Why I hate the phrase “UD Bubble”

Dr. Gregory Roper

The attitude of the student body has recently shifted in such a way that suggests UD is sheltered and insulated, when it actually facilitates comraderie. University of Dallas Archives, photo courtesy of Sybil Novinski.

The UD Bubble. I don’t know where the phrase comes from, or when it became common parlance around here. No one used it when I was a student in the early 1980s, and Dr. Moran tells me that no one used it in the early ’90s, either. I don’t even remember hearing it when I first arrived here in 2000, but I could have been clueless back then, as I was busy figuring out how to teach the Core. So it seems a phrase of rather recent vintage.

And I hate it.

I’ve told my students never to use it in my presence (like “lifestyle,” or — shudder — “impact” as a verb) — and that they shouldn’t use it among themselves, either.

Now, I get what the phrase might be trying to convey in a positive sense: that American society does something extravagant and wonderful, giving us four years of college away from the getting and spending, the hurly-burly of the world, to have time to think, to ponder, to explore, to philosophize, to wonder.

“Leisure,” says the title of Josef Pieper’s book, which I read in my first philosophy class, really is “The Basis of Culture.”

But there’s something that irks me about the phrase. It suggests not just that we are here to pull back from the world, briefly, to think and ponder, but that the University of Dallas is a place where one is cut off, insulated, where students are protected from the nasty, brutish, evil world that is out there, menacing us, just waiting to gobble us up the day after graduation.

Or, conversely, it suggests that UD students are too tender, too naive, too idealistically-Catholicky-conservativey-whatever for the big, dynamic, fascinating world that they just can’t handle.

And, in either case, it becomes an excuse and a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more students use the phrase, the more it sticks in the mind and begins to shape how UD students think.

And it’s wrong. The world beyond UD is fallen, but it’s not irredeemably evil. And UD students don’t need to be protected from the world; they already live in it, vote in it, volunteer in it, pay taxes in it. And they get out there and do quite well in it, thank you very much, after graduation.

UD was never meant to be safe; it was designed to be dangerous. Dangerous to tidy, simplistic thought; dangerous to dreary, politically correct biases; dangerous to students who had not encountered such significant, challenging thinking before; dangerous to a world that would soon encounter our graduates, who will challenge, and transform, the world out there. My friends and I used to mock other sweet little Catholic schools, calling them “A Safe Place to Send Your Daughters.” Send your daughter to UD, and she might come back a feisty Flannery O’Connor, who didn’t put up with “cant” for a minute; send your son, and he might return a rollicking Chesterton, his huge bulk on a horse and a sword in his hand.

The curriculum was designed to create a university that would challenge its students to think through the tradition, not so they could hide from life, but so they could engage with the contemporary world — and transform it.

UD students, Monsignor Thomas Fucinaro once said to me, have a vocation to the world. That’s why so many of them, he said, run off to Washington D.C. for internships and jobs: they want to get out there to the heart of influence and make things happen for the better.

With apologies to my beloved Cistercian friends, I must say that UD wasn’t meant to be a monastery or to produce monks — not that a monastery is supposed to be merely a protective bubble, either. The curriculum, the school, was meant to be more like a priory: the students being the friars: living in community, building one another up intellectually, morally, spiritually, but getting out there in the city, staying up all night debating with Albigensians, or preaching like St. Francis more with their actions than their words. The friars were city-dwellers, in the midst of the people. They were the newest, most modern shock troops of reform that the Medieval Church invented, and they did it by getting out there and mixing it up with the world.

You’d never catch Dominic or Francis saying their brothers should, or do, live in a bubble. Neither should UD students.


  1. I hate the be the one to point out slips, but the sentence “The world beyond UD is fallen, but it’s not irredeemably evil.” does denote a mentality of Us v. Them. It is an attitude that is 100% present in the campus environment and one that has definitely isolated the students that have not found themselves as well integrated into the campus culture. I say this as a person who was definitely IN the bubble and happily so.

