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Talking with President Raymond, Part Two: COVID-19 and Fall Plans

Editor-in-Chief David Edelman ’22 and Associate Editor Max Mondress ’23 spoke with President Wendy Raymond and Vice President and Chief of Staff Jesse Lytle over Zoom on April 9. Read part two of the interview below, discussing COVID vaccines, plans for the fall semester, and the long-rumored return of Wendy’s Worners. Part one is available here.

This transcript has been condensed and edited for clarity. 

Max Mondress: When we spoke with you last July regarding the school’s COVID response, President Raymond, you said, “[the administration is] leading by stating what our expectations are, and then student agency will have to decide what is in the compact that you’re going to sign to make this happen.” Do you think that there has been an appropriate balance of student agency and administrative intervention in the past year?

President Wendy Raymond: I want to just acknowledge that student agency has been terrific and outstanding, in terms of how relatively safe and healthy you have kept yourselves and one another around COVID-19. Right now, we have had six weeks of zero COVID cases in our surveys of students. All through the year, we have had very few COVID cases among students and very few close contacts for those students who did have COVID.

Max, you’re a Customs Person, right? I was saying to so many students: we’ve got one shot at this, just one shot. I didn’t know if we were going to make it. I don’t know if anybody knew whether we were going to make it. We did it because of students’ devotion to what it’s taken. That’s just been amazing.

Was it an appropriate balance between student agency and the other work we’ve had to do? We’ve had to make more executive decisions than normal for a place like Haverford College, because decision-making had to happen really fast and under almost always changing circumstances around the COVID pandemic. So allowing time for consultation and allowing time for gaining consensus, which we would normally do, was not always possible.

Vice President and Chief of Staff Jesse Lytle: There was also just a different level of fiduciary responsibility [this year]. A lot of the decisions that we normally make in a regular year that students can be involved in, there’s room to experiment and get things sort of right and fix it. When you’re creating academic policies or student life issues, residential life issues, you can iterate and course-correct. We just don’t have that liberty when it’s public health. There are a few areas of policy and practice at Haverford that are always going to be health and safety driven, and decisions in those areas very seldom rely on student input when lives and health are in the balance.

The academic planning that happened last summer, we were able to pull students in [there] in really helpful ways. We were able to work together in lots of places where we normally do. It’s just that so much else was happening outside of those areas this year.

David Edelman: We’re curious about how Haverford was able to secure vaccines for all students, staff and faculty members. For Jesse, was the program related to Haverford’s previous application to become a vaccine provider site?

Vice President Lytle: No, it was in parallel. Vaccines are flowing both through the federal government and through the state to the county. Speaking of bureaucracies, we have a number of those in this country. [Laughs.] We had signed up with [Montgomery] County to be a [vaccine] provider, and we’re still waiting to hear on that. The doses that flowed through us through Rite Aid are federal doses, and that required networking and initiative from Health Services in particular.

Kathy McGovern, the Director [of Clinical Services], has been phenomenal this year in the middle of everything, and keeping in contact with everybody out in the world who could help us, so that when the first opportunity that we were eligible for and where there was supply came up, she was right there and right near the top of the list. So kudos to her. It was really the result of hard work all year that it came together so quickly.

Max: You have formally announced that the Bi-Co anticipates a return to in-person instruction this coming fall. Students are pretty excited! We were wondering if you could share more details about what life on campus might look like for students next semester.

President Raymond: We expect it will look much like it looked in the 2019–2020 year—except that we’ll be wearing masks and except that we will all be vaccinated. We anticipate that—especially once the federal government fully approves the vaccines—we’ll require vaccination for all students, with the normal exceptions for any vaccine that you’re required to have: religious exceptions, health exceptions, etc.

Otherwise, we anticipate that with a fully-vaccinated or highly-vaccinated student body, we’ll have people living in doubles and more normal occupancy across the campus. We hope that everybody will be able to come and learn in residence. We understand that some international students may have difficulty getting vaccinations in their own home countries, and so we’ll figure out how to supply those for students here. But otherwise we expect that instruction will be in classrooms at regular distances.

