Students voice frustration and anxiety regarding Spring semester
The men of Sorin College assembled on February 4, 2020 to discuss the University of Notre Dame’s response to the coronavirus.
With many students expressing concerns regarding the difficulty of building community amidst the university’s COVID policies, Victor Wicks and Ben Breschi, president and vice president of Sorin College, organized an in-person forum, open to all residents, to “give students who have issues with the way COVID is being handled by the administration a platform to voice their concerns in a respectful and constructive manner.” When speaking with the Rover, Wicks described the forum as a “pulse-check for the community; to see how the community was feeling for the next semester.”
Breschi told the Rover: “ I presented the idea even before we came back from break. I was kind of dreading next semester, and I didn’t want to repeat the burnout I experienced last semester… [the restrictions] have taken a toll on what we’ve been able to do with our community.” In the words of the forum planning document, the forum could “benefit the mental health of students who are struggling with restrictions by making their voice heard.”
Everyone in the dorm was invited to the Thursday evening meeting—which took place in the Chapel of Sorin College—including the hall staff and the rector, Fr. Bob Loughery, CSC. Despite the open invitation, the forum had a light turnout, which did not come as a surprise. Breschi told the Rover, “We weren’t expecting a big turnout [for] talking about mental health in a guys’ dorm. What we wanted was a unified voice from the guys who did show up, and that’s what we got.”
After opening statements explaining what the forum was and why they were hosting it, the hall government divided the participants into groups of four to discuss specific concerns.
Many of those who attended expressed anxiety regarding the new Campus Compact. The Campus Compact, which applies to all Notre Dame graduate and undergraduate students, states that “[b]y matriculating and appearing on campus this semester, I [the student] agree to abide by all provisions of this Campus Compact” and must adhere to the potential repercussions of not following the rules. These rules include mandating that students must “wear an appropriate face covering at all times and in all places (both outside and inside) while on University property” with the exception of when students are in their own dorm room. Forum participants expressed particular frustration with this outdoor masking policy as well the restriction on gatherings, which they complained inhibited their ability socialize even in simple ways such as getting meals with friends and studying in groups.
One freshman participant of the forum, Garret Wood, told the Rover, “The biggest thing for me is that there’s a lot of inconsistency between what the administration wants us to do and what is reasonable… The university wants us to build relationships, but when you eat with three people at the dining hall it’s pretty difficult to build a relationship when you have to sit at two different tables.” The complaint of a failed sense of community was echoed by many of the freshmen in attendance.
The most talked of point of the campus compact, however, was the newly instituted consequences for missing surveillance COVID tests and breaking other protocol. “This Administrative Process introduces two potential additional consequences for violations of the Compact: COVID Probation and COVID Dismissal.” The document explains, “COVID Probation” which is the punishment for two missed tests or other Compact violations over the course of the semester, “means that the student faces separation from the University if he or she fails to present for another scheduled test, or has another Compact violation, at any time during the remainder of the semester.” COVID dismissal is expulsion with the option to re-apply to the university next Fall.
With regard to the goal of the forum, Wicks said: “we’re not out to change university policy, we just want to show students that their community is invested in them.” That said, he also made it clear that he does not want the results and potential benefits of a COVID forum to remain within Sorin. Even if he did not intend for the event to “get [the attendees’] hopes up for change,” Wicks explained to the Rover that Sorin was trying to “build a platform on which to pitch to the university… If other dorms feel this way [too], we can build a united front.“
Although no other dorms have hosted such a forum yet, Wicks is hopeful that now that Sorin has laid the groundwork, others will give the residents of their dorms a chance to voice any concerns they may have. He and the rest of Sorin’s hall government compiled a document detailing the procedures for and rationale behind the forum, which he said can serve as a tool for any other dorm considering taking such a step. “We want to have an even larger unified voice with other dorms,” Breschi iterated.“Eventually,” he added, “hopefully we can work with the university.”
Joe DeReuil is a freshman studying PLS, Constitutional Studies, and Classics. He can usually be found interviewing locals on a developing story as to whether the sun really exists in South Bend, even if it is never visible through the clouds. He would appreciate hearing your input at firstname.lastname@example.org.