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Jenkins holds town hall, announces advisory task force for off-campus students

| Thursday, September 3, 2020

In a virtual town hall for off-campus undergraduate students Wednesday, University President Fr. John Jenkins acknowledged the shortcomings of the University’s preparation to reopen in light of COVID-19, but he said he believes the changes Notre Dame has undergone in the past few weeks will allow the University to be better prepared to keep students, faculty and staff safe and on campus for the semester.

Jenkins began the session by announcing the creation of an advisory task force for off-campus undergraduate students to address their needs during this time and to maintain a line of communication between them and the administration.

Vice president of University relations Louis Nanni said the task force will be composed of 25 to 30 students from each of the different pods of student housing areas.

“Our charge, I believe, is to really try to enhance a sense of belonging and inclusiveness with all of you,” Nanni said.

When asked what it will take for students to remain on campus, Jenkins spoke about the cycle of infections. 

“If we get into a cycle where there’s not just a few infections, but they’re infecting others and we go to the second circle, and the third circle, and the fourth circle,” Jenkins said. “We can’t deal with that; we don’t have the capacity to deal with it, and that would cause us to start online classes or maybe even have to go home.”

Jenkins remains optimistic though that students will be able to remain on campus for the rest of the semester.

“I believe in the student body — they’re smart, they care about each other, they care about the University,” Jenkins said. “That is our great asset.”

According to vice president of student affairs Erin Hoffman Harding, there will be no restrictions for off-campus students coming to campus as students return to in-person classes.

She also stated the University plans on requesting students limit gatherings to 10 people for the immediate future. 

“We’re going to start cautiously,” she said. “It’s the reason we’re starting classes gradually. We are also reopening student organizations and programs gradually so we can all be successful.”

As the University recently announced, student, faculty and staff football ticket availability for the coming season, vice president for campus safety and University operations Mike Seamon talked about the administration’s considerations behind this decision.

“The idea was to not bring outside visitors to campus,” Seamon said.

Students, faculty and staff may park on the stadium lot, and tailgating will not be permitted on campus. 

Jenkins reiterated how fortunate Notre Dame is to allow the student body in the stadium while the vast majority of other colleges in the ACC are not allowing their students the same opportunity.

“I just want to urge you to bring your best selves and cheer, but obey those health precautions so we can continue with the season and continue to have spectators,” Jenkins said.

When asked what students should do if they see their peers disregarding safety precautions Hoffman Harding said to look to GreeNDot’s strategy.

“If you see something, say something,” Hoffman Harding said. “I know and have certainly seen since we came back this semester how much our students want to be here. If we can all encourage one another wherever we are on campus and just remind ourselves and each other to put on our masks, keep our distance, do our daily health checks, come to surveillance testing. That is really the way that we are all going to be successful in staying here.” 

Student body president senior Rachel Ingal, who moderated the event, asked if University leadership will consider shortening the time a student remains in quarantine if they do not test positive for COVID-19.

Seamon responded and said he does not see the amount of time a student in quarantine who was in close contact with individuals who tested positive to decrease less than seven days. This is only possible because of the infrastructure Notre Dame has in place, including the information from the daily health checks, the contact tracing and the testing center.

In addition, Hoffman Harding reminded off-campus students that all community members will be required to get flu shots later in the semester. 

“That’s another prevention and safety measure that we put in place for campus so that we can make sure to prevent that illness and any confusion that you might see in symptoms between the flu and COVID,” she said.

To wrap up the town hall, Jenkins reminded everyone to continue wearing masks, social distancing, completing their daily health checks and showing up to surveillance testing.

“You guys work so hard and you want to relax and on weekends you want to take it easy, I get it, but that’s the most risky time,” Jenkins said. “So find ways to relax, find ways to be with your friends that are safe. It doesn’t take much to shut us down for the semester.” 

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