“Don’t Make Us Write Obituaries.” That’s the headline on an editorial published Friday on the front of a special four-page edition of the Observer, the student newspaper serving the University of Notre Dame, where there are 336 cases of coronavirus, 10 days into the semester. Earlier this week, the school suspended in-person classes, shut down common spaces, and banned large gatherings. But student journalists say it’s not enough, citing the fact that administrators were clearly not prepared to handle the students who had returned to campus. “We implore members of the tri-campus community”—that’s Notre Dame, St. Mary’s College, and Holy Cross College—“to do everything within their power to approach this virus in an appropriate and serious manner,” they write. They are very serious themselves—they ended the op-ed repeating their plea: “don’t make us write a professor’s obituary,” “don’t make us write a friend’s obituary,” “don’t make us write yours.”
I spoke to Maria Leontaras, the Observer’s editor in chief and a senior at St. Mary’s, about what the paper hopes administrators will do, and why they decided to run an emergency print edition of the paper. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Shannon Palus: Who came up with the idea for the headline?
Maria Leontaras: The opinion section editor, Nelisha Silva, came up with the headline. We were on an emergency Zoom call, and we were looking at each other, like, “what are we going to do, what are we going to say.” Nelisha said she’s been thinking about this for a while, before coming back on campus, the possibility of having to write an obituary for anyone in the tri-campus community. She said, “I have an idea for a headline, ‘don’t make us write obituaries.’ ” We all just sat there for a moment and let that sink in.
Why does the editorial appear in a special edition of the paper?
One of our new guidelines [as of Tuesday] is that students are not allowed to travel to different campuses, and we’re not allowed to have large group meetings. As a St. Mary’s student, I can’t go to our main Observer office, over at Notre Dame. We had to cancel production, we’re doing online production instead. No more physical papers for the time being.
So how did this paper get produced?
Last night [Thursday], I and one of the assistant managing editors, Sarah Schlect, went to the basement of the St. Mary’s library and we found a computer and we did the physical page production just the two of us. Everyone was copy-editing from whatever location they were at. I arrived at the basement at 7 p.m. We ended up leaving the library at 2:45 a.m.
Why was it so important to have this issue and this editorial in print?
It was very important to me that in this moment we have a physical copy to hold and look at in the future, to signal the changes we’re making to our paper, the message that we want to send to everyone, and to highlight some of the news that’s most important.
We have our Scene graphic on the back.
Explain the Scene graphic?
Scene is our arts and culture section. The Scene editor, Ryan Israel, came up with this idea. The graphic is a take on the Kanye West song, “No More Parties in LA.”* It’s in the same font, but it’s green, and says, “No More Parties at ND.” People have been hanging them up around the campuses.
What do you hope administrators who read the issue will take away from it?
We just really want more transparency, from all three administrations. More information on COVID cases—how many people are in quarantine and isolation, what’s the demographic breakdown of the people who are testing positive—to be available to the community members, and other people who are looking at our campuses as an example of what to expect for the fall. We hope that students can see there are things that students can be doing better.
What’s been the more confusing aspect of being back at school?
What a lot of people are finding confusing is what to do if you think you have COVID symptoms. We have guidelines, but sometimes when you call your campus health center, you might not get a call back, you might have to call again. What do I do if this person I saw for 20 minutes tested positive, and I saw them a week ago—things like that have been confusing.
What is the testing protocol?
Before coming to campus, we had to get a COVID test, and St. Mary’s had to confirm that they got our negative result. At St. Mary’s, if you have severe symptoms or have been in close contact with someone who tested positive, St. Mary’s will test you.
Is there going to be any kind of surveillance testing, where you just go get a test just to make sure you don’t have it even if you don’t have symptoms?
Notre Dame announced today that they would start surveillance testing students. We’ll see how it goes, I guess.
What about at St. Mary’s?
I’m not sure.
It does seem confusing.
We have these questions. You have these questions. We don’t really have answers.
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Correction, Aug. 21, 2020: This article originally misspelled Kanye West’s first name.