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Returning to Campus: What Students Should Expect for Fall 2020

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As we move closer and closer to the start of the Fall 2020 semester, it is incredibly important for both new and returning students to know exactly what to expect when they set foot on campus.

Though students already know about the changes made to the academic calendar, Dean of Student Life Demitrius Brown provided further clarity on just how different Millsaps will be.

“You’ll walk into a building, there will be some directional signage to help people navigate space better”, he said when describing the process for going to and from classes.

“There will be some directions if a student needs to use an elevator, how many people can be in an elevator if a student needs to go up and down a building.”

All classes will also have enter and exit doors, students and faculty will be required to wear face masks, and social distancing will be encouraged “as much as possible.” Students with ADA limitations will also be accommodated accordingly. 

Students will also be expected to help keep their community clean, according Dean Brown and Annie Mitchell, the recently appointed vice president of marketing and communications as well as the head of a task force for COVID-19 related issues.

“You will also notice in the classroom there’ll be cleaning supplies. The students will be expected to help the entire community be clean by wiping down their spaces”, Brown said, with Mitchell recommending that students’ do so before and after sitting down. Class time will also be shortened to allow for cleaning and more organized exiting of spaces.

Creating A Culture of Accountability

While these changes are numerous, Dean Brown emphasized that he and the administration do not intend to police students 24/7. 

“The truth of the matter is no one is monitoring you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to make sure you do everything exactly the way the rulebook goes, right?”, he said. 

“So what we have to build, and I hope that students will be on board with this, is a culture of accountability and responsibility. There are things that we know we’re going to have to do differently. I know students are sometimes used to gathering in close quarters, maybe five, six, seven people gathering in a room to watch a movie. Or maybe some of the more party locations and getting a bunch of people in a tight location so that the party has a certain feel about it. We’re going to have to understand that for all our collective safety, that we’re going to have to make different decisions about that”.

Brown states it is important to engage with students on an adult level so they understand that these procedures are for the collective safety of the college, not just to get anyone in trouble. There are many students who are immuno-compromised or at high risk, so making sure that everyone plays their role to keep the community safe is critical.

Brown further emphasized that while he knows mistakes are likely to happen, he trusts that students will not intentionally act irresponsibly by doing things such as gathering in large groups or bringing a lot of people into their rooms. The administration is working on both an addendum to the housing agreement as well as a community pledge on safety that students will take when they come  

But what happens if a student is exposed, or tests positive for the virus?

The current plan is to set aside some housing space to isolate students who have been exposed. They will be provided with resources to continue their education even while quarantined, additional resources regarding testing, as well as a “food buddy program” – a mechanic the college employed in the past in which a friend will pick up a students’ meal and drop it off at their door. If the student does not have any friends, it will simply be a staff member.  

Faculty and Staff

Campus dining is another aspect of the student experience that will undergo drastic changes when students return. The first major change students may notice is that faculty will no longer be there as to reduce density in the space.

“Faculty and staff are more likely to be at risk of COVID than students are, so we’re taking that step too as an example”, said Dean Brown.

Recently, a staff member has tested positive for COVID-19, so this extra precaution is likely to keep that number at a minimum for the sake of community. Staff members are already required to quarantine if they are exposed, and their individual circumstances will be attended to so students will not feel the effects of their absence.

“We have lots of different jobs at the college, so that would be something that the individual staff or faculty member would work with their supervisor or human resources to manage their particular experience”, said Mitchell. 

All professors have also been covered by a redundancy plan in case they are exposed.

Organizations and Social Life

Another aspect of campus life that is set to change are student organizations. Everything from large fraternities to small clubs, are set to conduct their activities very differently. 

Dean Brown met with several fraternities over the break and told them they would have to think about what spaces on campus allow their members to spread out as opposed to gather together for certain activities

“So those are the types of things we have to think about differently than in the past because I don’t want the message to get out or be interpreted that we don’t want students to have fun, cause we do. But we have to do it in responsible ways”, he said.  

“When I was talking to fraternity leaders I asked them to think about it this way: what is the goal of a social event, and then how can we do it safely? Not that we can’t do them or we won’t or we’re going to say no. And the response I gave them was I want our policies to sort of be content neutral. I don’t want to make a decision about every event that happens. These are our procedures, these are the steps we need to take, if you can do your thing within the scope of these things, go ahead. If you cannot, you cannot.”

Spaces such as Gallaway Green, the field in front of the Christian Center, athletic fields and even the HAC have been considered. Brown trusts that most of the students understand the complicated issues he and the administration are trying to balance, sees this as an opportunity for all of us to show just how much we care for one another. 

Expect Changes

It will likely take some time for students to get used to the bulk of these changes, but Dean Brown and the administration want to make it incredibly clear that these procedures are not set in stone.

Recognizing that Millsaps is bound by the ordinances of the city of Jackson, and as such will change its guidelines according to those ordinances, is critical to protecting as much of the community as possible. Because of this, Brown encourages all students to keep up with the latest information provided via email by the college. While Brown admits that there have been a lot of “fluffy” department and event focused emails in the past, he stated that administration is working on resolving that and only putting the most relevant info in students’ inboxes.

“That’s the bubble that our students live in, right? You all are intensively focused, you’re busy, many of you are student athletes, or have other significant things like jobs, and so that’s why I’m really emphasizing this communication line”, he said.

“One of my least favorite words is ‘No one told me’. And I count that as a word. ‘No one told me’. That is a very passive way of looking at our responsibilities as members of our community. There’s information that we’re presenting, and I have talked to students ad nauseum about this over the summer when people have sent me emails about things that we’ve emailed and I asked “Did you read the email?” So we have to really shift that culture here, and you have to be an active participant in communication”.

Students are also encouraged to frequently check the official Millsaps website for the latest information. You can also keep up to date by checking out the Purple and White website, as well as following the paper on social media @millsapspurpleandwhite on Instagram.