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Tri-campus community starts spreadsheet for students in need after schools announce closures due to coronavirus

| Sunday, March 15, 2020

In 1906, a great fire and earthquake rattled San Francisco. Reflecting on the experience, the famed writer Jack London wrote: “Never in all San Francisco’s history, were her people so kind and courteous as on this night of terror.”

Over a century later, communities all over the world are struggling to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. Late Wednesday morning, University President Fr. John Jenkins sent an email notifying the Notre Dame community in-person classes would be cancelled for at least month as a safeguard against coronavirus, joining dozens of other colleges and universities. Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross soon issued similar announcements.

The majority of students will not have permission to stay on campus while the tri-campus dorms are closed. In response, members of the community have amassed resources on a Google Sheet to help students who may need help making the transition.

Diane Park | The Observer

The sheet was started by Notre Dame sophomore Matthew Bisner, who said he was inspired from students at Washington University who began a similar document after their school closed.

Bisner was on a trip for his civil rights Social Concerns Seminar when the University announced it was shuttering its doors. When he first heard the news, he said he began to wonder how low-income students would be affected. 

“I wanted to make sure that students had safe, affirming and affordable housing and transportation options,” Bisner said in a text.

He got to work on the spreadsheet Wednesday evening. From housing and transportation to food, the spreadsheet now lists various means by which students impacted by the cancellation can accommodate their needs. It also contains a section about relevant updates about Notre Dame’s coronavirus response and contacts for students who may need University assistance in the transition. Anyone may contribute to the sheet, and it is open to all members of the tri-campus community.

Notre Dame has said it would contact students who are unable to return home and grant them exemptions to stay on campus. Saint Mary’s told students who may need to stay on campus to contact interim vice president for student affairs Linda Timm. Holy Cross students who were concerned about finding housing with residence hall closures were encouraged to contact dean of students Andrew Polaniecki.

Bisner said the faculty and staff accompanying students on his trip were among the first to volunteer their support for students who may need additional resources or housing alternatives. For example, associate teaching professor Margie Pfeil said she could feed students at South Bend’s Catholic Worker House, and advisor of restorative justice Susan Sharpe said she could provide housing.

The spreadsheet began its rounds on social media Friday. Students and alumni shared it on Twitter, and Tom Bisner, Matthew Bisner’s father, posted it in a Facebook Group for class of 2022 parents.

Members of the Notre Dame community quickly pitched in. As of Saturday, six had offered housing; five offered transportation; two offered food; and two monetary support.

Bisner said the myriad of people helping with this initiative are “examples of generosity and concern” in the Notre Dame community.

Senior Colleen Ballantyne said she first saw the spreadsheet on the Black Sheep Notre Dame Twitter account. Ballantyne listed her name in the Transportation section of the document, offering to give fellow students a ride home to the general North Ohio and West Pennsylvania region Sunday.

“I knew I am fortunate enough to have my own car and therefore easy and cheap transportation,” Ballantyne said in a text. “I know a lot of people have been frantically trying to find ways home, and I wanted to do my part to help them.”

Similar to Ballantyne, Julia Guillot, a Notre Dame parent, learned about the initiative through the Facebook group. She is offering students funding for traveling and opening up her home in Louisiana.

“I know that students are on a budget and that some international students are not able to return home, so I really want to help them however I can,” Guillot said.

Guillot said such demonstration of camaraderie characterized the Notre Dame community.

“I absolutely believe that Notre Dame is a family,” Guillot said. “Literally, there’s no stranger within the family. We all help each other out.”

Initiatives like Bisner’s demonstrate that crises can serve to bring out the best in people, Ballantyne said.

“I think it really shows how the notre dame/south bend [sic] community whether students, alumni or residents of South Bend are willing to help out when people are in need,” she said in a text. “We see it throughout the year with various service projects and fundraisers. The difference this time [is] our own community is the group that is in need. We are all hurting right now but we are also all willing to step up to help each other.”

According to Bisner, the spreadsheet will continue to evolve as undergraduate and graduate students’ needs change approaching the University’s closure Tuesday.

“Please, if you’re able to help, put your contact information in the sheet,” Bisner said in a text. “If you’re in need of support, let us know on the Support page and watch out for new announcements on the Updates page.”

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