Welcome everyone to this second summer edition of Community Conversations. I’m David Kotz, the interim provost. As always, I am joined by Justin Anderson, our vice president for communications from the Starr Instructional Studio in Berry Library, where we are recording today’s conversation on Aug. 17. Justin and I will be joined today by Kellen Appleton, the director of first-year trips; Rick Mills, the executive vice president for finance and administration; and Lisa Adams, associate dean for global dealth, director of the Center for Global Health Equity and professor of medicine at the Geisel School of Medicine.
Before I introduce our guests, let me begin with a campus update. First, regarding COVID-19: At the last Community Conversations, on July 21, my guests and I shared this table unmasked here in the studio. And we were pleased to report virtually zero new cases had been discovered at Dartmouth in the month prior. And we were especially excited by the increasingly normal feel of life on campus.
Well, a lot can happen in a month. As you know, the delta variant has been sweeping across the country, and it is likely the cause of a spike in positive cases we discovered on campus at the beginning of August. Indeed, I need to inform you that on Tuesday, Aug. 17, Dartmouth identified a cluster of three linked COVID-19 cases in the student population. All of these students live off campus and all are now isolating at home.
The State of New Hampshire defines a cluster as three or more individuals confirmed with COVID-19. We’re part of a related group of individuals who had the potential to transmit infection to each other through close contact. These three clustered cases are part of 21 positive cases on campus discovered between Aug. 1 and Aug. 17—11 students and 10 employees. At least 19 of these 21 cases were in fully vaccinated individuals. Some had no symptoms, some had mild symptoms, all have isolated themselves and are recovering well.
This news brings to mind several things. First, it is comforting to hear that all of these employees and students are doing well. The vaccines are doing what they are supposed to do. They reduce your chance of becoming infected. And even if you are infected, the vaccines drastically reduce the chance of contracting a serious illness that requires hospitalization. Second, and it is a reminder that vaccination does not necessarily prevent infection, and according to the emerging scientific evidence, it is possible for a fully vaccinated person to become infected and then pass the virus on to other people, including people who are unable to be vaccinated and who are thus particularly vulnerable. As a result, Dartmouth and the town of Hannover recently renewed policies that require everyone to wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status, to reduce the prospects for the virus to spread more widely on campus and through the community.
We have since received many messages about this return to indoor masking from students, parents, faculty, and staff. Many are upset about the decision, seeing it as inconvenient and as a step backward in our return to normalcy. Many are grateful for the decision, feeling it better protects them and their families. They’re both right. It is inconvenient. It is a step backward. It is also the best most effective way to reduce the spread of the virus through our community where it might reach the most vulnerable, including children under 12 and others who are unable to be vaccinate.
As a reminder, our current policy requires indoor masking in most situations, specifically, if you were and vaccinated, you may only remove your mask when in a private office or bedroom, or when actively eating or drinking. If you’re vaccinated and you have any COVID-like symptoms, it’s the same thing: You may only remove your mask when in a private office or bedroom or when actively eating or drinking. If you’re vaccinated and you have no symptoms, then you may also remove your mask when working alone in a shared office or lab or studio.
We know there’s still a lot to ask. After carefully considering the current situation on campus, in town, in our region, along with the latest science, we feel comfortable now relaxing the policy in two ways. First, residents of on-campus housing, including Greek houses, may remove their masks anywhere in the residence if they are vaccinated and have no symptoms. Second, two people who are vaccinated and have no symptoms may remove their masks for a one-on-one indoor meeting if both are comfortable doing so.
Other indoor settings, please wear your mask. It is especially important to wear your mask when in close proximity to others, such as in classrooms, or when you’re in large busy spaces like the library. Let’s flatten the curve, please. For details of the policy, see the face covering policy at covid.dartmouth.edu, easily found at covid.dartmouth.edu.
By the way, actively eating does not include those long hours study at the library, slowly nursing a cold drink or nibbling occasionally on a candy bar. Please mask up and remove your mask only briefly when drinking or eating. To me, it all boils down to respect. Respect for your fellow human beings for the students and staff who work around you, and for those who are unable to be vaccinated or maybe particularly susceptible to infection or its consequences.
