A Good Development for Campus Life

Photo courtesy of Catholic News Service.

Imagining the typical college dorm room on a typical weekend is enough to make me understand why, in various parts of the Old Testament, God overthrows cities and sends down sulfur and fire, shaking his non-material head and thinking, in the spirit of John McEnroe, You cannot be serious. I gave you life, and you're responding with keg stands?

To be sure, I was no ascetic during my college days, but attending a Jesuit institution did keep me in the gravity of good and wholesome things. My freshman dorm's nightly Mass and frequent check-ins from the Jesuit priest in-residence were constant reminders of something more noble than the latest party. The St. Edmund Campion Society, a group of students, professors, and priests devoted to apologetics, gave me weekly opportunities to better understand Catholicism and develop friendships anchored in faith. Over the course of four years, a number of people and experiences constantly invited me to think about not only what I was studying but who I was becoming. It was a culture that kept me safe, that kept returning me to the right questions.  

Advertisement

At most colleges today, most students lack those centering, ennobling forces. Residential life is increasingly indistinguishable from spring break. Dorm culture mirrors a distant foreign beach with minimal law and order. And when I speak with parents of the students I teach, they are worried at what's to come.

Which makes me especially heartened to hear the good news from Alabama. As reported last week by the New York Times, Troy University, Alabama's third-largest public university, has this semester "opened the Newman Center residence hall, a roomy 376-bed dormitory that caters to students who want a residential experience infused with religion." The hall was built with support from the Newman Student Housing Fund, a private Catholic development company that is spearheading the development of a Catholic residence hall at the Texas A&M campus in Kingsville.

The Times says that the dorms are "among a new wave of religious-themed housing that constitutional scholars and others say is pushing the boundaries of how much a public university can back religion."

The Newman Hall initiatives will evoke litigation, but their growth, assuming they withstand Establishment Clause challenges (and I see no reason why, at this point, they should not), will provide a much-needed alternative for those who cannot attend a faith-based school but who seek a faith-based campus culture. The transformative effect of these dorms will also, I hope, spur college administrators to reconsider the residential system for all of their students, a system that does little to promote academic and personal excellence and which, in many cases, leaves students to languish and make bad choices.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Marie Rehbein
5 years ago
While I think there may be a "market" for the Newman dorms, I don't think portraying other dorms as dens of iniquity will be a good marketing strategy. While there probably is some sin going on in dorms, particularly on weekends, it is the case that many campuses have a zero tolerance policy for alcohol and illegal substances and do inspections for these on a regular basis.
Matt Emerson
5 years ago

Marie,

Thanks for your response. You raise a good point, and I agree. I think this might be a situation where I poorly conveyed my tone. I didn't mean to portray all other dorms as "dens of iniquity." I was just trying to employ humorous exaggeration to make the point that dorm life today is often an unhealthy culture that fails to draw the best out of its residents. While it might not be as bad as the post conveys, I do hear enough from parents and students to know that there is much room for improvement and a need for alternatives. 

 

 

Advertisement

The latest from america

 10.17.2018 Pope Francis greets Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago before a session of the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment at the Vatican Oct. 16. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)
“We take people where they are, walking with them, moving forward,” Cardinal Blase Cupich said.
Michael J. O’LoughlinOctober 20, 2018
Catherine Pakaluk, who currently teaches at the Catholic University of America and holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University, describes her tweet to Mr. Macron as “spirited” and “playful.”
Emma Winters October 19, 2018
A new proposal from the Department of Homeland Security could make it much more difficult for legal immigrants to get green cards in the United States. But even before its implementation, the proposal has led immigrants to avoid receiving public benefits.
J.D. Long-GarcíaOctober 19, 2018
 Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, then nuncio to the United States, and then-Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, are seen in a combination photo during the beatification Mass of Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, N.J., Oct. 4, 2014. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)
In this third letter Archbishop Viganò no longer insists, as he did so forcefully in his first letter, that the restrictions that he claimed Benedict XVI had imposed on Archbishop McCarrick—one he alleges that Pope Francis later lifted—can be understood as “sanctions.”
Gerard O’ConnellOctober 19, 2018