Student voices

Author: Notre Dame Magazine staff

I came to wonder why it is so difficult to be open-minded and accepting of differences, while everyone thinks diversity is so important.
— Susan Ahn ’11
ChunCheon, South Korea

Our generation never seems to appreciate our abilities and what we can achieve. We always strive for perfection. We consider everything that does not meet our standards as failure. When we fail, we start doubting ourselves. But I do not blame us. We were taught to be the perfect students, friends, daughters and sons. The previous generations expect us to be perfect in everything we do — even before we attempt to do it.
Striving to improve our abilities is surely something we need to motivate ourselves, but the pressures prevent us from recognizing what we have accomplished so far. We can never appreciate what we have done because we are too busy working toward the next perfect standard. Previous generations might ask us why we are the way we are, and we can answer because we are never good enough for you.
— So-Hyun Park ’11
Seoul, South Korea

Our generation has become accustomed to getting what we want, when we want it. However, we are also deciding what we want on impulse, basing much of it on what outside factors tell us we want. We are not taking the time to figure out what we need and therefore are unable to fulfill these needs. If we want to solve our problems, the first step is to figure out what they are.
— Catherine Mikkelsen ’11
Wellesley, Massachusetts

On a Sunday afternoon I am lying on a blanket in the grass, feeling utterly content as the sunlight plays across my face. If I have to study the subjunctive tense of Spanish, there is no better way than this. But the melodies of bird song and “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” by the Dropkick Murphys are broken by the squealing, yelling and cheering of student voices. I watch as groups of mud-covered students hose themselves off, and I remember it is Muddy Sunday. They’re returning from a vicious game of mud volleyball.
As I pretend to do schoolwork and watch other mud people making their way across the quad, I start to think about how this generation can turn the act of playing in the mud into a charitable event. While Muddy Sunday is definitely an opportunity to live out our childhood dreams of getting completely covered in dirt, it also raises money for Habitat for Humanity. My thoughts of our having found a way to entertain ourselves by helping others takes me back to yesterday when I ran in a 5K race to raise money for another charity, Hannah & Friends, which benefits children with special needs.
When I think of other recent campus events I’ve attended, I realize nearly every activity benefited a charity. We are not forced to give these events a basis in social justice, but it doesn’t seem to be enough for our generation to simply enjoy ourselves. We subconsciously feel a responsibility to help others. Even though most participants probably think more about the activity than the cause, the fact remains that Muddy Sunday and other events would not exist if it weren’t for the socially conscious person who created the event to benefit an organization.
— Claire Brown ’11
Logansport, Indiana

College students are at a point where life starts coming at you fast. Traditions ground us. They are the one thing that we can rely on to remain steadfast, whereas our present and future are about as predictable as whether or not the groundhog will see his shadow. So many things in college students’ lives are changing: their connection to home, their friends, their beliefs, their dreams. I believe that tradition is what links us, not only to the past but also to our peers. The sense of belonging we gain tells us that somehow in this rapidly growing world we are not alone. Our generation has become accustomed to using traditions as a temporary replacement for stability in our lives during the period of transition in which we find ourselves.
— Caitlin Casey ’11
Valparaiso, Indiana

It is a reality of modern college life that students steal from dining halls. Everybody knows it to be true. It is just the way things are. Although stealing is technically against the rules, is widely discouraged and considered unethical by most people, the dining hall occupies a privileged position where stealing is commonly condoned by students, if not encouraged outright.
Dining hall theft is considered a victimless crime, and various factors converge to create an environment that is conducive to stealing. The dining hall represents a large bureaucratic institution. It is easy; there is little risk in getting caught. Everybody else does it. People feel entitled to steal because they pay so much for meal plans. And college is a liminal space where boundaries are constantly tested.
The result is that between January 2007 and January 2008, the costs incurred by missing dining hall items exceeded $38,000, according to Dave Prentkowski, director of Notre Dame’s Food Services, as reported in The Observer. Prentkowski reported the most common missing items are spoons (12,960 missing), cups (12,528 missing) and trays (216 missing). Silverware, plates, cups and bowls are frequently taken to stock rooms and apartments.
Also, many students accumulate certain types of food for later use. A number of students fill large Ziploc bags concealed in purses and backpacks with their favorite cereal. Others sneak bottles into the dining hall and fill up on sodas and juice. While these are the most common types of petty thievery, a segment of students also engage in more audacious heists of waffle irons, entire trays of food, even furniture.
Although the students I spoke to said they intended to give back their stolen items, almost no one used the Amnesty Bins provided by the dining hall.
— Cormac Harkins ’08
Needham, Massachusetts

