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Rectors coordinate move-out for Notre Dame’s 31 residence halls

| Tuesday, March 31, 2020

On March 11, University President Fr. John Jenkins broke the news that the Notre Dame community would not be returning to the classroom after spring break — at least, not for a very long time. 

In a campus-wide email, Jenkins announced campus would close March 17 and conduct classes online as a precautionary measure against the coronavirus outbreak. From all corners of the world, students — many without textbooks and equipped with only a week’s worth of clothes — wondered what this transition would mean for them. 

Less than an hour later, vice president for student affairs Erin Hoffmann Harding sent an email to students outlining more details about Notre Dame’s closure and how the University would help them navigate it.

Hall rectors were tasked with relaying the specifics of move-out, however. According to emails obtained by The Observer, the majority reached out to their residents within hours of Hoffmann Harding’s March 11 email.

Their messages followed near-identical frameworks and mirrored Hoffmann Harding’s words from earlier that day. Still, they varied widely in tone: Most recommended students not come back to campus to gather their belongings unless they were in the South Bend area. Some said no students, regardless of location, could return to campus at all.

At least three took the liberty to set time limits on how long students returning to campus could enter their dorms to retrieve personal items. Multiple students reported they had to gather their belongings in 30 minutes or less.

The Observer reached out to all 31 rectors asking if any had imposed such a time limit. Many re-routed the inquiry to University Communications. None elected to comment.

Speaking on the rectors’ behalf, University spokesperson Dennis Brown directed The Observer to Hoffmann Harding’s earlier emails. He did not say if any rectors set time limits on how long returning students could stay.

Brown would not specify if rectors did not comment because they were not allowed to.

“Like most organizations, we prefer to speak with one voice, especially in the midst of serious events such as the pandemic,” he said in an email. 

In hall-wide emails reviewed by The Observer, rectors also told their residents the University would contact those eligible to stay on campus by March 13. Only some told students to reach out to them if they had reasons to remain on campus they feared the University did not already know about.

In a statement to The Observer, Brown said Notre Dame “was able to provide continued room and board in University-sponsored housing to all students who needed it.”

This select group was initially about 250 students, Hoffmann Harding said in a March 18 email to the Notre Dame community. All others were told to leave campus by noon Tuesday, March 17. 

The Office of Student Enrichment provided an avenue for students who needed other accommodations. Director Consuela Howell said the office works to ensure students’ personal and academic needs are met, funding food, housing, travel and essential electronics such as laptops.

“We have received requests from 343 students,” Howell said in an email. “We were able to assist all but 20 whom we promptly connected to other resources, including Financial Aid, OIT or contacts within their colleges, who were better suited to address their concerns.”

Still, sophomore Max O’Connor, a Lewis Hall resident, struggled to navigate move-out on the University’s deadline.

Though O’Connor did not need to stay at Notre Dame while classes went remote, campus closed on a Tuesday and his father could not pick him up until the following weekend. 

O’Connor arranged to move in with other students off-campus, but reconsidered when he came down with a cough. Wanting to be cautious, he contacted University Health Services and emailed his rector, Clarice Ramirez, asking if he could stay in his room for a few more days. Ramirez did not respond to a request for comment.

“I was supposed to go to someone else‘s place to sleep until my dad could pick me up this weekend, but I‘m a little scared I’m sick and I don‘t want to infect them,” O’Connor said in the email to Ramirez. “Because of this, I no longer have a place to stay and I‘m not sure what to do cause I don‘t want to get anyone sick so I am keeping to myself for now. I called UHS and they said they‘ll get back to me within two hours but I thought I should make you aware of the situation.”

Ramirez replied and said she would not be able to readmit O‘Connor into the residence hall.

“I wouldn’t be allowed to let you back into Lewis,” Ramirez said in the email. “What are your plans until your dad picks you up? Hope you feel better!”

O’Connor did not respond. Fearing he would be forced out of his room and have nowhere to sleep, he said he kept to himself the rest of Tuesday. 

“I had nowhere to go at that point,” he said. “So I didn‘t want to leave.”

For food, he relied on snacks from the Huddle Mart and whatever was around his room. In the meantime, he sought help from fellow students. For a while, he considered sleeping outside.

“I’m just like, ‘I have a hammock and a rain fly. Worse comes to worst and I’m kicked out, I could just string my hammock up in some trees and sleep there,’” he said. “But since it was raining and chilly, and I had a cough, I didn’t think that was the best move.”

Later Tuesday, he got permission to stay at a peer’s empty condo near campus. 

O’Connor said the UHS called him back close to 2 a.m. the next morning — seven hours after he first contacted them. The UHS told him he was probably fine, he said, given he only had a cough and no fever.

The Observer reached out to UHS asking if wait times for phone consultations had inflated the week of March 16. Again, the request for comment was redirected to Brown.

The UHS “has not experienced higher wait times than expected,” Brown said in an email.

O’Connor safely moved into the empty condo the afternoon of March 18. He said though his journey home was rocky, he acknowledges move-out was not an easy task for Residential Life.

“This is new to everyone. So, I get that it’s all a mess,” he said.  “I’m just glad I could have other students there to help.”

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About Mary Steurer

Mary is a senior sociology major and journalism minor from St. Louis. An aspiring religion reporter, Mary has spent the last year covering conversations about the Catholic Church sex abuse crisis at Notre Dame.

Contact Mary