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To love thee is to criticize thee

| Wednesday, August 26, 2020

I was inspired to write this column by my friend Alena who posted a really well-written message about criticism as an act of love to her Instagram story a few days ago. She wrote it in response to the pro-administration sentiment circulating on social media lately — a sentiment that includes professions of gratitude for the return to campus, contrite messages of student body culpability and even a petition addressed to University President Fr. John Jenkins promising him that we’ll be better.

It’s a perspective that a lot of people have — we should be grateful to the administration for bringing us back in the first place; we should be happy that we didn’t end up like one of those schools that went fully online; we should be so appreciative because at least they tried. But in the wake of a rapidly-spreading disease that we don’t yet fully understand, just trying isn’t good enough.

I’m not saying there isn’t blame to be placed on the student body. We’ve all seen the videos of big gatherings on different quads, heard the horror stories of off-campus parties and probably have even broken a few regulations ourselves. At a time when some students have been isolated at home for the past six months and others have been risking their lives to work essential jobs, sometimes you just need a hug from someone who’s not a member of your household or to take a picture with the beautiful women of Farley Hall. It is undeniable that students who risk their lives and the lives of others by going out to parties and bars are one of the main driving forces behind the uptick in cases on campus.

However, over the past week, it has become clear that the administration has egregiously mishandled many parts of its reopening, and this should absolutely not go unnoticed. 

One of the biggest concerns I’ve had and heard from others is how the University isn’t frequently and consistently testing the entire student body. It’s not an unrealistic goal — schools like the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Brandeis University are testing students at least twice a week. A study published on July 31 about reopening U.S. colleges encouraged protocols like these. It found that “symptom-based screening alone was not sufficient to contain an outbreak,” recommending instead that a college should test its students every two days in order to reopen safely. Here’s the kicker: The study estimated the cost of such a testing strategy to be less than $500 per student per semester. Notre Dame obviously has the funds for this and could have feasibly implemented such a strategy.

But even if such testing is actually unattainable, Notre Dame’s reporting system could be lightyears ahead of where it is now. The UNC at Chapel Hill dashboard, for instance, breaks cases down by dorm, gives detailed positivity rate information and clearly states the isolation and quarantine space available for on-campus students. As of Monday, the Notre Dame dashboard has been updated to include the breakdown between undergraduate students, graduate students and employees, as well as between surveillance and diagnostic testing, but there is still a lot of information left out.

Many are also concerned about the conditions provided to some ND students in quarantine. Last Wednesday, WSBT’s Tolly Taylor interviewed a student about her experience with the University’s quarantine process. She spoke of unresponsive hotlines, problems getting food in her apartment and receiving salt packets and Tylenol to treat her symptoms. A Reddit post from Friday claims that some students are being quarantined at off-campus housing where families with young children also live, stating the University failed to inform these residents of the students’ presence.

Taylor also reported last week on the disproportionate number of tests given to the football team and staff — a protocol not required by the ACC but put in place by the University itself.

Make no mistake: These transgressions are the fault of the University. We can and should remind them of that.

Calling out the University for its shortcomings does not make us ungrateful, undeserving or dismissive. It does not mean we are complaining nor trying to shift blame away from ourselves. It is not an act of malice or contempt. When we express our frustration with the administration — for its lack of transparency, for the quarantine conditions they’ve provided, for their skewed priorities — we do so out of love for our University.

Love is not characterized by blind graciousness or unquestioned devotion. It is not negated by anger or frustration or sadness. Thomas Aquinas put it succinctly when he wrote that to love is “to will the good of another.” We must hold what we love accountable in order to will such good upon it. And so, criticism is an act of love. 

I love Notre Dame. I love the opportunities and experiences this school has already afforded me and those which it has yet to. I love being here on campus with my friends. I love learning and reading and growing. And it is because of this love that I must criticize, must hold accountable, must get frustrated and angry. A petition thanking Fr. Jenkins for doing his best isn’t love. What good does that do when we reach quarantine and isolation capacity if we haven’t already? What good does it do when a member of our community is hospitalized or dies from this virus? Love for this University looks like holding it accountable when it fails. We criticize Notre Dame not in spite of our love but as an active expression of it.

I want to end on Alena’s words: “This is the kind of love I strive to embody, though I fail at it often. That is part of the love. Understanding when we fail and striving to do better.”

Kerry Schneeman | The Observer

Ella Wisniewski is a junior studying English and economics. She tries her best not to take herself too seriously. You can reach her at [email protected] or @ellawisn on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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