The Clarion gathers information on preparation for a fall semester amidst COVID-19.
By Rachel Blood
Bethel University’s administration hosted a livestream to address questions and concerns about attending school during the pandemic Aug. 4.
“We are excited to have you back on campus. We realize it’s going to be different, and I trust you know that,” new President Ross Allen said in his introduction. “There’s a lot of work going into creating activities that will ensure that this is, in fact, the community that you’ve known, again with adjustments and modifications.”
Allen discussed a survey recently sent out to Bethel students to gather information on preferred teaching methods in the upcoming semester, the results of which largely indicated a preference for in-person classes. He said survey data was given to professors to plan for various methods of face-to-face and online teaching.
A plan titled “Navigating Life Together” was also released to the Bethel Community detailing the school’s efforts to prepare for education amidst a pandemic. These efforts include an additional item on the student enrollment checklist titled the COVID-19 Community Agreement, which incoming and returning students are asked to sign to ensure the community is “responsible for our own health and being respectful of the health of others.” Neglecting this agreement may result in corrective measures.
“We are still actively planning for a safe return to campus for all of our students, faculty, and staff,” Kristi Moline, Executive Director of Bethel’s Center for Healthcare Excellence, said. “Our planning is not done. Every single day, we make major progress.”
Because of Minnesota Governor Tim Walz’ state mandate, masks will be required in public indoor spaces when not eating or drinking. Masks will not be required in a student’s dorm room or apartment. Students who repeatedly refuse to wear masks will be contacted by a Bethel faculty member to enforce safety measures. Individuals with medical conditions that prevent face coverings should contact the Office of Accessibility Resources for more information and guidance.
“Sometimes in life, we have to do things that feel inconvenient or uncomfortable to us because we want something else even more,” Dean of Student Programs Miranda Powers said. “In this case, we want to be a community even more than we don’t want to wear masks or face coverings. And part of that is meaning that we’re going to do this together.”
Powers referenced 1 Peter 1:6, which reads, “So truly be glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while.”
Moline said students are expected, in accordance with the Community Agreement, to monitor health on a daily basis. Bethel will be using an app, about which more information will later be released, in which students will record their personal health records. Powers mentioned that this app may even serve as a competition between residence halls to motivate students to comply with new safety measures.
“As fall semester is fast approaching, it’s a great time for us to be sharing information with each other,” said Dean of Professional Programs Julie Finnern.
Commuters will need to complete a health screening before entering campus each day. Adherence to other precautions, including hand-washing, social distancing and following posted room capacity signage, will be expected. Moline informed the virtual audience that according to the Minnesota Department of Health, the highest number of COVID-19 cases is currently found in the age group of 20 to 29. COVID testing will, in partnership with the Mayo Clinic Labs, be available to students on campus. Moline said the MDH does not recommend mass testing. The cost of investing in mass testing is far higher than the number of positive tests expected. Tests are only as good as the minute they were performed, she said, meaning that if students leave campus after being tested, there is no way to know if the virus was contracted during that time. If a positive case is known, cluster testing in a group of people may occur.
Students reporting illness will be considered on an individual basis and will either be asked to go home or to temporarily reside in a designated isolation space on campus for a certain amount of time.
Moline said Royal Grounds will remain open. The Dining Center will also remain open, but at a limited capacity that allows for social distancing. Dining hours have been extended to accommodate more students. Using swipes, students will have the option of take-out meals from the DC.
Finnern said the fall semester’s classes will be offered in various formats. Online courses will either have designated class times in which students must be online, typically using Zoom as a meeting format, while a few classes will not have scheduled meeting times.
Face-to-face classes will accommodate for social distancing. Students will sit in the same seat each day and will be provided materials to wipe down chairs and desks prior to class. Large spaces previously not used for classes may be used for larger classes, including Benson Great Hall, the Underground and the Lakeside Center Library. Most face-to-face classes will have an online option for students uncomfortable with attending in-person class or sick students.
Certain classes, such as some science labs, may not be able to offer online options. Students who indicated a preference for online classes should receive email confirmation regarding their requests. To check the face-to-face or online status of a class, students can view their class schedules in the Student Academics section of MyBethel and check room numbers and times. Students should watch for communications from professors regarding possible changes prior to classes starting in the fall. Textbooks should be ordered online this year. Students may have them shipped to their home or arrange to pick them up on campus upon arrival.
Finnern also mentioned that class times will be slightly adjusted to allow for less human traffic in halls. Spaces in addition to the Loft are being sought out for commuter hangouts.
Information on certain majors requiring field experience is to be determined.
“We really don’t know much yet about clinicals except agencies want us back,” Dean of Nursing Diane Dahl told the Clarion.
Associate Professor of Education Jill Martin said student teaching information will not be determined until K-12 public schools announce decisions on fall attendance policies.
Finnern said academic testing in online classes will be issued using a variety of methods. Some more traditionally formatted tests may use Proctorio, which has webcam capabilities and can share a recording of a student’s screen with professors. Other assessments may be in the forms of projects, videos or presentations. Students will be provided an opportunity within the first few weeks of the semester to give feedback on learning and testing methods.
Powers said musical rehearsals will occur in some capacity, likely in larger spaces and smaller groups. Outdoor practice is a possibility, but Powers stressed that music ensembles will still have the opportunity to do what they love. Performances will likely be recorded professionally and released to the public.
“We are working very hard on music and theatre protocols for the fall,” said Jonathan Veenker, Chair of the Department of Music and Theatre. “But it is too soon to say definitely what is going to happen.”
Worship at Bethel will follow Minnesota’s public health guidelines. Vespers will have a capacity of 250 people. It will likely be shorter, but with more sessions to accommodate a greater number of students. There may be three to four Vespers segments, but in half-hour time slots. Staff is working on providing live streaming for both Vespers and chapel.
“I just have been so overwhelmed by the community that I think is such a reflection of Jesus Christ,” Allen said.
The MIAC has officially postponed all fall sports to spring with the exceptions of golf and tennis. Allen noted that this may pose a challenge for dual-sport athletes.
Powers said recreational sports, such as disc golf, foot golf, pickleball, cornhole, and possibly bowling, will be available this fall to fill time normally occupied by fall sports. Allen mentioned that Bethel coaches are looking at some intersquad options to provide entertainment for students.
Before arriving on campus, students should complete the enrollment checklist, including this year’s new Community Agreement. New students should refer to the Before You Arrive page on the Welcome Week portion of the Bethel website. Each week leading up to the start of the fall semester, email communications will be sent to all Bethel students with necessary information and updates. Bethel’s Student Life staff members are working to create opportunities for on-campus entertainment. Kick-off, Testify, movie nights, campus games and even mini-golf have the potential to be available to students this fall.
“We continue to just be excited about your energy and your presence that fills this place,” Powers said.
Powers encourages students to bring hammocks and lawn chairs to campus to spread out outdoors while the weather is still nice. Bethel also asks students to limit their exposure to others two weeks prior to move-in for the safety of their roommates, floormates, and community. Powers said the ability for the Bethel community to stay together all depends on the community’s compliance to abide by new safety regulations and care for one another.