Update on Fall Return to Campus

Dear members of the Wheaton College community,

We are looking forward to the fall when we will welcome back to campus our faculty, staff and returning students and welcome the Class of 2024 and transfer students to Wheaton for the first time. As we have previously indicated, we intend to deliver an on-campus fall semester and this email provides a high-level overview of our approach to doing this. Our plans include aggressive and extraordinary measures to protect the health and safety of our community members. We also realize that some will be unable to or may not wish to come to campus, thus our plans also provide flexibility that will make it possible for all Wheaton students to continue their academic progress and still be a part of the distinctive Wheaton experience.

We know that what makes Wheaton so special is its people – students working together on this beautiful campus with faculty and staff to create a vibrant community focused on personal growth and development. In the current environment, we all know that bringing people back together will require significant adjustments to what normally happens on campus. At its core, our plan for returning to campus is focused on the safety and well-being of all members of our campus community. While we know this will change the campus environment, it really is about prioritizing health and safety for all.

The college’s Reopening Task Force and subcommittees have been working on preparations for the fall and, with significant input from local and national experts, have developed and recommended policy, protocol, and procedures for returning to campus. While it is unreasonable to assume that we can entirely eliminate the risk of student, faculty or staff exposure to the COVID-19 disease, we are confident that our strategy is comprehensive and informed by the best public health information and guidance currently available. Our knowledge and understanding of the COVID-19 virus continues to evolve, and as such our policies and procedures are subject to change based on new guidance and public health information. 

If you have been following the news, you know that there is mixed progress on the battle against COVID-19. Here in Massachusetts, the news is very positive. We now have the lowest COVID-19 transmission rate of any state in the country, with the key metrics that the state is monitoring to determine the pace of reopening trending positively. At the same time, we see cases spiking in many southern and western states. I take away from this that aggressive action, as we have seen in many eastern states, can have a positive impact on transmission. But I also take away from this that there is still great risk of spread and we must remain vigilant, take aggressive action to prevent the spread and be ready to adjust if and when our area experiences a surge.

Below is a brief summary of our plans and more comprehensive information can be found on our Return to Campus website. These plans rely on a renewed emphasis on personal responsibility and shared commitment for keeping oneself and others as safe as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps the key ingredient to creating a safe campus environment is that every member of our community commits to following the practices and guidelines developed to keep each other safe, and to this end students are engaged with Student Affairs to develop a set of community expectations.

Mitigating the Risk of Infection

  • Faculty, staff, and students are expected to consistently practice social distancing. Keeping 6 feet of space between you and others is one of the best tools available to mitigate exposure to the COVID-19 virus and to slow the spread. 
  • Faculty, staff, and students are required to have a face mask or face covering available at all times and it must be worn when in the presence of others and in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain such as common workspaces, meeting rooms, and classrooms.  
  • Building Services will provide frequent disinfecting of classroom spaces, residence halls, common areas, and public spaces.

Testing, Screening, and Contact Tracing

  • The college’s testing plan, done in partnership with the Broad Institute at Harvard and MIT, one of the leading biomedical labs in the country, will include: onboarding testing upon return to campus for all students, faculty and staff; symptomatic testing for community members with COVID-19 symptoms; and frequent ongoing testing to identify infected but non-symptomatic individuals.
  • Faculty, staff, and students will be required to conduct self-monitoring of symptoms through a college-provided screening tool before reporting to work on campus or leaving their residence hall rooms each day.  
  • The college is partnering with the Norton Board of Health and Sturdy Hospital to create a COVID-19 public health advisory group, composed of representatives from the medical and public health professions, for the purpose of advising college leadership regarding any COVID-related issues impacting the Fall 2020 semester and beyond.

