Dear Students and Families,
Just three weeks have passed since we closed the academic year with a wonderful celebration of the Class of 2020. It was comforting and inspiring to end a semester marked by unprecedented tragedy, challenges and uncertainty with a celebration infused with the familiar feelings of Commencement: pride, joy and hope. Those feelings were fleeting, as in the weeks surrounding the celebration we have been devastated by stark examples of the lasting racism and injustice faced by people of color in our country. Many in the Holy Cross community have already come together to grieve, share, listen and reflect. Even as we continue to plan additional opportunities for education and reflection, we must also look deeper to how we might address these issues through structural and systemic changes at Holy Cross and beyond. This work has begun and will continue to be a focus going forward.
At the same time, we are immersed in the complex work of determining a plan for the Fall semester. Our goal is to bring our community back to campus in a manner that implements robust health and safety measures and adheres to evolving state guidelines and medical best practices. Working groups of staff and faculty have been continuously providing recommendations and outlining plans that prioritize the health and safety of the campus community, academic progress for our students and a full and meaningful student experience.
We are on track to provide you with a definitive and detailed plan in early July. While the exact details of the plan will continue to evolve, there are some updates that I can give you now. In addition to the information below, I would like to invite you to join me for a webinar on Wednesday, June 17, from 7:00-8:00 p.m. EDT during which I and members of my executive team can speak to how we are planning for the fall semester. As I know you have many questions related to health and safety, I have invited Dr. Helen Boucher ‘86, Chief of Geographic Medicine and Infectious Diseases at Tufts University Medical Center, to join us to outline for you the latest learnings about the virus and the health and safety protocols currently being recommended by the medical community.
We are doing everything we can to plan for the fall semester, and we are working hard on plans to bring our students back to a safe living and learning environment. We have continued to immerse ourselves in understanding the latest health and safety guidance, consulting with infectious disease experts and other medical specialists. We are also working with professional cleaning and sanitation companies and space planning professionals in order to adapt our programs, processes and physical spaces to incorporate health and safety measures. This work will influence our final plan. We do know that the fall semester will look different from what we are accustomed to in some of the following ways:
- Health and safety: We will be implementing robust testing and symptom tracking protocols as well as requiring safety measures for all students, faculty and staff on campus such as the wearing of masks, physical distancing in classrooms and other campus spaces. In addition, physical and procedural changes will be put into place on campus in accordance with the latest medical and public health guidance. Visitors to campus will be limited. The responsibility lies on all of us to keep our community members safe, so everyone will be required to adhere to the established guidelines and expectations.
- Academic calendar and schedule: Classes will start on September 1, one day earlier than previously planned. We will eliminate our fall break and students will leave campus before Thanksgiving. The semester will be completed remotely after the Thanksgiving holiday. We will need to use different, larger spaces on campus for classes to allow for physical distancing, and class meetings will be spread over the entire day, with some meeting later in the afternoon or evening, to avoid congestion on campus and to allow for cleaning of spaces in between classes. We are planning for a three-week January term which will allow some students to participate in one course in a highly focused manner.
- Class format: Similar to many other colleges and universities, our approach to classes this fall will be a hybrid one. We understand that some students, faculty and staff will be unable to return to campus. We are also limited in space on campus to accommodate larger classes and allow for proper physical distancing. Therefore, our faculty are preparing courses for both in-person and online formats. Some courses will be held online for all students, even for those who are living on campus. And some courses may have in-person and online components. We have learned many lessons this spring from our experience with conducting courses remotely, and we have gathered valuable feedback from students about their experiences that we are incorporating into course design for the fall. I am excited about the courses our faculty are designing to engage our students in new and creative ways both in person and online.
- Housing: We are working with medical and space planning professionals on housing configurations that will meet our goals for de-densifying living spaces and providing adequate isolation and quarantine space per epidemiologists’ guidelines. We will have more specific information on housing and the housing process in the first part of July.
- Co-curricular programs and athletics: We will continue to offer a breadth of opportunities beyond the classroom. Our existing programs will require modifications, and many on campus are planning for adapting those programs and creating new opportunities for personal and spiritual development, experiential learning, health and wellness and community building. With regard to athletics, we are in continued conversation with the conferences in which we compete, and we will communicate with our student athletes and with all of you about plans for the fall as soon as we have more information.
While we are building careful plans for returning to campus, we will all have to approach the fall with an openness to change. I want to be completely transparent and let you know that while it is our hope to welcome back to campus all students, faculty and staff who are able to return, and while we are working intently toward that goal, we may need to change course for a variety of reasons. State and public health guidelines may require something else of us. Our plan hinges on criteria such as the broad availability of timely and accurate testing. We cannot fully know in July what course the virus will take in August or September, which could impact our Holy Cross community or the state of Massachusetts. And we must be prepared for a possible resurgence which could require a broad rapid response.
As we do all of this, our commitment to building a just and inclusive community remains paramount. We will continue to engage in the important issues of racism, injustice and inequality facing our communities and our country today. And we will work toward implementing real and lasting change on our campus and in our community. You will be hearing more about our progress and plans in this area shortly.
We will be communicating more frequently to all of you in the coming weeks as our plans come together. In the meantime, I hope you will join me for Wednesday’s webinar. Please use this link to register and submit questions in advance of the call. I know you have many questions, and that the general information above likely has raised more specific questions. We don’t have all of the answers at this time, but we will address those that we can, and capture the rest so that we can be sure to provide answers as we have them.
I know that our returning students are eager to return “home” to Mount St. James and that our incoming class is excited to begin their Holy Cross experience. I look forward to speaking to you next week to tell you more about our progress toward welcoming you all back.
Philip L. Boroughs, S.J.