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No loss is ‘acceptable loss’

| Thursday, July 30, 2020

My name is Miguel Hoch. I am a junior at Notre Dame and a proud member of the Balfour Hesburgh Scholars Program. Like many of my friends and classmates, I was happy to see the University commit to safely returning earlier this summer. I was eager to return to campus, excited to see my friends and encouraged by the words the University offered. Most of all, I was relieved that the pandemic was set to end before the school year began. But as the months went on, relief gradually gave way to concern. Cases and deaths went up, states like mine failed to implement adequate safety precautions and the end of the pandemic remained out of sight. Eventually I realized that this country has not done enough to contain the spread of the virus. And while it remains too dangerous to return, the University still intends to bring everyone back for the fall 2020 semester.

My family and I began to do all in our power to help me and my sister, a senior, remain at home. My mother wrote a letter to the President and Provost of the University; their response remains committed to bringing all students back during the pandemic. We turned to Sara Bea, in hopes of requesting fully online classes:

I am a student in the United States, a country that has outpaced the world in COVID-19 cases and deaths due to its reopening strategy. I live in Texas, a state which reopened early and has seen dramatic and alarming increases in deaths and cases as of recent weeks. This rise is set to pace alongside Florida for most cases per day in the nation. I live in Harris County, the county with the absolute most cases and deaths in Texas, where ICUs are filling up and children’s hospitals are opening to adults because the state opened too early. I am Afro-Latino, part of the demographic with the highest COVID-19 risk in the nation. I am not willing to return to my seven-person household in November with any risk that I might infect my middle-aged parents, my siblings, and my four-year-old sister with COVID-19. I am alarmed and concerned about having to travel to campus this semester and request fully online classes this semester.” 

This is what I told Sara Bea in my accommodations request in mid-July, when the state of the pandemic was alarming, but not as much as it is today. During our Zoom meeting, I expanded on my concerns, discussing my autistic brother and my mother’s kidney disease (Nephrotic syndrome) as legitimate medical concerns. I cannot afford to bring the disease back to my family, especially to my immunocompromised family members, especially since there is no place for us to quarantine ourselves from each other. I was hoping they might understand my concerns, and would accept my request to remain at home. I was denied yesterday, and I am forced to return if I want to attend classes this semester.

How many others will inevitably be placed in this situation this semester? There are students and professors like me who realize the dangers of returning. Professors who are old enough to be more at risk, students with elderly parents or grandparents. If my concerns are not valid enough to keep me home, what about theirs?

Recently the University has acknowledged that there will be some cases of COVID-19 this semester. They aren’t preparing for a possible outcome, they’re preparing for an inevitable outcome. Students, faculty and staff are going to be risking their lives this semester; how can they place their trust in this institution that acknowledges by bringing everyone back to campus there will be some cases and potential casualties?

How many people have to fall ill or die before our safety becomes important to the university? One? Ten? Fifty? A hundred? How many lives must be lost, or damaged beyond repair, before the University sends everyone back? Is even one life lost an “acceptable” loss? Whose life? Which student, which professor? Whose deaths will the University be responsible for by bringing us back, which lives are less valuable than an in-person environment this semester?

My life should matter more than this. My classmates’ lives should matter more than this. The lives of our faculty and staff should matter more than this. Our friends, our families back home should matter more than this. 

I don’t want to request a leave of absence this semester. I want to graduate with my friends, I want to attend classes this semester and I want to return. But I would rather see my friends alive and well. I would rather meet their families alive and well. I will not be yet another link in the transmission of this virus. It has already destroyed so many lives, and I refuse to be a part of it and I condemn Notre Dame for becoming a part of that destruction. Their plan to return would be viable in an environment where the COVID-19 pandemic was controlled, where the spread is contained. It is not.

I will not allow myself to be the one life lost. I will not allow my friends to be the one life lost because of me. I will not be the reason I must attend the funeral of a classmate, a professor, a friend, while the University responsible for their death takes pride in their “successful” containment. One life lost is not containment. Many lives ruined is not containment.

How many letters must we send, how many petitions do we have to sign for the University to fully commit to our safety? We are placing our trust completely in their hands. Forcibly bringing everyone back while acknowledging future cases is a betrayal.

Miguel Hoch


July 29

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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