The COVID-19 pandemic has left universities across the globe unsure about what the fall 2020 semester would look like. With closed campuses and classes moving online, students and faculty members scramble to make sense of the new reality.
Sarah Lawrence College (SLC) in Bronxville, New York, aims to resume residential and in-person education as soon as possible, though it recognizes that “it would be irresponsible to claim now with certainty when that will be possible.”
The liberal arts college said it “cannot yet say whether the semester will be conducted partly or entirely in person and in residence.”
Yet, despite the uncertainty of the upcoming semester, SLC student Mariah Lofgren remains hopeful. “My learning will be affected in the format in which I am receiving information however I doubt that the quality of teaching I receive will change,” she told The College Post. “Our faculty is so dedicated to our students and I appreciate all the planning they’ve done to ensure that we can have a learning experience as close as possible to our SLC model that we would have in person.”
However, to achieve the “as close as possible” model, SLC students will have to delay their studies. Limited use of the university’s theaters, art and performance studios, music spaces, science labs, sports facilities, a 60,000-square-foot visual arts center, and dining hall will guarantee social distancing on campus.
The college acknowledged the “connotations not only of distance, but of degrees of separation and isolation” that online classes can cause students. In addition, the Office of Student Involvement and Leadership plans to organize campus life event opportunities that engage both on and off campus students through online events as well as on-campus opportunities such as an outdoor screening of a movie.
The concern for social distancing extends beyond the classroom and campus life though, calling student housing into question as well.
SLC Student Housing
Random, regular, and effective testing for COVID-19, the ability to isolate anyone who tests positive, and adequate treatment in local hospitals will regulate the 42-acre campus. The college has admitted its standards to reopen housing are not within their control but will be relied upon before a vaccine is developed.
In the event of an outbreak, “students who contact the virus will be isolated in a single dorm room where they will be in quarantine and continue their classes virtually,” said Ingrid Loveras, SLC Assistant Director of Admission, in an interview with The College Post.
“These residential spaces will provide a private bathroom to each individual to limit the possibility of viral spread,” SLC Public Affairs Director Brian O’Callaghan added. “The college will care for an affected student, delivering food and any other resources they might need and students who feel well will be able to continue their classes online from quarantine/isolation. Once a student recovers they will be able to return to their regular residence hall and campus life.”
"The paradox is that in the midst of all this social distancing, my classes have become increasingly important for me and my students… classes are a reminder of how much ideas and art count in our lives." -Faculty member Nicolaus Millshttps://t.co/f3wGJPxcWF
— Sarah Lawrence (@SarahLawrence) April 26, 2020
In addition, SLC’s community holds students from 45 states and 53 countries which has prompted the college to require greater confidence in the safety of national and international travel going forward.
Student Lofregn too will require a greater sense of security on campus. “I am not sure if I will be on campus and I am privileged enough to be able to have a supportive household that I can continue to learn in,” she said.
Still, her choice isn’t so simple. As a domestic student, Lofgren has a choice of living on campus but many students like herself are apprehensive. She will need to navigate the demands of her studies and the threat of the virus, which will become a new normal for students worldwide.
“One of the big reasons I am considering being on campus is due to the lab work I do in the biology lab and athletics; however, I wouldn’t want to risk my or anyone else’s health if it was dangerous to participate in both. I would hope my peers feel the same way,” she concluded.
Students and Teachers
As students prepare for an unfamiliar semester, teachers and staff at SLC grapple with a new teaching experience. The institution recognizes employees are at greater risk to COVID-19 than students and advised them to take preventative measures by working remotely if possible.
Furthermore, requests for a temporary change in job location, hours, assignments, duties, or implementation of additional protective measures may result in staff change.
The “new normal” on college and university campuses this fall will require discipline from all community members.
“These are extraordinary times and together we will continue to act thoughtfully, carefully, and in keeping with the best medical guidance available to protect the Sarah Lawrence community,” the university said in a statement. “The collective welfare of the college will continue to be a foremost priority in the months ahead.”