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Student Development Message: Fall 2020 Updates

May 29, 2020

Dear SLU Companions,  

As you know, Dr. Pestello announced earlier this week that our fall semester will start earlier than originally scheduled, on August 17. Our hope is that an early start allows us to maximize in-person instruction in the event that a potential second wave of COVID-19 requires us to move to remote instruction again. It also allows us to end on-campus learning at Thanksgiving, which will allow you to avoid back-and-forth travel this semester. Today, I write to touch base on some of the logistical implications of this decision. 

Let me begin with a confession: this email won’t answer your most pressing questions!  

Each time we answer one question about the fall, it leads to many new questions. Unfortunately, it isn’t always possible to have all the answers you might need before we share information about key decisions. This balancing of certainties and uncertainties is continuous. In light of the fluid nature of a pandemic, I am trying (and some days, struggling!) to live with the fact that the list of things we know for sure is so much shorter right now than the list of things we don’t yet know. 

In this case, we had a choice: wait until we could share more details about things like move-in and Fall Welcome, or give you as much lead time as possible with the new start date. We opted for the latter, but I know this information leaves you with new questions, like: When is Move-In? What happens to Fall Welcome? And the continued need for health safeguards may also be leading to other questions, such as: How does COVID-19 impact housing assignments? Classroom experiences? Student organizations? 

Below are a few thoughts about some of the logistical matters you are asking about. I want to give you a sense of where we are in our thinking and planning process. And I want to ask for your continued patience as we wrestle with the big (and the small) questions about how to bring students back to campus safely.  

So far, we have succeeded in not acting too soon or too late, not getting ahead of the science and not waiting to follow everyone else. The truth is that waiting, even just a little longer, to provide specifics about things like housing may make a big difference in the answers we arrive at. 

Please know that we are continuing to work through the details of these – and many other – questions as we learn more about the virus, its spread, and effective strategies for prevention and containment. We are working closely with SLU’s public health and medical experts to ensure that we are creating a safe environment for you when you get to campus in August. In every way possible, we are prioritizing mission-based, science-informed decisions.

Thank you for your continued patience. I promise, as soon as we have additional details on any of the topics below, we’ll share them with you. Until then, please stay connected and be well. 

Warmly, 

Debra Rudder Lohe, Ph.D. (she/her/hers)
Interim Vice President for Student Development 

Housing 

Many of you want to know about housing. Right now, we’re working through different scenarios to understand the particular parameters and safeguards that must be in place for you to live on campus safely. I know many of you have already received housing contracts, while others have not yet received housing assignments. At this time, we simply are not able to finalize housing assignments. Until we have a better understanding of what physical distancing and other requirements might mean for housing, we cannot provide you with the firm answers you seek. Like other universities, we are considering a variety of scenarios. An essential aspect of any fall housing plan will be ensuring that appropriate isolation spaces are available for students who test positive for COVID-19 while living on campus. We will have additional information for you in the coming weeks. Note: Incoming Billikens don’t typically receive their housing assignments until July, which is helpful because it gives us more time to understand what the science is telling us about how we live together in community. 

Move-In 

For those who will join or return to our residential community, you are eager to know how the adjustment to the University's fall calendar affects your Move-in date. We are working to finalize those plans to ensure that they allow for appropriate physical distancing and for limited numbers of people moving through hallways, stairwells, and elevators at the same time. Typically, fall Move-In takes place in a single, very-crowded and packed day. Obviously, that process will not work for a pandemic. We will have additional information for you soon. 

Fall Welcome 

For our new Billikens, Fall Welcome typically provides a variety of opportunities for students and families to get acclimated to their new community. Large gatherings, like Convocation and Live the Oath, are a hallmark of the Fall Welcome program. Since large gatherings are unlikely this fall, we have a strong team of student leaders and staff members working to identify essential programming elements and alternative formats for those. This is another topic on which we promise to have additional information for you soon. 

Other Activities 

We know that student organizations and clubs provide some of the strongest sense of community our Billikens experience. Athletic events, invited speakers, student leadership opportunities, social gatherings, and many other types of activities give shape and contour to your SLU experience. But we also know this fall will likely not feel “normal,” and large gatherings are likely to be prohibited, at least in the early fall. If we will need physical distancing and face masks during in-person classes, we certainly will need to adjust the way we’re thinking about group activities outside the classroom. Currently, the City of St. Louis and the University restrict social and other gatherings to 10 people or under. If those requirements remain in place this fall, much of the way we engage each other will need to change. Once the University has clear guidance in place for group activities, we will share those.

In the meantime, as you look ahead to returning this fall, we encourage you to be thinking about alternative formats for signature events you may help to organize. If you’re part of an organization or club that typically interacts in group gatherings (even if the group is relatively small), it will be important for you to begin to think creatively about how to engage and build community in some new ways. The good news is that community is about the people, not the ways in which those people gather for particular activities. If the people are back on campus, we’ll be “in community” - even if it has to look different than it typically would.