Dean of Student Affairs Donna Eddleman and Director of Residential Life and Housing Cassandra Morton explain to the Bulldog details of the announcement email sent last week.
A burning question: why?
The announcement of the University’s plan to reopen its campus and residents in the spring came as a surprise to many students, leading to many questions and theories about the motivations of the University. Eddleman addresses some of these concerns.
Firstly, although it is acknowledged that revenues from room and board will be lost, Eddleman stated that finances were not a factor in the University’s decision to reopen.
“I would say to you that the decision to return to campus was rooted in risk management and what we believe to be possible in the context of being safe,” Eddleman said.
According to the Dean, it has always been the goal of the University to try and bring students back on campus ever since the shift to online instructions began in March.
Although plans never came to fruition for the fall semester, the University has since deemed it possible for the Spring, with increased knowledge of best practices on safety measures learned from other campuses in their respective reopening plans.
“I think that information has certainly helped us to anticipate what is needed to understand what structures [and what types of decision-making] need to be in place. Having that type of knowledge does allow individuals to be more confident in the ability of a campus to open in the spring,” Eddleman said.
San Bernardino County is still categorized under the Purple tier (Tier 1), meaning the risk of infections are “widespread.”
The possibility of moving down tiers is unlikely, as the County meets none of the requirements to do so, as reported by Redlands Daily Facts. Furthermore, Riverside County, adjacent to San Bernardino County and also in Tier 1, is experiencing a “surge” in positive cases.
Morton, however, stressed that the “core component” of the reason for reopening is the lack of human connection and community associated with virtual environments, citing a dilemma in maintaining the values of the University.
“Also acknowledging that we are a small liberal arts residential campus, that’s what defines us and has been our story, and what students and families expect, and what alumni celebrate,” Morton said. “So trying to create that balance in a way that responds to the needs of students and parents is really important.”
Who will get to go back?
In short, those who want to return to campus will be able to do so. However, students may also choose to study online and are not required to live on-campus for the spring semester.
“We are making every effort to try to do both right, to create ways in which a student can continue their education online and have it be valuable and do what it is that help them achieve their goals,” Morton said.
Residential Life and Housing will be going over the specifics with students in early November. Morton urges those who have not filled out the Housing Intention form to do so for the University to be best equipped to meet the needs and preferences of individual students.
For students who choose to return, they will be charged the rate of a double room, depending on the style of bathroom and AC chosen. Apartments, however, will remain at the single rate. Low income students who were previously in triple or quad rooms can expect additional support from Student Financial Services “through a variety of mechanisms,” stated Morton.
What will the campus experience look like?
Currently, the plan for COVID-19 testing campus is still in development, Eddleman explained. Different options are being discussed, taking into consideration success strategies of other universities and different areas of expertise.
Throughout the fall semester, universities across the United States have employed different methods of testing to varying degrees of success.
The New York Times reported that extensive testing plans, meaning mandatory, frequent, widespread, and not just for symptomatic cases, are the key component in minimizing infection rates. Among the universities that managed to keep the positive cases in the single digits are Cornell College and Amherst College.
However, according to analysis by the National Public Radio, a majority of universities have not mass tested their students, the main reason of which is cost. This is dangerous because many infected cases are not symptomatic, leaving universities vulnerable to rapid infections around campus, the article explains.
Dorms with hall-style bathrooms will be sanitized more frequently, according to Morton. Facilities Management and Custodial Services will be responsible for heightened cleaning, but also a newly acquired team to do this servicing. Community Assistants will also be tasked with new responsibilities, trusted to keep “eyes and ears on each individual Community location.”
In the classroom, students are also expected to sanitize their work spaces with wipes before and after use. In addition, regular social distancing measures such as face coverings and staying six feet apart from one another is also expected.
In the worst-case scenario…
As university campuses close throughout the nation, the prospects of an on-campus spring semester is a concern for many students.
In the current plan, the County Health Department will be notified of single or isolated cases but the expectation would be that the University, with its Johns Hopkins-certified contact tracers, will have the appropriate responses.
Regarding clusters, there is no specific threshold in terms of the number of positive cases that the University will have to see before it will send students home, according to Eddleman. Instead, this decision will need to be made in accordance with guidance from the County.
“As an institution, we haven’t said “if we have 10 cases, this is going to happen” [or] “if we have 20 cases, this is going to happen” because there are lots of different factors,” Eddleman said.
These factors include: where to designate quarantine areas, how to offer resources to those who test positive, their education experience and living arrangements if they were to be sent home, and many more.
Morton stresses that various circumstances, perspectives, and stakeholders are being taken into consideration should this scenario arise, although there is not a specific course of action regarding an outbreak response.
“And so that’s why we’re constantly playing out those hypothetical [questions that you asked]. That’s what we’re constantly doing every day: ‘If [this happens] how would we respond, if that would it change our decisions?” Morton said. “We’re really trying to problem-solve through it, recognizing that we will never ever be able to predict every single scenario, but we’re trying to equip ourselves and be prepared for those that are more likely to happen.”
Regardless of what courses of action are to be taken, students and families will be notified of them. More information regarding operations will also be available on a COVID-19 website currently in development, which will serve as an information hub for students, parents, and faculty.
“We’re trying to consolidate all of the information in a way that makes it easy for different constituents to understand and [providing] answers to the questions that they have,” Eddleman said.
Eddleman and Morton wish to assure students that the University is working in full gear to make reopening a success. However, the reason why it takes some time to communicate to students is because of limited resources and having to make sure different departments are being involved and consulted on before making a final decision on something.
“When there are periods of time where there’s not new information, it’s not because there isn’t movement, it’s that we’re trying to get it right or sometimes we’re anticipating one more piece of information that will really help people in understanding more fully,” Morton explained.
The key to reopening successfully, according to the University
Whether or not the University can reopen safely depends on every member of the community “owning the responsibility to keep themselves safe and to keep others safe,” Eddleman stated, citing the COVID-19 Safety Pledge that students were sent in the summer.
A new version of the Safety Pledge, which will be “very familiar” but also with “minor adjustments,” will be distributed to students leading up to the spring semester, Eddleman said. Specifically, amendments to the pledge include how and when to report safety violations, protocols for infected students, social distancing specifics, and more. The document will be made into a video expected to be released in December.
“As science is providing more information and as the CDC is making different recommendations, we are responding to those [updates] in things like the Pledge, to try to be as current and and provide as much accurate information as possible,” Eddleman said.
The Dean and Morton emphasize that students understand how their actions affect others in the University community, an intricately linked network of many stakeholders beyond the University campus, is crucial in the reopening process. The Pledge is a way to communicate these circumstances and these expectations and responsibilities to students, according to Eddleman and Morton.
This message comes in correspondence with an email from Student Affairs, sent to the student body on Sept. 21, regarding rumours about parties hosted by Redlands students. The email stated that students who are partying are “violating the University’s Code of Community Standards, state and county mandates, and Center for Disease Control guidance.” Anonymous tip lines were also included for reporting these violations.
The cause for concern isn’t unfounded, however. Students partying and breaking social distancing protocols has led to many universities closing down again after a short time reopening. Yet others argue the blame shouldn’t be entirely on students, but rather the universities that chose to reopen in the first place.
“We also recognize that we are all in a position to make deeply personal choices about how we move forward on our own particular circumstances,” Morton said.
“An important part of the outcome of our efforts to have students back on campus and to have on-ground classes, regardless of what the testing numbers are, is how we, as a community, choose to behave ourselves and how we choose to encourage, support, and challenge those around us to do the same,” Eddleman stressed.