The Rev. Dave Pivonka, TOR, president of Franciscan University of Steubenville, and the vice president of student life answered students’ questions about COVID-19 Monday night at a forum in the tent outside the J.C. Williams Center.
An increased number of COVID cases at Franciscan, with 87 cases reported the week of Sept. 7-14, led Pivonka and Dan Dentino, vice president of student life, to hold the open discussion with students.
Pivonka opened by citing the reading from Monday’s Mass: “It is my wish, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands, without anger or argument” (1 Tim 2:1-8).
Students then lined up to offer their opinions. Many opinions and questions had little to do with the increases in COVID cases but were more concerned with the temporary indoor mask mandate that Pivonka announced Sept. 9.
Some students said the mask mandate was instituting a “culture of fear” that “takes away their individuality.”
These students said their choice to attend Franciscan this semester was motivated by the lack of policy on masks and vaccines, unlike most colleges in the country that have mandates regarding both.
Other students mentioned the failure of students to comply with the mandates and said there was a lack of concern for students with preexisting conditions on campus. They said the current rate of cases was unsustainable and would eventually lead to distance learning.
Pivonka stood by his decision and said as a father he has to do what is best, even if it makes people uncomfortable. He encouraged understanding and said Franciscan University can unite while strongly disagreeing.
Despite differences of opinion, discussions remained civil. Sophomore Hope Graham said, “I actually expected it to be more heated. … I didn’t want to come (at first), I thought it was going to be stressful and just not very fruitful, but it was. So I’m glad that I came.”
The forum was sponsored by Student Government and student president Alex McKenna said he was satisfied with how the meeting went. “We had a dialogue. We had kindness, we had charity, we had selfless love for each other and we came together as a community … to discuss our concerns and how to seek the truth.”