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No longer Here

| Thursday, August 20, 2020

I have been a University defender until now. 

Returning to campus, I believed, would be safe. Although there would be cases, these students would be isolated and, with the contract-tracing methods in place, those who had been exposed to the disease would also be quarantined. When I returned to campus, I held onto this hope. While sitting in class, socially distant from my peers and professors, I felt that the University had done everything it could to make campus a safe and healthy place.

I was wrong. 

The events of the past couple days have revealed just how inadequately prepared Notre Dame is to handle this pandemic. In the address to the student body last night, Fr. Jenkins said that the administration had been considering sending us all home, suggesting that the University was not and is not prepared to handle an outbreak of this magnitude. In the past 24 hours, students have received a dozen emails pleading with us not to go to parties and bars, because that is where the disease spreads most easily. The Wall Street Journal, which broke the news before the University’s official statement, said that new cases have been linked to off-campus parties, and the University has now banned all off-campus students from campus for the next two weeks.

I hear that. I too, am angry and upset that we as students have not followed these rules and guidelines. 

However, the finger pointing, particularly towards off-campus students, needs to end. As of yesterday, the University’s new policy allows student centers and lounges around campus to remain open during reduced hours, but they are only available to on-campus students. Off-campus students cannot even stretch their legs with a (masked) stroll around the lakes. All University resources, including something as small as printers, are off-limits if you do not have a bed assigned to you on campus. 

It is clear that this is a rhetorical device the University is using to escape culpability. Instead of owning up to the extreme lack of testing and sever under-preparation for the worst-case scenario, Notre Dame has placed the blame on its off-campus students for the exponential case growth. Meanwhile, videos of a large party in the middle of South Quad have been circulating on social media, and witnesses have reported a severe lack of mask-wearing and social distancing among those in attendance. It also seems unbelievable to me that no on-campus students ventured off campus to party and visit friends. 

The University has drawn a severe line between its students in dorms and those in houses and apartments, and this division is not helpful. Notre Dame has abandoned its off-campus students, protecting the fantasy of its perfect campus community from the big, bad off-campus partiers. Although the University prides itself on its community, I would like to remind the University that community, like our responsibilities, does not end as soon as we step off of campus. Building a wall is as divisive as it is ineffective.

The reality is that without surveillance testing, we do not know the scale of the outbreak that we are facing in only the second week on campus. In all the models the University considered when it decided to open its doors, how is it that they did not plan for this worst-case scenario? As anyone with any background in biology will tell you, exponential growth is typical for any disease. There should have been concrete protocols put in place to be enacted should this occasion have arisen. As it is, the University is left unprepared, floundering and looking foolish in the eyes of its community and the world. And worse, it is putting the lives of students faculty, and staff in danger. 

Yes, students have been asked not to party. Yes, it would have been better for us all if these parties had not occurred. And yes, we all have a personal responsibility for preventing the spread of this disease. I do not condemn the University’s decision to shut down for two weeks; given the number of cases and the rate of growth, I probably would have made the same decision. But for God’s sake, demonizing and abandoning your off-campus students (who are still expected to attend class) without any University resources or guidance only betrays your woeful lack of preparation, and your refusal to take responsibility for this crisis. 

We are angry. We are scared. According to the University, we are no longer Here.

Rachel Hughes 


Aug. 19

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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