Emerson Reopening: What we know so far

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Media: Jakob Menendez

The college has slowly answered many questions surrounding its reopening plan.

Over the past several months, Emerson has been slowly doling out new information on what on-campus life at the college will look like in the fall through emails and press releases, piecing together a picture of a complicated semester week by week.

On Monday afternoon, the college released two back-to-campus guides, one for faculty members and one for students, essentially compiling most of the information released so far. It offered community members a semi-complete look at the upcoming semester for the first time.

The picture so far is one abnormal from the usual semester, upending any sense of normalcy in the fall. Strict social distancing measures in an attempt to limit COVID-19’s spread in the community will change almost everything returning students know about the college. Residence halls and classrooms will be de-densified; all food will be to-go; students will undergo weekly testing; and student organizations will be harshly curtailed.

Here’s what we know so far.

Residence Halls

Residence halls will see some of the most noticeable differentiations from typical campus life as the college has imposed a bevy of new restrictions. 

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Students will not be permitted to enter residence halls that are not their own; the college has not specified if students can visit other suites in their residence hall. It is unclear if spaces in buildings that students frequent like The Max or The Beard Room in Piano Row will be open. The first floor of The Little Building will cater to students who need to pick up mail, as the college moved the mailroom out of the basement of The Colonial Building

Students will be required to wear a face covering everywhere on campus, including inside residence halls. The only space in which students can remove their mask is inside their own suite. 

Triples will only house two students to account for social distancing.

The Paramount residence hall will be used as a quarantine space for students who test positive for COVID-19 or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive. Paramount holds approximately 260 students in a normal semester. 

Students are encouraged to pack a “go-bag” in the event that they test positive or are exposed to COVID-19, so that they can quickly collect their belongings and move out of their room and into a quarantine space in Paramount.

The college is in the process of finalizing an agreement with one or more unspecified area hotels, which will act as residence halls.

Guests will not be permitted in any of the college’s buildings, including residence halls. 

Testing and Screening

The college will join the Safe for School Testing program in the fall and mandate a baseline self-swab COVID-19 test for all students upon arrival to campus. Students are also required to undergo weekly follow-up testing at Tufts Medical Center, a quarter-mile walk from campus. 

If at any point a student tests positive, the college will send them into isolation. To leave isolation following a positive test, a student must quarantine for at least 13 days. 

Administrators have said the college intends to test faculty and staff but have not defined how often they will be tested.

The college will purchase tests for students from the Broad Institute at between $25 and $30 and cover weekly and baseline testing costs for students.

If somebody spends 15 minutes or more within 6 feet of someone who later tests positive, the college will consider that exposure to COVID-19. At that point, a contact tracer will reach out and require the student to go to the Tufts Medical Center for a COVID-19 test. Depending on the circumstances, the college may still require students to self-isolate for 14 days, even if they test negative. 

If students travel out of Massachusetts of their own accord, the college may ask students to isolate upon their return to campus depending on where they traveled, though new travel restrictions from Gov. Charlie Baker impose a mandatory 14-day quarantine or a negative test upon entry to the state. However, many states near Massachusetts like New York and New Jersey are exempt from Baker’s quarantine restrictions. 

Every day before arriving on campus or leaving their dorm room, the college will require students to complete a symptom screening checklist via an app. If students have one or more symptoms, they will not be permitted to leave their residence area or come to campus. Additionally, if students fail to complete their daily symptom screening, the college will turn off their access to Emerson buildings. 

Classrooms

The college has been working to retrofit classrooms and on-campus spaces since April to accommodate social distancing protocols on the tightly packed Boston campus. All classrooms will be de-densified, meaning those that previously held 35 students will now only hold 12.

Many classes will be moved into larger spaces on campus to account for the capacity limits, meaning students can expect to attend classes in several theaters on campus and potentially the gym.

Classes will be held in person only once a week with all other meetings happening via Zoom. A class normally meeting Tuesdays and Thursdays would meet in person on Tuesday while the Thursday class would be held remotely, or visa versa. 

Alternating classes mean more than half of the fall semester will be held online. Despite the hybrid format, the college raised tuition by 2%, $1,350, for the fall semester. But summer classes, which are held mostly online, are significantly cheaper than one semester’s tuition. 

Dining

All meals will be served takeout-style in the fall semester, and stations that were previously self-serve like the salad bar will now be staffed. Seating will also be dramatically reduced in the Dining Center, Max, and Paramount Cafe. The college will implement new spaces for students to eat near the dining center. 

Students will be able to use board bucks at several area restaurants that previously accepted EC Cash. Chipotle, Boloco, and Halal Guys, among others, have all accepted EC Cash in the past.

A new default meal plan will be issued in the fall, though specifics are currently unclear. 

