As the fall semester comes to a close, Cornell administration hosted a town hall on the spring semester on Wednesday.
With over 1,000 additional students moving back to campus, Cornell administration faces the challenge of safely coordinating the move-in process, while simultaneously ensuring students are engaged in campus life with limited risk.
Vice President of Student and Campus Life Lombardi started the meeting by thanking frontline and healthcare workers, as well as Cornell students for their compliance with testing and New York State guidelines.
As the meeting progressed, Lombardi, Assistant Vice President of Student and Campus Life Pat Wynn, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Lisa Nishii, and Director of Sorority and Fraternity Life Kara Miller dove into course formats, move-in procedures, and other parts of student life.
“Things could change, and we said that many times over the summer,” Lombardi said. “We’re hopeful they won’t, of course, because we wanted to give you as much information as possible as early as possible, but we do recognize the unpredictability of everything.”
According to Lombardi, surveillance testing will resume next semester, and students who need diagnostic testing may have reduced wait times due to the prospective enhancement of testing capabilities at Cornell Health.
“I know that it was hard on folks, everyone was really tired of the guidelines and the restrictions towards the end of the semester, but it made a huge difference,” Lombardi said .
On-Campus move-in procedure for students
According to new New York State guidelines, students from non-contiguous states and other countries can shorten their required quarantine period by getting tested within three days prior to their arrival.
“If students are unable to obtain a pre-arrival test three days before arriving in New York, they should plan their own full 14-day quarantine period, as required by New York, before coming to campus,” Wynn said.
Additionally, Cornell has its own guidelines, depending on where students are traveling from.
Students who would face financial challenges due to testing before arrival may be able to get assistance from the Office of Financial Aid, Lombardi said at the town hall. Furthermore, arrival testing must be completed at a Cornell testing facility.
Course modalities and student life will remain mostly online
According to Miller, orientation for first-year and transfer students moving to Ithaca next semester will occur online, and will include both asynchronous and synchronous programming.
To keep students engaged during their quarantine, there will be optional online programming, including health and wellness workshops and art lessons, made in collaboration with student organizations from Jan. 23 to Feb. 4. From Feb. 8 through the end of the month, Cornell administration will be working with student organizations to run “Weeks of Welcome.”
Cornell administration has not yet decided when in-person campus events can begin this spring, according to Miller, and they are working with health experts to decide.
Additionally, registration is now live for Panhellenic and IFC Greek life, and multicultural Greek life will also have registration this spring. Recruitment for Greek life and other student organizations will happen virtually, according to Miller.
As the meeting progressed, the administration discussed course enrollment. According to Nishii, students can enroll in classes from campus or remotely. While some more classes will be in person, many, especially large introductory lectures, will remain online due to space constraints.
“Until we’re able to safely do away with six foot distancing between students in the classroom is not likely to happen in the spring, we will continue to be constrained by classroom capacity,” said Nishii.
In accordance with this semester’s practices, students cannot attend classes they are not enrolled in during the Feb 2. to Feb. 22 add-drop period.
Spring semester will include a few days off, but travel is discouraged
Instead of spring break, there will be two rest periods during the spring semester, one of which includes a four day weekend. However, Cornell administration is seriously discouraging non-emergency travel during these rest periods and the overall semester.
According to Lombardi, roughly half of positive cases from this past semester were directly connected to travel.
“For the spring we’re going to be much more strict about our travel exception process, and really ask everybody who’s coming back in the spring to expect to stay in Ithaca for the entire spring semester,” Lombardi said. “Only plan to leave if it is truly an unavoidable emergency that causes you to have to leave away from Ithaca.”
Vaccinations and commencement still up in the air
Although Lombardi received many questions about vaccination logistics and assured that the University is working on a plan, he said it is too early to share details.
“We don’t yet know if and when, where Cornell will fall, and our population will fall into [vaccine] distribution, so that’s why it’s too early to say about all this,” Lombardi said.
Multiple commencement scenarios are currently being considered, ranging from in-person to an entirely virtual one. Further updates will be announced next semester.
Lombardi encouraged students who have not yet already done so to get their flu vaccines, and to stay cautious over the winter break.
“While you’re back home, with your friends and family or wherever you’re staying, please limit your interactions, continue to follow the guidelines,” said Lombardi. “Stay safe, and really do your self quarantine before you come back next semester so that we can have another semester where we can get through it with everybody staying healthy and safe.”