Campus life during a global pandemic comes to The Woods: the first weeks of fall semester 2020, a fall like no other.
This story and many others were featured in the official 2020 William Woods University Alumni Magazine, The Woods. Click here to check out the digital version. https://issuu.com/socialmedia-williamwoods/docs/alumni_magazine_2020_final
It was supposed to be a year marking the 150th year of operation for William Woods University, celebrating the University’s unique history and exciting future. COVID-19 ended up postponing the year-long celebrations, but that was not all. When the University began the fall semester in August, the virus also altered time-honored traditions such as Move-In Day, the Ivy Ceremony and the first week of classes. The virus also resulted in postponing the entire fall sports season for William Woods intercollegiate athletic teams.
Welcome to college life 2020, global pandemic-style.
After the virus ravaged higher education in March, causing the University to close and finish the semester with online-only classes, the overriding commitment of the institution’s administration was to re-open school in August, with in-person classes, and all the necessary health and safety measures to make that possible in the age of COVID-19.
But to do so would mean significant adjustments and alterations to the way things have always been done. To begin with, the announced academic schedule for fall 2020 was changed, to increase the chances of holding an entire semester of in-person classes before any significant spikes in positive COVID-19 cases emerged. The first day of classes was moved up one week to Monday, August 17; classes were held on Labor Day, and fall break in October was cancelled. With fewer breaks, students would be less likely to leave campus and return, thereby potentially further spreading the virus, but students would also attend classes in person until Thanksgiving break, and complete final exams virtually in early December.
In addition, newer and more frequent cleaning and disinfecting protocols were adopted by campus maintenance staff. Classrooms were retrofitted for physical distancing and face coverings were required for everyone on campus when a physical distance of at least six feet was not possible.
There were a variety of other health and safety measures adopted in preparation for the fall semester, but few experiences reinforced the new campus normal than the familiar fall rituals of Move-In Day, the Ivy Ceremony and the first week of classes.
Unlike in past years, when students would move into campus residential facilities about a week before classes began, the realities of physical distancing made for a different process in 2020, including an early drop-off process in late July, using a drive-through check-in policy, so that students could drop off as much of their personal belongings several weeks before classes began to lessen the crowds and waiting times when they moved in permanently in August.
“I was awed by the creativity and long hours of commitment from our Student Life staff, as well as our campus-wide commitment to Move-In and Orientation,” said Dr. Venita Mitchell, Vice-President and Dean of Student Life. “Enrollment services staff, along with faculty and staff from around campus volunteered to help and assist with everything from directing traffic to greeting families at the residence hall. The support showed the strength of our community.”
Individual move-in days and times for students were staggered, as they were during early drop-off in July, and students were only allowed to have two other individuals with them as they moved in, to adhere to physical distancing requirements. Students were also required to complete a COVID-19 residential pre-screening form three days before moving in, and were encouraged to self-quarantine for 14 days before arriving on campus for good. After arriving, students were required to practice symptom monitoring, take their temperature reading each day, attend classes, and take part in other campus activities.
THE IVY CEREMON(IES)
For decades, the oldest and most cherished tradition in William Woods was held every year, even during the Depression and World War II. But in the bizarre year of 2020, the Ivy Ceremony managed to break new ground.
The August 11th ceremony, held to mark the start of every new undergraduate student’s life at WWU, was actually the first of six mini-Ivy Ceremonies, as opposed to the normal one. Having six ceremonies for the first time, as well as holding each one completely outdoors (also for the first time), made it possible to continue the unique tradition while practicing required physical distancing.
“You can do it all here at William Woods,” said President Barnett from atop the Dulany Auditorium front steps (instead of her usual spot inside McNutt Auditorium) to 26 new WWU students during the first ceremony on August 11. “But be sure to take care of your total self – intellectually, socially, spiritually and healthfully.”
Never was there a time when the “healthfully” part was more important, as the University was on the eve of opening while co-existing with an unpredictable and unsettling health crisis. But a tradition that dates to 1899 is not one to alter or cancel altogether lightly.
“We were determined to find a way for our new students and their families to experience this long-standing tradition,” said Dr. Mitchell. “The symbolism of our bridge as your entry and acceptance into our community is an important one and we were happy to pull it off.”
“I was so glad to experience this, even it was a little hot and wearing a mask took a little getting used to,” said incoming transfer student Tara Hillebrand ’23, from Montgomery City, MO. “I am here to study Equine Science, today was the start and I am super excited about it!”
FIRST WEEK OF CLASSES
Before any student stepped foot on campus for classes, classrooms would need to be physically distanced. That meant juggling teaching areas and schedules, decreasing the number of desks in each room to ensure at least six feet of distance between them, and decreasing capacity in each room.
“That was the biggest challenge – scheduling physically-distanced classes,” said Dr. Aimee Sapp, Vice-President and Dean of Academic Affairs. “We wanted to make sure that students could be at an appropriate distance when seated in class. And with safety being the first concern, we had to move some classes to much bigger spaces. It was an interesting problem to solve, but we have had a great team working on it, and I was very pleased with the results.”
Students were required to wear face-coverings while entering classrooms, but were permitted to remove them once seated. And classrooms varied – Professor of English Dr. Stephanie Wells found herself teaching class in the Ivy Room for the first time, and found to her surprise a room converted into an effective and accommodating learning space.
“I was impressed by the technology updates, spacing of student seating and overall atmosphere of the room,” she said.
For Mathematics Professor Raymond Hune, the new normal meant teaching classes in Dulany Library. For Assistant Professor of Sport Management Doug Sanders, it was teaching in the auditorium in McNutt Campus Center for the first time.
“This semester has been a learning process for all of us, but we are making do and doing our best under the circumstances,” Sanders said.”
It was a transition for faculty and students alike, but one both were committed to making.
“I was extremely excited to come back to everyone but knew it wouldn’t be the same as it was,” said Palmer Soberg, ‘23. “Nonetheless, this is what we all have been wanting – to be back on campus, attending classes in person and having as close to normal of an experience as possible.”
One of the favorites pastimes for William Woods students is eating at Tucker Dining Hall. Like everything else, even that was different. For the first time, students could use an app on their phones to pre-order meals and then receive a text when their order was ready to be picked up. This way, fewer people were sitting at tables and eating. Once again, the physical distancing thing.
“Tucker has been better than ever, and it’s good to know they are taking all the safety precautions they are,” said Elizabeth Kasubke, ‘21. “They make fresh salads and really good wraps, and it feels somewhat normal.”
It may be some time before the campus experience at The Woods feels “completely,” as opposed to “somewhat,” normal again. But the University will persevere, as it has for 150 years.
“We really wanted to balance the safety of our community with maintaining traditions, yet still preparing our new students for their success here at the University,” said Mitchell. “We want everyone to know that is always possible here at William Woods, even during a global pandemic.”