Share This Post

Students concerned about returning to campus despite new safety guidelines

Tony Diraddo, the general manager of Bon Appetit, cleans a table in Shaw Student Center. Diraddo says he’s confident that staff and students can work together to keep each other safe on campus. (Photo Courtesy: Westminster College)

The Forum recognizes the concerns that come with returning to campus. The Westminster College administration has implemented several safety guidelines in accordance with local health professionals’ suggestions, noting they’re confident the community will work through the pandemic together.

Here’s what to expect on campus for the Fall 2020 semester. 

Campus Dining

  • Masks required when not eating
  • 20 students at a time in serving area 
  • Distance markers to maintain physical distance 
  • No reusable dining utensils
  • No eco containers
  • No salad bar
  • Hours changed to minimize crowds: 
    • Shaw Student Center: 
      • Monday-Friday: 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
      • Saturday-Sunday: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
    • Griff’s Roost: 
      • Monday-Friday: 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
      • Closed weekends
  • Fewer seating options

The changes in Shaw and Griff’s hours are to decrease the chances of big groups congregating while still accommodating student needs, according to Tony Diraddo.

“As things change, there’s room for conversation,” said Diraddo, general manager of Bon Appétit.

One disheartening element of the changes has been undoing all of Bon Appétit’s initiatives to create a more sustainable campus, according to Diraddo.

“Sustainability and all the efforts that we’ve made, reusables and eco-containers — all gone,” he said. “It’s sad. When there’s a handle on the pandemic, we can go back to that. I’m confident that we’re doing everything we can. My thing, and I think the college’s hopes, is that as long as we as staff and students do our part, we can beat this. We can keep this campus safe.” 

Health Services

  • COVID-19 tests available & free to students*
    • “Minimal cost” for staff & faculty
    • COVID-19 antibody test available for $110
  • Office currently completing 17-20 tests per hour

It’s important to remember that it’s possible to be exposed to and contract COVID-19 even five minutes after receiving a negative test result, according to Bill Self, director of the Student Health Services Office. So masks and social distancing practices are always important, he said.

“When we get a COVID-19 test, it’s a test for one moment in time,” he said. 

Health, Wellness and Athletic Center

  • Masks required when not actively exercising 
  • Staff will be wearing masks at all times
  • Climbing wall will be available via reserved time slots, two to three climbers at a time
  • Limited equipment available for checkout
  • Maintain 10-foot distance between yourself and others when exercising
  • Bring minimal amount of personal belongings
  • Exit gate will be propped open (no need to touch turnstile)
  • Some equipment will be blocked off
  • Class sizes limited to 19
  • Seven people in weight room at a time
  • One swimmer per lane in pool; no pool equipment checkout available; one person at a time in hot tub

Traci Siriprathane, assistant dean of students, student wellbeing & support, said she feels comfortable and confident with the policy changes made in HWAC. She said any community members who are concerned about its safety ought to visit the center for one class or workout to gauge their own comfortability. 

Dorms

  • Staggered move-in times
  • Residential students required to have a negative COVID-19 test result
    • Must test within 96 hours before move-in
  • Designated on-campus quarantine spaces (meal delivery program through Shaw)
  • No social distancing necessary in apartment-style dorms among roommates 
  • Roommate contracts must include COVID-19 safety guidelines
  • Traditional housing will operate as single occupancy, still have two furniture sets
  • Strict no guest/visitor policy (no guests/visitors from other dorm buildings)

Library

  • Masks required at all times
  • No eating inside the building
  • Some furniture removed
  • Extra hand sanitizer and hand-washing stations
  • Curbside pickup available for books & materials
  • Research help available via video chat
  • Three-day quarantine for returned books & materials

ASW Clubs & Organizations

  • Club meetings limited to 20 people
  • Members will fill out forms related to COVID-19 symptoms before meetings
  • Students with symptoms will be asked to leave 
  • Orientation Clubs Fair will be held virtually, through Zoom 

“Our ASW student government is doing a great job looking out for students and keeping everyone on the same page,” said Dwain Worrell, ASW clubs president. “We are listening to their concerns and making sure that information gets to the higher-ups. Our number one priority is student safety.”

Worrell said this isn’t what he thought his position would look like — but the campus needs clubs to create community, especially in hard times. 

“Even though it’s harder now, it’s even more important,” Worrell said. “This is the time to show what we care about and to build connections. For club leaders, help your clubs stay strong and show that you care about your club. My priority is to help you do that.” 

Community Concerns

The Aunt Em statue overlooks Westminster’s campus with the new addition of a face mask. Facial coverings will be required on campus for the Fall semester as a part of COVID-19 safety guidelines. (Marisa Cooper)

Despite the changes to campus life, some students said they do not feel comfortable with the return to in-person classes and activities. 

