by ALEXANDRA RETTER
Campus culture may shift when students return in the fall as local universities implement social distancing, cleaning and mask wearing and encourage campus community members from students to faculty to do their part to keep others around them healthy.
All three local colleges will offer some content online, and some in-person, allowing students at high risk for COVID-19 infection to continue at least some classes remotely.
Limiting occupancy of spaces around campus, removing some furniture and asking campus community members to help with disinfecting areas after they use them are among the common procedures that will be put in place.
Fewer students are projected to be enrolled in the fall, additionally. “We are projecting a 15-percent reduction in enrollment, which is similar to what other colleges and universities are projecting,” Saint Mary’s University (SMU) Chair of the Pandemic Assessment Coordinating Team Ann Merchlewitz said. “We do anticipate strong retention of current students.”
“Currently, our enrollment is a little down for the fall, but we’re hoping … that we’ll see an influx of students in August,” Minnesota State College Southeast (MSC Southeast) Vice President of Academic Affairs Chad Dull shared.
Around 200 fewer students are enrolled at Winona State University (WSU) this June as compared to last June, and a trend toward a projected decline is occurring for new entering students and returning students, with the exception of graduate program enrollment.
Social distancing will occur during in-person classes. Social distancing will be accomplished by taking out desks from classrooms with desks and taking out seats from tables at which multiple students could sit at SMU in Winona. Staff members in the facilities department are currently analyzing which rooms will best accommodate social distancing. Classes may be held in the auditorium, recital hall and theater, for instance, Merchlewitz said.
Extra chairs or other furniture may be removed from rooms, and chairs may be taped off or covered up to signal that they are unavailable at WSU.
Larger classrooms will be used at MSC Southeast. Markings that indicate the appropriate social distance are in some spaces, and tables have been spread out and numbered in others.
SMU is aiming to create a culture in which campus community members feel responsible for the actions they take to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“The plan is to have cleaning supplies in all spaces on campus,” Merchlewitz said. “The expectation is people will wipe down between classes or using spaces and maintenance staff will do additional cleaning.”
A deep cleaning of WSU classrooms will take place in the morning and evening, and faculty, staff and students will help with sanitizing between classes.
Cleaning will take place frequently at MSC Southeast. “Our facilities team has cleaning equipment they can deploy quickly so we can clean between classes,” Dull said.
As the residence halls’ capacity at SMU does not allow for all students to be accommodated in single-occupancy rooms, the halls will be filled as they typically are, Merchlewitz explained.
At WSU, traditional residence halls’ double rooms will shift to single-occupancy rooms.
“What we thought we’d be able to do, because we anticipated some numbers for fall would be slightly down for the pandemic, we thought we could handle the number of students who would want to live in residence halls by doing that [shifting to single rooms],” McDowell said. “And it looks like that is the case. We haven’t had to turn anyone away.”
Students, faculty and staff at SMU will be required to wear masks in common areas on campus. However, faculty will not wear masks in the classroom so their voices will be picked up by microphones as part of a lecture-capture program in which classes are recorded so students may view the recordings.
WSU aims to provide students, faculty and staff with a cloth face mask. “The expectation is when we come into a room, we have a mask on,” Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Life Dr. Denise McDowell said. “If we’re not speaking, we have a mask on. When we leave, we have a mask on. If you’re sitting in the library and it’s just you at a table, you might not, but if I see people around me, I might decide to put my mask on … if you’re at your desk in your room and you’re there alone, you don’t need to wear it necessarily, but when you go out into the hallway because you’re leaving the apartment or residence hall, you should have it on.”
“I think for us at WSU, we’ll have to create norms and expectations, and I think as people see others doing it, they’ll do it, too,” McDowell added about wearing masks.
Students and staff at MSC Southeast will wear masks when six feet of distance cannot be maintained between individuals.