We seem to all be looking for the “E” word (as my academic adviser put it). He told me, “Don’t use the ‘E’ word when picking classes because you don’t want to lose sight of the real reason why you are here.” The “E” word is “easy.”
— Dustin Zhang ’11
Calgary, Alberta, Canada

One cornerstone of this generation is that we have been immersed in competition from an early age and that same competition shows no sign of ceasing. As a Notre Dame freshman, there is seemingly one focus in academia, and it’s not learning. It’s not even a word. GPA. These three letters are to an undergrad what enlightenment means to Buddha. Grades mean everything.
However, competition can create unintended, negative consequences. One unintended consequence is a sense of severe, pervasive self-doubt. We’re not used to losing; it’s new to us, and we don’t like it.
— Richard McLaughlin ’11
Burr Ridge, Illinois

Here at Notre Dame people come from all over the world to make up a new family.
— Theo Ruth ’11
Naperville, Illinois

I came into Notre Dame as a student with a broad perspective of the world. I have seen and spent time with people of different cultures all over the world who are in drastically different economic situations than I am as a wealthy white American teenager. These are the people who suffer from the vastness of social injustice. Yet, do I have a broader perspective than that of my peers? Through the media and the advancement of communication and technology, most people have seen what I have seen right in their living rooms. At Notre Dame, students constantly strive to help those in need, and with the same kind of commitment that I have gained through my experiences. The discrepancy is the driving force behind this commitment. The desire to be selfless and help others is something that has become a part of my life through my Catholic values, family values and experiences that I have had helping others. Still, I am no saint, and I am driven by ambition and the competitive nature of our society as well. Is this society’s commitment to social justice that of compassion or self-promotion?
— Andrew Hessert ’11
Haddonfield, New Jersey

Look into any Notre Dame dorm room and you are bound to find the most stereotypical features that characterize college life. You would see the white but scuffed walls plastered with posters displaying pop culture legends or soon-to-be has-beens. You would maneuver around crowded masses of furniture that sag in the middle and have way too many worn edges. You would also see the people living there: the ragtag bunch of self-doubting not-quite-adults who have their hands in that proverbial cookie jar known as the future. You may see all these things, but ultimately you would be missing some of the greatest accomplishments ever achieved by sub-adults. You would miss out on the ways these students have transcended their dull, caricatured environments to create something lasting. You would be missing what we call family.
College is where we are first truly exposed to the friction between competitive individuality and the comfort of group membership. Our families, the group of our primary influence and support throughout our childhood and adolescence, disappear, and we are forced to “replace” them. We arrive on campus surrounded by strangers, but we begin to create a new clan formed through the common joys and tragedies we share as a community. We partake in the beer drinking, fight song screaming, exuberant rites of passage that are laid out before us to establish our new forced communities. But we also take part in the more hidden, emotional rites of passage that occur when we as roommates and classmates share in the sorrows of broken relationships, stress and self-doubt — and the inevitable joys of youthful celebration.
Through it all, everyone asks, “Why do I consider myself part of a community when I don’t always fit in?” So I have come to realize that this place, this very environment, forces us to juggle between our individuality and the solidarity we share as friends, dormmates and colleagues. This constant struggle between being a “me” and an “us” feels like it is hard-wired into our modern sensibilities. We are here to succeed, to be the best, but we are also being educated socially to find the best ways to live and work in harmony with each other.
However, sometimes we feel that family just plain sucks. Everybody understands the idea of the dysfunctional family, and our college families are not spared from this. We fight each other and betray each other constantly and with little regard for the feelings of others. Sometimes, no matter how many people say they are on your side, you feel alone. There is a wall that keeps us from feeling like we belong, and sometimes it gets bigger and smaller, but it is always there.
— Alex Woller ’09
The Woodlands, Texas

