On Monday, Mar. 23, Muhlenberg community members awoke to an email from interim-College President Kathleen Harring announcing the College’s closure for the rest of the semester. Classes will continue online through this time.

Additionally, as of Mar. 24, there have been five confirmed cases of COVID-19 among Muhlenberg students as per a series of emails sent by Dean of Students Alison Gulati. Gulati has also noted that any student who attended an off-campus party between Thursday, Mar. 12 and Sunday, Mar. 15 may have been exposed to the virus. One student diagnosed with the virus disclosed that they visited the Alpha Chi Omega house and the nearby lacrosse house between Mar. 12 and 13, as well as 427 Leh Street and its attached duplex. All those identified who made direct contact with the students diagnosed with COVID-19 have been notified.

“We strongly recommend that if you socialized at an off campus party on these dates, you should practice social distancing and monitor for symptoms. If you have no symptoms, you DO NOT need to be tested,” Gulati wrote. “Some students have asked ‘why not get tested’?  Tests are in short supply everywhere and in almost all locations there is a screening process to be eligible to be tested. If you are not symptomatic, they are unlikely to test you. Finally, if you are asymptomatic and potentially not infected, you are putting yourself at greater risk for contracting the virus by going out in public and particularly to a testing location.”

Though the College had initially designated an Apr. 13 return date after encouraging all students to leave campus on Mar. 14, the escalation of the COVID-19 virus both worldwide and within the Muhlenberg community prompted the College’s determination that, as Harring wrote in her email, “the possibility of a return can no longer be considered realistic.”

“I know from the many messages I have received that this decision brings much angst and sorrow, not only for students but also for the faculty and staff who have been side-by-side with them throughout their time at the College,” Harring wrote. “I share your sadness and grief. The richness of the Muhlenberg experience exists in large part because of our residential campus. Through moments, both big and small, and the exchange of ideas and perspectives, we share our lives with each other. The thought of losing that, even for a short time, compels us to make sure we tend to the needs of our community.”

Though many students have made their way off campus, some students who cannot do so remain at Muhlenberg. As per a Mar. 24 email by Gulati, these students will continue to have active meal plans through the end of the semester and may be eligible for extended housing plans should they be unable to return home by that time. 

“For those who need to remain, we will continue to provide essential services,” wrote Harring.

Students who have already left campus are not permitted to return (other than to pick up a parked vehicle) or to enter any building. Gulati estimates that students may be able to retrieve items left in dorm rooms in ten weeks.

For now, the college’s closure means that the Muhlenberg community must continue to find its feet remotely. Many students, especially those from the graduating class of 2020, expressed their sorrow on social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, posting pictures from the past four years at the institution and reflecting on the decision.

“I moved everything out when we moved to remote learning. As an immuno-compromised student, I knew that there was really no way for me to return. It was too risky. Despite already preparing for it, the news still upset me because I’m a senior,” said Taylor Garrison ‘20. 

Still, the online-class method is proving to be an advantage for some. 

“Working from home has actually worked well for me,” Garrison continued. “As an introvert, it’s sort of the ideal, though I miss class discussion/rapport.”

Other students, like Emily Drake ‘21, have thoughts of the employees of the College at the forefront of their minds.

“I’m not a senior, and I was expecting the news, so I’m not crushed,” Drake said. “I’m mostly worried about the dining services employees that were laid off and what will happen to them as well as the other essential campus employees now that students aren’t returning to campus for the semester.”

For other students, like Alexandra Rivers ‘21, the news seemed to prompt a kind of numb acceptance.

“I read the email laying in bed, as I’m sure a lot of others did. As much as I didn’t want to expect it, I think I knew inside, because when I read it, I didn’t feel that much,” Rivers said. “I think I’ve already come to terms with the fact that we won’t be going back to school anytime soon. I felt the devastation with the first email that said we were going home, so this one didn’t prompt quite as much emotion from me. It was putting the seal on something that, as far as I’m concerned, was already wrapped up. Saying that sentence pains me, honestly. I know that this is what’s necessary now, and I really do get that and support it, but that doesn’t change the fact that this really hurts.”

Still, the vital practice of “social distancing” ⁠— keeping at least six feet away from others, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, in order to “flatten the curve” and keep the number of cases below the healthcare system’s maximum capacity ⁠— is taking its emotional toll on some.

“When this is all over, I know it will feel so good to just be able to hug a friend or share a GQ booth again,” Rivers continued. “Nowadays, when I see characters in a TV show shake hands or go to a restaurant, I think, ‘How unrealistic!’ But that’s our reality. And when we can do that stuff again ⁠— it’ll just feel so, so good. We’ll appreciate the smallest things, I am sure. For now, I’m just focusing on being kind. That’s what the world needs right now. We are all in this together, so we may as well make this easier for ourselves and each other by giving others the grace we would hope they would give us.”

To prevent the spread of COVID-19, here are some tips from the Center for Disease Control:

  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water, particularly after being exposed to a public place or coming in contact with respiratory droplets from yourself and others.
  • Do not touch your nose, mouth or eyes without first washing your hands.
  • Practice social distancing.
  • If you feel that you are sick, remain at home. 
  • Cover your sneezes and coughs and dispose of tissues immediately after using them. Then, wash your hands.
  • If you feel that you are sick, wear a facemask.
  • Clean high-touch surfaces daily. For steps on how to properly do this, see the CDC’s website.

Brooke is a senior double majoring in English and Media & Communication. She's passionate about french toast, Kate Bishop, Steven Universe and the ocean coasts of Ireland. On campus, she is a Writing Tutor, Orientation Leader and member of the Girls Next Door, Muhlenberg's all-lady a capella group. She could not be more excited to serve as your Editor-In-Chief this year!


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