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We have the semester if we can keep it

| Wednesday, August 12, 2020

I will admit it: I was skeptical about reopening this semester. Last week helped me see the possibilities we have as a community to embrace health protocols and protect our Notre Dame family. As part of TeamND, I have seen our groups commit to the mask requirements, social distancing and regular hand washing and sanitizing. It’s been inspiring to share this time with our student leaders as we prepare to begin this semester together. Walking across campus, I also have seen a great number of students sharing meals at distance and wearing their masks. It is with sincere gratitude that I thank you for following our University’s health and safety protocols. This letter, however, is not for those who have been faithfully following the COVID-19 policies.

With great frustration, I see members of this community walking or sitting very closely together without masks on. Entire groups of unmasked students are a health risk to everyone on this campus and to those in the South Bend community. Being outside does not absolve you of the mask requirement, and wearing a mask does not absolve you of your responsibility to socially distance. Even University President Fr. Jenkins, who has modeled wearing a mask very well, lost himself in the excitement of Welcome Week, sending an email out on Thursday to apologize for having taken pictures with students and ignoring social distancing. It is OK to make mistakes, apologize and do right. It is not OK to continuously break protocol for no reason at all. This summer I heard about the shopping cart theory, which says putting back a shopping cart to save a worker the hassle of collecting it later is a good test of a person’s character. Following basic health precautions to save the lives of faculty, staff, students and visitors is a better test in my book, and we have to acknowledge that some of us are not living up to that test.

Right now, we have the semester. We have some in-person classes, events and residential life. I don’t know about you, but less than a month ago that seemed completely impossible. I would like to make sure this semester can continue through to November, but those who do not wear masks and ignore distancing requirements threaten to take that from all of us. It would be a shame for the responsible many to be subject to the ignorance of a few.

Yes, we have the semester, but it is our responsibility to ensure that we can keep it. That means wearing your mask, keeping socially distant and washing your hands well and frequently. More than that, it means holding other members of this community accountable to all the COVID-19 requirements before us. If you see someone without a mask, you should ask them if they have one to put on. If someone is too close, you can move away or you can ask them to remain distant. We are provided with the opportunity to implement GreeNDot’s active bystander training to enforce the University’s health protocols.

The stakes are high this semester. Lives depend on our adherence to the precautions laid out for us. Further, we are coming out of a quarantine period which severely affected the mental health of many of our fellow community members. If we fail to prevent an outbreak through our actions, many will return to home environments which are unsafe and unhealthy for them. We all have a responsibility to the other members of this family to follow four simple directions: 1) Wear a mask, 2) Practice physical distancing, 3) Wash your hands often and 4) Complete your daily health check. If you want to keep the semester, it’s the very least you could do.

Matthew Bisner


Aug. 6

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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