As fall approaches, universities throughout the United States have been forced to decide whether or not to reopen during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Despite concerns about possible surges in cases, lack of access to testing, and the risk of exposure to the virus, many colleges have decided to push forward with a reopening plan. In Pennsylvania, around 80% of the state’s four-year universities are still offering a form of on-campus instruction, according to WHYY-TV.
While many schools are deciding to continue with plans of reopening, the steps taken to do so can look different depending on each college. Out of over 85 four-year Pennsylvania universities, no reopening plan is identical, according to the PA Post.
Gettysburg College is planning to implement a list of new changes as it returns to residence for the 2020 fall semester. The guidelines, listed on the “Better Together” page of the university’s official website, provide updated information on new rules as well as upcoming town hall meetings. The page also includes a video message from Gettysburg College President Bob Iuliano, who says that while the upcoming fall semester will be “unlike any in the college’s 180-year history,” the school is “confident in the plans they have in place and are developing.”
The changes include requiring masks and physical distancing, prohibiting large gatherings where distancing is not “feasible,” cleaning frequent-use areas of the campus, isolating students that test positive for or have been exposed to COVID-19, and requiring employees and students to complete an online COVID-19 educational program before they return to campus.
“As you know, any return to our residential program will come with its share of challenges, and we will likely experience some bumps along the way,” Iuliano said. “But as a community, we are Better Together, and I know we will rally as Gettysburgians—just as we always do—and continue to do great work in the year ahead.”
Bret Crawford, chair of the Physics Department, is currently on sabbatical, but has been in contact with students and faculty. Calling the spring semester a “big adjustment for everyone,” Crawford says that there is still a degree of uncertainty as the college prepares for reopening.
“Students are eager to go back but some of us are a bit concerned, and we’re wondering what life is going to be like,” Crawford said. “You want to be able to do it in an environment that’s conducive to learning.”
Phoebe Doscher, a returning Junior at Gettysburg College, initially thought about attending the school remotely from her home in Connecticut during the fall semester. As an out-of-state student, Doscher had to consider additional factors, like how the state regulations might change over the semester and possibly affect her ability to return home.
“One of my concerns is that there might be some kind of regulation put in place over the course of the semester for those traveling across state borders that alters my ability to get home,” Doscher wrote in an email.
Despite these concerns, Doscher ultimately decided to return to campus, saying that she is confident in the college’s efforts to maintain the safety of students on campus.
“While there are potential risks involved with reopening a college campus, Gettysburg has done everything to ensure the safety of their students, staff, faculty, and those in the surrounding area,” Doscher said. “I understand that there are a lot of accommodations being made to allow for a feasible return, and that if the experience becomes less than the college promised or the situation puts anyone in imminent danger, we will be told to leave campus and halt our semester in residence.”
In order to minimize risk, Gettysburg College has scheduled specific dates and times for around 500 students to move into residence halls, according to the official website. Students must sign a student health pledge in advance, and roommates will arrive during similar time frames in order to be tested and quarantined together. Students will remain in quarantine until they have been cleared by the university through their test results.
The school website also states that during check-in, each student will be given two washable masks, one bottle of hand sanitizer, and several single-use packs of sanitizer and disinfectant. During quarantine, students are permitted to leave their room to pick up meals at designated grab-and-go locations on campus.
Rachel Ruffner, a second-year student at Gettysburg College, has also decided to return to campus. While she enjoys the Gettysburg community and considers it a “welcoming” place, Ruffner is concerned about what the future holds for her study abroad program, which she hopes to complete in Japan during the spring semester. Since the onset of the pandemic, however, the plan for study abroad programs is still unclear.
“I’m definitely worried about my study abroad,” Ruffner said. “I’m scared about planning about it.”
Ruffner also believes that this could pose a problem for first-year students, or those that have not been able to build connections yet, that might want to socialize and spend time meeting new people upon their arrival to college. Ruffer also notes that she feels that the College Life department at the university has been taking care of the issue, and that she’d like people to still be able to have fun safely and not isolate themselves altogether.
“You want people to still be able to have fun,” Ruffner said.
In addition to concerns about living on campus, some students and faculty members are worried about academics as well. Crawford mentions that one concern for some faculty members is that converting classes with close, in-person instruction into online courses might present challenges.
“They’re going to be dealing with labs and how you’re going to teach them,” Crawford said. “When I’m teaching, I’m looking over people’s shoulders, helping them out, and being very hands-on. You want to do a good job but we’re in a unique situation.”
Although many students across Pennsylvania and in other universities throughout the country will be part of a unique college experience in the upcoming weeks, many students, like Ruffner, are looking for ways to stay connected with friends and engage with others safely as they work towards their degrees.
“There’s definitely a lot of ways you can get involved,” Ruffner said.
My name is Katherine, and I am a graduate student at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. I graduated from Fordham University at Lincoln Center in 2018 with a degree in history, and I was one of the news editors for the Observer, the college’s student-run newspaper. I love to learn about and cover different communities, and I am very excited to be interning for the Gettysburg News this summer and getting to know about all the work being done by the residents in the area.