dame rivals any in the nation.
The residence hall system is thriving, and forms a unique and valuable ingredient in a student’s life. But like their forebears, today’s students can get rankled by University administrators, bristle at the rules and customs, and range from amused to sardonic to resentful when dealing with the foibles, the paternalism, the idiosyncrasies of the place. They’re still very much the same age as all the other students who have gone through here.
The magazine has addressed such perennial questions, issues and concerns pretty regularly. But we’ve been wondering lately if this current crop of Notre Dame students isn’t appreciably different from their predecessors. Carolyn Nordstrom thinks so. She’s an anthropology professor who’s been teaching here for years, and last spring she asked her upper-level anthro class and her freshman seminar to compose a Notre Dame “ethnography” — for students to write their own book about themselves and Notre Dame.
Much of what you’ll read here — essays, passages, excerpts — comes from those “chapters” examining various aspects of life under the Dome. We sought a few other voices to complement their take on things, but we found refreshing merit in letting the students speak for themselves. We hope you find their honesty and insights as engaging as we did.
And yes, to answer those fundamental questions, all in all, the place abides, the traditions endure, and the students, by and large, love Notre Dame just about as much as you did.
Some of what you’ll read, though, just might surprise you.
Kerry Temple is editor of this magazine.