Two restaurants were set to open in the first floor of The Little Building before or at the start of the fall semester, but plans may have been interrupted by the pandemic. One of the restaurants, Tatte, a cafe with several locations throughout Boston, is still under construction. Garbanzo, a mediterranean restaurant in the vacated Griddler’s space, opened Monday. 

Finances

Tuition and room and board rates will be hiked by two percent for the 2020–21 academic year, barely down from the planned four percent.

The hike may be a result of the projected $33-$76 million in losses administrators expect in the fall, as the college’s gains rely heavily on funds from tuition and room and board.

A series of budget cuts totalling $26 million has already been implemented.

Those cuts include a suspension of salary increases and retirement contributions for a year, a reduction in temporary workforce and administrative operating costs, and a drastic cut on building maintenance, travel, and meal expenses. Executive leadership will take a minimum 10 percent reduction to their base salary.

Student Organizations

The normal operations of student organizations will be dramatically altered by the college’s reopening plan, as social distancing will prevent many from holding typical meetings and using their offices as normal. 

Director of Student Engagement and Leadership Jason Meier said in the first of a series of “COVID Convos” last week that organizations will have to adapt their normal operations to the reality of the pandemic.

“The further out you can plan in advance the easier it’s going to be [to get a space], but our goal is to be so speedy,” Meier said. “We don’t want this to be a burden. We want this to be helpful to you and your organizations, to get you in a space that works best for what you’re trying to do.”

Organizations will face strict capacity restrictions in the fall. Rooms will hold just 20 to 25 percent of their former capacity, and members will have to abide by social distancing, meaning that even in larger spaces meetings may only hold six to eight people. 

Many organization leaders said they will struggle to adapt to the new regulations as many rely on gathering in person to operate. 

“As a cultural [organization], we are more about making in-person connections,” Diego Torres, vice president of the Latin cultural organization AMIGOS said in an interview in June. “Online would not be entirely impossible, but community building I think is done best when we are able to meet in person.”

The college is encouraging organizations to shift meetings online or split up into smaller groups for in-person meetings to abide by newly instituted capacity restrictions.

Pre-Arrival Requirements

Before arriving to campus, students and anyone assisting their move-in will be required to quarantine for two weeks before their scheduled move.

The requirement means students should not leave their house for non-essential travel in the two weeks prior to their arrival on campus. The college defines essential travel as going to work, medical appointments, or making preparations for a return to campus. 

The college will require students to complete an online Canvas course titled “Back to Emerson: What to Expect Fall 2020 COVID-19” detailing what the college expects of students on campus in early August.

Additionally, upon arrival to campus, students will need to agree to the Emerson Community Compact, a condensed set of restrictions and rules for those living on campus. 

Kasteel Well, DC, and LA

The Kasteel Well, Washington D.C,, and Emerson Los Angeles programs will continue with significant modifications. 

Students at Kasteel Well will travel to the Netherlands individually, quarantine for two weeks upon arrival, and be subject to daily symptom screenings. Additionally, they may only travel unsupervised within the Netherlands and certain “no-travel” weekends will confine students to the town of Well. Students will only be able to leave the Netherlands for two supervised program-sponsored trips to Belgium and Germany.

The restrictions put in place reduce the ability for students to travel independently, one of the major selling points of the program. 

The college plans to allow students to attend the D.C. program, though students can expect several aspects of the program, including internships, to be held mostly or partially virtually. Students will be moved to private rooms and are expected to disinfect their spaces weekly. Multiple social distancing guidelines will be enforced by penalty of removal from the program, though it is not clear if testing will be mandated or readily available.

Emerson Los Angeles will begin instruction in September online amid surging case numbers as the program has not received approval to reopen. If ELA reopens, students will take classes in person, but their internships, which many students attend the program for, might take place online. 

Faculty

Faculty members have denounced the reopening plan for not considering their safety. Professors who wish to opt out of the fall semester risk losing the ability to teach their courses and may be forced to hand them off to another faculty member. Currently, faculty members must apply to stay remote for the fall through Human Resources.

What We Don’t Know

There are still aspects of the reopening plan that remain unclear. The college has not commented on how many students or community members would need to contract the virus for courses to shift online and students to be removed from campus. It is also unclear how the college plans to enforce several restrictions and what the penalties will be for students who do not comply with every aspect of the reopening plan. 

The plan relies heavily on the commitment of students to all restrictions imposed by the college. If students choose to have parties or large gatherings and social distancing is not followed, the likelihood of the virus making it into the community will increase.

The college has also not commented on how it will mitigate the risk of students contracting the virus off campus, instead relying on students to follow city and state guidelines. Despite the severe restrictions to on-campus life, students will be able to move about the city freely and may not follow regulations there.

Correction 07/28/20: A previous version of this story said room capacities would be reduced by 20-25%. Capacities will actually be reduced to 20-25% of their previous capacity. We regret the error.

Updated 07/28/20: This story was updated to include new specifics on the functioning of the college’s Washington D.C. program in the fall.