Some of the essays you will find in this, the twenty-first volume of Fresh Writing, were completed not in dorm rooms or study carrels at Hesburgh Library but in late night hours at kitchen tables or desks in childhood bedrooms. For a period of months starting in March 2020, the study carrels were empty, the dorms seemingly abandoned. Students left their rooms full of clothes, textbooks, class notes, and countless personal items, having fully expected to return after spring break. If you look back at the Spring 2020 academic calendar now, you’ll see the Registrar notes in red print that “students did not return to campus due to Covid 19. On-line learning was instituted for the remainder of the semester.” And while students may not have returned to campus, showing up to class instead over Zoom, in some cases halfway across the world in the middle of the night, nevertheless, as this issue of Fresh Writing attests, at least one element of life remained constant for our students: they kept writing.
Later, in the Fall of 2020, after a summer of historic protests against police brutality and racial injustice sparked by the gruesome murder of George Floyd by a police officer, with the worst waves of Covid-19 yet to come, and in the lead-up to a contentious presidential election, most Notre Dame students made their way back to campus or arrived for the first time. For the Class of 2024, surveillance testing, social distancing, and masking were all part of the college experience, the only one, to date, they have ever known. Students were back to writing their essays in Hesburgh Library, but now with masks on. Others wrote in hotel rooms and campus apartments converted to use for campus quarantine. Many students wrote in isolation as they suffered through a case Covid. Still, they kept writing.
Some of what you will find in the pages of this volume are writers coping with the experience of living through a global pandemic, sometimes explicitly, certainly implicitly. And yet, despite the psychic toll of physical distancing and, quite often, loneliness that accompanied pandemic conditions on campus, what you will also find in this volume is evidence of students continuing to look outward and grappling with their world as they confront legacies of racial injustice, contemplate the effects of climate change, consider relationships between disability and culture, and offer glimpses into what the frenzied pace of life can sometimes feel like for students at Notre Dame. Winners of the 2021 Snite Museum Essay Contest demonstrate how art can help us to imagine more sustainable futures, consider depictions of labor in the past, and recognize the complex ways that cultural histories act on the present moment. Many writers in this volume, including the winner of this year’s McPartlin Award, take a special interest in identity and language, thereby highlighting how deeply words matter for all of us. We at Fresh Writing believe the words of students matter, and with the publication of Volume 21, we celebrate how students use their writing to both contemplate the world they live in and to envision a better one.
As we publish this volume, vaccines are widely available in the United States, businesses continue to re-open and resume normal operations, and many people are able to safely see and even embrace their friends and family again. This issue serves as an archive of an historic year, a snapshot of what first-year students at Notre Dame were thinking about during that time, and a window into what mattered enough to them to write about and share with you, our readers. Perhaps resilience is a word students are tired of hearing after completing more than a year of their academic studies during a pandemic. Yet resilience is a word that comes to mind when reading this issue: each student published in this volume represents hundreds more first-year students who found ways, amidst marked disruption and anxiety, to continue engaging deeply with the world, to look outward and forward despite the sometimes suffocating limitations of quarantine, to keep writing. Not only did these writers keep writing, they wrote with compassion and conviction, sometimes with humor, and always with heart. We applaud and celebrate all of these writers and, with pride, deliver to you Volume 21 of Fresh Writing.
Joanna Lin Want and Nathaniel Myers, Co-Editors, Fresh Writing