How Indiana University Will Return Their Students To Campus

It’s what’s crossed every college student’s mind over the past 2 months. Now that everyone is getting ready for this “new normal”, whatever that means, it’s really the 18-22 year old college kids that are eager to get back to their colleges and universities and out from their childhood hometowns and parent’s houses.

Objectively, college kids got one of the shortest ends of the COVID-19 sticks. Most college kids were not eligible for the government stimulus check, still have to pay off student loans, and also got pulled from campus to take Zoom classes for a majority of the spring semester. It has been really tough with this virus taking away what most believe are the best years of our lives.

Oh well.

It happened and there is no point to try and get that time back that we lost. We need to move forward and figure out a way to safely and successfully get back to going to classes, restaurants, sports, bars, etc.

IU has given its students some information about what possibilities could come into play when we go back to campus in the fall, but truthfully there hasn’t been as much transparency as I think a lot of students are looking for.

Luckily this current form of a restart proposal is being floated around. I’m gonna try to make some sense of what this proposal consists of and how it may affect our on campus lives for the foreseeable future. If you want to read it for yourself then just download it from the top of this post.

What Is The Restart Committee?

So this group of 13 individuals was appointed by President McRobbie to give the Executive Policy Group of IU an idea of the current state of affairs that the school finds itself in in regards to the coronavirus. Headed by the dean of the School of Medicine, Jay Hess, he oversees 6 other groups that monitor and plan for the re-opening of campus in the fall.

These other groups are: Modeling and Health Systems Capacity, Testing and Case Tracking, Risk Mitigation, Therapeutics, Benchmarking, and Legal Issues.

All of these different areas of focus are being taken into mind when the administration will ultimately provide the plan of what our college experience will largely look like for the next year.

The 13 members of this group range from basically Deans of public health, to epidemiologists, to “other relevant areas of health sciences” (p. 3). Clearly, they are trying to take a very scientific and data driven approach to solving this issue. I think that is a smart strategy so long as they can successfully accommodate the students, faculty and staff in the most effective manner. And from a lack of cynicism I’m going to assume all these individuals have all of our best interests in mind, too.

What Will The Return Consist Of?

In an email that President McRobbie sent to the student body on April 30, 2020 he informed us that there are 5 potential scenarios of returning to campus:

  1. Return to face-to-face teaching
  2. Hybrid – face-to-face and online Fall and Spring
  3. Fall on-line and Spring face-to-face
  4. Fall face-to-face back to Spring online
  5. Entire academic year online

These all make sense but I think it’s safe to assume that scenario #2 is the most likely, at least as of right now.

The Restart

IU will also be planning under what seem like reasonably safe assumptions in terms of us not having a widespread vaccine and no way to fully guarantee a herd immunity amongst its students, faculty, and staff by the start of school. They will also be trying to mitigate as many of the risks as possible so there will be increased public cleanings and emphasis of social distancing guidelines.

This will lead to some sort of phased approach back to classes, athletics, and other programs that I guess at this point you kind of have to expect. They don’t go into the specifics of large gathering events, but I think it’s safe to assume that this decision would likely be led by those higher up than IU, like the state’s governor Eric Holcomb and what he says about large gatherings – particularly sports.

Assuredly there will be priority on personal and public hygiene and I’m willing to bet there will be Purell Dispensers everywhere when we get back to Bloomington. It’s also reasonable that masks/face coverings will have to be worn in face-to-face meetings and public transportation in order to reduce potential transmissions. We will have to wait and see how strictly that policy is enforced.

Now these steps and actions are fairly basic and what seems to be in line with what any organization or group will be enacting to get back to semi-normal operations with coronavirus present.

But what are some things that are unique to college and IU that is actually insightful in this report? Let’s take a look.

Student Life

The biggest thing is probably for on-campus housing specifically to the incoming freshman. When discussing campus housing, this report acknowledges that 2 people living in a room can be permitted but only if the student “chooses” his/her roommate (p. 8).

Does this mean anyone who intended to go with a random roommate will have to be in a single? Not only does that suck but where are they going to put everyone? These are questions that of course will need to be answered before returning.

I’m not sure what this then means for space and capacity. Like what about the rooms in Briscoe with the shared living space? And then how do you monitor the number of people in a room at a time? It’s not the type of thing that can just be policed by a RA.

Also it looks like students will be assigned to a specific bathroom on their floor and have to use some type of signup process to actually use the shower or bathroom. Again, I have no clue how they are going to monitor this but it seems like it could be a logistical nightmare.

Move-in will be scattered times too which makes sense.

These guidelines/recommendations also extend to the Greek Houses on campus. Personally, I think my frat house has much worse viruses going on in there than COVID-19. And who knows how anyone will monitor what actually goes on in those houses other than limiting parties. I am curious as to how much IU will try to play a role in rush and other official Greek events that will make it very difficult to practice social distancing, among other things. I hope they don’t just try to cancel it then still collect the student Greek fees.

