Arts & Entertainment Editor
After over a year of distance learning, Whittier College announced that campus will be fully reopening for the Fall 2021 semester. According to Lisa Newton, the Chair for the College’s COVID-19 Compliance Task Force, fully reopening means that the campus will resume in person instruction and student activities. However, campus life will still look a little different from pre-COVID-19 standards.
Face Mask Policy:
Following L.A. County’s July 15 announcement that masks would once again be required indoors for both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, Whittier College will be instituting a universal masking policy for all indoor spaces. Regardless of vaccination status, those inside buildings on Campus must wear masks.
While campus may appear different, the task force intends to use a layered strategy of COVID-19 mitigation to create a safe and healthy environment for campus life to resume in, starting with orientation. The College plans to have a reservation form for first-year orientation and will limit the number of guests at certain events. The welcome events that normally take place during orientation, such as educational workshops or programs organized for first-generation students, will occur both online and in-person to limit crowding. Although multiple family members will be allowed on campus, the number of individuals allowed to enter the dorm building at one time during move-in will be limited to prevent crowding inside. First-years will have the hallmark experience of the light of learning ceremony, one of the facets of orientation at which second-year students will be welcome.
Guests on campus, for orientation as well as throughout the semester, will be required to follow the campus protocol as well as complete a health screening form to ensure they have not had contact with COVID-19 nor are exhibiting symptoms. Communal spaces in residence halls and elsewhere will be open, but the College plans to post guidelines regarding masking, safety, and the limiting of crowding. However, the taskforce understands the importance of these spaces and notes that they will remain open with no restricted occupancy limits due to COVID-19, including in the commuter lounge. “We will be monitoring and may continue adapting our policies, seeing if there are trouble spots if we need to deal with a situation or this doesn’t seem healthy,” said Newton. “We will be ready to change as necessary and communicate that.” Individuals in their dorm rooms, or alone in their offices, will not be required to mask.
The COVID-19 Compliance Task Force is still meeting with the Campus Inn staff to discuss how food service will look, but the building will be open. Currently, there are plans to reduce congregating around drink and food stations. Newton ensures that all COVID-19 food and beverage safety has been followed on campus. As contracted employees, Bon Appetit workers must meet the College’s vaccination requirements. The College will provide further information regarding dining on campus in the following weeks as staff continues to meet.
Students who wish to take a full credit load will be required to take in-person classes. “We are doing assessment of all the classroom spaces just to ensure that we are observing the correct capacity,” Newton said, expanding with, “We will be observing [capacity] much more carefully than we have had to in the past, but not necessarily reducing capacity at this time.” The compliance task force is completing an assessment of all classrooms to ensure they meet COVID-19 safety protocols. All mechanical ventilation filters have been upgraded to MERV-13 filters, which is the highest level of filtration recommended.
Newton acknowledges that there are situations where natural ventilation would be encouraged for mitigating COVID-19, but, sometimes, opening a door or a window may not be an option due to other air quality issues. “There certainly could be situations where [ . . . ] individuals have serious asthma or allergies where opening a window could affect other people negatively,” said Newton. “We want to create some sort of nuance of how to communicate to the community ‘this is a low air quality day, we don’t recommend opening windows’ — then what do we do?” The College wants there to be room for accommodation and adaptations in their plans, just as they have had to adapt policies in the wake of the rising Delta variant.
Students who may need accommodation due to certain COVID-19 protocols, such as natural ventilation, are encouraged to reach out to Student Disability Services, and staff and faculty are encouraged to reach out to Human Resources. The College also has procedures in place for professors who have concerns for teaching in person, who can reach out to the Vice President of Academic Affairs and Human Resources to reach a solution. With the vaccination requirement, Newton says that the College will likely have herd immunity — or a majority vaccination rate, an added layer of COVID-19 precaution for resuming in person.
Submitting COVID-19 Vaccination Proof:
Although June 30 was the hard deadline for submitting proof of vaccination, the College is providing a grace period through Aug. 9. The Student Health Center has hired additional staff to verify all student submissions of proof of vaccination or requests of exemption. Students who are not fully vaccinated by Aug. 9, have not submitted proof of vaccination, or have not been granted an exemption, will either not be allowed to register for classes, or be dropped from their classes, as there would not be time for them to be fully vaccinated by the beginning of classes on Aug. 24.
COVID-19 Testing and Quarantining Protocols:
For students, staff, and faculty who are exempt from the vaccination requirement, the College is working to contract with a vendor for their mandatory testing program for unvaccinated individuals, which would occur on campus. This layered approach is to reduce the chance of cases occurring in the campus community, but the College has created a protocol in case of a positive test.
All individuals on campus have the responsibility to self-report a positive COVID-19 test through an online screening form. Once submitted, the COVID-19 Compliance Task Force and Health Center are notified. The Health Center will then reach out to students for additional details; this will be an entirely confidential conversation. Residential students who need to quarantine will be placed in buildings dedicated to isolation — Johnson Hall second floor and Campbell Hall. For staff and faculty, Human Resources would contact them after filling out the screening form. Whittier College has created a COVID-19 contact tracing team, who will inform possible contacts of the positive case. Those who are unvaccinated will need to be tested and quarantine/isolate, but those who are vaccinated are not required to test or isolate. A COVID-19 outbreak would consist of as few as three connected cases, at which point the County would guide Whittier College through any additional needed steps.
“[The College] will be preparing a resource guide for faculty and for students so we know clearly what attendance policies will be and how we’ll be managing that in the event someone is ill,” said Newton. Students who do need to quarantine on campus will have the support of the Student Life Care Team. They will be provided with campus food delivery and a note taker, or any other accommodations they may need.
Newton stressed how important it is for the community to hold themselves, and others, accountable for following COVID-19 protocol rather than have the College enforcing protocol with punitive measures. “In order for us to be back together and have effective instruction and service to the community, this is what we need to do for one another,” said Newton. “We will be providing some training and asking people to please cooperate with us in doing this; it’s for everyone’s advantage.”
The COVID-19 Compliance Task Force will continue to meet throughout the summer and plans to release more information regarding protocol for students in the coming weeks. “If there are concerns, we have the firstname.lastname@example.org email; let us know,” encouraged Newton. “Our eyes and ears are not everywhere, and we want to have people respond.” The taskforce is not void of student representation, with both Alyssa Armstrong, the Director of WC the Rock, and Grace Hagan Martin, the Associated Student Body of Whittier College President, sitting on the taskforce. Both encourage students to reach out to them at their respective email addresses: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
The College places confidence in the layered mitigation approach, starting with COVID-19 vaccination for those whom it applies. “There is still a lot of misinformation about vaccination, and we really do feel like vaccination is the most effective way to keep us safe, to keep us together, and to get us back to ‘normal’ as soon as possible,” said Newton.