    So often, I found people at UD who were happy to debate philosophy while majoring in Physics, or the English major who was thrilled by a discussion of quantum physics. Newsflash, that does not happen outside of a university setting, and as someone who went on to another Catholic University for their post-graduate studies, I found a total lack of inter-disciplinary interest amongst the undergraduates and the graduate students.

    In large part, I attribute this to a weak if not, non existent core curriculum. The Core’s importance in the culture of UD cannot be overstated. It is such a broad mechanism that gives each and every student a common foundation and understanding of the other disciplines. Most universities have cores that generally let people pick from certain categories of classes. This means that among any given graduating class, you can have dozens of different introductory courses that each individual student could have taken with maybe just a handful of other peers. UD does not have this. No matter what, you will take Lit Trad 1,2, and in 80% of the cases Lit trad 3. You will take West Civ 1-2, Am Civ, and Phil and Eth, Western Theo Trad etc. These are common points that give everyone a shared vocabulary. This vocabulary is fundamentally unique to UD and when many of us leave, we feel that lack of vocabulary and, since most of us are not in touch with the popular culture upon our exit, feel as if we were isolated inside a bubble.

    I think it is important to note that the Bubble can be used derisively, but really it is just a descriptor of the Uniqueness of UD and a feature that ought not be shunned or worse, imagined to not exist or be influential. Instead, we must strive to understand it as a side effect of close communication with people who share a common foundation, and recognize that we are a part of the world as our stay is temporary but also apart from it while we study there.

    • I think what you discuss highlights the strengths of the bubble, and alludes to it’s potential, but I maintain that the bubble is used derisively, and rightfully so. UD should be a bubble in the sense that educated young intellectuals from diverse schools of thought are given the opportunity to be in constant dialogue, to challenge their views and strengthen their arguments. Unless you understand others, you can hardly obtain your own self-understanding. UD should be a bubble in the sense that in this beautiful ideological microcosm, people can have different opinions and learn to articulate them in a way that fosters mutual understanding, as opposed to an outside world where people throw tired arguments and shitty rhetoric at one another instead of actually saying anything. (See “if you care so much about gay rights, what about a gay baby’s right to life?” And “if you care so much about baby’s lives, what about when that baby grows up to be gay?” Incredibly dumb and circular non-discussions.)

      UD should be a bubble in the sense that we don’t talk so much about the whether or nicki’s mad drag on Miley at the vmas or who is doing well in fantasy football, but rather have the ability to sit among near strangers and discuss existence, the nature of man, or whatever. At UD the idea should be that you are going to run into someone you’ve never met that is incredibly intelligent in a field you know little about, and you already have common ground through the core and you know you can have an intelligent conversation with them. And that this will be a regular occurence. UD should be a storm within a bubble. Not the eye of the storm, mind you, but the heart of it. A UD student should have their views challenged and discussed almost daily. All the danger Roper advertises in this article is completely missed by the general population. You only get that sense of danger by being an outcast at UD. When you are bringing your A game everyday and when it is a constant battle to defend and hold on to your beliefs, THAT is the danger. When others’ safety bubble is your war zone, THAT is what makes you strong.

      Hence I wouldn’t recommend UD to any conservative catholic who wants an actual challenge, nor would I recommend it to any one else who wanted anything less than a gauntlet. And when I say challenge, I am not referring to academics. Academics at UD are pretty universally challenging, but that’s not the issue at hand. The issue is the character of the school and the atmosphere it creates for the student body.

  2. I don’t think the vintage is that recent, it was certainly used when I was there from ’94 to ’98. We even had a corner when I worked on this publication called “Beyond the Bubble.” If I recall, it was in the Arts & Entertaiment section and was designed to highlight DFW cultural opportunities beyond the confines of the campus.

    I never considered the term to be a positive by those who used it, which seems to be the suggestion here, and it seemed more descriptive than diagnostic. UD was a bit of an island, intellectually and geographically; I assumed it still is to some degree. Doesn’t necessarily mean that people on the island are fleeing the world, scared to engage with the world, need protection from the world, or hate the world. But fears and existential wrangling about the potential for such were part of the UD experience. Surprised to see that very discussion appears to cause revulsion, but it well may have taken on a different character over the years.

