The Dorm Lottery

Author: Claire McArthur


It’s a sunny, Friday afternoon in September — the sun glistening high in the sky, sunlight filtering through the various shades of green leaves still attached to their beloved trees. Soon, they will litter the ground, all varying shades of reds, oranges and yellows. Gentle breezes hint of fall’s arrival, but students ignore them for now. No one can fathom dragging out their big coats just yet … It’s still September. School is just beginning, our backs are still a little sweaty from the combination of humidity and heavy backpacks. Yes, tests, homework and essays are beginning. But also, football is starting. This is no usual Friday afternoon. It’s Friday, Sept. 9, the day before the second home game of the season. Parents, alumni and kids litter South Quad, throwing footballs and taking dome pictures, revisiting their glory days. 

South Quad is packed with visitors and students all waiting for the famous Dillon Rockne Rally. The thought of tailgating permeates everyone’s minds. We’re all itching to get back into the stadium again for another season of Notre Dame football and hear “Here Come the Irish” beckoning. A small fence separates the students and visitors for the pep rally. Outside the fence, people wait patiently, smiling and eating, all decked out in Notre Dame apparel. Within the fence, however, is the real show. Flags wave, faces are painted, various items are thrusted into the air. Paddles, flags, orange beanies, a stuffed animal fish — you name it and it’s there. 

“We started getting ready at 4,” says sophomore Grace Kayastha, a resident of Cavanaugh Hall. “But I started getting ready at 4:30. I don’t need a full 45 minutes,” Kayastha said with a laugh. For Cavanaugh Hall residents, the pep rally is a serious endeavor. Donning the most purple attire in their closets and covered in glitter, the Cavanaugh girls are a force to be reckoned with at the rally. Lining the stage, they make their presence known, shouting various Cav-related chants. 

“It was funny to see all the Notre Dame fans already there and we were just running with our flag. We had a Gibby flag too. It was really funny,” Kayastha adds. Although Gibby, an infamous iCarly character, is not the official mascot of Cavanaugh Hall, the Gibby flag, the mass ritual of glittering and the palpable energy of the Cavanaugh residents provide a glimpse into the complex culture of Notre Dame dorm life. 

From Pangborn to Johnson Family to Sorin to McGlinn, Notre Dame has 32 dorms, each possessing a unique culture and community. No dorm is the same. Each dorm is known for its signature event, ranging from the Fischer Regatta on St. Mary’s Lake to Breen-Phillips’ Hoops for Hope. The first question everyone from Notre Dame asks is, “What dorm are you in?” The dorm experience and identity is of the utmost importance at Notre Dame, connecting current students to alums of all graduating classes. 

Last year, 95 students, including myself, were a part of the ninth Gateway cohort. We went our first year without an answer to the classic “What dorm are you in?” question. Our identities were not defined by our dorms, but rather by our in-between status. We were gateways. We didn’t have dorms, but Notre Dame was our home, too. We lived at Holy Cross College, but some nights it felt like our dorm may as well have been Hesburgh Library. Last summer, we all received housing assignments, sprinkling our cohort throughout the Notre Dame campus. Once living within a quarter mile radius of each other, we now inhabit different corners of Notre Dame’s campus. Some have air conditioning, others don’t. Some people’s dorms are steeped in tradition while others are, simply put, making traditions from a clean slate. Everyone’s Notre Dame experience is impacted by their dorms. Whether you’re a 1922 Notre Dame graduate or a 2022 graduate, your Notre Dame experience was shaped by your dorm. 

Entering the dorms as a sophomore was daunting, especially considering that many friend groups and social dynamics were already in place. “At first I was kind of hesitant, I didn’t really want to overstep or break up a group in Farley,” sophomore Grace McKenna said. Although just physical buildings, dorms are often the basis for the formation of many friend groups. Sophomore Julia Sevina says living in one of Lewis Hall’s “six chick” rooms “is the best things that could have happened to us because we all get along surprisingly well. I don’t know how we ended up working out so well but we all love each other.” 

What’s better than having one roommate? Having five, of course! The random roommate process for dorms can seem intimidating, but many people were connected with their best friends or met someone they wouldn’t have otherwise been able to meet. 

Some people automatically click with the people in their dorm, while others find their friends outside their dorm. Sophomore Dan Schrage says, “I feel like it’s hard to get acquainted with them … I haven’t really met any of the sophomores minus the ones that were gateways.” 

The level of community can vary from year to year in each dorm as students leave for study abroad and new ones assume various leadership positions. Since many people identify with their dorms, it can feel difficult and frustrating to be in a situation where you don’t have that same sense of belonging and automatic identification with your dorm. 

O’Neill builds community by giving their residents nicknames. During the first weeks of school, the iconic nicknames are given to each resident. “We stood outside until they called us in and they asked us questions and based on those questions and our answers, they gave us a specialized nickname,” sophomore Ikaika “Renaya Locke” VanDyke says. Fun traditions such as nicknames allow O’Neill residents to feel a greater sense of community because they all get nicknames which they will keep for their four years at Notre Dame. 

“It’s called Yaz’s,” says sophomore Daniel Schrage. You may be wondering, what’s Yaz’s? Well, in short, it’s just another facet of the complex Notre Dame dorm culture. Residing in the basement of Morrissey, Yaz’s sells everything from pork to milkshakes to mac and cheese. “I got this banana Oreo shake — which sounds like it doesn’t work, right — but it was really good. You know, that candy banana flavor? It worked well somehow; it was good,” Schrage adds. Notre Dame dorms hold a whole hidden world of food sales, with Yaz’s being one of the establishments where students can purchase a snack during the week. Other dorm food options include Knott Waffles, Flaherty Bear-ly Baked and Ryan Hall’s home-baked goods, courtesy of priest-in-residence, Fr. Joe Carey, CSC., or “FJ”. 

Although these traditions and events may seem silly, they contribute to a greater sense of dorm culture and belonging. McKenna says that when she had talked to girls about Farley, they didn’t make it seem like anything too special. But “now that I’m actually in Farley, I feel like it’s honestly the people that make it special,” she says. 

Every Notre Dame dorm has its own culture, its own traditions and its own community. From O’Neill nicknames to Lewis House of Pancakes to Morrissey food sales, dorms play a big role in the Notre Dame experience. Dorms provide immediate communities to students, allowing them to feel more at home during their time at Notre Dame. Your dorm, however, is not the end of your Notre Dame experience. The dorms provide launching points from which you can meet new people, participate in fun events and experience the greater Notre Dame community.