Indiana College Students Plead 'Don't Make Us Write Obituaries' in COVID-19 Newspaper Editorial

The students from the University of Notre Dame, Saint Mary's College and Holy Cross College begged their campus communities to "do everything within their power" to take the coronavirus seriously

Notre Dame
Students at Notre Dame University. Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty

Students from three colleges and universities near South Bend, Indiana, are pleading with their campus communities to take the coronavirus seriously so that they don't have to write obituaries for their peers, professors, and other campus employees.

In an editorial published on Friday in The Observer, the student-run newspaper for the University of Notre Dame, Saint Mary's College and Holy Cross College, students spoke out about their concerns over the virus and begged for the tri-campus community to stay vigilant in order to curb the spread.

"We — as students, faculty, staff and administrators — need to share responsibility for the outbreak on our hands," the editorial read. "We longed to return to South Bend while in quarantine last semester. Now, we are at risk of hurting the community we’ve come to know and love."

"Don’t make us write a tri-campus employee’s obituary. Don’t make us write an administrator’s obituary. Don’t make us write a custodian’s obituary," they continued. "Don’t make us write a dining hall worker’s obituary. Don’t make us write a professor’s obituary. Don’t make us write a classmate’s obituary. Don’t make us write a friend’s obituary. Don’t make us write a roommate’s obituary. Don’t make us write yours."

Last Tuesday, Notre Dame halted in-person classes for two weeks following a surge of COVID-19 cases just eight days after beginning its fall semester.

An announcement made by the university's president Rev. John I. Jenkins noted that most of the positive cases were students who lived off-campus and attended gatherings where people did not wear masks or abide by social distancing guidelines.

However, in Friday's editorial, the students argued that this wasn't the only reason for the recent outbreaks and claimed the university and nearby colleges in South Bend weren't doing enough to help curb the spread.

"The University administration has largely blamed the COVID-19 outbreak on students attending off-campus parties. While this isn’t entirely misplaced, it has been used to deflect responsibility from the very administrations that insisted they were prepared for us to return to campus," they wrote. "Clearly, they were not."

The editorial board argued that "inefficient" contact tracing and isolation/quarantine accommodations, as well as flaws and delays in testing methods, were to blame for the rise in cases and represented "a gross oversight on the part of the administration" that put the "health and safety of the tri-campus and South Bend communities in serious danger."

They also pointed out that there was a lack of communication and transparency with administrators, especially at Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross, which "only compounds the worry and anxiety felt by students, faculty and staff alike."

"If we’ve learned anything in the past months, it’s to take nothing for granted," the editorial read. "The expectation that everyday life will continue as it always has can no longer exist. As redundant as it sounds, the next two weeks will shape the trajectory for the rest of the semester and perhaps the ones to follow."

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"We implore members of the tri-campus community to do everything within their power to approach this virus in an appropriate and serious manner," they finished. "Otherwise, we fear the worst is yet to come."

In response to the claims, Notre Dame's Vice President for Public Affairs and Communications, Paul J. Browne, tells PEOPLE, "As was made clear in the university's letter to students on August 18 and The Observer editorial three days later, we're on the same page."

"Students, faculty and staff are all in this together, and it's only by working together that we can stay safe and continue to stay on campus for the remainder of the semester," Browne adds.

In their own statement, a spokesperson for Holy Cross College tells PEOPLE, "From the beginning of Holy Cross College’s decision to have in-person classes this fall, we have sent regular emails to students/families outlining our protocols including videos from Rev. David. T. Tyson, C.S.C., college president highlighting the importance of working together to navigate during these challenging times."

"Signage with protocols has been displayed around campus making sure that all community members are aware of their responsibilities while on campus. We have kept constant communication with our college community with letters from Andrew Polaniecki, dean of students, and placed all information on the College website... Being on a small campus, we have tried to maintain a balance of keeping our community informed while keeping a person’s personal information private."

A spokesperson at Saint Mary’s College added to PEOPLE: "We hear the concerns raised by the Observer editorial board with compassion and understanding. They voice a growing concern that will certainly be echoed by institutions across the country."

"As a condition to moving in (for residential students) or attending class (for off-campus students), we required all students to provide a negative COVID-19 test result. We also prepared for the eventuality of positive cases within our community, by having rigorous resources in place — adaptable quarantine/isolation spaces, on-campus testing and contact tracing, flexible academic modalities, unprecedented cleaning/sanitation measures, among others."

"The student leaders at The Observer have shown maturity and expressed the critical thinking skills we teach at Saint Mary’s. We are proud of the editorial team for challenging us as a tri-campus community to do better, to be better. Through scientific research and following the advice of our national and local health organizations, we will continue to adapt our testing and tracing to better capture positive cases before they grow," the statement from Saint Mary's finished.

As of Monday, there have been at least 87,942 cases and 3,220 deaths attributed to coronavirus in Indiana, according to the New York Times. In St. Joseph County, where Notre Dame, Saint Mary's and Holy Cross are all located, at least 4,245 cases and 93 deaths have been reported, according to the Times.

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