Pastor’s Update: Looking ahead to the return of students
This is a trying time for all of us as we strive to navigate the changing realities that COVID has presented us. Our heart goes out to all those who have been directly impacted by this pandemic and those who have served us so heroically during this time.
As the national debate swirls surrounding the safety of reopening schools, I thought I would share some of my perspectives on the return of UToledo in a few weeks. While university education involves different dynamics than elementary and high school reopening, some of the issues are the same. I’m confident that UToledo is doing everything they can to provide a safe learning and living environment for those on campus. As a parish that attracts many of those students and serves as the primary meeting place for the Catholic Student Association, one of the largest coed clubs on campus, I have reflected quite deeply on what campus ministry will look like in this environment.
Here are a few factors I’ve been considering:
- The physical threat to college-aged students from COVID is statistically very minimal
- Even if college students are not likely to be strongly impacted by infection, they can and do interact with
other, more vulnerable populations
- The emotional, mental health issues for young people are significant and will only worsen if isolation
- Policing students with regard to COVID precautions when they are routinely congregating in other
settings will prove to be difficult
- Since many classes are online, it is likely that students may gravitate to our building even more for their online classes and homework and to interact with others
With all this in mind, my main goal is to create a safe environment, but one that is not so restrictive that students are discouraged from being here and interacting with other students. This will likely mean more outdoor gatherings, including Sunday night dinners, and other creative ways to socially gather in a responsible way.
I want to be clear that I am not going to closely police the behavior of students. I will use the influence
I have on them to encourage responsibility when they interact with vulnerable populations (like many in our permanent community) and to motivate them to fully isolate when they detect symptoms or have received a positive test. However, risk calculation is a necessary part of human life, and in my opinion, the long-term threat to emotional and educational well-being is a greater threat to college students than the physical threat of COVID. But, since they can be carriers, they should be called to be responsible and act with charity toward others who are more vulnerable.
I know not everyone will agree with this approach and some may deem it irresponsible. I understand those concerns. I realize that every decision involves weighing risks and rewards, costs and benefits. My heart goes out to all those in positions of authority who are making much harder decisions than I am.
I realize that the demographic dynamics of this parish may mean a sharper separation this year between the permanent community and the students. This is an unfortunate consequence of our COVID reality. I will be demanding of the students that they respect the needs of the permanent community for masking, social distancing, and other precautionary measures. I ask that others in the community give the same benefit of the doubt to students if they are not always as scrupulous in their adherence to COVID protocols. Our parish has always prided itself on being a hospitable home for students. This year, especially, they will need a place to call home.
Thanks for being patient with me as I strive to shepherd,