President Wendy Raymond put it quite plainly at the start of her town hall on June 1: life is complex. But even though there is still much to be worked out, Haverford is forging ahead. As things stand, students will be coming back to campus in the fall for a slightly shortened semester. This return, confirmed by an email sent by Raymond on June 8, will be made possible by extensive social distancing and far-reaching changes to the on-campus experience, from takeout-only dining to mandatory face masks.
Raymond opened her town hall presentation by spelling out Haverford’s framework for a return to campus. While planning for the fall, Haverford will be guided by four key principles.
- Provide an excellent liberal arts education
- Ensure safety and wellbeing of students, faculty, and staff
- Contribute to the greater good
- Steward Haverford as a perpetual institution
According to Raymond, the penultimate ideal informed an early closure this spring, in an attempt to prevent Haverford from becoming a vector for Covid-19 in Delaware County.
With these criteria in mind, the college’s continuity planning committees are working on four main fronts—academic, financial, and operational planning, as well as community-building—to tackle the issues associated with returning to campus in the midst of a pandemic. Academic planning, for example, includes adjusting course design for a distanced and, if necessary, entirely digital setting; exploring alternative forms of wet labs, studios, and performance; crafting a thoughtful academic calendar; and understanding the implications of distanced learning for different groups of students.
Under the current plan, crafted in conjunction with Bryn Mawr president Kim Cassidy, classes will resume on campus on September 8. The semester will run normally through Thanksgiving, skipping fall break. When students return home for Thanksgiving, they will not return to Haverford, instead completing the remaining weeks of class and finals remotely. However, these plans are subject to change as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to evolve in the Philadelphia area.
Raymond is working with infectious disease and public health experts to craft what she terms “a data-driven approach for returning to campus based on public health perspectives.” What exactly will this return look like? Although it is not yet finalized, Raymond gave some key insights during the town hall.
A return to campus will be made possible by what Raymond calls Haverford’s “vaccine”. This “vaccine” is not literal, but rather a system of practices that minimizes viral spread and allows for efficient identification and response to positive Covid-19 cases. Haverford’s approach has five key steps:
- Face-masking: On campus, individuals will be masked at all times except for in personal rooms. Raymond clarified that these could be cotton, rather than N95 masks.
- Physical distancing: In order to minimize viral spread, physical distancing will be maintained.
- Hand-washing: As Raymond puts it, “you know that drill.”
- Self-monitoring: Students will check their temperatures daily prior to attending class. Although protocols are still being ironed out, it is likely that students will have to be tested for the virus prior to arriving on campus. The school does have spaces for students to self-isolate on campus, but confirmed positive cases will have to leave campus.
- Contact journaling: The ability to contact trace and notify individuals for exposure is essential for a safe return to campus.
Raymond encouraged students to start these practices now and build up habits for the fall. “Get that muscle grown now,” said Raymond.
These behaviors, though proven effective on Mayo Clinic’s Minnesota campus, will have massive implications for on-campus experiences in the fall. The dining center will be take-out only. Club and event spaces will be capped at half of their normal capacity. Fall sports are highly unlikely to happen, at least in any semblance of pre-Covid life.
Raymond spent much of the call focusing on the impact these changes will have on academics. Courses will need to be reevaluated and their classrooms reassigned to allow for social distancing. Her June 8 email confirmed that some classes will be offered in the evening and on weekends, likely to utilize the limited number of sufficiently large classroom spaces available on campus.
Re-registration for classes is likely, if not inevitable, Raymond reluctantly admitted. Ben Le, a psychology professor who sits on a committee dedicated to evaluating course offerings, was also on the call. He believes re-registration could be good for students, as it could allow for more transparency on what the online segments of courses will look like prior to selection.
Seating in Stokes and Roberts halls is already being evaluated for socially distanced teaching. Some classes may be flipped to take place primarily online with in-person discussion groups. Large intro classes may be split into different sections. Professors and students may opt to not return to campus due to health or visa concerns. Raymond expressed adamant support of these decisions, assuring students that many (but not all) courses will be available to be taken entirely online. Some of the hardest issues are yet to be resolved: for instance, it’s extremely hard to replicate the experience of lab courses while upholding social distancing.
Because of the close communication in planning for the fall semester, Raymond is confident that Bryn Mawr’s academic programming will continue to be available to Haverford students. The Blue Bus may look a little different than students remember, but it will be running. This may not necessarily hold true for Swarthmore and Penn, who are planning their fall semesters independent of Haverford.
Another aspect of campus life covered in the town hall was student housing. How can students properly distance in shared rooms? Adjustments to housing might be made closer to the beginning of the academic year, once the Office of Residential Life has a better idea of health and housing needs.
Taking academic leave is always an option for Haverford students, but has become increasingly discussed in national conversations about reopening college campuses. Raymond expressed support for students who choose to go on leave, acknowledging that their plans may change in light of the continuously shifting landscape. Raymond additionally guaranteed that students won’t have to pay additional fines for deciding to take the semester off if things drastically change, even after the normal deadline.
Although many are excited, the town hall complicated student feelings on returning to campus. “It really opened my eyes to what life will be like in the fall,” Eva White ’23 wrote over text after the town hall. Natalia Barber ’23 agreed. “I struggled to focus on the joy of being on campus again, knowing the experience will be so markedly different,” she said. Barber went on to explain that although “the administration is searching for the safest way forward,” she knows that “the Haverford we used to know cannot exist this fall.”
Things change fast for President Raymond: “sometimes twice a day,” she says. When students return to campus, whenever that may be, they will find it undeniably transformed from the campus they left. The problems evolve quickly. The solutions come slowly. Life is complex. The many ways in which the effects of Covid-19 will unfold on campus remain to be seen.