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Some Lessons for Returning to Campus This Fall

Faculty members and students can adapt.

We are more or less a month away from the start of the fall semester on many college and university campuses. With the coronavirus still rampant, what will the return to classes look like? How should students and their teachers prepare? Not all campuses will be open, but many will welcome students back to the classroom and dormitory.

To begin, will the fall be like the spring? In some ways, probably, but colleges and universities have had several months to regroup and plan for the fall, whether it means moving back to campus, relying on virtual classes, or a blended model of the two. I suspect that instructors who are teaching fully or partially online will be more prepared and do a generally better job when the leaves start to turn color. Schools will have protocols in place to protect students and faculty as much as possible from the virus. Will it be perfect? Likely no, but it will certainly be safer than last spring.

For their part, faculty members will need to be flexible where students are concerned. There is a lot of understandable anxiety among students and their families regarding COVID-19. That reality needs to be acknowledged. Faculty members will need to continue to be flexible with assignment due dates and technology issues. They should also spend efforts in the remaining weeks of summer making the online aspects of their courses as understandable and intuitive as possible. Course syllabi and the rules laid out in them need to be very clear. Patience will be required.

Students, in turn, need to understand that this “new normal” is likely to last a while. They will need to wear masks in public places and possibly in face-to-face classrooms if genuine social distancing is not possible. Students will need to get used to having public spaces sanitized frequently—there will sometimes be delays before a class begins or ends—and masks may need to be worn outside where groups gather before and after class. Foodservice may remain a pickup option. The real challenge will be creating a social life that is, well, less social—I mean large and raucous parties, for example, will pose huge risks for self and others. Sports events will be different (if they occur at all), and the campus gym may not be open or available.

There will be lots of other differences happening, but campus life can and will go on. Humans can adapt; indeed, we must if we want a return to normalcy in the future. Both students and faculty members need to be concerned for the health, safety, and well-being of one another this fall. They also need to consider the welfare of their peers. In other words, safety protocols that take place in the classroom—where they will seem reasonable—may also have to happen in the dorm, faculty office, hallway, restroom, really everywhere—where they may feel less necessary. Such feelings are a problem and one of the reasons the virus remains and often surges instead of fading. Vigilance for oneself and others will matter a great deal this fall.

I cannot tell you what your campus experience will be like if you go to college this fall, but I can tell you if you act intentionally and adapt to necessity—flexibility and understanding are key—then you will likely have a better, safer experience.

Enjoy late summer and have a great fall semester.

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