In the months since the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic first hit the globe, our Notre Dame community has been challenged, along with the rest of the world, to hold up under the pressures created by this new way of life. For one, we have adjusted to social distancing protocols—in the classroom, on the quads, in the dining halls, the residence halls, libraries, and athletic arenas, among other campus spaces.
The situation has us, like many other communities around the world, asking what "community" means to us now that we aren't all able to gather together.
Because Notre Dame is a remarkable community, however, we are proving that community can happen from a distance. Students, professors, alumni, faculty, friends of the University, and the South Bend area around campus have created new ways to connect with and support one another.
On campus, efforts to preserve the undergraduate student experience have resulted in innovations that allow us to care for the health and safety of everyone. Professors hold office hours over Zoom. Students gather six feet apart across the fire tables between the Eck Visitors Center and Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore. Choral groups record and share their music. The spring semester Career Fair has gone virtual.
We continue to find ways to serve our community and the world because that's who we are.
"I'm so lucky [being at] Notre Dame," says first-year student Rob Rucki.
Rucki, an intended finance major from Hamel, MN, spent most of Notre Dame's 10-week Winter Session at home. During this time he caught up with friends who were only able to attend online classes at other universities. Rucki returned to the Notre Dame campus with a new appreciation for the University's efforts. "I've definitely had the best [possible] experience," he says. It may have been slightly different from the first semester of college he imagined, but Rucki still felt welcomed into his new school and community.
In large and small ways, the Notre Dame family continues to meet the challenge of building community and connection—specifically for undergraduate students—throughout the pandemic.
Below is a far-from-exhaustive list of ways we've done that in the past year.
10 Ways We Built Community During the Pandemic
1. We Opened the Library Lawn
“'Put up outdoor string lights, and people will come.' The presence of the Library Lawn has once again created a campus space where all feel welcome and comfortable. As long as the weather lasts, it will continue to be a popular spot to do homework with classmates, make s’mores with friends and to congregate under one of our iconic campus symbols."
2. We Held the (Amazing) Annual Activities Fair—Virtually
The Activities Fair is an annual event and tradition at Notre Dame. It's a first-year student's foray into campus life outside of their residence hall and an introduction to our many student groups. But that description doesn't really capture the energy of the event.
The truth is that students come away: one, signed up for more activities than they planned, and two, signed up for activities they didn't have an interest in to begin with.
The students running the groups and staffing the "tables" at the Activities Fair are so passionate about what they do that their enthusiasm is contagious.
Never gone rock-climbing before? We'll teach you!
Love sports and Irish culture? Welcome to the Gaelic Athletic Association of Notre Dame!
Want to investigate U.S. foreign policy? Serve refugees? Learn first aid? We've got you.
Plus, there are door prizes!
3. We Pulled off a Socially Distanced—but Still Welcoming—Welcome Week(end)
A student's first weekend at Notre Dame has traditionally been called Welcome Weekend. It has now been expanded to Welcome Week to allow extra time to incorporate social distancing protocols into the experience.
For students and families, the week includes moving into the student's residence hall, meeting roommates, getting to know hallmates and staff, and sessions with University leaders, faculty, and various staff from student service units on campus.
The week is filled with special moments, including a first trip to the Grotto as a class. Students often meet the friends they'll spend the most time with over the next four years.
4. We Practiced Yoga at Notre Dame Stadium
5. We Continued to Serve the Local Community
We love South Bend! We're proud of our home and we are always looking for ways to serve the community around the Notre Dame campus.
Pandemic or no, we found ways to give.
6. We Gathered for Unity and Justice
Last June, we practiced social distancing during the Prayer for Unity, Walk for Justice event.
In remarks to more than 1,000 attendees on campus and many more online, Father Jenkins remembered tragedies of the past, including the deaths of Emmett Till, Medgar Evers and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., as well as those of more recent times, from Eric Garner to Breonna Taylor to the congregants of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
7. We Relied on Our Faith
In difficult times, we turn to each other and to our faith. Opportunities abound for practicing faith in person in socially-distanced ways, from weekly Mass at your residence hall to music ministry to personal spiritual direction.
But we also watched Mass via live stream, among other virtual options.
We are a Catholic university, but all faiths are welcome and supported at Notre Dame.
8. We Got Creative
A quick glance at the University event calendar will show you just how active this campus is. Every college, office, and center that offers unique events for students moved their content online or figured out a way to hold events with social distancing in place.
Experiential learning (research included), work, career discernment, and art of all kinds informed and inspired us during a challenging year.
Here are just a few examples of unique campus events:
- Expand Your Mind Scholar Series, featuring such talks as 'Phantom of the Opera' Is Not an Opera: What It Actually Means to Be an 'Opera Singer' in the 21st Century
- Notre Dame Energy Week
- The Notre Dame Law School celebrated 100 years of women's right to vote: 19th Amendment Centennial
- Kylemore Book Club: Literature and Film in Lockdown
- Flash Panel: "Belarus: Last Days of the Last European Dictatorship?" (Part of a lecture series hosted by the Nanovic Institue for European Studies)
9. We Stuck to a Game Plan
If you love football, you're among friends. Not familiar with it? No worries, we'll welcome you to the game and teach you how it's played.
We've also got a plan for getting through Game Day during a pandemic. With Notre Dame Stadium at a decreased capacity last season, social distancing was maintained and everyone on campus continued to follow mask protocols.
Students still showed up, cheered, and celebrated every victory, reveling in the camaraderie of game day and supporting the Irish football team.
10. We Looked for Opportunities to Celebrate
This sentiment has been no different from a normal year on campus, but events like the Halloween Spooktacular at North Dining Hall, food trucks at the football stadium, and big wheel races on Library Lawn took on special meaning for us.
Good old fashioned fun brought us together (six feet apart) encouraged us, and reminded us that even during a pandemic, it is still possible to be part of something bigger than yourself.