Dear Macalester Students and Families:

I write today with an update on our fall plans.

Earlier this summer, when it appeared that the trends were encouraging, we made assumptions that the risks of opening the campus in September could be managed with some changes to our residence hall density and other common-sense public health measures. Unfortunately, COVID-19 infection rates in Minnesota and in many parts of the country have gone up. Accordingly, the increased numbers of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths last week have led us to adjust our approach.  

In light of state and national trends, and in consultation with members of the faculty and staff, we are making a number of changes to our return to campus plan for Module 1. These changes are informed by our Infectious Disease Task Force, the college’s working groups, and our ongoing discussions with the Minnesota Department of Health, and have been approved by our Board of Trustees.

Changes to our Module 1 plans include:

  • Further limiting the number of students in campus housing. For the first 7 ½ week module, we will bring a smaller group of students back to campus housing than we had hoped. New students (first-year students and transfer students with housing contracts) and international students with housing contracts will reside in campus housing, including all first-year student-athletes who were to reside in the off-campus hotel. In addition, we recognize that, for some students, it is not possible to live or study at home due to a variety of factors. For this reason, Residential Life will open a waiver process through which these students may apply to return to campus housing. This change will allow all students living in residence halls to occupy a single room and will ensure that, should they need to quarantine or isolate, they can do so in their own rooms. Lowering the total number of students on campus for Module 1 also will improve our ability to reduce density in common spaces.

    This means that, with the exception of Resident Assistants, transfer students with current housing contracts, and those who have an approved petition, all U.S.-based sophomores, juniors, and seniors, including student-athletes, will not be able to move into campus housing for Module 1. This includes students who were placed in the hotel option earlier this summer. These students will receive a room and board credit for the time they are not able to live in campus housing. 

    Students who live off campus in the area will take classes remotely during Module 1.  Support for these students will remain available on campus and they will be able to use designated campus facilities including Cafe Mac, the Hamre Center, food pantry, chapel, study spaces, and printing/mail services; and may participate in campus life to the extent that they feel comfortable, providing they comply with the Campus Community Commitment

    We understand this shift in approach is disruptive, and we are very sorry about the inconveniences created by the timing of this announcement. We believe that taking this action now will improve our chances of being able to dial back up and invite all students who would like to be on campus back for a residential experience beginning with Module 2 in October.

  • Testing. We are adding asymptomatic screening tests to our plan. All students will be tested twice: first, upon their arrival on campus, and second, within the subsequent two weeks. College employees also will be offered the same testing opportunities. For students living in campus housing, initial testing will be a required step in their check-in process. Additional detail on the college’s testing and contact tracing protocols, as well as scheduling instructions for students living off campus in the area, will be provided shortly.
  • Quiet period. From move-in through September 16, in order to manage the risks associated with travel and of bringing the community together for the first time, we will implement a “quiet period.” During this time, every member of the community will minimize their in-person interactions both on and off campus. Students will be able to leave their rooms, gather in small groups while observing physical distancing, spend time outdoors, and get meals from the dining hall. However, all classes will be held remotely for the first two weeks of Module 1, and during this time, there will be no in-person, extra-curricular activities. 
  • Pre-arrival quarantine. The quiet period does NOT eliminate the need for residential students to reduce their in-person interactions before they travel to campus. Minimizing risks during the two weeks before traveling to campus will help keep the campus community safe. Any student planning to come to Saint Paul should treat the two weeks prior to their arrival as a self-quarantine period. Any student with possible COVID-19 symptoms when they are scheduled to travel to campus should stay home and contact Student Affairs.

Together, the testing, the quiet period, and the further reduction of the number of students in on- campus housing will allow us to operate the college in ways that minimize risks in response to the evolving national and local public health trends.

While we will do everything in our power to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread, including compliance with our Campus Community Commitment, we have to assume that at some point there will be positive cases of COVID-19 on our campus. We want to reiterate that all courses will have a remote option to ensure that students who feel more comfortable studying from home have the ability to continue at Macalester by participating remotely.