Again, we know this policy is inconvenient, uncomfortable, and very disappointing after a month of relative freedom. We feel the same way. Nonetheless, we’ll be living with this virus for years to come, and we will continue to adapt as we better understand the risks and how to best balance the risks to the physical and mental health of everyone in our community, everyone, students, faculty, staff, and families.
At this point, you may be wondering, with the COVID task force disbanded, who is ‘we’? Who is monitoring the situation and how are we making COVID related decisions? Executive Vice President Rick Mills and I are leading Dartmouth’s COVID operations. We work with four teams to help us monitor the camp situation on campus in our town, in our county and in our local hospitals, along with the latest science about the potential for the delta variant to spread to and through vaccinated individuals.
We meet twice weekly with a COVID leadership group to discuss new information and finalize any adjustments to policy. In parallel, the core group, a subset of the old task force, continues to meet weekly to manage day-to-day logistics and implementation. And the work of the testing group, which is a coordinated onsite testing operation, is slowly being integrated into Dartmouth’s existing Office of Environmental Health and Safety.
Finally, this week, Rick and I launched a new science advisory group composed of clinical and research faculty from Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine and the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, including experts in epidemiology, pediatrics, and student mental health. This new group expands our ability to track the evolving scientific understanding of the virus and public health measures.
On some points, the science is absolutely clear. The vaccine is approved by the FDA and the WHO are extremely safe and effective. Second, the risk of a fully vaccinated person becoming infected when exposed to the Coronavirus is low, far lower than if they were unvaccinated. Third, once infected the risk of a fully vaccinated person experiencing symptoms is low and the risk of serious symptoms requiring hospitalization is very low.
On other points the science is less clear and is evolving daily. It seems possible for a fully vaccinated person to become infected and then become infectious. That is, capable of spreading the virus to others. Although this occurrence seems unlikely and short-lived when it happens, we’re not yet sure how often this might occur. And we can talk more to Lisa Adams about these questions in a few minutes.
We remain optimistic that with your support and cooperation and wearing masks now, we can prevent a wider outbreak that may require further constraints down the road. I want to emphasize that the return of indoor masking is not intended as the first step down the path to other restrictive measures like social distancing, smaller event sizes or remote learning. Indeed, indoor masking is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of the virus and avoid any need for those further measures. Of course, we can’t forecast the future and we will adapt as needed to emerging conditions. We can all do our part now to maximize the chances for a normal fall term. Again, we truly appreciate your patience and understanding, and we’ll update you as soon as we learn more.
Now, let me take an opportunity to answer some of the most common questions that I’ve been receiving through email. First, why did we reimpose into our masking for everyone so quickly? It seemed to come by surprise to many people. But we were surprised by the sudden spike of new cases at the very beginning of August. Also around the same time, the CDC indicated our county was experiencing substantial transmission rates and recommended indoor masking. The town of Hanover reimplemented its indoor masking policy. So it was prudent for us to do the same.
Second, I often hear the on-campus community is 94% fully vaccinated, which is great. So why do we need to mask up? Well, as I mentioned earlier, the latest scientific evidence that even fully vaccinated people can be infected by the Coronavirus. In fact, all the two of the positive cases discovered on campus this month were in fully vaccinated individuals. Neither of these things is really surprising. The vaccines are doing what they’re supposed to do, keep people from becoming so ill they need hospitalization. And in that regard, they’re succeeding.
Next question was, how can students be involved in the process of deliberating new restrictions? Well, I’ve personally met several times with the leadership of the student assembly and are planning to assemble an advisory group of student leaders from across the institution, undergraduates and graduates to help advise us on these questions.
Another common question is, although most of our peer schools have similar indoor masking policies, isn’t Dartmouth somehow different? We’re in a rural area and we have very high on campus vaccination rates? Yes, that’s true. We always consider Dartmouth’s unique characteristics when making our choices as does every other campus. It is true that most other campuses have made the same choice for now. We will keep making our choices based on our conditions.
How long will the mask mandate be in place? And should students prepare for another year of lockdown or online classes? Well, no, I don’t think so. We continue to monitor the latest science, current guidance and local conditions. And we’ll relax the mask mandate as soon as it is reasonably safe to do so. Hopefully by the end of September, if not, sooner. We do not anticipate a need to return to lockdown or online classes. In fact, let’s avoid that possibility by masking up now.
