Urged by changing COVID-19 public health policies, Bates Student Affairs hosted a webinar for returning students and parents on July 27. Some of the highlights included information regarding procedures for student arrival, public health practices, dining, as well as addressing new additions and recent departures of faculty and staff.
On the morning of the webinar, a message was sent to members of the class of 2024, 2023, and 2022 summarizing all of the important information for returning students.
“Be flexible and be ready to adjust to changes” were common themes expressed by Josh McIntosh, the Vice President for Campus Life, during the webinar. McIntosh elaborated that the COVID-19 landscape demands the adaptability of the Bates community.
Updated Public Health Policies
In the spring of 2021, Bates announced that all students must be vaccinated in order to return to campus for the fall semester. However, the announcement still left questions as to what masking protocols and other public health protocols would look like in the coming semester.
In both the webinar and McIntosh’s message, it was revealed that students would only be mandated to wear masks during their first hour on campus. Students who received a COVID-19 vaccine medical exemption or are awaiting full vaccination will need to wear face coverings while indoors.
Much like last year, upon arrival students will be directed to Underhill Arena for COVID-19 testing where they will receive both a rapid antigen test and a PCR test. They will then proceed to Merrill Gym where room keys will be received and student ID cards will be activated. Continued from the 2020-2021 academic year, arrival time sign-ups on Garnet Gateway are still required.
There will no longer be an isolation period for students after first arriving on campus.
“If you don’t hear from us then you tested negative [and you can remove your mask], but if you get a call from us, you tested positive,” McIntosh explained.
Guests will now be permitted to assist students with move-in if they are fully vaccinated, tested negative for COVID-19 within the last 72 hours, and if they have been medically cleared of a recent COVID-19 diagnosis. While indoors, masking will also be mandated for guests.
Students will receive additional COVID-19 antigen tests on Sep. 2 and Sep. 9. A testing strategy for the remainder of the semester will be determined based on the results of the initial test results, although students can expect a reduced frequency from the winter 2021 semester’s tri-weekly testing.
Christine Schwartz, Assistant Vice President for Dining, Conferences, and Campus Events, announced during the webinar that Commons will be open to full communal dining in the fall, or as she put it, “pre-COVID dining.”
“Last year’s dining experience was difficult and different,” Schwartz reflected, but the challenges that arose led to new innovations and discoveries that will be preserved this year. Some examples include the continuance of limited grab n’ go options during lunch, a vegan breakfast bar, breakfast sandwiches, as well as extended hours of operation.
Schwartz was also prompted by the webinar attendees to comment on the food-borne illness that spread on campus during the winter 2021 semester. Confirming that the CDC found salmonella in the peanut butter used in the peanut sauce for the Pad Thai, Bates Dining has since discontinued use of the peanut butter brand and no longer will use peanut sauce and bean sprouts on the dish.
Updates to the Student Experience
The beginning of McIntosh’s message primarily focused on three priorities the Student Affairs team has in order to “further strengthen the student experience.” The first, to improve the student experience on weekends; the second, to integrate and coordinate student support programs and services; and the third, to revitalize the Office of Intercultural Education (OIE) by appointing permanent staff.
To promote the first two priorities, Erin Foster Zsiga has been promoted to Dean of Students, who is charged with bringing “together [the] programs and services that shape the student experience after hours and on weekends,” the message reads.
During the webinar, Christina Davis, the Interim Associate Dean for Bobcat First, introduced the new team members of the OIE: Travis Bryant the Assistant Dean for First-Generation Students & Bobcat First, and Dri Huber the Assistant Dean for LGBTQ+ Programs. McIntosh’s message also announced Mana Abdi as the new Program Coordinator for the OIE and the search for the Associate Dean & Director will continue into the fall semester.
Additionally, there will be five new live-in positions to Residence Life this year. Molly Newton, the Associate Dean of Students for Residence Life and Health Education, explained they will function as a student support service “after-hours”— operating from the time offices close in the afternoon until they reopen again in the morning.
Addressing Student and Family Concerns
Many students and families at the webinar expressed worry about the four Economics professors who announced their departure from Bates earlier this month.
“We always have some flux in faculty who make the decision to leave Bates,” Malcolm Hill, the Dean of Faculty, said when addressing the concern. “This is a normal part of any academic institution.”
One explanation Hill gave for the large volume of departures at once is attributed to hiring freezes that occurred due to COVID, causing these faculty members to not learn about new job offers until the summer months rather than during the winter.
“We are working tirelessly to solidify who is [in the Economics department] and make sure they are well supported. We are also looking for ways to support the students who are making their way through the major,” Hill added.
Earlier on the day of the webinar, the CDC released new guidance for fully vaccinated people. With the Delta variant, the CDC now recommends fully vaccinated people to wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission.
As of now, there are no plans to adjust the public health policies currently in place for the fall based on the new guidance. However, McIntosh advised that every student comes to campus with multiple face coverings in the chance that those policies need to be changed.
“I want folks to know that you can expect that we will be thrown curveballs. Be patient with each other and with us… I hope you are optimistic about this year as I am,” McIntosh told the webinar attendees.