There is never enough time to do what I want.
— Theo Ruth ’11
Naperville, Illinois

Resentment and frustration about this residence hall system seem to balance out with contentment and comfort with the community and privacy it provides. This love/hate relationship mirrors our general attitude toward the University and somewhat toward the Church as well. This is just one example of how the institution holds control over the general student population, but it also serves as an example of how the consistency and obstinacy of the University can make the students feel secure and protected.
— Molly King ’08
Sandwich, Massachusetts

Going to a predominantly Catholic school for a non-Catholic is tough for many reasons, even though the University welcomes all kinds of forms of religion and beliefs. One non-Catholic student I know said her Catholic friends are understanding and respecting of her differences, so she does not have significant problems when hanging out with them. However, at times her friends assume their Catholic “norm” to be normal for her as well, and they are not aware of how foreign the terms and traditions are for her.
— Susan Ahn ’11
ChunCheon, South Korea

So many of us were encouraged to participate in a variety of activities from an extremely young age that it is difficult to recall a time when our lives were not consumed by soccer practice, music lessons, acting classes, choir practice and Scouts. The desire for personal recognition or success is formulated early in our lives. As children, we absolutely lived for the gold stars on our homework, the celebratory ice cream cones after Tee Ball games or the bouquet of roses after a dance recital. These reinforcements of success and self-worth shaped our early lives, and many of us cannot break free of a need to be constantly praised by our family or friends.
Our worldview is further shaped by the different stresses so apparent today. It is impossible to not be affected by the issues of the heated political election, a slump in the housing market, a possible recession and the threat of global warming. We live in a fast-paced world, and many young people are getting involved in the major global issues of our time. Do we feel the need to multitask because the world is constantly moving at such a fast rate? Do we think that we’ll get swept away if we aren’t always moving? Are we trying to bear some of the weight of the world on our own shoulders?
Yet many of us feel we do not have the freedom to make our own decisions based on our true desires. We are taught from a young age to thoroughly scrutinize every decision, to make lists of pros and cons or seek advice from family and peers. We feel it is too risky or irrational to make choices based on instinct or feelings because this is not the socially acceptable way to live.
Because our parents were always so involved in our decisions and choices while we were growing up, it is easy to feel as if we are not capable of making life decisions independently. This self-doubt or insecurity is virtually ingrained in us. And some students feel a responsibility or burden because their education is funded by their parents, leading us to make decisions that our parents either come up with or fully support.
Some students also try to lessen their sense of inferiority by juggling as many tasks as their friends. I am surprised at the sheer number of students who admit they pack their schedules to escape the feeling of insecurity that can come with no longer receiving recognition as the best student, the best athlete, the best musician.
— Shannon McVeigh ’09
Watchung, New Jersey

We live in a society that increasingly believes green T-shirts will “Save Darfur” and red iPods will cure AIDS. Our socially savvy generation has begun to replace Acapulco with Appalachia and Hawaii with Haiti. I won’t attack this trend; I would be hypocritical to do so. The hundreds of students from Notre Dame who participate in projects domestically and internationally each year through the Center for Social Concerns render a great service to countless underprivileged communities. I can only hope that we leave able to think critically about today’s complex social realities and our responsibilities within them. In fact, we do graduate very capable of breaking down complex social realities, despite all commentary about a “Notre Dame bubble.” From letters to sciences, theories to structures, our education imparts a restless intellectual hunger unsatiated by familiarity with surface issues.
— Patrick Reidy ’08
Greenwood Village, Colorado

