I haven’t written in awhile, but I’ve been very busy. I have been back at school for almost a week, and for the past 3 days, I’ve been working as a Freshman Orientation co-coordinator for my dorm, Welsh Family Hall. Freshman Orientation, or Frosh-O, is Notre Dame’s weekend-long introduction program for new students. Residence life at ND is rather unique. Freshman students are assigned random roommates in the 29 single-sex dormitories. Students tend to live in the same dorm on campus for all four years of their undergraduate careers, but in recent years, the population of seniors living off-campus in apartments or houses has grown. Notre Dame doesn’t have a Greek system, but the dorms function sort of like fraternities and sororities. We do the matching t-shirt, themed dance, signature event, featured service organization thing. Dorms have mascots, colors, cheers, and traditions. I’ve heard the Notre Dame residence life system described as Greek life without rush.
Frosh-O is a welcome weekend for freshmen and their parents, complete with dorm events and University orientation activities. Each dorm’s Frosh-O staff moved in early on Wednesday afternoon. That night, the Student Activities Office gathered all of the Frosh-O staffs together for a meeting, the main message of which was “be peppy, don’t drink”. We spent all of Thursday decorating the dorm, shopping for food and supplies, and preparing for the arrival of 83 new members of Welsh Family Hall.
On Friday morning, the freshmen began moving in at 9 am. The minivans and SUVs rolled up to the Morris Inn parking lot, and Welsh Fam Frosh-O staff members swarmed the cars. We grabbed the freshmen and directed them to the front desk to check in so we could unload the cars with their parents. Once the contents of the vehicle were piled on the lawn, Nervous Dad pulled the car away to park in an exterior lot, and Nervous Mom carried a load of stuff up to Nervous Daughter’s room. Once Nervous Dad made his way back, staff members tried to wrangle one of the coveted and highly sought carts to fill with the futon box and heavy storage drawers. Then we’d wheel the cart inside and wait in line for the elevator, enthusiastically chatting all the way, despite our huffing and puffing. “Where are you from?” “Is she your first leaving for college?” “Are you going to make it out for any football games this year? Have you ever been to a game here? It’s like nothing else!”
Once the lawn pile had been transported to the hallway, a few staff members would help the freshmen loft their beds. Welsh Fam is one of Notre Dame’s newer dorms, so we are lucky to have air conditioning, an elevator, and modular furniture. The closet/wardrobe and desk are configured so that the bed can be stacked on top of them, clearing off a significant amount of floor space. From 9 am to noon on Frosh-O move-in day, I lofted at least a dozen beds. It’s not difficult to do if you have a few people helping out, but it’s a good workout. After getting all of the cars unloaded, freshmen checked in, carts dumped, and beds lofted, we finally had a break to shower and collapse. For the rest of Friday, the freshmen and their parents arranged their rooms, assembled futons, and trekked to Target to purchase shower caddies and rugs. Some of the dads got a little competitive with the room set-ups and extension cord wiring, but all in all, the afternoon went smoothly.
Friday night was our first chance to be with the freshmen without their parents hovering around. Dressed in their blue t-shirts, the freshmen assembled in the Family Room at 8 pm sharp. The Frosh-O staff did introductions, the RAs performed a skit, and our rector Sr. Chris spoke about life in the hall. After a few icebreaker games, a concert from a Notre Dame a capella group, and an ice cream snack, the girls were ready for one of the best parts of Frosh-O. It was time to learn the dance. Traditionally, during Frosh-O weekend, whenever a group of boys from a male dorm and a group of girls from a female dorm meet, the boys sing to the girls. Then, the girls respond with a song and dance. As the groups leave each other, they chant. Part of the job of a Frosh-O staff is to make up the best, coolest, most over-the-top dance for the freshmen to perform. My freshman year, we sang a variation of Avril Lavigne’s “Boyfriend”. This year, we chose to modify the song “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz. The dances always involve lots of hip-thrusting, booty-popping, body-rolling, and shimmying.
I came to move, move, move in
To Welsh Fam with all my whirl, whirl, whirlwinds
We’re takin’ over South, South, South Bend
To Domerfest to find my boy, boy, boy friend.
Frosh-O shirts on and on and on
Til later on, on, on… (scandalous!)
