Back in session

September 17, 2020 5:25 PM

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Photo of a large academic building. Photo courtesy of Quinn Kampschroer from Pixabay.

Photo of a large academic building. Photo courtesy of Quinn Kampschroer from Pixabay.

Throughout the country, colleges are finalizing their decisions on how to approach the upcoming fall semester. While students await what’s in store, administrators are working diligently to ensure both the safety of their community and the educational pursuits of their students.

Dano Weisbord, the executive director of campus planning and sustainability at Smith College, describes the reopening process in three stages: planning around public safety, changing education programs and implementing policies once the campus is active again.

“You sort of have to go through the first-order set of questions,” he said. “Do we feel like we can lower risk? Do we feel like we can test people? Do we feel like we can have enough room for everybody? If the answer to all those things is ‘yes,’ then the question is, ‘well, are we gonna bring all the students back?‘”

At Smith, reducing the residential student population has proposed a challenge. On-campus priority may go to students with difficult learning environments at home, those who will graduate soon, or those whose majors require heavy hands-on learning. Other safety policies include enforced social distancing, wearing masks, sanitizing, increased disinfecting and monitoring symptoms.

“We’re exploring whether we could do that using technology like an app, or something that would send you a push and say ‘Hey [student name], do you have any of these symptoms today?’” said Weisbord.

Colleges in Massachusetts must make their decisions in compliance with state mandates.

Another challenge arises with residential life that is typically characteristic of the college experience一things like dorms, bathrooms, and dining halls. Dorms will be singles-only, and dining will likely be a “grab-and-go” system.

Not all colleges are approaching the semester in the same way. Regis College has recently announced a system of two eight-week terms in the fall, the first of which will start earlier than usual online, and then shift to a hybrid or in-person plan.

“If things just aren’t good, we can stay home after Thanksgiving, and then finish off online. Based on what we just lived through, we have to expect the total unexpected and be ready for anything.” said Kelley Tuthill, the vice president of marketing and communications at Regis College.

Communication and student involvement have been key elements in the planning process at Regis. Community emails, newsletters and virtual town halls have served as helpful bridges between administrators and the greater community. 

“We try to be as transparent as possible. If we don’t have an answer, we try and explain why [we] don’t.” said Tuthill.

Despite the many technicalities that will inevitably arise, Tuthill stressed that faculty want to deliver the college experience that students hope for.

“This will pass, we know that,” said Tuthill. “So, we’re buying a lot of plexiglass and hoping for the best.”

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