Dear Wheaton Community,
For several weeks I have been writing to you about the preparations for the return to campus, and as I write to you today it is really happening! Students have been moving in, gradually but steady, since Monday of this week. With two days of move-in left, we have about 850 students back on campus and we expect about 300 more to arrive over the weekend. These students will join with approximately 600 other Wheaton students who will be studying remotely or commuting to campus to kick off the academic semester next Monday.
The move-in process and the preparations for the beginning of the semester have been going very smoothly. The weather has been extremely cooperative and despite all of the modifications we have had to make there have been very few glitches in our processes. Families have commented on how easy everything has been, even as we have tested well over 1,000 faculty, staff and students for COVID-19 – with almost no wait time to take the test and results reported consistently in less than 24 hours. Orientation and other pre-semester activities have been happening remotely, and all members of the community, whether here on campus or on the other side of the world, have been able to blend in and meet or reconnect with each other. It has been amazing to watch all this unfold, and it is a true testament to the planning and hard work of our Return to Campus Task Force, all of our staff departments, our faculty and student leader volunteers, and our incoming and returning students and families. It’s truly an historic moment for Wheaton and I am so thankful to all those who have made this possible.
You no doubt have seen that some colleges and universities have had to change course and switch to remote operations after bringing students back to campus. We all know how much uncertainty there is about the spread of this virus, but science and experience have taught us that we as individuals can have a huge impact on controlling the spread. You have probably also seen college administrators placing the blame for having to reverse course on student behavior, suggesting it is “out of their control.” You won’t hear me scolding or blaming students here at Wheaton because I know that every student understands the role they have to play in making this fall semester a successful one here at Wheaton. I’ve already seen it firsthand this week on campus and have had the opportunity to talk to many, many students upon their arrival about our collective community responsibility. We know we have the processes and precautions in place to make this work and we all want to be here. To keep our community safe and healthy, the final ingredient to success is our shared commitment to following these processes and to taking the necessary precautions.
One of the most important processes we have in place is an aggressive testing program that will enable us to almost immediately identify someone who is infected with the virus and isolate them, while also enabling us to identify anyone who they might have had close contact with and quarantining them. We have already tested every person here on campus, and some have already been tested more than once. As I write this, we have nearly 900 test results back from the laboratory and there are no positive test results to date. We will keep you updated on a daily basis about this, with the summary results posted to our COVID-19 testing reporting page. For privacy reasons, no individual test results or identification of those who have tested positive will ever be publicly shared. However, close contacts of any positive tests will be notified of their potential exposure as part of the contact tracing process. Next week, we will also launch additional data points on an expanded COVID-19 dashboard to share even more information about what is happening on campus.
Among the other key components to creating a safe environment, we all should know by now that wearing a mask, maintaining social distance and not gathering in large groups are steps that we all need to take. I know this is particularly hard when everyone is back together after being away for so long, but I am confident that we will all hold each other accountable and remind each other of the importance of these precautions. It is especially important in these first few days of the semester, as the possibility exists that someone may have carried the virus from home or elsewhere. Questions have already come up on campus about the rules around wearing face masks outdoors, especially on these beautiful late summer days. Our student-developed Community Commitment provides clear guidance on that: “I commit to wearing masks or face coverings at all times that I am indoors and outside of my residence hall room, as well as outside where social distancing cannot be maintained.” Thus, if you are outside and can socially distance a mask is not required. But keep that mask with you at all times since you never know when you might be in a situation, outside or inside, where you will be unable to socially distance. You won’t see me without a mask much at all since wearing a mask is about protecting other community members, my number one top priority.
What should you do if you think someone is not following the guidelines described in the Community Commitment? Any community member who witnesses a violation of COVID-19 related policies is encouraged to file an incident report. Those who fail to comply with the college’s COVID-19 expectations and policies could face disciplinary action through the college’s Community Standards and Student Conduct Process. As a reminder, students both on and off-campus are expected to follow these guidelines. Given our overwhelming focus on creating a safe environment for all, activities such as hosting or attending a social gathering or not complying with testing/quarantine/isolation procedures will likely result in a loss of housing and restriction from campus. Even attending an off-campus social gathering could result in a student being restricted from campus. I know that we will all take our shared responsibility to protect each other very seriously.
Even with so many changes to how we are doing things, I can still feel the excitement building for the start of the semester. The Class of 2024 and all of our new students are about to embark on their Wheaton journey, and their Welcome Weekend kicks off on Saturday morning. Check out the schedule for this virtual Fall Orientation programming, and in particular I hope you will attend our ceremony to welcome all of our new students at 9:30 AM on Saturday morning (Eastern time). This brief but moving ceremony is open to the entire community and I would love to see a great turnout to welcome our new members. Additionally, at the end of the first day of classes on Monday, August 24, at 5 PM (Eastern time), we will celebrate the beginning of the new academic year, and especially the Senior Class, with our traditional Opening Convocation. The virtual format makes it possible for the entire Wheaton community to attend this, too. Our keynote address will feature Provost Renée White and is titled “If Not Now, When?”
As the semester starts, there will be many ways for you to keep up with all of the events and happenings on campus. While I know your Friday night might not be complete without this email from me, I will begin to write less frequently after next week. If you want to keep in touch with Wheaton on a weekly basis and are not already receiving it, please subscribe to Wheaton Week, a weekly e-newsletter that is sent throughout the academic year. You will receive news on exciting faculty and student achievements, innovative collaborations, campus developments and much more. And, I promise, you will still hear from me regularly, albeit less frequently.
What a week it has been! What a semester we have ahead of us! Let’s get started and continue to write history as together we define what it means to be part of an amazing community like this, one that is focused on collective impact and caring for each other.
I hope to see you at the Welcoming Ceremony on Saturday, Opening Convocation on Monday, and/or even on the Dimple in the coming days. Have a great weekend!