Everyone remembers their first tour of Alma, hearing about our Scottish heritage, perhaps talking to coaches or faculty, even having your first meal in SAGA, however in a world dealing with COVID-19, what should this experience look like? Balancing the two pillars of keeping our campus safe and free from extra outside exposure, while providing this pivotal and critical experience to incoming students has been a recent topic of debate among campus.
Per campus policy, outside guests are prohibited, not only from residential halls, but some academic centers as well. Additionally, current students are highly discouraged to return home and are encouraged to only leave campus when necessary. Yet, despite these measures taken by the college, new ‘pods’ of individuals enter campus every day.
The Admissions website outlines heightened safety procedures including sanitizing of any check in materials, outdoor meetings, as well as a screening the day before. It is important to note the policy specifies that face coverings are required inside buildings, however there is no clarification as to whether this is also required when outdoors.
Students are not required to wear masks outdoors when in a situation that would allow for social distancing; however, campus culture has shown that many individuals continue to wear masks at all times when outside their own residence.
It would make sense that the policy would be universal across both sectors, but we need to remember that prospective students and their families are coming from all across the state, if not the country. They could reside in areas with a high rate of positive cases, therefore bringing a threat to campus.
Once again, this brings a complex issue to the forefront, how do we provide this experience in a meaningful but safe way?
Our admissions staff worked over the summer to provide a 360 view of campus as well as an improved walking tour –both with the hope to bring the experience of walking through campus to the screens of prospective students across the globe. Is this enough to convey the Alma College feel?
Let’s also consider it from the opposite end: anxiety about fully understanding potential college options in the age of the coronavirus is likely at the forefront of many high school seniors. Many campuses have not had as successful of a return to campus as Alma has. In fact, campuses across the nation have seen high rates of positive cases, with outbreaks continuing among students.
Keeping this in mind, potential students have to balance the nerves of experiencing a place that could become their temporary home for the very first time with the fear of contracting COVID-19.
Michigan has recently seen spikes in positive cases, specifically in areas that have fared well thus far in the pandemic. Many experts worry this is the beginning of the ‘fall surge,’ meaning the second wave of high rates of cases across the country.
With this being said, it is not the time to let down our guard, not even a small amount. There is absolutely no way to know if a ‘pod’ of prospective students would be the ones to bring and transmit the virus on campus, but with as fragile of an ecosystem as we have here, is this a risk we are willing to take?
Regardless of how a potential shut down would impact the college on the administrative and operational end, we have to consider the health and wellbeing of students, faculty and staff first. We cannot place ourselves in a position to shut down abruptly again. Therefore, as we move forward into what is poised to be a second wave of coronavirus, we must be extremely cautious and calculated in our actions as a community.