And finally, my favorite question, I just want the pandemic to be over. I’m tired of masking and all the rest. Can we just have a normal fall term? Yeah, well, me too, right? We’re all tired of this pandemic. We all want a normal fall term, indeed. That again, is why it’s so important to do indoor masking right now to keep the virus from spreading and ruining our fall term.
All that being said, vaccination still remains our best line of defense against COVID-19. At the beginning of this week, 94% of our campus community is fully vaccinated as I mentioned, and we expect this number to continue to rise. And we expect all students, faculty, and staff to be fully vaccinated before they return to campus or receive an approved exemption for medical or religious regions. For those of you who are not yet vaccinated, I’ll urge you to do so as soon as possible. To find a local vaccination center, visit www.vaccines.gov. For more information about Dartmouth’s COVID-19 Policies and Practices, you can look at covid.dartmouth.edu.
Look at covid.dartmouth.edu. Well, we’ve come a long way in the last 16 months, and there are likely further challenges ahead of us as new more contagious variants might emerge, but this campus has proven time and again to be resilient. Our current situation may not be what many of you envisioned for this fall, but again, with your continued patience and cooperation, we can weather this storm as we continue to move towards a path to normalcy.
Next, regarding on-campus student housing. As many of you know, we are facing unprecedented demand for on-campus housing this fall literally at the levels we have never ever seen in Dartmouth history. We’ve been working diligently to place students into campus housing as space becomes available and the wait list is shrinking quickly. We’ve come a long way from the last Community Conversation. Still, our work is not yet done as long as there are still graduate and undergraduate students seeking housing for the fall term. I know the Graduate Student Council has been working to support incoming graduate students. We’re still seeking off-campus housing. And the undergraduate housing office has been working hard to reduce the gap between the number of on-campus beds requested and the number available.
You may also have seen my announcement about the new interim dean of the College. We’ve just appointed Scott Brown as interim dean of the College and Marianne Huger Thomson as interim associate dean of Student Affairs. Scott spent three years working in Student Affairs at Dartmouth in the early 1990s. And most recently served as interim associate vice president and dean of students at Northern Arizona University. He began work at Dartmouth this week remotely and will be on campus by the end of the month. Marianne comes to Dartmouth from Syracuse University, where she has served for the past three years as associate vice president for student experience and as dean of students. She will be on board next week and on campus by the end of this month. I know both of them look forward to meeting with students soon. I hope to introduce them to all of you in a future episode of Community Conversations.
Once again, I want to pass along my deepest thanks to Kathryn Lively, who stepped down as dean of the College at the end of June, for overseeing the work of the division of Student Affairs as dean of the College for the past three years. During her tenure, Kathryn worked tirelessly on such issues as food insecurity on campus, expanding support for first gen low income students, increasing Dartmouth’s mental health services, and of course, guiding student affairs through the COVID-19 pandemic. So this brings me to the fall. It’s hard to believe, but September is just around the corner. As students return to campus this fall, we are eager to celebrate their homecoming and to rebuild the sense of community that is so essential to the Dartmouth experience. A survey was distributed last month to all returning students, asking for their ideas and input on rebuilding community efforts. We hope the survey will guide the Student Life team to generate programming ideas and to inform student governance organizations as they represent student interests.
As we approach September, I’m especially excited for the arrival of the class of 2025. Although some student athletes and those participating in FYSEP Summer Session are already on campus, the majority of the class will be joining us on Friday, Sept. 3, as they move into residential halls. A day or two later, they will depart for first-year trips. We’ll talk about those trips in a few minutes when you meet the trips director, Kellen Appleton. Although Kellen is focused right now on preparing for the class of 2025, she will also give us a sense of what’s being planned for the class of 2024, who of course, were unable to participate in a traditional trips program last year. So now let me turn to Justin and see if we have any questions from the audience.
Thanks so much, Dave. Nice to see you again today. We’re going to take just two questions and then we’re going to transition over to Rick and Lisa and bring them into the conversation. The first question pertains to the fall, which you discussed briefly at the end of your remarks. The question is, it’s a two-part question, given the COVID trend since our last Community Conversations, how have Dartmouth’s plans changed for the fall? Will the COVID task force be reinstated? You obviously addressed that second part, but I think it’s worth emphasizing why the decision was made and why the current plan is in place and how that will work going forward.