Academic Experience

  • Fall classes will be taught using a format called the hybrid tutorial model. This format allows for a combination of remote learning and smaller in-person discussions. These discussions can be in person, here on campus, or students may join them remotely. This ensures that all students will experience Wheaton’s small class environment and close personal contact with faculty in every course.
  • Faculty are working hard over the summer to prepare for this mode of delivery and the experience will be substantially different than what students experienced in the spring when our transition to remote learning happened with little advance notice.
  • While we expect most courses to have some component of on-campus instruction (with students able to participate remotely), some courses will be entirely remote. Students will hear soon from the Registrar when the fall course schedule has been updated to reflect the format of delivery for each course.
  • Individual course delivery may be subject to change due to evolving guidance or unforeseen circumstances.
  • Students not able to return to campus will be able to fully participate in this coursework from their remote locations.
  • The Academic Calendar for the Fall 2020 semester has been adjusted. Classes will begin on Monday, August 24 and end on Tuesday, November 24. Reading days and final exams will be administered remotely the week of November 30, 2020. Classes will be held on Labor Day (Monday, September 7) and during the October break (Monday, October 12 and Tuesday, October 13).

Student Housing

  • On-campus student housing will be limited to single and double rooms to allow for adequate social distancing within the residence halls. Additionally, residence hall occupancy will be adjusted to account for potential medical needs of students and to create necessary isolation and quarantine spaces. 
  • Visitors and guests will generally be restricted from campus buildings, including residence halls, offices, and other campus facilities, unless as part of an official college tour or with prior approval.
  • The college has adjusted the August move-in schedule to allow for a gradual repopulation of campus that also allows for students to drop off their belongings before the start of the semester.
  • For returning students, these changes will mean that the recent room selection process will need to be revisited. For new students, the housing process will largely remain the same. More information on how it will impact you and what you need to do to live on campus will be communicated soon from the Office of Residence Life.
  • Students will receive a survey on Wednesday, July 1 to their Wheaton email address from the Office of Residence Life so they can share their intent for on- or off-campus residency during the fall semester.

Dining

  • There will be modifications in all dining locations on campus, including but not limited to enhanced cleaning, physical distancing practices for staff and diners, no buffet style or shared food service, and increased grab and go options. Capacities in the dining halls will be adjusted and access may be limited at times.

Student Clubs and Campus Events

  • Student clubs and organizations will be encouraged to conduct meetings virtually, and will only be permitted to meet in person and provide in-person programming when all social distancing protocols can be accommodated.
  • Events and activities will be offered in both virtual and limited capacity in-person opportunities based on guidance from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the CDC.  
  • The college will follow guidance and restrictions for participation in varsity athletics when they are put forth by the NCAA, NEWMAC, Massachusetts Department of Public Health and CDC. More detail will be communicated directly to student-athletes in the coming weeks.

Given that our fall semester will be slightly shorter than originally planned, students living on campus will receive a $500 one-time room and board credit. Additionally, if you choose to live off campus your merit aid will be applied in full to your tuition. Need-based aid will need to be recalculated based on your revised cost of attendance. If you have any questions about your cost of attendance, please contact Student Financial Services at sfs@wheatoncollege.edu. We will also adjust our normal Refund Policy for students who withdraw or move off campus after the semester begins to provide more flexibility given the uncertainties. Please see the Refund Policy on the Student Financial Services website for more details.

All of our plans have been developed with flexibility in mind, given that we have definitely seen the need to be flexible and adaptable over these past few months. We have heard from so many members of our community that they want and need that flexibility because there are so many unknowns right now. And I fully expect that our plans will continue to evolve and change since so much is unknown and even expert guidance varies from day to day. We continue to think about everything we are doing, monitoring all of the government and public health guidance and working closely with just about every other college in Massachusetts and many beyond. I hope you understand that our plans could change and I truly appreciate your patience.

Faculty and staff across campus have been working hard preparing for the fall, yet there is still much more work to be done. The uncertainty of the pandemic brings unique challenges and difficulties to each individual situation and the partnership of our students and families will continue to be essential to continue our planning. Over the days and weeks ahead, you will receive guidance from offices and departments across campus about specific next steps and protocols in their areas in regards to the fall semester. We will also provide regular updates via email and you can also refer to the college’s Return to Campus website and related links on the home page of insideWheaton.  

For our returning students, we know that you will not be coming back to a Wheaton campus that looks exactly the same as it was when you left. And for those that are new to our community, your experiences may be different from what you may have expected when you first embarked on your college search. But despite these changes, the core of Wheaton – our connected and supportive community – remains and we will strive to deliver on our distinctive and personal educational experience.

I look forward to welcoming you back to Wheaton in a few short weeks.

Sincerely,

Dennis Hanno
President
Wheaton College