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Observer Editorial: Where we stand

| Friday, November 6, 2020

Well, we’re almost there.

After a semester like none of us have ever experienced before, we have less than three weeks until the end. It’s safe to say this year has not been what any of us expected — or wanted — and the challenges faced by the tri-campus have been significant.

As of Friday, over 1,400 tri-campus students, faculty and staff have tested positive for COVID-19 since August, according to the Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross dashboards. Still more have spent days, or even weeks, in quarantine and isolation. Nearly 50% of the Notre Dame student body is under “severe mental distress,” and in addition to the normal stresses and strains of college, two first-year students died at the end of October, and a member of the sophomore class was severely injured.

It has been a difficult semester.

Following Halloween weekend and ahead of the Clemson game, Notre Dame is seeing an average of 22.6 new cases a day — and the numbers continue to rise. The Saint Mary’s quarantine and isolation space is overflowing. Students have been hospitalized, had to return home or suffered long-term health effects from the virus, making it clear that COVID-19 doesn’t end after the mandatory 10-day isolation or 14-day quarantine period. It’s fairly clear our campuses are in the midst of a second outbreak of COVID-19 similar to the one we experienced in August.

COVID-19 cases have also been steadily increasing in the greater South Bend community, as the actions of tri-campus students extend beyond the tri-campus bubble. To those returning to South Bend to spend winter break in off-campus housing, please consider how your actions are affecting the vulnerable populations, both local and beyond.

Additionally, this second outbreak comes right as students are about to travel home for the holidays to see potentially vulnerable family members. While we applaud the University for making exit testing mandatory, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross have yet to do the same. This plan is crucial to protect those outside of our bubble. Community doesn’t end when we step off campus.

With all this considered, the University using these difficult experiences as an opportunity to further its marketing campaign isn’t inspirational. It’s tone-deaf and insulting. Decals with trite sayings — such as framing a semester of extreme stress and anxiety as a one-off question in a job interview — are harmful, diminutive and not the encouraging push students need to finish the semester strong.

In a prior editorial, we said that merely making it through this semester would be an accomplishment. That is still true. To the tri-campus students, staff and faculty who have made enormous sacrifices to help keep us here — we applaud you.

The administrations have made sacrifices and adjustments to keep us here since the beginning of the semester, but at what cost? Almost 1,500 COVID-19 cases, a negative impact on the local community, diminished student mental health and the jeopardization of the health and wellbeing of students’ families are just some. If students are expected to return to campus for the spring semester, something must change. Hopefully, we can learn from this semester and do better.

To our leaders: Students cannot function without a break. We appreciate the addition of mini breaks and reading days throughout the spring semester, but please remember burnout can strike students regardless of time off. It can be mentally and academically debilitating, especially amid these unprecedented and uncertain circumstances. Additionally, greater options must be made available for students who do not wish to return to campus next semester but must continue academic coursework.

To tri-campus faculty: Please continue to be understanding of the challenges students are facing, and know we see your struggles, too.

To our classmates: Remember your actions affect not only just you and your peers, but also the wider tri-campus and South Bend communities.

See you there — and by that, we mean next semester.

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