So our plans for the fall remain effectively the same, we plan to teach all the courses in person to have fully densified dormitories and dining and student activities and athletics and so forth. We have put into place this new governance structure, as you mentioned, that will help us to monitor and manage any emerging situations. And we’ve also set up a teaching transition coordination group, a group of faculty and key staff from across campus to plan for right now and also monitor and manage as the in-person teaching combines with the challenges of COVID, whatever they may come to be.
Dave, I’ll ask one more question, which you can answer, and then I’ll let you introduce Rick and Lisa. This question is also about the fall. Are there going to be remote classes in the fall, particularly for people who can’t travel to campus or for those who may not have fall housing?
Right. At this point, we are not planning to have any classes operate remotely. It’s unfortunate if there are some people that are not able to be in Hanover, but the vast majority of students, we expect to be in Hanover and we plan to operate in-person much as we always have. OK. Thanks Justin. That’s great. Good questions. And now let me introduce Rick Mills, the Executive Vice President for Finance Administration, who has been a frequent guest on this program, and Lisa Adams, the Associate Dean for Global Health and Director of the Center for Global Health Equity, and a professor of medicine at Geisel, who has been an even more frequent guest on this program and always very helpful adviser. Maybe I’ll start with Lisa and get your take on why you think masking is so important right now, even for people who are fully vaccinated.
Thanks, Dave, for that question. Great to be on your Community Conversations. So we have learned that, as you said, masking has become a bit of a hot-button issue, but let me try to clarify why masking is important. And in doing so, I will reiterate and further expand upon some of the things that you’ve already said. But first let me state the obvious, we know masks work. I know everybody may know this, but I think it’s helpful to restate it. We have over 40 peer-reviewed articles that have confirmed that wearing masks and mask mandates are effective in decreasing transmission of COVID. And they do so by effectively blocking the release of respiratory droplets.
And one of my favorite studies among these 40 plus is from researchers at the NIH and University of Pennsylvania that was published in the New England Journal in just a couple of months ago. And the researchers used high speed laser light technology that measured oral droplets expelled by someone speaking and showed that about 300 fluid droplets flashed or lit up when participants said the words stay healthy without a mask on, and that less than one fluid droplet flash when participants said the same phrase while wearing a mask. And the video capturing this is actually pretty dramatic.
So we also know that mask protect both the wearer and those they come in contact with. Now, some may say, why do we need to focus on reducing transmission of COVID among people who are fully vaccinated? And that brings me to my second point. And that is while our current vaccines are highly effective, we’ve always said and known that they’re not a 100% effective and we know the Delta variant is particularly contagious. And as you said, we know that vaccinated individuals can contract and can transmit infection, although they are certainly less likely to do so. So not surprisingly, we are seeing breakthrough infections occur across the country, across the state of New Hampshire and in our own community where we have a highly vaccinated population. As you said, we now have over 90% of our faculty staff and students accessing campus being fully vaccinated.
Out of the breakthrough cases we’ve had in our community, roughly 90% have had some symptoms. Now I think protecting everyone from getting COVID when possible, even if symptoms are likely to be mild is a good goal because there’s always a risk that sometimes that won’t be the case. And we also know that even mild symptoms can persist for weeks or months. But then I can hear the next question, which is, but if COVID is mostly a mild illness among vaccinated individuals that we won’t soon eradicate globally and it’s more likely just an inconvenience to lose your sense of taste and smell for weeks or months, is masking really necessary? Which brings me to my last and I hope most compelling case for mask wearing, which, again, is something you alluded to, which is that we have people in our community who are not able to get vaccinated themselves and/or may have household members that can’t get vaccinated either because they’re too young or among those with medical contraindications to vaccination. And many of them are frightened understandably about what could happen if they contract COVID themselves and/or pass it onto their at risk household member.
So while we have a very high vaccination rate in our Dartmouth community, only about 62% of the residents in Grafton County have been fully vaccinated and rates are certainly lower in other places where our community members are traveling to. So since we don’t live in an impermeable bubble at Dartmouth, until we see vaccination rates increase nationally, I think masking is the best option we have for balancing our goal to keep everyone in our community safe. And doing so by choosing a means that allows us to still interact with one another, to gather together and to have in-person teaching and meetings.
