MT. PLEASANT — As Iowa Wesleyan University students slowly trickle onto campus beginning Aug. 1, they will certainly notice changes.
From new classroom arrangements and hand sanitizing dispensers, to signage plastered across school buildings that read “Protecting the Purple and White,” students are not only encouraged to practice good hygiene, wear face coverings and stay socially distanced, but also remember the pledge they’ve taken to protect their peers and the greater Mt. Pleasant community.
Every student is being asked to sign and agree to a Tiger Commitment Pledge that stipulates they will be “engaged and respectful when responding to the risks related to COVID-19.”
“We all hear about what 18- to 22-year-olds are doing — going to parties and other things — and we’re asking our students to be responsible for themselves. We think they can pull it off,” Rebecca Beckner, associate vice president of academic affairs and dean of students, said.
Like other universities across the state, Iowa Wesleyan moved to remote learning following spring break in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. The university announced in May its plans to move forward with on-campus, face-to-face learning, and has been working over the summer to develop policies to make the fall semester as safe as possible.
Meg Richtman, vice president for enrollment, marketing and communications said the major health and safety measures the campus has enacted follow CDC and public health guidelines. The school made several changes to its usual return-to-campus plan, including slowly introducing students back to the area in small groups. The process will begin with groups of 30 to 60 football and soccer players in early August and will conclude with new students, who are expected to arrive Aug. 21.
Each student will be screened upon arrival and “asked to participate in quarantine if they’ve been exposed … and isolation if they’re sick,” Richtman said, which will be determined by a questionnaire students will answer about whether they have been around, exposed to or know anyone who has had the coronavirus. Designated living spaces on campus will be used for students who need to isolate or quarantine. The school is preparing to do weekly screenings with faculty and anticipate doing multiple screenings per week for students.
The university has made the decision to forgo the usual fall break. Instead, the campus will switch to a distance learning model following Thanksgiving and will administer final exams remotely so students will not have to return to campus until the spring semester.
“That way during the heavier peak of the flu season, we don’t have this back and forth of all these students,” Richtman said.
In addition to new safety policies, the university looks to create a campus culture encouraging students to keep their own health and the health of others in mind. Beckner said she expects there to be a bit of a learning curve and students will receive a multitude of warnings before disciplinary action is taken, but if a student demonstrates they are unwilling to partake in measures to keep the community safe, they will be asked to leave, the dean added.
Although classes will have distance-learning opportunities, they will not be completely online or remote, Beckner said. The dean of students added every class will be a little different but all will take a “hybrid model” which will include some components that can be accessed online.
“It may be one set of students comes in on one day while the other half of the class stays home and works on assignments from their computer,” Beckner gave as an example.
She said this ensures international students who may not be able to get to campus due to visa issues or those who do not feel comfortable returning to continue to take classes. Beckner added “less than 1 percent” of students have expressed a desire to continue remote learning.
“The overwhelming response, when we asked students, was that they wanted that face-to-face interaction and environment,” Richtman said.
Even in light of the pandemic, the vice president of enrollment added the university has seen a high retention rate and an approximately 70 to 80 students increase from the previous year.
“We have completely full housing,” she said.
Richtman pointed to several factors including Iowa Wesleyan’s rural setting and smaller student population as potential reasons why both students and parents feel comfortable returning to campus.
Even with all the precautions, Beckner said the university understands the likelihood of someone on campus getting the virus is very high.
“We know we’re going to — we can’t not, but we just need to be ready for it,” she said.