As countless college campuses across the nation prepare to implement unprecedented health modifications in the wake of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, AU has followed suit.
Although the fall semester may look and feel different from previous semesters, Dean of Students Chris Luekenga assures students that these campus-wide procedures and policies are being introduced to ensure students’ health and safety.
“We understand that there will be inconveniences and that the campus experience will be different for the fall semester,” said Luekenga. “We also know that Ravens are resilient and care for the welfare of each other and that we will all come through on the other side of this stronger and more dedicated to educating for a life of faith and service to the church and society.”
Like many other schools, AU will be reopening in phases. Beginning with Phase 1 and ending with Phase 5, requirements become less restrictive as the phases progress. Administration hopes to be in Phase 3 upon students’ return to campus this fall.
“For some of the phases, students will sign up for a time to shower as a way to prevent overcrowding in a tight space,” Luekenga said. “Visitation also varies from phase-to-phase. These adjustments contribute to the well-being of residential students, and thus the entire campus community.”
For the majority of the phases, students, faculty and staff will be required to wear facial coverings indoors and in the presence of others. According to AU’s official “COVID-19 Return-to-Campus Plan,” the university will be providing a reusable mask to all students, faculty and staff.
“This decision is based on the current best science and research being done that indicates that wearing a face mask, 6-foot physical distancing and good hand washing hygiene are the best ways to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” said Luekenga. “Studies show that facemasks can reduce the risk of transmission by 85%, and when everyone in the community is masked, the protective benefit is substantial.”
Luekenga explained that although wearing a mask may be inconvenient, it is of vital importance to the health and well-being of campus.
“Just like learning to wear a seatbelt or a bike helmet was a culture change, we know that wearing a mask is something that we can embrace for each other and ultimately adapt to,” said Luekenga.
Luekenga explained that in addition to the mask-wearing policy, the AU COVID-19 Task Force has created a formal agreement, called the Community Care Covenant, that applies to all of the campus community.
The official Community Care Covenant reads as follows:
“In order to ensure the well-being of myself and others, I will commit to: greet without shaking hands; respect personal space and practice the six foot physical distancing; practice good hygiene (hand-washing, coughing and sneezing into bend of the arm or tissue); regular disinfecting of my living space and personal items; work to mitigate spread of germs on doors, railings, and other high contact areas; be willing to wear a facemask in indoor public spaces on campus (one face mask will be provided); self-monitor daily and if exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms, stay home or in your Residence Hall room and report to email@example.com; journal general activity at the end of each day for potential contact tracing; prioritize virtual or outdoor meetings with social distancing; and extend grace, love and care to myself and others.”
According to Luekenga, administration will ask all students, faculty, staff, vendors and visitors to agree to and comply with the covenant.
“We will also have procedures for daily self-monitoring and reporting of symptoms/exposures as a way to protect the well-being of the campus community,” said Luekenga. “Isolation and quarantine will be available for those who become ill and cannot go home.”
Luekenga explained that the university will be offering tools to aid campus community members with self-monitoring health and symptoms.
“AU has partnered with Daon to develop an app to help the campus community in the daily self-monitoring of personal health,” said Luekenga. “Along with this app, the university will be providing no-touch thermometer stations to assist in self-monitoring of personal health. Details on downloading the app and instructions for self-monitoring will be made available later this summer.”
Along with policies and agreements, AU will be implementing changes to classes and other gatherings to ensure social distancing guidelines will be met.
“Seating has been/will be placed at a 6-foot physical distancing set up, and some of the larger classes will be held in Reardon so that the six-foot physical distancing can be maintained.”
Although Chapel will still be offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11:00 a.m., Luekenga explained that attendance will not be mandatory.
“Due to the limited attendance space in Reardon, attendance will not be taken for the Fall semester,” said Luekenga. “Those who wish to attend may do so until the capacity in Reardon is reached. Also, in accordance with the current best research, there will not be singing or the use of wind instruments during chapel. We are also working through the details and logistics of simulcasting chapel around campus.”
Luekenga explained that there will also be alterations in all of AU’s food service areas to allow for appropriate social distancing.
“There will be more grab-and-go options available and picnic tables will be placed in the valley for outdoor eating while the weather is nice,” said Luekenga. “Other dining plans are still in development.”
Although social distancing will be required, social gatherings of all kinds will still be permitted.
“We are very committed to normalizing the student experience as much as possible,” said Luekenga. “All clubs, events and programs will have to maintain the physical distancing, mask-wearing guidelines and the Community Care Covenant.”
Despite the alterations to guidelines and policies, Luekenga explained that AU has decided to maintain their published schedule, with Fall classes beginning on August 31 and all scheduled holiday breaks.
“It is important to remember that we are still in the midst of a world-wide pandemic without a vaccination,” said Luekenga. “This being said, schedules and time frames could change based on the progress or regress of the pandemic.”
Although there are many changes and alterations to the normal AU experience, Luekenga explained that faculty and staff remain “committed to creating and maintaining an outstanding student experience.”
“We all know that this experience will look different, at least until there is a vaccination and the pandemic has been mitigated world-wide,” said Luekenga. “We, students, faculty, staff and vendors are in this together and will need to commit ourselves to living in a way that provides the healthiest environment for all community members.”
Photo by Jacey Crawford