Some additional details that I want to share with you today:

  • Schedule. The academic calendar will not change. We will begin classes, as planned, on September 2.
  • Packing Light. Please plan with flexibility in mind. Pack much less than you might otherwise prefer to bring. Students living in on-campus housing may be asked to move between modules to a different room.  
  • Building Community Virtually. The college is working on a wide range of new and creative ways to keep the community connected, from small group welcomes with faculty and staff, to “MAC Homeroom,” an initiative to build community outside the classroom during the fall 2020 through student cohorts focused on mental health and wellness, academics, and community. The Student Affairs online hub for student engagement, community, and involvement is a source of programs, resources, and services available for students to connect, find community, and access support.
  • Module 1 Courses. While individual faculty will make decisions about the mode of delivery for their courses, we anticipate this shift will mean that more courses during the first module may be taught remotely. Following the two-week quiet period, first-year course faculty will determine the extent of in-person instruction for the remainder of the module.
  • Quarantine and Isolation. A Macalester College COVID case manager will serve as the central point of coordination to support students who are quarantining (because they are awaiting test results or have been in contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19) or isolating (because they have been diagnosed with COVID-19) in their rooms. Meals will be delivered to them, and they will remain in quarantine or isolation until they are cleared by a health professional. 
  • Hamre Center Resources. Medical services will be available for students at the Hamre Center both via telehealth and in-person appointments on campus, as appropriate. Mental health counseling will be provided via telehealth and is available regardless of whether students are on-campus or off.
  • ITS Help Desk. No matter where you are learning for Module 1, the ITS Help Desk is available to ensure you have the technology support you need to be successful. Please reach out to them at any time with questions about access or specific technology tools. They can be reached at helpdesk@macalester.edu or by leaving a voice mail at 651-696-6525.  
  • Student-athletes. Coaches will work closely with all student-athletes, whether they are participating in Module 1 from campus or remotely, to continue their team building, player development, and return-to-training workouts and programs. Student-athletes will not live in hotel housing for Module 1. 
  • Travel from Campus. Once students have returned to campus, travel during the fall should be limited. Read more in our travel policy here.
  • Module 5. While we will not offer a tuition discount for Module 1, we are making available opportunities for students to take two extra courses (up to eight credits) in Module 5 at no additional tuition cost. The fifth module, in the summer of 2021, will provide all students with an opportunity to make progress toward their graduation requirements or (for seniors) to explore subjects they previously were not able to fit into their schedules. We plan to offer a mix of remote and in-person courses to provide maximum flexibility so students can take advantage of these courses from wherever they may be next summer. In addition, we are excited to provide courses not traditionally available during the regular academic year.

I know this decision represents a significant shift, one that upends plans for many of you and comes with a huge amount of disappointment, frustration, and a range of other emotions, particularly for those sophomores, juniors, and seniors who are not able to follow their plans to return to campus housing and participate in an in-person Module 1. It’s a lot to digest, particularly since we are fast approaching the beginning of the academic year. I am personally heartbroken that we need to adjust our plans in a way that will prevent a large number of students from joining us in person next month. We are taking these steps judiciously to protect community members from infection and to improve the likelihood that all students who want to can return to campus for Module 2.

I do not take lightly the challenges this announcement will create. If this late shift creates an economic hardship for any financial aid student or their family due to travel cancellations or other disruptions of plans, students can submit a request for assistance to the Emergency Aid Program

The health and safety of our community is our paramount concern. While current conditions have forced us to make these adjustments to keep our community healthy, we remain committed to our core mission of providing an excellent and life-changing experience for our students. Our faculty and staff have been working all summer to prepare for this. We are ready to get started with instruction on September 2, and we hope to welcome back our entire student body in-person for Module 2. Nevertheless, should you decide that you want to request a leave of absence (for returning students), please do so here.  If you would like to request a deferral (for new students), please do so here.

We know you will have many questions. I hope you will join us on Wednesday, August 12, at 10 am for a webinar specifically for students/families. If you’d like to share any questions in advance, you can submit them at healthresponse@macalester.edu.

For those who aren’t able to join us, the webinars will be recorded and links will be shared via email. We are continuing to update our COVID-19 website. If you don’t find the information you’re looking for, please email your questions to healthresponse@macalester.edu.

Yours,

Dr. Suzanne M. Rivera
President

Published: 8/10/20