McDaniel leadership continues conversation on returning to the Hill

Students practice social distancing while enjoying 'McDaniel Local' activities. (Photo courtesy of Jake Fine).

On July 14, all McDaniel students were invited to a virtual Student Informational Session hosted by members of McDaniel ‘Return to the Hill’ leadership committee.

“We want you to hear directly from campus leadership and have your questions answered,” the invitation email read. 

The session was hosted by President Roger Casey; Executive Vice President/Provost, Julia Jasken, Vice President of Enrollment, Janelle Holmboe; Associate Vice President of Administration, Jenni Glennon; and Dean of Students, Liz Towle.

Participants were recommended to submit their questions in advance, but additional questions were also accepted throughout the session. 

As we return to the Hill, things will look different and behaviors will need to change. Class sizes are reduced, dining venues have increased, and community members will be wearing masks and practicing social distancing. 

Classes will be held in online, hybrid, and in-person modes. Some classes will be held in a strictly online format because some professors, like students, will not be conducting in-person classes due to health concerns for themselves and their families. 

“If an in-person class is required, those faculty know to organize an alternative experience for you or you can work with your advisor to arrange an alternative,” Jasken informed students. 

Other students expressed concern over seeing no changes in tuition costs, or even higher costs in some cases, despite most classes being taught outside the classroom. According to the committee, $34,000 per student has been invested to make the college more accessible and safer to attend, including a “temperature scanning machine” that allows students to stand in front of and get their temperature checked.

“We have invested well over a million dollars in ensuring our campus is as safe as it possibly can, related to all the new health issues that are emerging in terms of Plexiglas, and other different technologies to keep students safe,” said Jasken.

In addition to advancing safety precautions, all McDaniel faculty members have taken a four week long, intensive training course to help them become better equipped to teach in an online setting.

“They are redesigning their classes so that they do work in that online environment,” Jasken added.

Students were advised to reach out to their professor, advisor, or academic dean if they feel their needs are not being met in a class.

Across campus, maximum occupancy has been identified, and denoted with signage, for each indoor space, to usher social distancing practices. Furniture that allows for seating above those limits has been subsequently removed. Students will still be permitted to work in classrooms after hours and on weekends while following these restrictions.

“There will be no large indoor gatherings that exceed health and safety guidelines,” said Holmboe. 

As for extracurricular activities, clubs and Greek life organizations are encouraged to work with student engagement staff to discover what is possible for tabling, meetings, and campus outreach events.

“Tabling events are certainly possible,” said Towle.

Students on campus for summer orientation, often referred to as ‘McDaniel Local,’ are already adapting to the changes to student life. Leaders and attendees spend time gathering in outdoor spaces and enjoying one another’s distanced company.

As they head to eat socially distanced, students wait 6 feet apart outside the dining hall, swipe their own cards to reduce contact, and pass through a contactless temperature scanner to check for fevers.

Inside of the dining hall, ‘Glar,’ tables have seating limits and labels denoting whether they have been sanitized or are awaiting cleaning. Students follow traffic flow and distancing markers, wearing a mask whenever they are not seated at a table.

“Their number one priority is doing everything safely, and I think they’re doing well,” said Jake Fine, a Local Leader currently working on campus. “It definitely doesn’t feel like old Glar, where we’d crowd 12 people around a round table, but I feel pretty safe eating in the dining hall.”

The changes to the dining hall will accompany the other dining options on campus during the semester.

Move-in will run from August 14-19 for most students. Students will be allowed to have two guests assist them with moving in, who will be asked not to linger for very long after move-in is complete. Students that choose to live on campus next semester should be informed by late July or early August about their specific move-in times and other additional information.

While living in residence halls, residents will not be permitted to have outside guests or move between residence halls, as dictated by McDaniel’s updated housing agreement. As an alternative, the newly renovated student center and outdoor tents across campus will serve as hangout spots. Although guests will not be allowed in individual dorm rooms, commuter students are still invited to use Hoover Library and other pubic student services on campus. 

The College is prepared to offer COVID-19 testing to anyone experiencing symptoms at the wellness center. Additionally, a surveillance program is being implemented to sample random portions of the population through a volunteer process.

If someone tests positive for the virus, there are a number of “isolation beds” set aside both on and off campus for those students to quarantine. They will receive daily telehealth check-ins while in quarantine to monitor their conditions and make sure they have access to the level of healthcare that they need. Students will also have the option to return home to recover.

“They are purposefully set aside with a unique bathroom… they are away from everybody else and help decrease the chance of further spread,” said Glennon.

President Casey reminded the McDaniel community that “everything we are doing is in line with Governor Hogan’s state regulations.”

President Casey commended Governor Hogan, the Maryland state governor, for his handling of the COVID-19 crisis. Amendments to McDaniel operations will continue to be made in accordance with Maryland state governance. 

The biggest takeaways, from a student perspective, are: stay in touch with your advisors and professors as we make this transition back to The Hill and settle into these new learning environments, be aware of the written commitments you have made in your housing agreements and your responsibilities as a McDaniel student, and be aware of verbal and visual reminders throughout campus.

McDaniel leadership is counting on a sense of community responsibility to uphold guidelines. Towle spoke specifically on the leadership committee’s collective faith in McDaniel students to enforce protections around campus.

“This is very much a community and a shared responsibility… If everyone works together, we’ll be fine,” she said. 

Jake Fine has come to a similar conclusion while working on campus. “I believe that we’re being set up with all the tools to be safe, but it’ll be up to us to take our own, and each other’s, health seriously.”

As with all campus rules, those who do not follow them will be dealt with on an individual case basis. Students who do not adhere to new campus guidelines risk the loss of privileges.

Students are encouraged to check the RTTH page on the McDaniel site, found under campus safety, to stay up to date.