Letter to administration on students’ mental health garners over 1,500 signatures
Alysa Guffey | Monday, March 1, 2021
In response to the University’s restrictive on-campus COVID-19 policies, a letter has been circulating around the Notre Dame community asking University officials to reevaluate the policies in order to protect students’ mental health.
The letter had 1,576 signatures as of Thursday afternoon, including 964 students — roughly 11% of the undergraduate student body.
The letter requested University officials relax the dorm guest policies, allow student organizations to hold in-person events and revise the lack of due process in the Campus Compact. Signatories also asked for communications to be reviewed by mental health professionals to increase messages of hope on campus among a number of other requests.
While the letter and the push to the administration have been largely student-run, parents and community members have also backed up the pleas, stressing that students’ mental health is being negatively harmed with rules on campus.
“The policies have created a culture of distrust and toxicity which is the antithesis of what had been the Notre Dame ethos — that of community and love,” the letter said. “As parents, we fear that the damage the school’s policies are inflicting on our student’s well-being will remain long after Covid is gone.”
The letter allows for both name signatures and anonymous signatures. Another concern the letter addressed was the fear to speak out against the current policies on campus.
“In closing, many people have told us they are afraid of retribution from both the university and other students if they sign this document. This alone is a reason for Notre Dame to take notice. The students on your campus are afraid to have an open and honest conversation about their basic rights,” the letter said.
The Observer reached out to multiple people who authored the petition and declined to comment on the record.
The letter had been circulated through Facebook groups and a dedicated Instagram page — @standup_nd — that is meant to be a safe space for students to make friends and express concerns.
On Sunday, the Instagram page published anonymous concerns shared via submissions by students and parents to a google form.
Vice president of student affairs Erin Hoffmann Harding responded to the petition Saturday morning on behalf of University officials. In the email obtained by The Observer, Hoffman Harding said the University shares the petitioners’ concerns about mental health for students, and the University offers an array of mental health services to support students during this difficult time.
“We are hopeful that a slowing of activity on campus will help reduce case counts and enable us to return to the activities and visitation rules we all want to offer our students,” the email said.
Other members of the Notre Dame community have responded to the letter as well, including political science professor Jim McAdams.
In the response obtained by the Observer, McAdams described the requests in the petition as “disturbing and disappointing.”
A professor since 1992, McAdams explained how he chose to teach in the classroom this academic year, despite being 66. He said he has seen some of his students become very sick from catching the virus and that the current restrictions are in place to protect students.
McAdams added that students are doing “not well” at observing CDC guidelines on mask-wearing and social distancing and that while numbers are down nationally, numbers on campus are still very high.
“They still attend large off-campus parties,” McAdadms said. “This semester, they are also engaging in similarly worrisome on-campus events. Anyone who has seen the infamous video of the snowball and saber-fight in which scores of students converged into an unprotected scrum knows what I mean.”
First-year Matt Fischer said he signed the letter because he was concerned that the Notre Dame community was losing its identity.
“[I] kind of had this vision of what Notre Dame would be like in terms of community because that was kind of one the main reasons why I came here just because it’s unique and special [but] once I got here, it was just a very different scene,” Fischer said.
Fischer and one of his current roommates, first-year James DeMaria, said they struggled last semester to hang out with friends and meet new people in the pandemic climate. Over winter break, Fischer and DeMaria asked their rector if they could become roommates this semester so it would be easier to hang out. DeMaria said their rector was very accommodating on the request.
“He said like anything I can say yes to, I’m going to because I want you guys to still enjoy some normalcy and be able to have fun,” DeMaria said.
Still, DeMaria said he feels isolated in some ways and sees the same amongst his peers.
“I think a lot of what people are struggling with is feeling confined and feeling isolated and not being able to make new friends,” DeMaria said.
Fischer agreed, adding that he feels the communication is off between the administration and student body, especially in regard to what the future looks like.
“There’s no consistency among the rules. There’s no sense of, ‘Is this going to get better or is this what we’re looking at for the next four years?’” Fischer said.