Update to Fall 2020 Semester, August 28, 2020
August 28, 2020
Dear Marist Parents and Families,
This week, we began our Fall semester in one of the most challenging environments the College has ever faced. As you know, extensive time and effort has been invested in creating a safe campus environment for our entire community. We knew we would be facing challenges, but we take comfort in the fact that the events of this week illustrate that our plans have thus far allowed us to manage the obstacles posed by COVID-19.
As of today, there have been no new positive COVID-19 test results among Marist students. All students who attended the off-campus party are still prohibited from campus, and are required to remain in mandatory quarantine for 14 days per guidance from the New York State Department of Health and College policy.
While we have tried to ensure that the Marist experience this year is as normal as possible for our students, we have tried to err on the side of safety in establishing new protocols. This makes things a bit difficult, but our policies and procedures are based on the guidelines put in place by New York State (NYS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and enforced in the hopes that we do not follow in the footsteps of institutions that have been forced to backtrack on their reopening plans.
We’re committed to helping everyone through this learning curve in order to ensure that we have the best possible semester. And, we ourselves are committed to learning from the feedback from fellow Red Foxes, including parents and families. When we launched our reopening plan, we knew this would be the case, and we outlined three principles that are guiding us:
- We will fulfill our mission and meet the Marist College standard of excellence.
- The health and safety of the Marist College community is paramount.
- We will respond with innovation and flexibility in the face of complexity.
It is in the spirit of these principles that we write this letter to update you all. Since we have received many questions about the topics listed below, we have chosen to use them as bolded subheadings for ease of organization. We hope these specific updates help you understand where we are as a community at the end of the first week of classes.
As is typical for the start of term, the temperature has been hot, and this year we started one week earlier in August. All of our residence halls have windows for fresh air to ventilate rooms, and all freshman residence halls have mechanical make-up air systems that funnel fresh outside air to the corridors and bathrooms. The requirement that students wear masks while outside their rooms has been a challenge for comfort, but is a linchpin of our public health policy. While some parents have asked about doors being propped open, fire code prevents our doors—which have automatic closure devices to ensure safety in case of a fire—from being propped open.
New Student Orientation
Getting students socialized and acclimated is a significant challenge this semester, especially for new students. Since New York State has prevented us from having our standard convocation and other large gathering events on campus, we worked hard to ensure that there was a full 12-week summer orientation with over 140 pieces of content, including videos, articles, Webexes, and emails. The program included a Webex Freshman Welcome Event on Sunday, August 23, featuring president Dennis J. Murray, and Webexes held with student support services. In addition, RAs and RDs held meetings with each of their floors and in-person meetings, including outdoor icebreakers to introduce students to their peers within residence halls. Now that the term has officially begun, we will be rolling out many additional outside events in the upcoming days and weeks to help all students become familiar with the College and to encourage social interaction with other students. Although these events will be different from the large congregant settings of prior years, we are confident they will establish the foundation for our new students to succeed.
For a full list of upcoming events specifically for first-year students, be sure to download the Guidebook app and view the calendar of upcoming events.
Since we have not been able to ramp up our large-scale events as we normally would at the beginning of the semester, our calendar of events has been reconfigured and we have kicked off a great collection of fun events and safe outdoor gatherings, including an evening outdoor and dining tent movie series. Keep an eye out for information regarding our upcoming Virtual Activities Fair, where you can learn about some of the clubs on-campus.
We are working with the local health department for the strategic re-opening of fitness and recreation centers on campus. We must receive approval from the New York State (NYS) Department of Health, after which we can open our McCann Fitness Center on a reduced capacity basis. We anticipate that this will be completed in the near future. In the meantime, there will be a Home Run Derby from 1:00 pm - 4:00 pm on Sunday, August 30, at North Field, and registration is available online at IMleagues.com/marist. In addition, free recreation classes, including sunset yoga, are being offered in-person and outdoors, while Zumba and ballet classes are taking place virtually.
