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‘We are Holy Cross Saints’: Holy Cross builds identity, fosters community through Spirit Week

| Monday, February 15, 2021

No mass gatherings. No hosting guests inside rooms. Long-awaited study abroad plans cancelled, and some classes switched to Zoom. To top it all off, the spring semester began with frosty weather and grey skies. The school year and plans students had anticipated seemed to evaporate.

Despite the dreary scenario, Holy Cross College was determined to boost morale and increase the sense of community within the institution. As a result, Holy Cross’s first-ever Spirit Week and Spes UniCup were born.

“We needed to find some actual ways to think of our place and our home as somewhere where, even though we have these things like masks and physical distancing, we can still have a sense of fellowship, a sense of community, a sense of identity, a sense of belonging, as we move forward in the semester, Andrew Polaniecki, Holy Cross’s dean and vice president of student life, said.

With this desire to instill a sense of belonging and provide some fun, hall directors Timothy Cleaver and Julia Wall began brainstorming in September. Wall said there were many considerations to be made: firstly, what could be done under a restrictive setting, and also, how to integrate the “different aspects of what it means to be a Holy Cross student,namely the four pillars of scholar, citizen leader and disciple.

After months of planning, Wall took inspiration from her husband — a sociology graduate student at Notre Dame — to think of ways of bolstering identity.

“His master’s thesis was on how a sense of identity can be built by competition. So listening to him talk about that, I was like, ‘Oh, wait, we’re trying to build a sense of identity. I know, we should probably do a competition.’ And so that’s kind of where the seed of the idea came from, Wall said.

The result was a week filled with events ranging from wearing the school’s maroon and grey colors to a night snowball fight that left the quad “looking like hamburger, Wall said. The hall rector said one of the highlights of the week was Friday’s scavenger hunt, since it brought the students together.

“Each dorm was one team for the scavenger hunt, and they’re all running around taking photos. We got some really creative responses. They started chanting little chants that they made up for their own dorms, Wall said. “And so kind of that that sense of spirit, that sense of pride in their halls, and then, just in general, in being a Holy Cross Saint, it was really great to see that energy on campus, especially in February.

Courtesy of Timothy Cleaver
Holy Cross College celebrated their first-ever Spirit Week to boost morale and community in light of the pandemic.

Other activities included the display of the dorms’ newly designed crests, collecting donations for the Catholic Worker, a game-watch for Holy Cross’s basketball team, an open mic night sponsored by Campus Ministry and Saints for Life, an espresso bar and carriage rides and a capture-the-crest competition followed by a hot cocoa and Taco Bell reception.

The eventful week culminated with an award ceremony in which Anselm Hall was declared as the winner. But, before receiving the Spes UniCup Trophy, Polaniecki gave a “a rousing and dramatic speech, Hall said, about their victory and even knighted the hall’s Spirit Leader, freshman Nathan Cavazos, with a replica “Lord of the Rings sword.

Cavazos, along with the other five halls’ Spirit Leaders, was tasked with motivating his team on and letting them know about the events — a “stressful yet joy-filled role. He said the Spirit Week had been a successful event, and that he hoped other activities similar to it would happen throughout the rest of the semester.

“Good competition, and it was fun. I think it brought a lot of us closer to different people, Cavazos said. “I hope they do continue stuff like this and to keep us busy. Keep the camaraderie and competition between the halls, and, yeah, I look forward to like anything that comes.

After a successful installation of a new tradition, Polaniecki said there was a lesson to be learned by the entire tri-campus community: the education of the heart and the mind can take place in the course of complicated and difficult times.

“The lesson learned here is that our communities coming together for the common purpose of fellowship in the, in the environment of the education of our minds and hearts. So it’s an extension to the relationships and fellowship that take place in our halls, that are an extension of the education of the mind and the heart, Polaniecki said. “And that’s something that can take place, and that we can be thoughtful and intentional about, even in the midst of something like a pandemic.

For her part, Wall considered that one of the greatest take-aways of Holy Cross’s Spirit Week is our ability to still engage and relate with one another by focusing on the things we can actually do.

“There’s been a lot of focus in this past year of the things that we can’t do, because we’re trying to be healthy and trying to be safe. And I think this past week might really show the extent of what we can do, Wall said. “We can foster community, we can have fun. We can build these relationships and make the most of the time we have now. Even if the time that we have now isn’t quite what we would expect it to be in a normal year.

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