Fall 2020 housing plans

We’re all excited to see each other, but how are we going to live with each other?

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Muhlenberg campus prepares for the students' return. Photo by Ayden Levine '23, photo editor.

Many Muhlenberg students will be headed back to the likes of ‘ML,’ East and Prosser this fall, but there’s no denying that dorm life is going to look quite different in the COVID-19 world. 

On Tuesday, July 14, the Division of Student Affairs hosted its second of four live webinars answering questions about fall semester plans. This installment’s focus was on residential life. On the panel were Allison Gulati, dean of students, Brynnmarie Dorsey, executive director of health and counseling services, Katy Mangold, associate director of residential education, Pamela Moschini, director of disability services, John Pasquarello, general manager of dining services, Katie Shelley, associate director of housing operations, and Courtney Stephens, director of housing and residence life. The key message of the event was that, notwithstanding new rules and regulations, the fate of the upcoming semester lays in the hands of the students. 

“This is really a community effort. We have a no smoking policy on campus. There’s not a ‘no smoking police’ on campus,” said Gulati, in reference to the self-policing aspect of the new policies. 

At the forefront of the Zoom call was information regarding move-in and first-year student orientation. Gulati confirmed that first-years students will move into their residence halls on Aug. 20 and 21 and upperclassmen will follow on Aug. 22 and 23. (Edit: As of July 30, only freshmen and a select number of approved upperclass students will be on campus this fall.) Students will be allowed to bring two helpers to aid in their move-in process, as there will be no volunteers like in years past. In the weeks to come, Housing and Residence Life will inform students of scheduling, or being assigned, a specific time to move in.

As for orientation, the College will follow a hybrid format, said Gulati. Around Aug. 1, all incoming first-years will be assigned a first-year student orientation Canvas course. Here, the orientation process will begin before the students even arrive on campus. The early virtual welcome will be combined with some traditional in-person (but socially-distanced outdoor) activities during the weekend of Aug. 22 and 23. 

“Because there will be some online and in-person components, it’s going to really allow for students to be able to delve deeper into the information and follow up on campus in small groups with their orientation leaders on Saturday and Sunday,” said Gulati. It was also noted that for the first time, up to 200 first-year students will be permitted to bring their own cars to campus to allow for easier commuting and in case of potential emergency situations. 

Move-in days have been set, but that does not mean that the move-in process is going to look the same for every student. While a two week quarantine is encouraged of all students before they arrive at Muhlenberg, for some it is necessary. For students coming from states deemed coronavirus “hotspots,” a two week quarantine will be required before arriving on campus. Students travelling from hotspot states in their own vehicle may choose to do their quarantine at home. This would make them eligible to move into their residence hall as soon as they arrive in Pennsylvania. On the July 14 webinar, it was said that students taking commercial transportation from hotspot locations to Allentown must quarantine in Pennsylvania before arriving on campus. These students and their families would have had the choice of staying in the College’s pre-paid hotel or organizing their stay at a place of their convenience. These students will be tested for COVID-19 after 7 days in quarantine, and a negative test will allow them to move out of quarantine early. However, a July 17 email from Gulati’s office mentioned only self-quarantine at home prior to travel, with daily symptom checks via an app and a call with health services about travel precautions. It seems that hotel quarantine is still an option beginning after August 10, but no longer required for hotspot students.

In an email on July 21, President Kathleen Harring informed the Muhlenberg community of a change to the housing policy. The deadline for students to confirm if they will reside on campus or continue learning remotely has been extended from July 24 to July 29. This decision gives students the opportunity to deeply consider all of their options before committing to one path for the semester. Harring also noted that students may make changes to their housing plans up until the semester begins. Nonetheless, for those living on campus, the pre-arrival quarantine policy remains. 

“We can’t bring you into a communal living setting until we’re sure that you’re not symptomatic or have direct exposure to COVID-19,” said Gulati.

What about if a student tests positive for the coronavirus during the semester and needs to quarantine? For those living in residence halls with communal bathrooms, the student, as well as any close contacts, would need to move into the designated hotel. Students in apartment style living would “shelter-in-place” with their suitemates for the two week duration. Meals will be delivered via students’ meal plans. There were assurances that there would be no extra cost due to staying in the hotel, but that meals may cost extra if the student does not have adequate dining plan coverage. According to Dorsey, students who wish to quarantine at home may leave. Regardless, all of the college’s resources including the health center, office of housing & residence life, and campus safety will be in constant contact with students in quarantine. 

In effort to avoid students entering quarantine, dining services have adapted to meet safety guidelines. Plexiglass barriers and floor markings have been added to dining locations across campus and all employees will wear medical grade personal protective equipment (PPE). 

“We’ve also introduced some new technology,” said Pasquarello. “We have a phone app that is going to be available for students to order and pick up food. We’re going to have in place contactless devices for entry into our restaurants and for payment.” The deadline for students to select their meal plan option on Capstone is July 28. 

In housing & residence life, everything but an entire residential redesign has taken place. In communal bathrooms, students will be assigned stalls, showers, and sinks so as to lower the ratio of student to facility. Plexiglass barriers have also been added between sinks. 

Perhaps toughest to swallow is the new visiting policy. Students will not be permitted to visit friends’ residential buildings or other rooms within their own building. Common lounges will also be closed, with all furniture and computers being removed as much as is possible. Gulati said that students who rely on the common computers should contact her office to figure out an alternative plan.

“We know that’s going to feel different. We’re not trying to sugar coat that at all,” said Stephens. “But, we are confident in our student body that if we are all adhering to the policies that the college is working to put into place, then we would be able to move into the phases where it does feel more like ‘normal.’”

Whether or not the students think other students will adhere to the College’s policies is a different conversation.

“I hope people are considerate and think about others when deciding whether or not to break the rules that are in place for our safety but, we all know there are going to be people who don’t care,” said Cameryn Guetta ‘23. “We already see it with people who break social distancing at home by hanging out with large groups. I just hope that, at school, they can at least try to regulate it.” 

The next webinar on Tuesday, July 21 at 6pm will focus on questions regarding academic life. Check back for more! 

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