Several options have been prepared for dining at SMU, and the option that is chosen will depend on the prevalence of COVID-19 in the fall. In one scenario, students would pick up meals at various spots around campus and eat in the dorms. Students would socially distance in the dining area and meal times would be staggered in another scenario. Dining area occupancy would be limited, and chairs and tables would be taken out to enable social distancing.
At WSU, dining hall occupancy will be limited and spillover rooms will be available so social distancing can occur at meal times. Servers will wear masks and gloves and clean between diners.
“We’re also looking at meals to go,” McDowell said. “We’re looking at an app where students can order in advance, and if you wanted to come pick up a meal at noon and move to another location, you could do that.”
Cleaning supplies will be available in SMU residence halls’ lounges so students can disinfect the spaces after use. Students likely will not be allowed to cook in the lounges, Merchlewitz said. Measures to limit the number of students in the lounges are also being considered.
Procedures for selecting times for showers in residence halls’ bathrooms are also being considered. Additionally, installing plexiglass between sinks and marking some sinks as unavailable are being looked into.
Members of the WSU maintenance department will continue their cleaning practices in the residence halls. Additionally, students living in the residence halls will be asked to help with keeping the living spaces disinfected. McDowell noted that just as individuals are asked to wipe down equipment in fitness centers after use, students could wipe down residence hall areas after use.
In the recreation area of SMU, social distancing will take place through spacing out cardio machines, and disinfectants will be available so students can wipe down equipment. The number of people allowed in the facility at one time will be limited as well. The weight room may also be moved to a different space.
Procedures for limiting fitness center occupancy, signing up for fitness center sessions and cleaning between sessions are being considered at WSU.
Some chairs, tables and study cubicles will be marked as unavailable for use to ensure social distancing in the library at SMU. Plexiglass will also be installed in some areas, such as the spot at which books are checked out.
In the WSU library, which is currently open, physical distancing markers are on the floor, and a sign reminds patrons that masks are recommended in the building.
Student support services such as tutoring will be available virtually for the most part at SMU, Merchlewitz said. Any necessary in-person meetings will take place in a socially distanced format in conference rooms, she said. Additionally, the writing center will be accessible virtually. Library services will be available virtually as well. The building will also be physically open.
WSU plans to provide student support services in a flexible manner with in-person and online options, as some students will be on campus and some may be at home, McDowell explained.
Student support services at MSC Southeast will be offered through a mix of distanced and on-campus means.
It is unlikely that external events will be held on campus in the fall, Merchlewtiz shared. Internal events, such as theater department plays, may be held, and they would only be open to the Saint Mary’s community.
Student activities will take place virtually as much as possible, Merchlewitz said, stating that some organizations, such as student senate, have been meeting virtually already.
A group of WSU employees is considering how students organizations could best meet safely and how events could be held most safely.
Questions remain about whether audiences will be allowed at NCAA sporting events. Teams’ play schedules and the region in which they play will be limited.
MSC Southeast is still determining how events may be held on campus.
In addition to in-person classes at SMU, 12 courses are offered online.
“We will make accommodations for students who are at a high risk for COVID to provide them with online options,” Merchlewitz said, adding that students who do not feel comfortable with returning to campus may take part in the 12 online courses that are offered, and the university is still considering how to accommodate those students beyond the available online courses.
Courses will take place in-person, online and in a hybrid format at WSU. A lab with a lecture portion and a lab component may include online lectures and in-person labs, for instance, McDowell said. Some courses, such as introduction to psychological science and introduction to public speaking, will be offered completely in-person, completely online and in a hybrid format.
Courses in majors such as business and management, education and human services, information technologies and liberal arts and sciences will be held through distance learning at MSC Southeast. Courses in majors including engineering, manufacturing and trades, health sciences, cosmetology, musical instrument repair and transportation careers will take place on campus.
More information about SMU may be found at https://www.smumn.edu/.
Further details about WSU may be found at https://www.winona.edu/.
More information about MSC Southeast may be found at https://www.southeastmn.edu/.