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Observer Editorial: Don’t let it define us

| Friday, October 9, 2020

All things considered, last week was not a great time to be affiliated with Notre Dame. University President Fr. John Jenkins’ failure to wear a mask at the White House Rose Garden nomination ceremony was embarrassing, and the subsequent news that he tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday was worrisome. 

First and foremost, we want to wish Jenkins a full and speedy recovery. We hope he overcomes his infection without long-term consequences and returns to the Notre Dame community healthy.

As members of the Notre Dame community, it was truly disheartening to see our University’s name so closely attached to this past week’s public debacle. Seeing Jenkins’ face in the New York Times alongside other attendees of the Rose Garden ceremony who had tested positive for coronavirus was troubling. Many current students and faculty, as well as alumni and friends of the University, reacted with disdain, and some attempted to distance themselves from Notre Dame and its president. Those who defended Jenkins earlier in the semester either fell silent or doubled down, insisting the rapid test justified his actions — until it didn’t.

While this situation paints a poor picture of Notre Dame, it is important to note that one leader’s public display of negligence does not represent our community as a whole. There are still a number of great things members of the tri-campus community are doing in the midst of this pandemic. We can still take pride in our own individual efforts and those of other leaders.

Numerous members of the tri-campus community lead by example daily, showing us how we can manage an exceedingly difficult semester while following health and safety protocols. While it may be her first year in the role, Saint Mary’s President Katie Conboy has proven up to the task, standing first in line to receive her flu shot. Others, such as hall staff members, have demonstrated humility and diligence in their daily responsibilities.

Our tri-campus continues to grow, evolve and do good work. The Saint Mary’s theatre department produced a socially distanced version of “Alice in Wonderland” adapted for outdoor performance on Lake Marion. Volunteers from the Notre Dame community dedicated time and talent to sewing face masks for South Bend students. Holy Cross will use the recently received $1 million Lilly Endowment grant to combat the country’s teacher shortage with a new Teach for Indiana program.

Notre Dame is present in the research conducted, the songs sang and the friendships built — not in the example set in the Rose Garden.

To students, we want to emphasize that our own actions shouldn’t have to reflect the problematic and even embarrassing actions of some of our leaders. The semester is only halfway over, and while our reputation as a university is currently in the mud, we can mount “one of the great comebacks in Notre Dame history” by simply getting by — no more and no less. Finishing this semester itself would be an incredible accomplishment, and to do so we need to continue what we’ve been doing regardless of poor examples set by some leadership. Wear a mask, wash your hands, don’t throw a party — you’ve heard these things countless times, and judging by the COVID-19 dashboards, you’ve been listening. Keep it up. 

We’ve been told this semester rests on all of our shoulders. In the same way, we can’t let the actions of one person reflect poorly on us all. It has been encouraging to see so many students diligently wear their masks, follow social distancing requirements and comply with testing procedures on campus.

Nevertheless, let us continue to encourage one another to be safe and responsible. No matter what example our leaders may set — or fail to set — ultimately, we are Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross.

Let’s represent the tri-campus well.

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