Updates for Student Life This Fall

Author: Erin Hoffmann Harding

Dear Students,

We are truly excited for your return to Notre Dame next week, though I realize this will be a challenging semester as we all adjust to necessary changes on campus. I write today to ensure you are aware of our updated plans related to student life during the fall semester. All of the information contained in this letter is also available on the University’s central website.

As I indicated in my June 22 emailwe will begin the semester cautiously so we can reopen the University successfully. The safety of you, our faculty, and our staff is our top priority, and scientific knowledge about transmission of the virus continues to develop. We are continually monitoring the effectiveness and necessity of our protocols, which were formulated based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), infectious disease specialists at the Cleveland Clinic, and local health officials.

Because COVID-19 cases have risen nationally and in Indiana since I last wrote to you, this letter includes some additional precautions we have adopted. On the other hand, we remain committed to relaxing guidelines over time if campus and local infection rates lower. Please know we will be flexible this fall and ready to adapt to changing conditions.

Updates on Returning to Campus

Pre-matriculation testing is in progress. The final testing kits were sent to students at the beginning of this week. LabCorp is experiencing some unexpected delays in arrival due to FedEx. Once you receive your test, please complete it and ship it to LabCorp as soon as possible. As national demand for tests increases, we continue to monitor lab processing time. Thank you for your patience with this important requirement. 

Last week, I emailed all new and returning students about required pre-matriculation training. You must complete this training by Friday, July 31, including the Return to Campus Orientation (all students), specific modules of Building Community the Notre Dame Way, and AlcoholEdu (required only for new undergraduate students).

You should have also heard from your college, school, or program about new academic policies that have been adopted, including a voluntary leave of absence for returning undergraduate students. If these are choices that interest you or your family, please contact your academic advisor or the Center for Student Support and Care.

Undergraduate students move into residence halls between August 1-9. Thank you in advance for adhering to health and safety practices regarding limited appointment times and guests. The Welcome Week programs for new undergraduate students have been published, and the Graduate Student Orientation schedule is also available. We look forward to welcoming our new students to Notre Dame!

Weather permitting, we will close Welcome Week and open the new school year on Sunday evening with an All-Student Mass in Notre Dame Stadium. Additional details are forthcoming.

Updates on Living, Eating, and Praying in Community

The University’s welcome back packages will be distributed upon your return in a variety of ways. They include a refillable hand sanitizer, digital thermometer, and five masks. Sanitizer refill pumps will be available in each residence hall, the Duncan Student Center, and the LaFortune Student Center.

Undergraduate residence halls protocols have been an area of careful study, given that we will have 6,700 students living on campus in a variety of room configurations. Living in community matters deeply to us, but we also recognize that it requires extra precautions during this pandemic - similar to other congregate living settings. We want you to feel fully at home in your room, so you do not need to wear masks in your assigned rooms or with your roommate. All residents and guests must, however, wear masks in all other rooms and common spaces, including hallways and lounges. During these early weeks of the fall semester, students should use hall common spaces to gather with other students who are not their assigned roommate(s). Since I last wrote, we confirmed we can make shared kitchens and hall fitness rooms available through appointments. We have also finalized locations for Sunday Masses so residence halls can either utilize another campus space weekly or celebrate multiple Masses each Sunday in their own chapel.

Campus Dining has also made adjustments over the past few weeks, with more details available here. Indiana remains in a phased approach to congregate dining, so North and South Dining Halls will begin the semester by offering take out only. Students may take meals to tents on North Quad and South Quad, the LaFortune and Duncan Student Centers, the Pizza Pi patio, the concrete pads outside the Duncan Student Center, other outdoor campus locations or their residence hall rooms. To offset this change in service and provide greater flexibility and dining options, we have added more flex points this semester to on-campus meal plans. As a reminder, any unused flex points will roll from the fall to spring semester. Please confirm if you would like to opt into one of this year’s alternative meal plans here no later than Monday, Aug. 24. Students will be able to check the capacity and wait times for both dining halls via the ND Mobile app. Wait times for the retail outlets in the Duncan Student Center, the LaFortune Student Center, Au Bon Pain, and Garbanzo are also available in the GrubHub app.

Updates on Nurturing Your Health and Well-Being

Four simple practices will help keep you and our entire community as healthy as possible this fall. In the late June survey conducted by the McDonald Center for Student Well-Being, 90% of students indicated they are ready to comply with our health and safety practices. Another 8% of students were unsure, giving us the opportunity to explain why we have adopted these practices and offer education.

  1. Wear a mask. The latest scientific studies suggest that wearing masks reduces transmission significantly by preventing the exchange of droplets and spread from asymptomatic carriers. Wearing masks is perhaps the most important thing we can do to minimize COVID-19 infection, and they are now required in all of Indiana.
  2. Practice physical distancing. Again, evidence currently available suggests distancing by 6 feet or more reduces spread substantially through the air. While staying physically apart is counter cultural in many ways, it is one of the best strategies we can use to stay together this fall.
  3. Wash your hands often. While scientists believe people acquire COVID-19 most frequently through droplets, good hand hygiene ensures you do not become infected through contact with surfaces or physical touch. This practice also prevents other common illnesses like the flu.
  4. Complete your daily health check. We launched the Return to Campus Advisor earlier this week. This tool will help us all keep track of our health as we establish new cultural norms, and also provide you with advice about next steps if you develop symptoms. If you are concerned about COVID-19 symptoms, please contact University Health Services at 574-631-0603.

