On May 27, Rhodes College President Marjorie Hass sent an email to the campus community announcing changes to the Fall 2020 academic calendar, an updated health and safety plan, and the conditions necessary for a return to campus.
The message read:
Dear Rhodes Community,
This is a moment for transition, as we celebrate the graduation of our senior class and prepare to welcome the incoming class of 2024. There is something deeply reassuring about this cycle of growth and change, even in a time of great difficulty and worry.
As we move into the summer, we are all learning what a reopened business community will mean. I have been slowly venturing out—for groceries, a much-needed haircut, a doctor’s visit. The new normal means masks, temperature checks, and limits on the numbers of people in public places. As I stand in new kinds of lines and peer at my neighbors over a mask, I feel a deep sense of community and a pride in Memphis. All of this effort to keep each other healthy. All of this effort to make sure Memphis hospitals do not get overwhelmed. All of this effort to help make it possible for schools—including Rhodes College—to reopen.
I write with an overview of our preparation for the upcoming year. It is our hope and intention to be back on campus, and we will continue to develop and implement plans over the summer to make this possible.
Our ability to return to campus rests on three conditions:
1. The college has to create a health and safety protocol plan that appropriately reduces risk for students, faculty, and staff.
2. Students, faculty, and staff have to work together to build a shared culture of support for the health and safety protocols.
3. External public health conditions in Memphis have to support reopening.
Let me give you an overview of each of these areas.
Health and Safety Protocol Plan
Our plan is being developed in consultation with public health experts. Details will be available later this summer, but here are several key areas of note:
- We are finalizing a partnership with a large regional health care system to provide professional guidance and oversight of our Covid-19 risk reduction plan. The plan will include campus protocols for daily symptom screening, regular testing, masking where appropriate, contact tracing should symptoms develop, and social distancing practices. The Rhodes plan will be based on scientific recommendations and will be similar to the plan the provider utilizes in its health care facilities.
- The fall academic calendar has been revised to reduce the risks of mid-semester travel and maximize the likelihood that we can remain on campus for the fall semester. Classes for all students will begin August 26th and continue through the start of Thanksgiving break on Tuesday, November 24th. At that point, we will end on-campus instruction for the semester. After Thanksgiving, the final few days of class and the final exam period will be conducted remotely. Classes will be held on Labor Day and Fall Break will be observed as a one day, mid-week break from classes.
- We will train a student health corps to assist us in implementing health protocols under professional supervision.
- We have set aside quarantine space for students who develop Covid-19 during the semester and who are unable to return home. Our health care system partner will provide medical support for students, faculty, and staff in on-campus isolation or quarantine.
- Faculty are preparing for flexible class-delivery methods so that students who need to be isolated or quarantined during the semester or who cannot travel to campus (for health or other reasons) can continue their education. Faculty committees are also developing attendance policies and other academic policies that will facilitate health and safety and in support of students.
- We are prepared to address the needs of students, faculty, and staff with underlying health conditions or other special concerns. Students should contact Dr. Alicia Golston (Dean of Students). Faculty and staff should contact Claire Shapiro (Chief Human Resources Officer).
- We are developing flexible plans to adjust learning spaces to support interaction while at the same time reducing health risks.
- Residential spaces pose particular challenges. We will work with our health care partners to develop enhanced cleaning and disinfecting protocols for the residence halls and protocols that support healthy behaviors.
- Changes are being made to the way we serve and eat meals in the refectory and the Lynx Lair to support virus-related health and safety protocols. At the same time, we aim to retain dining as an experience that is nourishing to body, mind, and spirit and that supports social engagement.
- Student Life staff will work with student leaders to develop protocols for social and club activities that are consistent with health guidelines but do not drain the vitality and enjoyment out of campus life. I have met with the new RSG leadership, and students are serving on each of our key planning committees.
- Supporting the health and safety of our student athletes is a top priority. The presidents and athletic directors of the SAA will begin meeting in June to develop conference-wide policies and protocols.
Culture of Support for Health and Safety
This pandemic has underscored the ways individual behavior affects our communities. At Rhodes, our Honor Code and our campus commitment to service already give us experience in community building and support for shared values. Our ability to return to campus and remain on campus for the semester rests in large part on the willingness of our community members to support both the letter and the spirit of our health and safety plan.
The plan itself will reflect input from students, faculty, staff, and public health experts. It will then be up to all of us to monitor our own behavior and support healthy behavior on the part of others. Young adults appear to be at lower risk for developing severe symptoms, but as potential carriers of the virus, student behavior will very much affect the risks taken on by our faculty and staff.
We will release detailed protocols developed with our health care system partner in July. Students, faculty, and staff will be asked to sign an acknowledgement that they have read through the protocols and will commit to following them. Without this shared commitment to not only our own health but the health of others, we cannot expect to remain on campus.
External Conditions in Memphis
While the first two conditions are more or less under our shared control, we cannot control the evolving state of the virus in Memphis and the region. As of today, Memphis is in phase two of its three-part plan to reopen city businesses. We have determined reopening our campus requires that the city be in phase three of its reopening plan. We are also awaiting city and county announcements about the reopening of schools and possible guidance for higher education and intercollegiate athletics. We also recognize that the status of childcare and schools will pose special challenges for employees with children.
Based on what we know today, we anticipate that Memphis will move forward and be prepared for the reopening of our campus by August.
It is possible that conditions could change for the worse during the course of the semester. Should it be necessary to move again to remote learning, our faculty and staff will be prepared and ready to ensure that students are able to continue learning and accessing student support services. We have all learned a lot about how to do this effectively and with support for individual circumstances, and our goal would be to make this transition less traumatic and more predictable for all of us than was the case this past spring. If a transition to remote learning should become necessary, we will remain prepared to welcome students back to campus as soon as external conditions stabilize.
As we work collectively to return to communal living and learning, I am heartened by the resilience and creativity of the Rhodes community. You will soon receive a “check-in” request from us so that you can offer your thoughts about reopening. We want to know how you are thinking and feeling about resuming campus activities, including the attendant risks and opportunities, so that we can continue to develop and refine our plans.
We will continue to update you over the summer as our plans solidify and as the public health situation in Memphis evolves. I hope the summer months offer you opportunities for reflection and rest. You are in my thoughts.