Again, all of this can change if the path of COVID continues to change. We continue to consult with our so-called brain trust of infectious disease doctors. They’re relatively confident that this area of the United States will be in good shape, because there will be a high degree of vaccination, and that even if there are variants of COVID-19 that develop that bypass the current vaccines, we won’t be in an area where those variants are likely going to be in high supply.

We look forward to regular instruction except that your faculty members may be masked—or maybe not. We don’t really know. We just know that masking is going to be a continuing way to confer high public health. We also want to be really cognizant of our impact on our surrounding environment right here in Ardmore and Haverford, as well as wherever we’re traveling locally through Philadelphia.

Vice President Lytle: We will still be testing, likely. That’s what’s going to allow us to ratchet back a lot of the restrictions that we’re experiencing now, to be able to keep tabs on COVID rates on campus. Presuming that the testing reveals that COVID rates stay low, then we’ll have the comfort to do all the things that Wendy was talking about, like sit next to each other in a classroom. Maybe [COVID testing] will be more sampled than full student body—that remains to be seen.

Max: There are a few specifics that we think students might be curious about. Will the Dining Center be reopened for in-person dining?

President Raymond: I believe so. Again, we’ll cross those bridges. We’ll get expert advice about how disease transmission is seen in the vaccinated population when we’re dining together, unmasked, indoors.

Vice President Lytle: You might’ve looked at the Bi-Co Mitigation Plan that we’re using this year. Imagine a level below Level 1, maybe a Level 0, that’s sort of like normal except we’re masked. But we’ll probably keep the option to move up to a Level 1 or a Level 2. Should there be a variant in an outbreak or something like that, things like indoor dining are probably among the things where we will put in some constraints first, because those are [areas where there’s] higher likelihood for transmission to occur.

President Raymond: Can I ask you a question? I’ve heard that the Coop Cafe has just been fantastic this year for students. Is that something you think students would like to see maintained as it’s been this year?

David: Well, actually we have a question on that. There’ve been some silver linings, if you can call it that, for the pandemic. One of them is the move to free laundry, and another, as you mentioned, is the ability to use meal swipes at the Coop. So we’ve had some students wondering if those are going to stick around post-pandemic.

President Raymond: I do not know any specifics about those, but I’m glad to hear those requests. Jesse, do you know anything?

Vice President Lytle: Nope. That and off-campus housing—there are a lot of accommodations we’ve made this year that have just made things work [better], and [student] patterns are different [this year]. We’ll need to look at that as we recenter the community back on campus. Students, I think, can expect to be part of those conversations.

David: I think you hit most of the specifics we were wondering about the fall, but there’s a few more. Do you anticipate having restrictions on gatherings, particularly indoor ones?

Vice President Lytle: I doubt it—sort of like indoor dining, unless there’s an outbreak of some kind. We’re probably going to be living with COVID forever. But it may become more like the flu, right? If there’s flu season, people might get sick, but they’re [generally] not going to the hospital, they’re not passing it onto a gazillion people, because they all know what to do when they’re sick.

President Raymond: And will we go to classes when we’re sick? Hopefully not. Students at the end of the fall semester [in prior years would be] just coughing and coughing and coughing in a classroom because it was expected that you’d be there, even if you’re really sick. I hope that will change for all of us, not just at Haverford.

Max: Our last question is from Bethany Ho ’23. She is curious if we will see a return of Wendy’s Worners sometime soon.

President Raymond: I hope so! Bethany was a great attendee at Wendy’s Worners last year, and I miss doing that. We know that students are really Zoom-fatigued. We’re trying to figure out this spring how I can do them in-person, with my laptop, so that we can do both remote and in-person. Do you think that I should still call them Wendy’s Worner?

David: I think people find it tremendously funny. So as long as you’re comfortable with it, I think the community would welcome it.

President Raymond: That’s so interesting, right? Cause it comes from a holdover that maybe new students don’t get and everything, but I’m good with that. And I love that it’s student generated.

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