I throw my hands up in the air sometimes
Sayin’ Frosh-O, Whirlwinds let’s go
Let’s go to Stepan and we’ll dance all night
Come on (boys’ dorm), baby let’s go
Cos we gon’ rock West Quad
Reckers late at night
Welsh Fam lights it up
Like it’s dynamite
Cos I told you once
Now I’ve told you twice
Welsh Fam lights it up
Like it’s dynamite (boom)
The Frosh-O staff performed the dance for the freshmen. When we finished, all wide-eyed girls gaped at us. After a few seconds of stunned silence, they burst into applause. “Great! Now you’re going to learn this. And you better learn it quickly, because there are boys coming to sing to you in 45 minutes!” Surprisingly enough, the girls had it down pat by the time the gentlemen from Keough, our brother dorm and neighbor, showed up. Boys’ dorms usually sing Aerosmith or Backstreet Boys, but they can never go wrong with Disney songs either. Keough, Fisher, and O’Neill stopped by to serenade our ladies on Friday night, so everyone got plenty of practice shakin’ it while they sang. [Just as a disclaimer: Upperclassmen fondly reminisce about the awkwardness of Frosh-O, and all of the faux-seduction that Frosh-O staffs encourage is totally University-sanctioned and approved.}
The freshmen and their parents attended the University orientation programming for most of the day on Saturday, and returned to the dorm in the evening for a hall dinner. We brought in Olive Garden for 300 people and set up tables all over the first floor of the dorm. After dinner, the freshmen got dolled up for my favorite Frosh-O event of all time. Domerfest is the most awkward event of the weekend, but it becomes a cherished and beloved memory for nearly all Notre Dame students. All of the Notre Dame freshmen, plus the freshmen from St. Mary’s College and Holy Cross College across the street, attend this event, all wearing their color-coded Frosh-O shirts. Domerfest includes a dance, sand volleyball, food, and a few inflatable obstacle courses. The year I attended Domerfest as a freshman, the event was held in the JACC, part of the athletics facilities. This year and last year, Domerfest was moved to Stepan Center, one of the crappiest buildings on campus. The Wikipedia entry for Stepan Center describes the facility perfectly:
Stepan Center is Notre Dame’s multi-purpose facility. With 21,000 square feet of selectively dry floor space, this work of architecture, located on the northeast corner of campus is the main anti-symbol of the Fighting Irish community. The facility was one of the first geodesic domed facilities in the nation and is fitted with antique, duct tape enhanced insulation.
Stepan Center is completely falling apart and is essentially worthless, but it was the ideal venue for Domerfest. The inside of the building was the dancing area, and the DJs filled the place up with fog for a hazy effect. Food, inflatables, and volleyball courts outside kept the crowd distributed.
Each dorm is assigned a time for Frosh-O staff to work at Domerfest. Welsh Fam had a shift from 10:45-12:45, so I went over with a group of staff members around 10:30. We didn’t have to do much work, so we mostly stood around and watched the freshmen wander in with their Domerfest dates. All of the residence halls have co-ed events before they walk over to Domerfest, and the freshmen are matched up with dates. Most of the dates mutually ditch each other about 30 seconds after they are paired up, but some of the dorms make the dates hold hands all the way to Domerfest. Kristen and I stood with a few guys from Sorin and watched the freshmen stream in to Stepan Center. We started playing games, searching for the Most Disappointed Girl, Most Disappointed Guy, Girl-Playing-With-Her-Phone, Guy-With-His-Game-Face-On, and the like. When the rest of the Welsh Fam staff arrived, we went inside and got our groove on. Much to the dismay of the freshman boys who approached us (“D’ya wanna dance?” “No.”), we were not on cougar patrol. No dancing with freshmen allowed. “Hi, I’m Mark” introduced himself to “Hi, I’m a junior.” We weren’t looking to scope out the newest guys on campus, we were having too much fun breaking it down.
Danielle and I decided to head back to the dorm after our shift was over a little after midnight. As we crossed God Quad, we heard a group of boys chanting. “Who would leave Domerfest early?!” We decided to investigate, so we followed the sound to the foot of the Golden Dome. Speedo-wearing staff members were gyrating on the stairs of the Main Building, waving oars wildly through the air. I quickly realized that these were the men (boys?) of Fisher Hall—the Fishermen. Shirtless freshmen stood in regimented rows before the steps. The staff members were screaming at the freshmen, trying to get them to quiet down. Then, the leader of the mostly-nude staff began shouting. His voice carried across the dark quad:
“By the grace of God, you were placed into Fisher Hall! And that mother is right there on top of the dome! She’s gold. She’s the most beautiful lady on campus! AND SHE’S A VIRGIN! And now, we are going to sing Our Lady the sexiest song EVER WRITTEN!”
And the group proceeded to serenade Mary with Enrique Iglesias’ “Escape”. They followed it up with “Sweet Caroline”, hip-thrusting and hand-clapping enthusiastically. There, in the shadow of the Dome, I saw a side of Frosh-O that I’d never seen before. The Fisher boys singing to Mary were scared, funny, and totally Domer—but also really very sweet. The scene was so uniquely Notre Dame. What better way to welcome the Class of 2014?
Once they were satisfied with the singing, the scantily-clad Fisher Frosh-O staff decided that it was time to take the boys for a late-night swim in the lakes. “Let’s get you boys baptized!”