“Mom, it has to be Ugg.”
“I don’t understand what is so special about these boots, sweetie. These look just the same as the other ones, but more expensive.”
“Mom, these are a lot prettier than the other ones and these are Uggs. That’s why they are more expensive. Look, I’m telling you these are different. Can I please buy them now?”
And yes, I did. I did buy Ugg boots. I could have bought boots from other brands for only $50 but chose to buy the Ugg boots for $120. I knew that I did not have to buy such expensive boots and spend my dad’s money like that, but I felt like I had no choice. Something inside was telling me, “You have to buy Ugg boots.” But why Ugg boots and not boots from Target? I mean, they look the same and their qualities are probably the same, too.
Well, basically I wanted to show that I wear expensive Ugg boots, like the other girls at school, and not anything cheap. It wasn’t that I wanted to show whether I’m rich or not, but simply because I wanted to be the same as the other girls. I was unconsciously trying to fit into some standard or norm, some thing that creates an unwritten norm and draws a line between people who are “normal” and people who are considered “abnormal.”
— So-Hyun Park ’11
Seoul, South Korea

Notre Dame is a predominantly Catholic, white, conservative and affluent community. Those who do not necessarily fit into all of these categories must figure out on their own how to navigate their four years of college. Many choose to start a student group in order to find like-minded peers and develop a sense of community when they feel otherwise disconnected. There are groups that span the political spectrum, champion the rights of those marginalized (including women, homosexuals and laborers), and provide a second home to international and ethnically diverse students who feel lost in the sea of their white peers.
However, because their worldviews do not always coincide with the University’s, tensions can arise.
The University has refused to recognize certain groups as official campus clubs. Those who break the mold do not always have a clear, extracurricular developmental path from freshman year to graduation. They lack the vital support systems offered to the student groups that are recognized by the University, including the right to have events on campus, faculty advising and funding for activities.
When the University gives financial and ideological support to groups that affirm diversity (in whatever form it takes), students are fulfilled in their longing for belonging without having to compromise their unique identities. This is true for ethnic and political groups, but for those without University recognition and acceptance, discrimination and insecurity characterize their time in college. Even though a Catholic university providing support can be confused for condoning certain lifestyles, it is important for the administration to realize the detrimental effects its actions have on the lives of these individuals breaking the mold. The actions of the University will either foster an environment where discrimination is tolerated or not.
— Madeline Boyer ’09
La Boca, Panama

It is a Saturday in September and I am surrounded by 80,000 of my closest friends. I just returned to the wooden bleacher seats after I completed my round of pushups, being pumped into the air by some familiar, some strange hands to celebrate an Irish touchdown. A few years ago I longingly gazed at the student section, wishing I could be one of the lucky ones. Now here I am.
I look around and see my classmates and friends — tagged as a generation that is selfish, rebellious and the end of the world as we know it. Behind those faces, though, I see echoes of the students who came here before us. I know how the alumni gaze longingly at the student section, wishing for another chance to sway with classmates to the postgame singing of the alma mater. I feel this overwhelming sense of identity with this crowd, just as I sense all the traditions that unite me with this generation. I belong. I feel connected.
I sense a connection that does not bind me to a set of standards from the past but allows me the footing to grow as a person, to use my reliance on others to take the past traditions and arrange them to my own set of morals and values, so that I may become part of something bigger, something more than one individual could produce.
— Caitlin Casey ’11
Valparaiso, Indiana

Our lives are complex. Complex and often tangled. One simple action can get us labeled one way when in reality we can’t be placed into any one defining group at all. There’s more to us than can be seen. On the outside we may appear shallow, irresponsible, exclusive, naïve, arrogant. But internally we’re searching, struggling and striving. We want to be able to just be ourselves and be the unique and special individuals we are. Yet we also want to fit in with others, even if it means compromising some of that individual uniqueness. We notice when we are being judged, and we don’t like it. But we don’t think twice about judging others. We worry about what other people think, but we are part of the crowd that makes others worry what others think. It’s a never-ending tangled mess.
— Bernadette Cumento ’08
Houston, Texas