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President Raymond & Jesse Lytle Take Questions on the Fall Semester

On July 6, 2020, The Clerk’s Editor-in-Chief Chace Pulley and Associate Editor David Edelman conducted a Zoom interview with President Wendy Raymond and Vice President and Chief of Staff Jesse Lytle about Haverford’s plans for the fall semester. This transcript was condensed and edited for clarity. 

David Edelman: Given that COVID cases are still rising in the US, do you feel that it’s responsible for Haverford to reopen its campus?

President Wendy Raymond: I absolutely think it’s a responsible decision to keep Haverford open to having all students come back who wish to come back to campus, even in the face of the data that we have about increasing COVID cases, particularly in the United States. That said, we have said all along that we will revisit this all through the time between now and the time students start coming back in August, and we will be revisiting it after you all set foot on campus. We know we have this historic example: we decided to leave campus in mid-March and, alas, that could be something that will happen on college campuses across the nation in the future. I hope that that’s not the case.

A lot of that will depend on how students decide to conduct themselves in terms of the five pillars of health and wellbeing that we’ve established. The one there that we know is really hard for 18- to 22-year-olds is going to be the physical distancing. We are really concerned about whether you’ll actually keep physically distanced from one another in your private time, when you’re on your own. You’re going to have to be doing that in your classes on campus. You’re going to have to be doing that in the Dining Center.

I think we will all understand the impact that we have. And then it’s a question of what we as Haverfordians decide to do on our own. So that’s where we’re concerned, right? The evidence that we now have of this last month in college towns is that there are huge initiator activities happening in those bar scenes. That is not a good thing. That’s not exactly the parallel that could possibly happen at Haverford or Bryn Mawr, but we know it could be students gathering in a party situation together where you don’t practice safe social distancing and universal face covering.

Chace Pulley: A lot of folks have expressed doubts that not everyone will adhere to the college’s health and safety protocols. How do you plan to balance Haverford’s historic commitment to student autonomy and trust with the need to keep the community safe?

WR: It’s both of those exactly together. We are leading it 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. We will be using the Honor Code and using the term “confronting” one another in a very Haverfordian way to say, “Please keep your social distance, please put your face mask on.” This really is up to students to make it happen, because the campus administration and faculty and staff will absolutely be supporting you. Students will need to support one another in doing that well. 

DE: Let me just push you on that a little bit, President Raymond. If a student doesn’t meet the responsibilities outlined in the compact, how do you plan on ensuring that behavior doesn’t affect the safety of the community? Is it going to be through the Honor Council, or is it going to be handled by the administration?

WR: I need to find out from students what you are planning to do about that before we come back. We have five weeks to figure that out together. The Students’ Council co-presidents are definitely thinking about that. I have not spoken to the Honor Council yet about it; I would imagine they’re thinking about it. Customs is thinking about it. Students are thinking about it.  Will they come together with a way, as students, to make this happen? Does the student strategy combined with the administrative strategy work well? Haverford is not a place where we’re going to have safety officers in your partying space. That’s not going to be a solution. We are not going to be doing that kind of top-down guardianship. We expect more of our students.

Vice President and Chief of Staff Jesse Lytle: One of the things that will be on the table is access to student housing. The ability for students to live communally – we’re going to need it in order to be together on campus. But if an individual student cannot get with the program, will they retain access to on-campus housing? I think that’s one of the consequences that could be in the mix.

CP: Students will be required to socially distance and wear masks and all spaces except for their dorm rooms. With that in mind, what would you recommend to students with significant others who also attend the Bi-Co to avoid the spread of COVID-19?

WR: I think you are going to have to have an agreement with your significant other of what it means to be living in COVID world. People are already doing that now. An important aspect is that you each be incredibly concerted and thorough about your contact tracing, so that if one of you does get COVID, you are both immediately going to be able to trace your contacts. I don’t think I’ve ever answered that one in public. It’s a good one!

JL: As you probably know, we’re looking to have entirely singles if possible, but it’s possible there would be some doubles. There are many peer institutions that are offering doubles in which students become a pod, and you think about that pair or group of people as a single entity in terms of contagion.

DE: I know it might sound trivial, but having spoken to several students, it’s been on a lot of people’s minds.

WR: It’s absolutely realistic. Chace, I believe you put that question in the context of significant others. What about when it’s not quite a significant other, and how many of such contacts are we going to have? I think these are really important for every individual to figure out for themselves and us to figure out as a community.

CP: To be perfectly blunt, would that constitute something like an Honor Code violation? Or if you are deliberate in who you are having contact with and you create a contact journal, will it be okay?

WR: That’s a good question. In the strictest terms, if that’s where we went with the Honor Code, then yes, I suppose that would be [an Honor Code violation]. Could I, as an individual, decide that I was going to curb that behavior on my part and take the consequences of that to my social and personal life for the sake of the community? I think those are the kinds of decisions that we’re going to have to make.

JL: We are being pragmatic. We wouldn’t ask for contact journaling if we expected everybody to adhere to social distancing a hundred percent of the time, right? There are going to be situations in campus life where contact happens, accidentally or by choice. The framework isn’t punitive: it’s one of making informed choices with everybody’s best interest in mind.

