Trinity to Permit 1,700 Students to Return to Campus; College May “Limit Unnecessary Travel” of Students As Part of COVID-19 Restrictions

7 min read

Brendan W. Clark ’21, Liz Foster ’22, and Kat Namon ’22

Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editors

Trinity College will bring as many as 1,700 students back to campus for the Fall 2020 semester according to an email from President of the College Joanne Berger-Sweeney Wednesday afternoon. The College’s repopulation plan also includes details around coronavirus mitigation strategies and other safety precautions as the College reopens in August. 

Berger-Sweeney indicated that 1,700 was the “maximum number of students for whom we can provide single bedrooms.” Trinity typically enrolls about 2,200 students in its on-campus and abroad programs, of which the latter has been cancelled for the fall 2020 semester. “Another 200 will reside in off-campus housing,” she added, and the 150 students “who live within a 25-mile radius of campus” may also be asked to live at home for the fall semester if the College’s housing occupancy is reached, suggesting a possible return of an estimated 2,050 students to campus on a daily basis if full occupancies were reached. She acknowledged that “some number of students will not be able to return to campus and will need to take classes remotely.” Bringing back the majority of students to campus mirrors another NESCAC institution, Middlebury, whose reopening plan was reported in Inside Higher Ed in late June

As part of its coronavirus preparations, the College will “limit unnecessary travel off campus for students to limit the risk of exposure to and transmission of COVID-19.” It was not immediately clear how travel could be legally restricted or if students would not be permitted to bring automobiles to campus. Faculty and staff are also required to “do daily symptom checks” when they arrive on campus. Berger-Sweeney did not note if the same requirement would be imposed on commuting students or those residing off-campus.

Further, Berger-Sweeney added, “classrooms, dining halls, and activity spaces are being reconfigured to allow for appropriate physical distancing,” though she did not indicate how that would be achieved or how physical distancing would occur. Nearly three quarters of Trinity’s student population is returning to the 60-acre campus under the current plan. Precise details, she added, would be provided in the future “for all those arriving on campus.”

In addition to administrative action, students will sign a “Community Responsibility Agreement” that will “reinforce the need for students to be vigilant in following public health guidance and college policies regarding COVID-19,” though the enforceability of its terms and its contents were not clarified in the email Wednesday afternoon. 

Also unveiled was the College’s coronavirus management strategy, which Berger-Sweeney branded “protect the nest.” The strategy includes the use of “face coverings/masks, physical distancing (including reduced sizes of social gatherings), frequent handwashing, self-monitoring for symptoms, and mandatory public health education.” The College will also provide sanitizing materials. Guidance on fraternities and sororities was not provided, although Berger-Sweeney provided a statement ensuring the community that the College “will limit the size of gatherings and events, whether indoor or outdoor” without providing additional details. It was not clear how the College would handle fraternities and sororities located off-campus on private property. 

Athletics at Trinity in the fall “and likely winter…will not occur as usual,” she noted, adding that there will be “significantly fewer, if any, competitions in the fall.” Still, Berger-Sweeney continued, Trinity hopes to incorporate “physically distanced practices for in- and out-of-season sports and activities to engage our athletes.” The College has also indicated that it intends to follow the standards set forth by the NESCAC, which has most recently extended its suspension of in-person recruitment through July 15

Berger-Sweeney did not provide details on the frequency of testing or how the College would test students who commute to campus from off-campus housing, however, she did indicate that testing will be “on a regular basis throughout the semester” and will exceed “the minimum testing recommendations from the state.” The guidance is also “evolving” and has “changed in recent days,” she added, noting that an update will be provided to the community in August. Berger-Sweeney also addressed recent guidance from Connecticut that imposes a quarantine on travelers from as many as 17 states and acknowledged that those developments may impact reopening. 

Return will include some students “in singles, others in suites with common rooms. No bedrooms on campus will be configured for more than one person,” she continued. Housing assignments will occur in mid-July, with first-year students receiving their housing assignments in August. Move-in will also be “staggered…to facilitate physical distancing at the start of the semester,” Berger-Sweeney continued. These “gradual phases” of move-in are anticipated to begin in the final week of August and additional information on housing for students was provided in an email from Director of Operations for the Bantam Network Residential Learning Community Susan Salisbury Wednesday evening. 

Despite the fact that some courses will be taught online, tuition will not change. This decision was predicated on the notion that “regardless of the format” of the courses, faculty at Trinity are “committed to offering high-quality, meaningful, and personalized interactions with students.” Berger-Sweeney also indicated that all students, both in-person and remote, “will continue to have access to small classes and personalized interactions with extraordinary faculty members.”  

Room and board will also not change either despite some housing options remaining unavailable to students. Room and board fees will, however, “cover the four terms of the new academic calendar; financial aid also will apply across these terms.”

It was not immediately clear how many faculty would be teaching their courses online. As the Tripod has previously reported, the College will have a four-semester academic year. All classes will “run either 10 weeks or 13 weeks depending on the needs of the course,” Berger-Sweeney added, referencing a June 13 letter from Acting Dean of the Faculty Sonia Cardenas. Which classes will follow a 10 or 13-week syllabus has not yet been disclosed.

Faculty are “being trained in the best practices of remote instruction,” Berger-Sweeney added, and technological upgrades to classrooms will include “more cameras, microphones, and other equipment.” Berger-Sweeney did not indicate what the cost would be or how the College would finance these improvements, or its coronavirus safety measures, though the College is projected to run a deficit of between $14 million and $22 million next year. Many other Colleges are spending millions to provide plexiglass dividers, masks, and other coronavirus safety materials in high traffic areas according to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal

Dining facilities on campus will reopen, Berger-Sweeney stated, with employees subject to “daily wellness checks of associates and delivery drivers, increased sanitizing and disinfecting, the wearing of personal protective equipment (PPE), extensive associate training, and informational signage.” Berger-Sweeney assured students in her email that they can “anticipate a variety of to-go options and staffed stations with more limited seating within the dining venues,” although it was not immediately clear how Chartwell’s facilities—two of which, Mather Hall and the Bistro, are centered around or have self-service dining stations—would comport with CDC guidance that advises against self-service options.

The Tripod reached out to Chief of Staff to the President Jason Rojas for clarification and comment, however, he was not immediately available.

bclark

Brendan W. Clark '21 is the current Editor-in-Chief of the Trinity Tripod, Trinity College's student newspaper.

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