After the spring’s shift to remote learning, higher education institutions nationwide grappled with decisions about what fall semester should look like in the COVID-19 pandemic. In late June, President Suzanne Rivera announced Macalester’s plans for a hybrid model that would begin the academic year in person while providing a remote option. By early August, though, statewide and nationwide spikes in infection rates led the college to adjust its approach:

  • For the first several weeks of the academic year, on-campus housing will be limited to new students (first-years and transfers with housing contracts), international students with housing contracts, and students for whom learning from home is untenable (by petition)—to allow for housing everyone in single rooms.
  • By securing access to COVID-19 testing that won’t divert critical resources from Minnesota’s health system, the college will add asymptomatic screening tests to its plan. All students (and employees by request) will be tested upon arrival and again within two weeks.
  • In order to manage the risks associated with travel and of bringing the community together for the first time, a two-week “quiet period” will minimize in-person interactions on campus, with all classes held remotely during that window.

Those changes represent a “dialing back” in response to evolving conditions. This summer, several campus groups—including the Infectious Disease Task Force—developed a long list of tactics focused on safety and physical distancing, which will guide the community when conditions allow for “dialing up.” Faculty and staff also overhauled the traditional academic schedule
with flexibility in mind: the college is splitting both fall and spring semester into two 7.5-week modules, with students enrolling in two four-credit classes per module. Many community members built initiatives this summer to foster community in physical distancing, including small-group Zoom chats for incoming firstyear students.

“I do not take lightly the challenges this announcement will create,” Rivera wrote in August to current students and families. “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. . . . The health and safety of our community is our paramount concern.”

For current updates, visit Macalester’s coronavirus (COVID-19) response site.

August 18 2020

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