These questions are not black and white. Even though we’re trying to define health questions with some parameters around them to give people guidance, we’re going to be living them out in imperfect ways, every day, with a lot of gray.

WR: The last thing we would want to do is suppress information about contacts because people thought there was going to be some negative consequence. Like, so I’ve got these five contacts that I had hookups with in the last week, then I got COVID. I definitely want to be able to let people know and have them come to the Health Center, etc.

DE: On the subject of contact journaling, this is going to be a new experience for a lot of students. How do you plan to make that work? Is there consideration of using smartphone apps?

WR: We can do it any number of ways: people can do it with a notebook, on your laptop, on your phone. The one concern we have with apps is privacy. We’re not concerned about privacy with Haverford College, because we keep all kinds of information private within the college all the time. But with the use of an app, we would want to be clear that student data is not going to be going to Google or some other company. We have students who need to be a million percent confident that that’s not happening. If you want to use an app on your own, you can use an app, but we’re not yet going to do that universally.

DE: If a student chooses to leave campus voluntarily or is forced to withdraw from their classes as a result of COVID, how will that be handled from an academic and from a financial standpoint?

WR: No differently than how it’s done now.

CP: Is there a possibility we would go back to a pass/fail semester in the fall?

WR: That needs to be decided by the faculty, because the faculty govern grading and that’s done in part through the Educational Policy Committee. Right now, it hasn’t been as strong a national conversation as it was last spring, because we all see ourselves walking right into this semester fully or partially remote.

CP: The vast majority of Haverford dorms do not have AC and are simply miserable midday. If students have four classes online, will there be another place that they can study, especially if they have to use audio?

WR: There are other places to study. You’re just going to have a lot more social distancing than we did before. The library and other academic spaces will be open. And the outdoors – I do not mean this to be facetious about the air conditioning – but seriously, we’re planning to put at least one big tent up, maybe on Lloyd Green. There will be outdoor spaces for those who think that that’s a good solution.

DE: Are there any plans to institute time slots for accessing the Dining Center given that it’s going to be greatly reduced in capacity? I’m especially thinking of when the weather doesn’t permit students to eat outside anymore.

JL: The systems are all still being worked out, but the vast majority of food will either be takeout or grab and go. They’re looking at having multiple distribution centers so not everybody has to converge on the DC at once.

WR: There will be meal equivalencies at the Library Cafe and Coop. There’s going to be unidirectional flow through the Dining Center. The idea right now is that you’ll come in through the Japanese garden on the West Side. You can get grab and go on the first floor as well as downstairs, and then the normal dining kitchen area is going to be the hot service. The Bryn Mawr Room will be open for seating as well.

CP: Haverford is strongly encouraging people not to leave campus, especially going into Ardmore. How will this work for students in the apartments?

WR: No different than before in that regard. You just need to be making your trips to the grocery store carefully, just as we are now. You’re wearing your face covering, you’re washing your hands. You’re acting like a regular citizen and being careful about those contacts.

DE: We’ve now got some community-submitted questions. This one comes from Sanjeevi Nuhumal ’21. As Rethink Incarceration and Free People Strike have told Haverford’s administration, “The COVID crisis cannot be mitigated without the significant decarceration of our loved ones and community members, and it is unsafe to encourage students to return come fall without addressing this.” What steps are President Raymond and Jesse Lytle taking to ensure our safe return, specifically with regard to the COVID hotbeds that are Pennsylvania jails and prisons?

WR: Jesse and [Assistant Vice President for College Communications] Chris Mills had a conversation with some students and alumni last week who are really interested in me making a statement about the Free People Strike. I believe I still don’t have enough understanding of the role of the Free People Strike as an effective mediation of this conversation to be able to take a step forward. I need to continue that conversation with our students. Jesse and Chris began that conversation last week when I simply wasn’t available to have that conversation with students.

JL: The other part of your question is the public health implications on the ground. I’m by no means an expert, but I understand generally the role jails are playing in the public health equation as COVID hotbeds. I’m not seeing a direct connection to being safe on campus at Haverford and would need more information to show that direct causal link, if that’s something we need to prepare for in terms of student health. We don’t want to conflate general public health risks across the whole Commonwealth of Pennsylvania with local public health risks on Haverford’s campus.

CP: From Scott Mackenzie, parent of a Haverford student in the class of 2021: will Health Services hours expand to meet the new realities of COVID-19?

JL: I don’t know the specific hours, but we will 100% make sure that students are getting the services they need. There will be 24-hour care available, whether it’s physically at the Health Center or by telemedicine.

DE: This one is from Hanae Togami ’19. To contextualize, she was one of the Haverford House fellows over the past year. During the past semester, some Haverford community members, including Haverford House residents, were displaced from college provided housing during the middle of the pandemic. If another outbreak occurs in Philadelphia, is there a possibility that this could happen again?

JL: We will do what is in the best interests of our employees and their health, which really depends, situation by situation. We would not ask students or employees to leave College housing into an unsafe environment.

CP: What about students on campus this summer and in August specifically, when Haverford typically has all students leave campus? What if students don’t have a place to go or are international students?

WR: They’re going to be able to stay through and beyond the month of August this year. It’s exceptional times, totally exceptional in so many ways.

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