As a senior, I feel like I have earned the right to make some observations about the Notre Dame campus character. For instance, I can say with confidence that the student body is very opinionated on almost every issue. Throughout my three-and-some years here, I have witnessed students clash with the administration — and with each other — over nearly every decision Notre Dame has made.
We debated in person and online over the appearance of the new architecture building and potential nicknames for the Duncan Student Center (LaDunc, DuStu or, my personal favorite, Jenkins’ Imperial Palace). When the administration instituted a three-year on-campus living requirement, we sparred about the merits. When our return to campus in the midst of a pandemic became official, we worried and celebrated and argued. Indian Night moving from Tuesdays to Fridays in North Dining Hall? We acted like the world was ending.
Then came the patio furniture in front of Hesburgh Library, erected in the wake of the spike in COVID-19 cases on campus that prompted the temporary move to online classes. Something about that new gathering place between the stadium and the reflecting pool united the campus community in a way that I haven’t seen in all my time at Notre Dame.
Just a photo on Twitter — umbrellas and string lights hanging above some wooden chairs and fire pits on the grass — gave me an indescribable sense of contentment. It just felt right. I also had a question: Why hadn’t we been doing this for the previous month, let alone the past few years?
The Library Lawn was introduced to us as “a new student space for informal gatherings and physically distanced activities.” It consists of many small clusters of five or six wooden lawn chairs centered around a small table, bench or fire pit. String lights hang over the entire setup, illuminating it in the evenings. Some seating areas have canopies and umbrellas over them for shade.
On a sunny afternoon, you can find students eating and studying below the watchful eye of Touchdown Jesus. Student musical performances take place some nights on a small stage as part of the Acousticafe series, usually held in the Duncan Student Center. For the most part, masks stay on the entire time, whether it’s a football pregame, a s’mores and karaoke night, or just a chat and study session.
Library Lawn fulfills an essential student need as we navigate campus life during the pandemic. It’s an alternative safe option to replace the regular dorm events, impromptu gatherings and parties that are off-limits for now. For the first several weeks, on campus and off, a failure to follow safety guidelines aided the spread of COVID-19 throughout the Notre Dame community. Unfortunately, at that time, the only universal alternative the school provided for a regular weekend night was staying in one’s dorm — where students were not allowed in each others’ rooms and common spaces were severely restricted — creating an antisocial situation that was unsustainable among college students. With the Library Lawn as a gathering place, students have a social option that allows campus life to continue somewhat uninhibited while still being cautious.
In discussions I’ve had with friends (some of which occurred while sitting on the Library Lawn), there has been nothing but positive feedback. Students want to see similar setups on more campus quads. Seating on the west side of the library already has extended the idea.
One person made an excellent point, that we couldn’t have done this during a regular fall semester, as the Hesburgh Library quad is overrun every weekend with football fan photo ops beneath Touchdown Jesus, and the rest of the year it’s too cold. This lawn has been a little blessing of our COVID year.
As one friend said, “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.
A lot of changes this year have been difficult to stomach, but this one has inspired a lot of positivity and gratitude, so to whoever thought up the Library Lawn: From all the students, thank you.
Grace McDermott is a senior American studies and French major from Chicago. She is a former intern at this magazine.