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Welcome Week engages first-year students in residential, academic activities despite social distancing challenges

| Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Members of the class of 2024 were introduced to campus last week with a revamped Welcome Week meant to mirror previous years’ programs while also fostering a safe environment in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first-years were separated into two groups — blue and gold. The blue group arrived Monday, Aug. 3, with the gold group moving in behind them Wednesday, Aug. 5. The separate arrival dates allowed for increased distancing and safety during move-in. Although the gold group had less time on campus, the programming was nearly identical for the two groups, according to the co-directors of welcome activities, Lauren Donahue and Andrew Whittington.

Over the course of the week, students had the ability to hear from Campus Ministry, the McDonald Center for Student Well-Being and the Center for Social Concern. Every college –– with representatives from every major — and many more campus centers and organizations. Donahue and Whittington said the programs are meant to give first-years a chance to explore.

“We seek to share the unique characteristics of a Catholic, Holy Cross undergraduate education with our new students to set initial expectations for being members of a safe and inclusive community, to introduce and inspire engagement in academic and residential life at Notre Dame, and to facilitate the exploration of University resources available to students and their families,” Whittington and Donahue said.

While Welcome Week certainly looked different from what returning students might remember, first-years still got to experience annual, though slightly-altered, traditions such as the Welcome Mass, watching Rudy in the football stadium, visiting the Grotto for the first time and taking a class photo in the stadium. For all of these events, adjustments were made to maintain students’ health and safety. For the Welcome Mass and the movie, each student received an assigned seat located next to either their family or their roommate and distantly surrounded by other residents of their dorm.

The grotto visit was staged in waves and organizers enforced a strict six-foot social distancing guideline during the service. In addition, two class photos for the class of 2024 were taken Sunday in the stands of the football stadium, rather than on the field, with the intention of merging the two images together after the fact.

Even in this time of uncertainty and adjustment, many freshmen and transfer students were able to have a memorable welcome to Notre Dame. First-year Aiden Robertson said that watching Rudy in Notre Dame Stadium and partaking in his dorm’s traditions were his two favorite parts of the week’s activities.

“Everything played as normal,” Robertson said when asked about his thoughts of the effects of the COVID-19 adjustments.

“It’s been fantastic,” Robertson said. “I don’t think I’ve been somewhere where people have been this nice. Everyone here seems to have a vested interest in the success of everybody else.”

Courtesy of Katrina Vogel

Members of the Farley Hall Welcome Week team prepare to introduce first-years to their dorm community.

The team tasked with planning all of the welcome events included the Welcome Week Steering Committee (WWSC), hall staff and individual dorm teams composed of upperclassmen residents. The teams struggled with recreating the welcoming experience of previous years while adhering to the new protocols around campus.

“It took a lot of time and a lot of ideas that didn’t end up working, but in the end, I think we did the best that we possibly could have considering the circumstances,” junior Katrina Vogel, who served as Farley Hall Welcome Week co-captain, said.

After much deliberation, the Welcome Week planning committees settled on a plan to create a hybrid experience for the first-years. The events were to be half in-person and the other half on Zoom. Logistically, this posed a challenge. On top of the individual dorm activities organized by their respective teams, the WWSC utilized new spaces such as the stadium, several ballrooms and lecture halls, the Stepan Center and numerous quads for orientation events.

“While utilizing new spaces presented challenges, it also served as an incredible example of the collaboration across campus. Departments and teams from every corner of the University worked in a particular way to welcome new students,” Donahue and Whittington said.

With Welcome Week over and the first week of classes underway, the first-years are experiencing their first taste of college life. Through their experience this week and beyond, Vogel said she would encourage first-years to talk to everyone.

“It will be hard this year, but when sitting in socially distant classes, [they should] just turn to the person next to them, introduce themselves and start a conversation [that] could make a world of difference,” Vogel said. “You truly never know who could turn out to be one of your best friends for life.”

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