Recent spikes in COVID-19 cases across the nation pose looming questions regarding the reality of Spring 2021. With the fall semester nearing an end, students anxiously await the College’s decision on who will be invited to return to campus and what the upcoming semester will look like.
In an email addressed to the student body on Oct. 28, President Kathleen Harring emphasized that “health and safety remain our top priorities.”
“One of our primary concerns remains the ability to provide sufficient testing with adequate turn-around time,” wrote Harring. “The news on this front is very good. We are currently exploring additional testing partnerships that will allow expanded surveillance testing in addition to our on-campus symptomatic testing.”
Harring went on to reiterate that seniors have the green light to come back to campus for their last semester. Spring planning groups are still evaluating options for the remaining classes, however. A decision is expected to be made by mid-November, right before course registration begins on Nov. 16.
Dean of Students Allison Gulati shed some light on the decision making process at the Oct. 28 SGA general assembly meeting. To date, there are a few spring semester scenarios that require further consideration. Gulati explained that one option (and the most ideal situation) is to invite all students back to campus; she estimates that a little over 1,500 students would live on or off campus and around 400 students would choose to stay remote.
Other options include inviting either two or three class years back to campus with seniors being a top priority. Regardless of the situation, Gulati explained that a larger number of students will be approved to live on campus for various reasons – student teaching, financial issues, familial troubles, etc.
Facilities are still a major concern. Gulati noted that housing plans will need to be reconfigured, as it will not be possible to provide each student with their own dorm room like this semester. Significant changes to dining services will be necessary. Planning groups are looking into potential meal takeout times and a satellite dining location to divert traffic. There will also be a strict crackdown on COVID-19 conduct policies.
The spring semester will only be successful if students adhere to these expectations.
Gulati concluded the meeting with the warning that students should prepare themselves for another semester of online learning, even if they find themselves back at Muhlenberg.
“I’m okay with it generally, especially as they learn what works versus what doesn’t,” said Kay Tari ‘24.
Matan Kogen ‘23 stated, “Masked in-person classes could be incredibly isolating for the hard-of-hearing. Online is better.”
Becca Baitel ‘23 also shared her thoughts about online classes on campus.
“I think online classes will absolutely be more manageable if we are on campus because at least we’ll all be going through the same thing and that sense of community and togetherness can be reestablished,” said Baitel. “The isolation from being stuck at home coupled with the anxiety and lack of in-person interaction of online classes is almost unbearable and mentally exhausting. At least if we are all in person, we will be able to support one another and restore some of that community we’ve been lacking.”
Other students are not particularly thrilled with the idea of starting a third virtual semester.
Desire Suarez ‘23 said she feels “annoyed because there are methods for hybrid courses that are very feasible for a school our size.”
In light of the uncertainty, many students have carried on making plans for the future while they wait in anticipation for the College to make its decision.
“If we don’t go back, I plan to move out of my house,” concluded Suarez.
Muhlenberg’s decision will affect “how I determine [my] class schedule, how I approach interactions, if I’ll take a gap semester, etc.,” said Tari.
“I have given much thought into the spring semester and have consulted my family members and peers about the best possible decision for myself,” said Brooke Leon ‘23. “I believe heading back to campus (if allowed) will help me to be the best student possible. However, I do understand why people would take a gap semester or continue their education remotely.”
The Muhlenberg Weekly will provide updates on the plans for Spring 2021 as new information develops.