The College is working closely with our dining partner, Sodexo, in order to create a safe and comfortable experience for everyone on campus. We understand that it will take time for students to become familiar with these new procedures. All students can use the Grubhub app to sign up for a 45-minute time span for dining on campus (each student must sign up for themselves.) There is a 250-person limit per 45-minute time frame in order to reduce density, ensure that lines are manageable, and provide adequate seating. Lines for food are also one-way only in order to maintain social distancing during this process. Visit our dining website for further information. While this has taken some getting used to, students are doing just that and it appears to be moving more smoothly by the day.
Due to the uncharacteristically high volume of packages coming into the mail room, we are expanding the operating hours at the Marist Post Office. For the immediate future, students no longer need to make an appointment to pick up a package.
Expanded hours for the Post Office are:
- Monday - Thursday: 9:00 am - 7:00 pm
- Friday: 9:00 am - 6:00 pm
- Saturday: 9:00 am - 1:00 pm
We have assigned additional staff to ensure that social distancing guidelines are followed when picking up packages.
Health Policies and Surveillance Testing
Our public health policies are the cornerstone of our safety plan, and the NYS and CDC rules for wearing a mask are part of that plan. While students do not have to wear a mask in their own rooms or when stationary in a socially distanced outdoor setting, we know wearing one all day can be difficult. However, this is critical to our collective safety and is required by the current law in New York State. We all look forward to the time when this will not be a requirement.
Since many families have asked about the plans for testing throughout the semester, we also want to provide updated information about Marist College’s COVID-19 testing program. The first element of our program began in late July with pre-arrival testing for on campus students. The second element of our testing program is represented by our rapid testing of symptomatic individuals and close contacts of positive cases made possible through a partnership with Westchester Medical Center. The third element of our testing plan, which we are pleased to announce today, is Marist College’s Surveillance Testing program. Surveillance testing will be done in collaboration with SUNY Upstate Medical Center and will begin next week and continue throughout the semester. Details of this program will be sent out to the student body and other members of the Marist community early next week.
Mental Health Services
At Marist, we take our students’ mental health very seriously, especially during the pandemic. During the summer months, we established a tele-therapy platform through Counseling Services. Please visit our reopening web page dedicated to additional support programs, or download the Counseling Services telehealth reference guide we have put in place to help our students.
If any student feels they need to speak with a counselor, services are available and can be arranged by calling (845) 575-3314 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. If a student is experiencing a mental health crisis, they can contact the Office of Security at (845) 471-1822 to access the on-call counselor.
Discrimination & Title IX
The College strives to create a welcoming atmosphere for everyone. Marist has longstanding procedures and policies in place to investigate incidents of discrimination, bias, and harassment. We encourage members of the community to come forward and share their experiences so the College can respond appropriately. In this way, we can help to foster a culture in which everyone feels included, heard, and valued. The reporting form can be found here: https://marist.edu/report
In order to ensure that our campus community remains healthy for students, we have implemented policies following NYS guidelines. Now, more than ever before, the code of conduct is absolutely critical. We know that this has been a period of significant adjustment, which is why to date all “write-ups” related to use of face coverings or social distancing are not being submitted as formal write-ups, but instead as documentation of what is occurring on campus. We offer this as a learning opportunity and a clean slate moving forward; however, it is vital for our students to follow the guidelines outlined by the College. We appreciate the effort each and every student is making to keep this semester moving forward with health and safety as top priorities.
All Marist students should be confident that any challenges arising as a result of the ongoing pandemic will be addressed quickly by campus faculty and staff. Eighty-four percent of all undergraduate courses are being held on ground (with 90% of freshman classes being held on ground) with in-person instruction. Those who were online Monday, August 24 were faced with a brief outage on Zoom. This was a national issue that was resolved around 10:00 am. We are hopeful that the application will run smoothly for the remainder of the semester.
In closing, we recognize this is a long narrative, but we wanted to be sure to address the key issues parents and families have been asking about at the start of term. We are pleased by the significant positive feedback we have received, but equally appreciative of the recommendations on areas of improvement. All of it helps us navigate this new and challenging territory.
Geoff Brackett, Executive Vice President
Thom Wermuth, Vice President for Academic Affairs
Deb DiCaprio, Vice President for Student Affairs