A Catholic University’s Rowdy Party Culture Results in Lawsuit - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
A Catholic University’s Rowdy Party Culture Results in Lawsuit
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The parents of a student who suffered a “catastrophic brain injury” after falling 30 feet during a party at the University of Notre Dame are suing the university for putting their son at risk by condoning a “quasi-fraternity atmosphere.”

The suit will decide whether or not the Catholic university is responsible for damages that result from its widespread underage drinking and raucous party culture.

The family’s lawyers said that Tennant did not drink in high school, but was introduced to alcohol at Notre Dame. 

The injured student, Sean Tennant, was only 18 years old when he fell in January 2019 from the second floor stairwell to the concrete basement floor of Sorin Hall, a campus dorm. The family’s lawyer, Peter Flowers, said Tennant was likely drinking that night, but would not disclose his blood alcohol content. 

Tennant was left with “a catastrophic decline in neurocognitive and functional abilities,” and is unable to talk, walk, or dress without assistance, according to the lawsuit. It is unlikely that his condition will improve, Flowers told the Chicago Tribune.

The family’s lawyers said that Tennant did not drink in high school, but was introduced to alcohol at Notre Dame. 

The lawsuit, filed July 21, contends that Notre Dame is culpable for Tennant’s injuries by encouraging students to act as though the campus dorms are fraternities. It alleges the dorm’s rector, Rev. Bob Loughery, who is a Catholic priest, “failed to take reasonable precautions to ensure the safety of the student-residents under his care, custody, control, and supervision.”

Notre Dame is known for its wild party culture. On any given football Saturday, underage students participate in drinking contests at 8 a.m. in the hallways of residence halls (with point penalties if they vomit), drink all morning at tailgates, sneak alcohol into the football game until ushers collect buckets of empty liquor containers, and then party for hours in dorm rooms, off-campus houses, and bars.

At Sorin Hall, where the incident took place, one student’s window displayed a stack of Natural Light beer boxes last school year which grew with each passing week. 

Notre Dame officials sometimes enforce rules against underage drinking and intoxication, but the behavior is very often passed over. For instance, last year I witnessed dozens of drunk freshman girls parade past a rector priest without him so much as reacting.

Alcohol causes an estimated 1,519 deaths each year among college students, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. At Notre Dame, a senior died in 2015 after falling off the roof of a campus building while drunk. And in 2002, a male freshman with a blood-alcohol content of 0.224 was found dead in a nearby river. The families did not sue the university in either case. 

In addition, alcohol is closely linked to sexual assault: an estimated 97,000 sexual assaults and rapes are connected to alcohol use by college students each year. Twenty-one percent of female Notre Dame students said they had experienced “non-consensual sexual contact” while a student at Notre Dame in a 2018 survey, but it is unclear how many of these incidents were connected to alcohol. 

One in four college students report academic consequences for drinking, including missed classes and lower grades, and about 20 percent of college students meet the criteria for an alcohol use disorder. 

Notre Dame does have policies in place to limit the student body’s drinking culture. Liquor with an alcohol content over 14 percent is banned in residence halls, students are required to take an online course on alcohol before arriving on campus, and many underage students are referred to the university’s conduct process for drinking, often if they are discovered drunk multiple times. 

But the lawsuit contends those policies are not duly enforced and that the university promotes the dorms as drinking centers in order to attract prospective students and encourage students to live on campus all four years. 

“They encourage the kids to act like the dorms are fraternities,” said the Tennants’ lawyer, “where you’ve got kids of legal age mixed in with underage kids and inadequate policies and procedures in place, creating an unreasonably dangerous environment.”

In addition, the lawsuit contends the university was negligent in the maintenance of Sorin Hall, which was 131 years old at the time of the incident. Sorin Hall was scheduled to be closed this upcoming school year for an “extensive” renovation, but that was placed on hold as a result of COVID-19. The renovation of Tennant’s dorm was announced following his accident. 

With COVID-19, Notre Dame students have been advised in internal communications to “avoid” parties this upcoming school year. But this simplistic solution will accomplish little to tackle the very real drinking problems at Notre Dame.

Ellie Gardey
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Ellie Gardey is Reporter and Associate Editor at The American Spectator. She is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, where she studied political science, philosophy, and journalism. Ellie has previously written for the Daily Caller, College Fix, and Irish Rover. She is originally from Michigan. Follow her on Twitter at @EllieGardey. Contact her at egardey@spectator.org.
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