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Hoops and health: What hitting the 90% vaccination goal means for the Notre Dame community

| Thursday, April 22, 2021

The eve of Thursday, April 15 proved to be an exciting one for the Notre Dame student body. In an email, University President Fr. John Jenkins announced to the campus community that they had succeeded in achieving the “ambitious goal” of vaccinating at least 90% of undergraduate and professional students. Those included in the statistic have either been fully vaccinated or have received the first of a two-dose coronavirus vaccination. Many of the students received this immunization through the mass vaccination site that was held on campus beginning the weekend of April 8.

With the announcement came the highly anticipated new adjustments to COVID protocols that had been promised by the administration. They detailed that starting Wednesday, April 21, guests will be allowed in 24-hour dorm lounges, the maximum number at outdoor informal gatherings will raise from 10 to 25 people and the requirement to wear masks outdoors is eliminated with the exception of gatherings over 25. Furthermore, and most importantly to some students, outdoor basketball rims and volleyball nets were also reinstated.

Since the initial announcement, the mask policy has been amended slightly. Masks will still be required outside if at a University event or if students are told by a HERE ambassador to put one on.

The reason the goal was reached, according to director of campus ministry Fr. Pete McCormick, lies within the student community.

“When it comes to the 90%, we have to make sure that we give a lot of kudos to the Notre Dame student body,” McCormick said. “I mean, it’s entirely about them buying in. It’s entirely about them getting invested in this and believing in the importance of getting vaccinated, period.”

In addition to this motivation, he said, the incentives provided with reaching the goal caused a push among the student body to get vaccinated. This especially rang true with regards to the outdoor basketball hoops on campus.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen, in all of my years here at Notre Dame, more basketball getting played on any given weekend than I did this past weekend,” McCormick said. “The weather was great, and people were just out there having a blast, which is so fun to see.”

Though the rims caused an immediate gratification among students who took advantage of the good weather, their reinstallation, paired with the other adjustments to protocols, had an even greater impact on the community in the form of a collective morale boost on campus after months of struggles due to the pandemic. 

McCormick highlighted that the year has been a hard one for many of the members of the Notre Dame community, with several people feeling the effects of the strain in day-to-day life.

“The image I use is that if you push on something, it has the potential to show the cracks, if you exert enough force,” McCormick explained. “And I think what the semester does by itself is that it oftentimes applies force, and the beauty of that force is that it fosters enough pressure to bring about learning. What I found particularly challenging about COVID is that in addition to the force that normally comes with any given semester at Notre Dame, you also have COVID, which kind of applies an additional [force].”

McCormick described that a struggle that came with the pandemic was in trying to find a sense of equilibrium so students can live their lives while having the ability to continue learning at the level required at an institution like Notre Dame. Finding and keeping this balance can account for the emphasis on health in all forms: mental, physical, spiritual and emotional. All of these components, then, influence the academic life of campus.

Now, with the lessened restrictions, McCormick said, people will be given opportunities to spend more intimate time with each other, which he said is something “all of us are craving in our own ways.” This, in turn, can account greatly for a general lift in the mood on campus. He hopes that this sentiment will continue to be present throughout the rest of the semester.

“I think the momentum that we have kind of caught over the course of the past several days will carry us forward,” McCormick said. 

He noted that in riding his bike throughout campus, he has already been able to tell that the mood is better. The excitement students have about being able to connect with each other on the quads and Library Lawn, McCormick said, meant a lot to him.

While the students were instrumental in achieving the 90% goal, McCormick also acknowledged the “village” it took to get something of this great of a scale done.

“There are so many people who have sacrificed sleep, and time with family and any number of things to be able to ensure that Notre Dame could safely and in person return to campus,” he said. 

Erin Hoffmann Harding, vice president of student affairs, also recognized that the easing of restrictions was a source of “pride and excitement” for the administration as well as the students, as it is the culmination of months of hard work and planning. From a public health standpoint, being able to ease restrictions was a large achievement for them, and she expressed excitement for how it will positively impact the community.

“We have known for a very long time that some of these items were really important to students, and we’re always balancing our responsibility to keep everyone as safe and as healthy as possible, but with the needs and desires to come together and to share life with one another on campus,” Harding said. 

She mentioned a “renewed optimism” that has arisen among students about not only the rest of this semester, but of a more-normal fall semester now that the community at large has been vaccinated. 

“We are so grateful that we have been able to offer some relaxation of, we know, tough asks that we have asked of students over the course of this very challenging year, almost counterintuitive to our community in a normal year to be distant from each other,” she said. 

Nearly a year after Notre Dame announced its plan to return to campus in-person for fall 2020, Hoffmann Harding said the mass vaccination of the campus community can serve as proof of what students can achieve in coming together. Her hope is that the larger Notre Dame community and beyond will take notice of the school’s desire to be in person with one another.

McCormick also reflected on the uncertainty of the past year. In taking on the task of bringing an unvaccinated group together for in-person classes and navigating the uncertainties that came with it, the community grew smarter each day while also apologizing for the moments in which it made mistakes.

“No one gets through COVID perfectly,” McCormick said. “And so what I hope is — I really genuinely truly hope this — that the lessons learned in this particular situation are not that Notre Dame was perfect in its practice of guiding this University community, but that Notre Dame sought to do something bold and have the humility necessary to be able to admit when it was wrong, to adapt and to continue to pursue what we believe matters most, which is the education of both heart and mind of our students.”

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