    • While I was at UD I brought that column back! I used it to publish national and international news of import or absurdity.

  3. Don’t hate the phrase, hate the reality behind it. It’s a homogenous bubble of thought. Only one narrative is given credibility, only one perspective given a voice. Sure, there are students who don’t fit the mold (and perhaps it is rare for any one person to entirely fit the mold) but those students are not empowered to assemble or exchange ideals contrary to that western catholic narrative.

    Dangerous? That’s laughable. My public high school had about 1000 times the diversity, 1000 times the discourse on controversial issues. What makes it a bubble is that one ideology is coddled excessively and all others are squelched. That’s fine for the institution to “favor” one perspective but if you claim to be dangerous and if you claim to value other perspectives in tempering your own, maybe make it a semi-level playing field for discussion? Pro-lifers can go around sliding notes under dorm room doors and stick fliers in doors and cover the mall in chalk propaganda. Can a pro-choice organization do ANY of that? Oh wait I just implied UD would ever allow a pro-choice group. Which will always confuse me. Congrats UD. You let a group with majority opinion spread propaganda to a student body that agrees with them #activism #crusadersForLife
    #omgSoDanger. If pro-life stuff was so important then there should be more of a dialogue instead of a monologue. And that really goes for all the other ideologies sheltered within the UD bubble. You teach students philosophy and language skills and theology and the deprive them of any real occasion to challenge their beliefs, sending them forth with weak tired arguments.

  4. Well said Max Frazier! I especially agree with your pro-life dialogue idea: during my time at UD (i graduated in 2010) it felt more pro-birth than pro-life. Upon challenging that when you save a child from abortion, you need to also think long term, with my peers I was shut down by the “monologue” idea that everyone is just pro-life and that’s it, we don’t think about what happens after we save a child, we just celebrate that victory. Conversations like that made me feel quite isolated and as if I was on the edge of the bubble or on a line tangent to it. My background may have been very different from classmates and friends as where I am from is very diverse (New Orleans), I didn’t attend a Catholic high school (mine was private, all girls, non denominational), and my degree is in biology and I am still going to school to be a healthcare professional. The Bubble is a real thing at UD and it doesn’t help students there at all. I almost transferred because of the isolation it imposes on people who may have a more moderate view of the world and end up feeling quite out of place in such a polarized environment. My older brother attended UD from 1995-98 (graduated in 98–he was a transfer) and has expressed to me that the university culture of the mid to late 90s was vastly different than what I was experiencing. I don’t know what caused the shift, but when I arrived, UD was nothing like he described. I stuck it out, but sometimes I do wish I had attended a less rigid Catholic University, such as Spring Hill or Villanova.

    To add to your pro life/pro choice clubs example, I would say the next largest campus group were the College Republicans. Personally, I felt like it would have been social suicide to start a “College Centrists” (or some type of moderate group, as I don’t identify with either party) and I don’t think a College Democrat group would ever be accepted. Additionally, I agree that there is no room in UD classrooms for students to challenge beliefs. I can remember taking Western Theological Tradition in Rome and initially being excited to learn about different Christian sects, but the class turned into something like: “here are Lutherans and this is why they can’t go to heaven”. That’s a monologue and it’s quite closed minded, Moreover, it’s no way to teach a theology class to a group of 19-20 year old students. Present them with facts, primary sources, etc and let them explore other belief systems in hopes that we’ll find common ground instead of branding such negative connotations on non-Catholic Christians.

    If UD really wants to fulfill their slogan of “The Catholic University for Independent Thinkers”, then the University needs to be more inclusive of groups and ideas that rigid Catholics may not agree with as to include the entire student body and challenge the single minded monologue that has overrun much so called “discussion” between students. Ultimately, how is it a discussion if everyone either completely agrees with one another or pretends to agree to avoid social pariah status?


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