By Annalise Peterson
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 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, 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-- 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.