Community Engagement: Principles & Guidelines

The University of Notre Dame continues to follow the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and local and state health officials regarding University operations during the Coronavirus pandemic. For summer 2021, the University will continue to prioritize creative virtual engagement designed to promote learning and contribution while maximizing safety for both campus and community partners. Permission for in-person engagement continues to require approval by University leadership in the COVID-19 Medical/Health Sub-Committee and the Operations Reopening Committee. Requests for approval must be submitted with the recommendation of either the dean or vice president of the petitioning campus unit.

Although the coronavirus shifted campus practices, our experience from this past year showed that engagement through mostly virtual formats was indeed possible and effective. This document outlines principles and guidelines to enhance relationship building and mutually beneficial engagement through summer, 2021. 

Principles and Best Practices

  1. Safety is paramount for ND community members, our community partners and student/staff/faculty members:
    1. Please continue to respect current health practices and safety protocols
    2. Plan for primarily virtual engagement through Summer 2021
  2. Value and cultivate each community partnership with intentional focus on:
    1. Common expectations
    2. Clear communication via accessible platforms
    3. Approachability and attentiveness to power dynamics
  3. Seek mutually beneficial exchange with community partners
    1. Establish agreed upon, explicit, and common goals
    2. Strive for educational exchange of knowledge or resources
  4. Be mindful of reciprocity between partners:
    1. Set a tone of abundance vs deficit, emphasizing what can be accomplished, rather than focusing on constraints
    2. Maintain consistency and follow-through
    3. Commit to evaluation—both formative and summative—in order for key results and metrics to inform he partnership; assess impact of shared knowledge and expertise on social outcomes, when possible.
  5. Prior to engagement, outline with partners and students consequences for failure to comply with health protocols and agency requirements
  6. Consider initiatives that can work well virtually: research (both descriptive and empirical), public policy efforts or advocacy, communication/design (of materials, webpages, etc.), fundraising, and the like
  7. Students with accommodations to live at home or away from campus should respect both Notre Dame protocols and local safety guidelines with respect to direct engagement

Note: it is vital to employ the best practices of community-based learning and research during this time made more complex by COVID concerns.

Guidelines for Safe and Meaningful Engagement with Community Partners

Due to the creativity and commitment of the campus community, many academic departments, university units, and clubs have identified virtual opportunities to engage local, state and national partners. For example, ND Research lists a variety of COVID-19 related projects, and the Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities has assisted in efforts to quantify poverty impacts due to the coronavirus. Other initiatives included those of the Center for Civic Innovation, Athletics, the Center for Social Concerns, and many others. Such efforts integrated built-in safety measures with assistance from OIT, Risk Management, the Office of General Counsel, the Medical/Health reopening committee, and others, leading to guidelines for summer 2021.

Safety measures for Summer 2021

  1. Protection of Children Policy
    1. See guidelines here: and note:
      1. Waivers for Minors are required for any off-campus interaction (including digital/virtual) individual under 18
      2. No Minors can participate in campus-based activities
      3. Training for ND participants is recommended, available here
      4. Student organizations should observe Student Affairs guidance, including no in-person activities with Minors in the local community without specific sponsorship from a University-sponsored department or college.
  2. Virtual Options across the University
    1. Consider pre-recorded content such as Fighting to Read, Fighting to Feed
    2. Locate content on accessible, but protected Notre Dame channels, such as YouTube or Panopto
    3. Or provide links and passwords to community partners for use on their electronic platform (i.e. Google classroom, Flipgrid).
  3. Live Virtual Tutoring / Mentoring
    1. Use Zoom when originating calls from campus, as it is now available to SB schools, most others
    2. Engage a minimum of two adults (over 18) on Zoom calls with minors
    3. Record all Zoom and save in Panopto (required)
    4. Initiate all Zoom call-in invitations through ND Zoom (required)

Limited In-Person Engagement Activity with Permission

A limited number of units have gone through intensive efforts and review to provide in-person engagement by ND students in accord with their mission. For instance, the Robinson Community Learning Center, under the Office of Public Affairs, worked with the Facilities and Medical/Health reopening committees to create a written reopening plan for the RCLC and NDCCI in accordance with guidelines from the CDC and St. Joseph County Health Department to provide a safe environment for participants. This plan includes instructions for health screening on site, compliance with masking and physical distancing recommendations, sanitizing procedures, facility and capacity management, and multiple response scenarios for what to do in the case of potential COVID exposure for participants, volunteers, or staff. To reiterate, however, permission for in-person engagement continues to require approval by University leaders in the Colleges, Schools, and relevant campus units, starting with one’s department or unit supervisor, the student activities liaison, or hall staff.

Other Engagement Considerations in a Time of Community Need

A considerable consequence of the pandemic is a marked increase in vulnerable local families, with many neighbors experiencing health or economic adversity. Community partners serving in the health, food, housing, and education sectors clearly require more resources to meet the increased need, but face concurrent social distancing restrictions in accord with the St. Joseph County Health Department, the Governor of Indiana’s reopening plan, CDC public health guidelines, as well as protocols implemented by the University of Notre Dame. In keeping with the University’s mission and Catholic character, Notre Dame has contributed to the United Way COVID-19 Response Fund to support these organizations, and has made several other charitable and/or in-kind contributions (PPE, etc.) to medical centers and first responders. 

Staff, faculty, or students who wish to contribute personally are advised to review the latest public safety announcements for St. Joseph County, then review the needs and engagement opportunities of community partners at their respective websites.  Before attempting to visit, determine if an agency can safely accept donations, on-site volunteers, or if they are able to accommodate remote collaboration. To learn more, please visit this brief list of community organizations responding to families in need in St. Joseph County. Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns and the City of South Bend also have opportunities listed on their websites.

The University continues to support vaccines as a means to foster health of safety on campus and beyond. Students participating in University Summer Programs, both on campus and off, must be vaccinated. More information regarding vaccination

Below are additional campus resources that may be helpful. For questions and permissions that may not be addressed above or at the sites below, consult with leaders in your primary domain: faculty and staff within their units (department chairs, deans, directors) and students with residence hall directors, Student Affairs, and like.

Further Information and Resources: Engagement and COVID (by Unit)

Community Engagement Coordinating Council Site

at (via Public Affairs)

  • Engagement During COVID-19, link
  • Responding to COVID-19, link
  • CECC — COVID Recommendations and Resources, link (and here)

Notre Dame Research

  • Health and Well-being Initiative: COVID-19 Response Coordination Task Force, link
  • Face-to-Face Human Subject Research, link

Center for Social Concerns

  • COVID-19 Update: Working with Community Organizations, link
  • COVID-19 Updates for Community Partners, link
  • Community-based Learning, Teaching, and Research During COVID-19, link
  • Living CST in Response to COVID-19, link
  • COVID-19 and Catholic Social Tradition: Reading the Signs of the Times, link

Vaccination Information

  • Saint Joseph County Public Health Department, link
  • Catholic Education: COVID-19 Vaccination, link

Revised 5.26.21. This document was developed by the Steering Committee of the Community Engagement Coordinating Council: Jay Brandenberger, Jay Brockman, Jay Caponigro, Jim Frabutt, Hope Hollocher, and Bill Purcell, with input from the full CECC. Send feedback on document to or