Notre Dame back in spotlight after president caught in Rose Garden coronavirus storm

Aarthi Swaminathan
·Reporter
·4-min read

Notre Dame is back in the national spotlight after the school’s president, Reverend John Jenkins, tested positive for covid-19 after attending a high-profile event at the White House.

Jenkins was pictured without a mask during a White House event at the Rose Garden nominating Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court on September 26. Some students of the school, which has instituted coronavirus mitigation protocols and briefly suspended in-person classes after an outbreak, immediately started a petition calling for the president to resign.

More than ten attendees — including the President of the United States Donald Trump and Jenkins — have since tested positive for covid-19, the disease caused by coronavirus.

Rev. Jenkins apologized for attending the event and “failing to lead as I should have.”

(GRAPHIC: DAVID FOSTER/YAHOO FINANCE)
(GRAPHIC: DAVID FOSTER/YAHOO FINANCE)

‘Frustrated at the hypocrisy of the lack of leadership’

The situation enraged students at the prestigious university.

“Notre Dame is kind of a good example of like a microcosm of the United States in terms of just people are frustrated at the hypocrisy of the lack of leadership,” Makira Walton, a 21-year-old Notre Dame student, told Yahoo Finance. "It's obviously a very deadly disease and, and we shouldn't just use statistics to discount what is a loss of life that is very personal to some people — I think that kind of gets lost in translation.”

Walton, who co-authored the petition calling for Jenkins’ resignation, added that while she was “very, very thankful that nobody has seemed to have had very serious symptoms from this White House outbreak, including Father Jenkins,” the situation was frustrating since the school’s leader was “in direct breach of the University’s COVID-19 procedures, as he was recorded shaking hands with several unmasked individuals and photographed sitting without a mask in close proximity to other attendees.”

In this Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, photo former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, front second from right, speaks with others after President Donald Trump announces Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his nominee to the Supreme Court in the Rose Garden of the White House, in Washington. Notre Dame President Father John Jenkins stands at back right. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
In this Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, photo former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, front second from right, speaks with others after President Donald Trump announces Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his nominee to the Supreme Court in the Rose Garden of the White House, in Washington. Notre Dame President Father John Jenkins stands at back right. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

“It's frustrating,” Patrick Kelly-Dutile, one of the authors of the petition for Rev. Jenkins to resign, told Yahoo Finance. He noted the stress of “having gone through the entire process in the late spring … of going home early from last school year, and having to finish the year remotely, and then going through the lockdown when the entire summer, having to take these sort of preventative measures.”

The political science and Spanish double major, a junior, has been living on campus housing since early August and was supposed to be studying abroad in London this semester.

“The president of the university — who has brought forth these guidelines for us to follow — deciding that maybe they don't apply to him,” Kelly-Dutile added, “that seems kind of hypocritical.”

Jenkins penned an op-ed in the New York Times back in May stating that “what we most need now, alongside science, is that kind of courage and the practical wisdom it requires” and adding that in reopening, the school is taking a “courageous” stance “as we face the threat of the virus and seek to continue our mission of education and inquiry.”

Sep 12, 2020; Notre Dame, Indiana, USA; A sign at the campus entrance to the University of Notre Dame reminds students, staff and visitors of the mandatory mask policy on campus before the football game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Duke Blue Devils at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
A sign at the campus entrance to the University of Notre Dame reminds students, staff and visitors of the mandatory mask policy on campus before the football game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Duke Blue Devils at Notre Dame Stadium. (PHOTO: Matt Cashore/USA TODAY Sports)

Walton, a marketing major with a minor in constitutional studies, stressed that “I honestly don't even know what he could do other than resign. I don't know, maybe give up his salary to make sure that like Notre Dame helped, like cleaning staff is like actually compensated fairly for all of the overtime and risk that they're putting themselves into.”

At the same time, Notre Dame recently relaxed some of its rules after a drop in testing positivity rate. As of October 4, only 2 cases had been reported, and the 7-day positivity rate for the school was 0.7%.

Changes include:

  • Students are allowed to eat at designated indoor spaces now, rather than to be confined to their dorm room

  • The allowable number of people at “informal gatherings” has increased to 20 (but social distancing is advised)

  • The number of people students can have “two additional residents” in their dorm room provided they are masked, they socially distance themselves, and “leave doors open”

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