“It just doesn’t feel real to me yet,” said Izzy Neves, a junior neuroscience major. “I know classes start in two weeks but I’m still in a mindset where I’m like, ‘Oh, my school is smart enough not to make us go back.’” 

Neves said the entire world of higher education has felt so surreal that she and her friends have been playfully placing bets as to how long it will be before schools send students home again. 

Similarly, Cali Corkran, a junior marketing major, told The Forum it feels “inevitable” that higher education institutions will face COVID-19 outbreaks. 

“It is inevitable that there will be some small percentage of students who will act irresponsibly and end up spreading COVID to others,” Corkran said in an email. “It is my hope that students don’t take on the ‘I’m invincible’ mentality and disregard safety measures.”

Although both Neves and Corkran expressed the school’s safety measures — such as the mask mandate — are the right things to do, they both said that they would prefer online instruction.

Corkran’s classes will be conducted almost entirely online anyway, with three out of four of her classes taking a remote approach. She said it’s frustrating because she is still paying the price of in-person classes. 

“To have only one class in person and be paying for full tuition plus room and board is absurd,” Corkran said. “I would have preferred to go completely online so I don’t have to waste money on housing (I had already signed my 9 month lease before learning that my classes were online) so now I am paying extra for no reason.”

Living on campus presents concerns, too, according to Neves. She’ll be living at Westminster on The Draw this year. Although Neves knows her roommates, she said she still worries about living in close proximity to so many other people.

“I’m living with all my friends, so I’m not too worried because I know they’re, like, all very safe people and have been practicing social distancing and doing their quarantines and whatnot,” she said. “But at the same time, I mean, what about everyone else?” 

Neves also said the campus changes mean the Fall semester won’t be the experience that she’s paid for. 

She said the new tuition increase created financial struggle for her, but she at least understood the reasoning behind it before the pandemic. 

“But now I feel like there’s no way to really justify [the tuition increase],” Neves said. “It doesn’t feel very fair to me.” 

She said she understands why the typical college experiences of in-person classes, group activities, events and socialization can’t happen this year — but she wishes the school was more understanding in regards to students’ financial situations. 

Although Neves received some financial aid in the wake of last semester’s abrupt turn to digital learning she said it “wasn’t much in the grand scheme of things.” 

“I pay so much and I appreciate that they’re trying to be helpful and understand but at the same time I feel like it’s still not fair,” Neves said. “And there are students who struggle a lot more than I do, so I wonder how they’re coping with everything.” 

Cali Corkran and her parents, Mia and Doug, also said they are frustrated with the lack of change to Westminster’s financial requirements — suggesting a discounted online-only experience would be reasonable. 

“Westminster has not offered to allow students to defer a year if they are uncomfortable returning or offered a discounted online only learning experience,” Mia and Doug Corkran said in an email to The Forum. “This forces students into a potentially unsafe situation.”

Neves shared the same concern that the campus is a potentially unsafe environment.

“[The pandemic] is just as bad as it was in March and if they sent us home then, why are they sending us back now?” she said. 

National Concerns

From health professionals to professors, many have weighed in on the ‘if and how’ to reopen higher education institutions. Colleges and universities are forced to balance their economic needs with the safety of their students, according to an article from the New York Times. 

The article, “College is Worth It, but Campus Isn’t” referred to students coming back to campus as “an epidemiological nightmare.” Young, healthy students may not feel the impacts of the disease, the article argued, but their faculty and the broader community will. 

Luke Vayo and Gwendelyn Salazar eat breakfast in Shaw Student Center. Throughout campus, seating options are now six feet apart to follow COVID safety guidelines. (Photo Courtesy: Westminster College)

The author tasked the students at colleges around the country to follow guidelines in and out of the classroom. 

Many schools intended a hybrid return similar to Westminster’s approach — but had to change plans at the last minute due to continued outbreaks, according to an NPR article, “Colleges Spent Months Planning For Fall, But A COVID-19 Surge Is Changing Everything.” 

The president of Spelman College in Georgia said she felt comfortable about making her campus safe, but the rest of the city was too dangerous, and she ultimately decided not to bring students back. Spelman College is discounting tuition as a result of online classes. 

The CDC created specific guidelines for higher education institutions. Holding virtual classes and closing residence halls is the safest option, but measures such as physical distancing, wearing masks, and increasing indoor ventilation can help keep students and faculty safe.

Despite concerns, the Westminster administration maintains its confidence in staff and students to keep each other safe. The new guidelines will be enforced and are expected to change as the pandemic develops.

REQUEST CORRECTION

*UPDATE: Testing is free to those experiencing symptoms or who have confirmed exposure to COVID-19. Students will be charged $40 for additional tests taken out of precaution with no proven exposure, according to Student Health Services Sept. 15.

Share This Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

four + twelve =