With classes mere days away, recent emails from administrators have revealed how Haverford will be operating in light of the record-breaking nationwide surge in COVID-19 due to the Omicron variant and lax regulations during the holiday season. These emails clarify that the “new normal” of Fall 2021 is a thing of the past, at least for a few weeks, as the campus braces for a surge.
Although, student responses to these policies are varied: one student group, DASH (Disability Advocacy for Students at Haverford), published an open letter, critiquing the current policies as inadequate and inaccessible. Additionally, an opinion piece in the Bi-College News advocated for more comprehensive guidelines on all fronts.
Haverford President Wendy Raymond and Bryn Mawr President Kim Cassidy announced the colleges’ new policies in an email on January 7. Haverford’s VP Jesse Lytle elaborated in a follow-up email on behalf of the Operations Planning Group on January 11: in addition to updated masking and vaccination requirements, the policies also include several short-term adjustments to campus operations for the beginning of the spring semester.
In-person instruction will go on unimpeded by these policies. In Raymond’s email, she explains that “flexibility will mean that we are better able to address the complexity and variety of educational needs of students and faculty and the particular challenges of this part of the COVID pandemic.” Although faculty can choose to teach the first week of classes remotely, they must resume teaching on-campus by January 24.
Although classes will be in-person, the college has banned all parties and social gatherings until further notice.
Intercollegiate athletics, music practices, and student performances will go on with appropriate masking. Athletes may unmask as permitted by the Centennial Conference masking policy, available here; music students may unmask as permitted by the college’s masking policy, available here, as well.
Outside guests will not be allowed to attend student performances or sporting events until deemed safe by the college. However, the nature trail and other outside areas on campus remain open for use from non-community members.
The dining policy will also drastically change this semester. All dining will be grab-and-go until January 28. New seating arrangements in the DC will allow fully vaccinated students — one per table — to eat indoors, but the DC will not offer buffet-style meals. Under the new policies, students cannot unmask to eat in groups in residential spaces either.
The college will also be changing how they handle student COVID cases. Anticipating a high number of positive tests at the beginning of the semester, administrators have designated new quarantine spaces on and off-campus. On top of this, isolation spaces have been modified to house multiple COVID-positive students at a time. Though, they continue to allow students to isolate off-campus, given they leave with a parent or guardian.
The college announced late last Fall that they require booster vaccinations for all eligible community members during the Spring 2022 semester. Students, staff, and faculty have until January 18th, the first day of classes, to prove their vaccination status. As of January 13, 61% of students and 49% of staff have verified their boosted status.
Updated masking policies are also now in place. Cloth masks are now only allowed for double masking with surgical masks, N95, KN95, or KF94 masks. The college expects students to procure their own masks. However, Lytle states the college will be buying a “limited number” of approved masks “to distribute in order to facilitate [the new policy].”
Unlike last semester, masking is now required in residential halls. Students and staff may still unmask when alone or when showering or brushing teeth but must mask any other time.
Lytle notes that many of these policies are still in flux. The dates of the above adjustments could change depending on factors such as booster or masking compliance, campus COVID statistics, and regional COVID trends.
A day after Raymond confirmed in-person teaching for the semester, DASH released an open letter and attached petition that circulated on social media. The letter, written by Renata Muñoz ’25, has garnered upwards of 1,200 signatures. The petition’s central demand is for the Bi-Co to offer “widespread hybrid options for courses” for the Spring semester to keep classes accessible for immunocompromised students.
The letter explains how “the decision to have online courses only be available based on the professor’s discretion leaves course accessibility essentially up to luck and tells immunocompromised students to sacrifice their health for their courses.” This letter highlights how the current class policies clash with the college’s consistent messaging that students should not risk their health to get an education.
Muñoz explains her personal experience in a comment attached to the letter: “I hope that our institutions can … provide an accessible learning environment where immunocompromised people don’t feel like we’re disposable.”
The petition included a form email for supporters to send to administrators. Students who sent these emails received responses from Dean John McKnight and Provost Linda Strong-Leek. The reply does not disclose any changes, instead reviewing existing mitigation protocols. The responses also assert that “advising deans and staff in Health Services and Access and Disability Services are engaging in private discussions with students about their personal circumstances.”
Another critical student open letter, entitled “The Bi-Co Must Reevaluate Its Plans, Again,” was published by two Bryn Mawr students, Rebecca Li ‘22 and Anna Hsu ‘22. In their words, “transmission must be tightly controlled out of the gate, or it risks snowballing,” and “Bryn Mawr’s current plan invites an avalanche.”
The article goes through every aspect of the current mitigation plan and offers “action items” to reduce risk. The suggestions range from providing masks to students to an outright delay of the semester. The letter cites several articles, policies, and studies supporting its demands. These demands include an extension of sick leave, specifics of air quality filtration, and a complete suspension of all in-person activities, including classes, for two weeks.
Not all students are so critical of the administration’s decisions. Keeton Martin ’22 is satisfied with the updated policy. He believes that “the Haverford College administration has a really great track record of keeping students safe during the pandemic.” Noting relatively low case counts the last two years, he highlights, “the negative effects of increasing COVID restrictions on the mental health of ourselves and our friends, which have been proven to be serious,” as a drawback to calls for more restrictive COVID policies.
I’m glad this article took the rare step of including a quote from someone who does not want to maximize restrictions. Online and hybrid classes have been a disaster for educational quality, and the “action items” found in the document linked at the BiCo News article include quarantining triple-vaccinated close contacts of positive tests–so there would be no limit to how much time one might spend locked in a room. It’s time to move away from the idea that slowing the spread of the virus is the only worthy goal, especially now that the world around us is back to normal and thus highly unlikely to be meaningfully affected by our covid policies.