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‘HERE we are thankful’ letter gains traction

| Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The announcement that the University would be transitioning to two weeks of online learning was met with mixed reactions; some claimed students should have never come in the first place, some suggested students should be allowed to continue instruction virtually if they wished and some wanted to continue to do whatever they could to remain on campus.

Notre Dame seniors and roommates Emily Meara and Madison Kuehl decided to write a letter expressing gratitude to the administration for all of its efforts to make campus a safe place for students to live — and it has received 3,090 co-signatures.

“That must’ve been a really difficult decision and not one that anyone wanted to necessarily make. Even in light of having to go virtual, there were so many amazing resources that they did provide for us,” Meara said. “[The letter is] a call to action that, at least during these two weeks, let’s work together, let’s try to commit to following the rules and see if we can continue to stay here and learn and live together as a Notre Dame community.”

Daniel Philpott, a political science professor, said in-person instruction has far greater value than the Zoom-based learning the University is currently mandating.

“It’s much better than online Zoom instruction. Being together in person, inquiring together, learning together, speaking together, having that personal presence is absolutely invaluable for learning,” Philpott said. “It’s a blessing that we have [Zoom], but teaching in person is infinitely better. It is at the very heart of our purpose as a university.”

Kuehl said one of the goals in writing the letter was a call to action; she and Meara said they hoped to promote solidarity and commitment to protecting the community at large.

“Notre Dame has obviously been in the news a lot recently. The administration has been seeing a wide variety of responses and criticisms and support, just all across the spectrum there, so we just really wanted them to know that we’re appreciative of what they have done because I think promoting positivity during this time can’t hurt anything,” Kuehl said.

Philpott said although the letter is by no means a scientific poll of the opinions of the student body and doesn’t explicitly say the students want to stay in person, the gratitude expressed takes a stance against the negativity of other feedback.

“The impression was that there was a kind of harsh anger and despair among the students, but I think what this petition shows is that, in fact, there are many students, maybe even a silent majority, who are much in favor of staying and going back to teaching in person,” Philpott said. “Now, you know if you read the petition closely, it doesn’t actually say, ‘We want to stay in person,’ but by expressing gratitude to the administration and encouragement, I think it’s trying very deliberately to take a different stance than the one that expressed all the anger.”

Meara said she believes commitment and selflessness will be essential in the coming weeks.

“We recognized that as a community if we work together and put the needs of the Notre Dame community at large above our own, that we could get through this,” Meara said. “That would involve committing to following the regulations and guidelines set forth by [University President] Fr. [John] Jenkins and the administration, whether that be wearing a mask at all times or staying 6 ft. apart.”

Most of the cases from the recent spike, Philpott said, came from students not following guidelines laid out in the HERE campaign rather than in the classrooms themselves.

“Almost no cases have been arising from the classroom or the dining hall or professors’ offices or the locker room. The fact is that the HERE campaign was largely successful,” Philpott said. “What the University tried to do and the way they tried to protect the students largely succeeded. It just was because some very small number of students were not following it. That’s where the problem arose.”

Meara said she and Kuehl have already delivered the letter to Provost Marie Lynn Miranda and hope to do the same for Jenkins later this week.

“Because this is such an unprecedented time, there’s no one plan to get through this or one timeline that’s going to be perfect,” Meara said. “Recognizing that they have our best interests and safety in mind and taking them for that and for the commitment and work that they did over the summer and in the past many months, we recognize that regardless of whether we stay or stay at home that [their effort] is something that we understand and we’re unwilling to let go unnoticed.”

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