That Actual “School” Thing

In regards to class, this report doesn’t go in depth into what these classes will actually consist of really at all (p. 10)

Besides mandatory masks in class, I think the biggest takeaway from this is them trying to implement some sort of tracking/tracing system for students. I’m trying to imagine what that would actually look like other than maybe some type of updated TopHat Attendance program that can notify you if a classmate gets sick?

It seems fairly simple to me how classes should be conducted.

Every big lecture class should be moved to online. To be honest, these classes should be online permanently anyways because of how dull they all are. From my experiences, IU lectures contain a professor standing in front of a Powerpoint that they have regurgitated about 3 other times that same day. There is no reason these can’t be immediately switched to online because many of the teachers basically read off a script from their slide deck anyhow.

Then, there can be smaller discussion-type classes that are branched off of these main Zoom lectures. These break the class into groups of ~15-30 students that can easily have face-to-face tutorials in a socially distant way. These classes can even be hosted in a big lecture hall to ensure that. I think this is a reasonable solution that can still give some sense of actual learning and educated conversation because online courses are not the best mode of teaching.

I hope that is the ultimate decision that is made.

Of course assessing and testing the students leads to the biggest issues rather than just the lectures but maybe this will allow the administration to find new ways to test their students other than just a scantron that requires mostly memorization and little real world applications.

Finally, it is ultimately up to everyone to play their part in trying to be as conscious as possible in the mobilization to these classes and events on campus so they keep themselves and others out of as much trouble as they can.

Semester Schedule

Along with the class structure and how we are taught, it’s also important to keep in mind the academic calendar that IU follows. Under the ‘Travel’ subsection of the report the committee notes that they should “structure the academic calendar, where possible, to minimize travel associated with breaks” (p. 11). This immediately made me think of the time between Thanksgiving and First-semester break.

Indiana traditionally has a week off for Thanksgiving only to come back to campus for about 2-3 more weeks to take finals and finish the semester. I think it is reasonable to believe that the semester is either cut short or moved up a few weeks to eliminate this blindspot where everyone will be traveling twice in the span of a week. And fall break will most likely be cut as well.

Sports & Facilities

It is definitely in the schools best interest to have sports back for many reasons. School spirit and revenue from these sports are chief among them.

So, there will be an emphasis specifically on “symptom screening” to athletes and coaches daily (p. 13). Whether this is temperature checks or actual COVID-19 tests administered to the teams, the difficulty of reducing social distancing in many of these sports makes it necessary to take these precautions.

Again, this doesn’t mention crowds at any of these sporting events but this will be flexible to the overall situation that we find ourselves in like discussed before.

Then, the buildings and equipment that is available to students, like the WIC or SRSC has a big recommendation that is stated on page 13. They suggest these buildings holding a 25% capacity limit at the start of the opening.

They don’t specify if that 25% includes the staff that is on duty. I guess at least this capacity is easier to monitor in that people swipe their student IDs to check into the building anyways, but I am curious as to where that 25% number came from. These facilities are widely used by students so we have a right to know why and how a number came to be.

And as is on par with the rest of the report, the cleanliness of all these machines and facilities will be of very high priority to try and sanitize campus as much as possible.

Monitoring, Testing, and Case Tracking

The main thing that will continue a successful restart of campus will be the University’s ability to know who is positive with the virus and how they can reduce the spread as effectively as possible.

This is all based off widespread testing and our ability to safely practice social distancing.

Much of the other blocks of this report relate to self quarantines and followings of Indiana State’s and CDC guidelines.

They also have an important note about mental health and I think this is super important. And one of the best ways to combat this issue is getting back to in-person learning and reducing the fears that the virus can play on us. It is important to get back, but safely. But of course, if you need help please get some.

Is There More?

So this is a pretty exhaustive report of what IU may look like come August. Of course this is subject to change and many of these proposals are fluid. Like I initially said this seems to use a real scientific attitude towards getting us back to campus. But, like all things this isn’t a dichotomy of black and white as we return.

I think the value of the experience the school is providing us needs to be calculated and quantified for the students. We shouldn’t have to sacrifice the quality of our learning but also risk our health. This ultimately leads to: What do you charge for tuition? Let’s not kid ourselves and act like online classes have the same value, both monetarily and intrinsically as in person classes do.

This report does not mention costs and that is fine assuming that these issues are addressed before it is too late for students to decide whether these alternatives are sufficient to what they are expecting in their degrees. We all need to be agile and flexible in these changes and hopefully the University doesn’t look to a piggy bank of students to try and pay for some of the real changes that will need to be implemented.

We’ll see what happens and I’ll stay on lookout for any updated information from this Restart Recommendation Report. Stay safe, and let me know if you have any other ideas about how we should get back to school safely!

Cheers.

@jacklesser_ & @thoughtless44

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