As you know, the University has opened a University Testing Center and reserved quarantine and isolation space for on-campus students who test positive or are in close contact with an infected person. Let me address some important concerns students have raised about testing and contact tracing.

  • Getting tested is a way we can care for and help one another. Do not hesitate to get tested when needed, and know there are many resources available to support you if you need to enter quarantine or isolation. You will not be alone, and we will ensure you can continue to attend class and connect virtually with others.
  • Sharing information with contact tracers is protected health information. Details about who you were in contact with, when, and where will not be shared for disciplinary reasons. Communicating openly with contact tracers helps us better control the spread of the virus and allows us to remain on campus together.

Finally, McWell’s summer survey confirmed that many of you are worried about your emotional well-being as we enter the fall. 82% of students are somewhat concerned or more, with 37% very or extremely concerned. Reach out to your residence hall staff, Campus Ministry, the Center for Student Support and Care, the University Counseling Center, the McDonald Center for Student Well-Being, or University Health Services. Your well-being matters to us, and we stand ready to help one another through these difficult times. We are in the final stages of adding additional telehealth and teletherapy resources, so watch for more details as classes begin. Similarly, 90% of you are concerned about your professional futures, and the Meruelo Family Center for Career Development is eager to accompany both undergraduate and graduate students as we navigate this difficult economic environment.

Father Jenkins and I have also written several times this summer about racism and its impact on our community and nation. Encouragingly, 98% of students affirmed in our survey they want to help make our campus a place free from racism and any discrimination based on an individual's identity. I will write more about inclusion and opportunities for us to engage in civil discourse as the semester begins. In the meantime, remember, you can help by speaking up to your peers, especially if you are in a majority group, and by reporting when hurtful instances occur. We can make our campus more inclusive and welcoming one greeNDot at a time.

Enabling Student Formation Through Facilities and Programming

The Student Activities Office has updated its club and organization guidelines and protocols to help you program safely. As I indicated in June, attendance must be taken at all in-person events and meetings to allow for contract tracing if needed and, per the University's Visitor Policy, outside speakers or performers are not permitted for in person engagements, but can be contracted virtually. Due to adherence with public health practices, student group travel and off campus events, indoor choral activities, student dances, races and runs, and the student group concession stand program are suspended. While the intention is for student group policies to remain in place for the Fall 2020 semester, we will continue to learn from and adapt our shared experiences based on the most up-to-date public health guidance.

Understanding the expectations surrounding our new normal, many students have asked what they can do to connect with one another and have fun. This is a great question, and we are ready to help make safe opportunities possible. Division of Student Affairs staff look forward to working with you to envision creative new ways for our community to learn and grow together, and Student Welfare and Development in Notre Dame Athletics has developed a list to help students navigate the level of risk of different activities. Here are a few pieces of advice:

  1. Be creative about virtual engagement. We are already working to bring virtual artists and comedians to you, and making additional venues like Notre Dame Stadium available for students to reserve. Here is a list of additional places you can reserve for programs this fall.
  2. Gather outdoors whenever and wherever possible. Campus and our local area offer beautiful parks, lakes, and grounds. We have added furniture and tents around campus for you to gather in safer ways. Here is a list of outdoor places to go and be together. Bring a blanket to campus, so you can take advantage of our quads with these extra weeks of summer weather. As you know, you do not need to wear a mask outdoors as long as you are able to maintain physical distance.
  3. Choose smaller versus larger gatherings. Connecting with friends is essential to your well-being, but choose lower risk options. Avoid large gatherings indoors, because that is the environment where the virus spreads more readily. Please adhere to health and safety practices with respect to mask use both on and off campus. If you eat together, opt for individual servings. Do not share serveware or glassware.
  4. Try a new form of exercise or sport. While we cannot offer many beloved contact sports this fall, we will offer ample opportunities to compete and workout. RecSports will offer new, lower risk sports during its Intramural Sport competition this fall. RecSports will also work with all club sport leaders to explore safe ways to keep their clubs active this fall, even if aspects of competition and travel will be limited. Click here to learn more about available RecSports programs and facilities.
  5. Choose safe social options. This is not a semester for playing hard after a week of working hard. Those patterns will immediately put our ability to stay on campus at risk. Alcohol and other drugs reduce inhibitions and negatively impact individuals’ ability to wear masks or practice physical distancing. Instead, relax and socialize with your friends by using the strategies above.

We Are Here for You and with You

Again, we cannot wait to see you next week. Thank you for your commitment to honoring our health and safety practices and working with us to adjust these protocols as the semester progresses. Please be patient and kind to one another as we adjust to this ever evolving situation. I understand some of the constraints we face this fall are significant, and I share your disappointment in the ways this virus has changed our lives. At the same time, I believe that being together on campus is infinitely better than being apart. We can get through this time together and still build community with one another. Travel safely back to us!  

In Notre Dame,

Erin Hoffmann Harding
Vice President for Student Affairs