Residence Halls Are Open! Sort Of… A Tale of a Liberal Arts University in New England

By Eesha Kashif

It is clear that for the past few months, schools and universities have been deeply uncertain regarding the course of action they are to take regarding their fall 2020 reopening plans. While some colleges announced that they had no intent to resume in-person classes for fall 2020 and were going to continue teaching classes online during the summer; others have been going back and forth regarding their reopening decisions.

Jonas Hall at Clark University, Worcester, MA

Smith college earlier intended to bring back students on campus this fall. However, as the number of COVID 19 cases continued to rise, Smith became “the first college in the region to radically alter a previously announced strategy”. According to Smith president Kathleen McCartney, “our nation’s leading infectious disease specialists have warned that the COVID-19 pandemic has entered a ‘troubling new phase’ in which the virus is ‘extraordinarily widespread’’. However, many schools, including Clark University in Worcester MA, have decided to reopen in a hybrid format.

In a Clark specific context, students who have made the decision to return to campus have realized that fall 2020 will be considerably different than any other semester they have spent on campus. This difference can be owed to the change in various university policies and operational procedures. For example, recently, President David Fithian announced that Clark is to become “a smoke-free campus” as “medical professionals note the virus’ symptoms are harsher on lungs already compromised by smoking”. This rule has been effective as of August 19, with the intent of reducing risk of COVID-19 cases among students residing on campus.

Moreover, several other changes have been made to operational facilities like the athletic centers. At Clark, the Kneller Athletic Center, a building previously used as the center of athletic activity but has now been converted to the COVID testing site for students. 

Reopening also looks different this year as students navigate their way through the “one way” rule at the dining hall, more popularly known as the ‘caf’. Personally, I have had a hard time getting accustomed to the dining hall operating at half capacity with several eating booths removed over the summer, since my last memory of it was of a place crowded and buzzing with noise.  

However, I believe the biggest difference I have noticed is in the Residential Life and Housing department. As staff and resident student advisors get started in fall 2020, they have had to navigate the challenges of online RA training and explain the significance of these SOPs to all residents moving in. In previous years, moving in was a 1 or 2-day process. But this year, students moved in over the course of an entire week. The one day process has become a week-long endeavor, as this year’s move-in was scheduled based primarily on residence hall allotment, as each of the seven halls had a separate date for when residents could move in. The Residential Life and Housing department tried to show little flexibility as far as arrival dates and individual student time slots were concerned, so as to minimize foot traffic in any particular building at a certain time.

Someone I am close to serves as one of the Resident Advisors for Clark, and talking to her gave me a better sense of what else looks different this year. In her words, “well, most things within Residential Life and Housing that you can think of”. For her, the biggest challenge as RA has been to think of ways of designing online programming for her residents. According to her, “it is much easier to organize programs that engage people in person, like movie nights with popcorn, a face mask social, or a Ramen noodle eating contest”. However, it is incredibly challenging to brainstorm ideas that attract the same level of interaction and enthusiasm in a virtual setting. 

The guest policy has also changed significantly to completely forbid Clark students from having any non-Clark students on campus, specifically in their dorms. As for Clark students, only one guest is allowed to be in a room at a time. Previously, there was no limit on the number of Clark students residents could have over as guests, and non-Clark individuals were also allowed in residents’ rooms for a total of 3 nights and 4 days each semester.

All of that is to say that there is a severe need to invest in one area now more than ever: security. As COVID-19 continues to pose threats to our learning environments, living arrangements, health practices, and other general life choices, we must be ready with a back-up plan at all times. This is where most security consulting agencies (such as GoodIvy Consulting) can prove to be potentially beneficial and super helpful. We certainly don’t know what the future of our world looks like, but at least preparing for it may ease the difficulties when that time eventually comes.

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