Student organizations to face capacity restrictions and logistical hurdles in the fall


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A Student Government Association meeting in spring 2020.

The usual operations of student organizations will be severely limited under strict social distancing regulations in the fall, college officials revealed Monday.

Room capacities will be reduced to 20 to 25 percent of their previous capacity, and students will be required to keep at least six feet of distance from each other, effectively halting in-person meetings for organizations, Director of Campus Centers Josh Hamlin and Student Engagement and Leadership Director Jason Meier said. 

The information was disclosed to members of student organizations during the first of four virtual “COVID Convos” being held over the summer. 

“Where [room] capacity used to be 50 people, or 30 people… we’re now looking at those spaces being able to hold no more than six to eight people,” Hamlin said in the meeting. “And that includes the security guard that may be there, or staff that may be in the space as well.” 

The college must abide by capacity limits set by the city of Boston, which allows for a maximum of eight people for every 1,000 square feet, Hamlin said.

Organization offices, such as the ones located in 172 Tremont, will remain open, but students will be required to wear face coverings, be six feet apart, and maintain limited capacity, making meeting in some of the building’s smaller offices impossible. 

“Our student organization offices are very, very small,” Meier said. “Most [organizations] will see no more than two people in their spaces, in particular SGA and EVVYs. I can’t see in a million years it being more than two [students at a time].”

Many classes will be moved to larger spaces on campus to comply with the capacity guidelines, further limiting organizations’ ability to hold in-person meetings.

“We’re going to be asking that [student organizations] hold as many meetings as [they] can virtually, and really only look to have what you would consider an essential meeting in-person,” Hamlin said.

Hamlin suggested that organizations try to break up into smaller teams that could meet in spaces limited to six people or fewer on campus. He added that because larger spaces will be mostly reserved for classes, there will potentially be more classrooms available for small meetings that traditionally were not accessible for organization use. 

Meier proposed that organizations attempt to use local parks for meetings.

“We have all of these amazing parks, and we know we can have a larger gathering that you can socially distance when you are outside, so I would consider having a regular social check-in on a semi-regular basis outside,” Meier said. “Business should be done via Zoom, via Twitch, via Discord, via Slack, and the more of those that you put in a kind of interplay together, the easier it is to stay connected.”

While the status of on-campus events has not been fully detailed, it appears they too will be highly curtailed by social distancing.

Student organizations will have to submit event proposals for in-person meetings and events through EmConnect for review by the office of Campus Centers to ensure that safety guidelines are being set in place and followed.

“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.”

If a proposal is accepted, that organization will be required to track attendance for their event or meeting to assist the college in contact tracing. SpaceBook, an online resource used to reserve spaces on campus, will be relaunched in the fall with an updated list of limited spaces available for students to request to use, Hamlin said. 

“[If] you or a member of the organization who was at a meeting in person does contract COVID, we can go in and be able to say, ‘All right, who was in close proximity and when? Was it during an infectious period?’ to make sure that everyone is notified and can then get properly tested themselves,” Hamlin said. “Drop-in booking through our reservation system is a way for us to track that.” 

The office of Campus Centers will also be able to accommodate a small number of walk-in space requests if an unexpected meeting is necessary, depending on the space available, Meier said. 

Non-college guests of any kind, including visitors, speakers, performers, or trainers that organizations may typically host, will not be allowed into campus buildings, Meier said.

“We’ve been working with our legal counsel to develop a new contract so that you can have virtual events,” Meier said. “It’s far more accessible. You can have more people join in a virtual lecture or training special or panel conversation than you would if you were in-person.”

All student organization-sponsored travel for the fall semester, including conferences, film shoots, and retreats, is also canceled.

“We would really encourage you to look into virtual options for any conferences that you want to attend,” Meier said. “I know a number of orgs have already taken advantage of that, and it’s definitely a way to engage more members in this developmental opportunity.” 

The college will also institute a temporary ban on food at organization meetings and events, including both outside food and catering provided by the college. SEAL will not reimburse most organization food purchases, Meier said.

For the Latin cultural organization AMIGOS, that regulation will disrupt their usual meetings, where they celebrate a different Latin country each week by ordering and eating native food.

“AMIGOS [members] could go take out their food, and then [SEAL] said we could all eat together over Zoom,” AMIGOS President Silvia Di Lanzo said in a phone interview with The Beacon. “I don’t know if people are going to be interested in doing that, but we also talked about picnics and that’s actually a super great idea. I think a lot of people are going to like it, and we actually never thought about picnics before.”

Multiple students attending the virtual meeting asked questions about organization budget allocations, which are typically announced by June 1, but have been significantly delayed this year.

Meier said allocations can’t be made until the college has an accurate picture of enrollment for the fall, which they expect to have in the coming weeks.

“Because we don’t have a good idea of what that number is yet, we haven’t allocated budgets. So for every person that defers their acceptance or takes a gap semester or a gap year, it means we have less money to allocate to our organizations.”

The Student Government Association also does not have an executive treasurer to handle those delegations, as no one ran for the position in the spring elections.

Meier said student organizations should receive more information about what enrollment will look like in the fall by August 1. SEAL will then begin working with SGA on budgetary allocations.

Correction 07/28: 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.