Thanks, Lisa. Justin.
Lisa, if I could stay with you on a question from a viewer, which references what we’re hearing a lot of in the news about how we need to just learn to live with COVID. And so this person asks, what does that look like at Dartmouth? Are we living with COVID now in terms of how we’re approaching it as something that’s going to be here forever or will it look different a year or two years or three years from now? So basically, what does it actually mean to just live with this thing for the foreseeable future and maybe beyond?
Another great question. I think we all recognize that we will be and we’ll have to be living with COVID for the foreseeable future, maybe forever. I think what we are experiencing right now, though, is a transition period of learning to live with COVID. We have vaccines, highly effective vaccines that are available in the US, and again, I know I sound like a broken record of my vaccine promotion messaging, but really, it’s so important to get everyone who is eligible and able to get vaccinated should be doing so, because that is the best option we have for dealing with this pandemic and returning to any sense of normalcy.
Now we will, once we see higher vaccination rates in our country and frankly, then globally, that’s when I think we can start thinking about what it really means to be living with COVID much as we live with seasonal flu every year. And unfortunately, we have hospitalizations and deaths from seasonal flu every year, but we have effective vaccines that, again, we try to promote and do our best to encourage people to receive. But I think for right now, until we can get our vaccination rates higher, I think we’re going to be in this transitional period of figuring out what other mitigation measures we can put together in that many people have seen sort of that Swiss cheese model of where you line up several slices of Swiss cheese. Each one has a bit of a hole in it, but when you line them up together, that’s where you can offer the most protection. And I think that’s where we are still now transitioning from hopefully being able to remove some of those slices of Swiss cheese.
If I may, I’ll turn to Rick now with a question. Given the return to indoor masking, Rick, and the anticipation of fall, what are you hearing from staff and supervisors about the originally planned return to work in September?
Thanks, Dave. Thanks for having me here. We’re certainly hearing more questions from staff and supervisors about whether we’re going to make a change to that plan. And I think that’s something that you and I are under active discussion in thinking about where we want to go with it. It’s something I think we’ll get more advice from our clinical and scientific advisory board and I’d expect we’d have something to announce early next week. We have seen other employers, national employers make the decision to push back return to campus or return to office. And it’s certainly, I think something that’s likely to be coming for us, but more information on a concrete update next week.
OK, great. Justin?
Rick, if I could tack on with a question, we spend a lot of time thinking about and talking about vaccinations and masking and how well they’re working or not working, should it be mandated or not mandated? One thing we don’t talk as much about is ventilation and how are our spaces around campus are not well ventilated. Given the positive effects that a good ventilation system can have in terms of getting air out and bringing new air in, how are you as EVP thinking about this when it comes to the maintenance of buildings, the upgrades of buildings, bringing new buildings online? Is it more of a factor now than it was two years ago?
I would say it’s definitely more of a factor. And I think whether you’re at Dartmouth College or Dartmouth Hitchcock, all of us on the facilities side are thinking about how do we increase air changes? How do we think about building buildings both today and operating them today, but planning them for the future in a way that lets us provide more ventilation. That’s also balanced or coupled with this interest in reducing our carbon emissions and thinking about how do we do increase ventilation while at the same time not growing our carbon footprint. And when you’re in Hanover in the winter, you’re dumping a lot of BTUs out unless you’ve designed a pretty sophisticated system. So I think the answer to your question is in the near term, we are probably increasing some BTU usage by increasing air changes.
Over the longer term, we’re looking at building resilient systems that allow us to recover the heat before we do an air change, but maintain that level of air changes. So there are things like [inaudible 00:29:43] wheels, there are other devices that would allow us to recover heat and BTUs before we discharge the air and bring in fresh air for air changes. And all of our plans going forward are thinking about how to build those sorts of systems.
I have a question for Rick also that’s kind of forward-looking in terms of facilities. And again, not COVID, maybe for a moment we can step aside. On student housing, I know your team has been working diligently on making medium and longer term plans for student housing. What updates can you share with us today?
Sure. I think the biggest and potentially most exciting update is the work we’ve been doing out at Mount Support Road up by Dartmouth Hitchcock Hospital to deliver new beds for graduate students, new graduate student apartments. We have been talking with the developer and I think we believe we’re going to be in a position to add more than 300 beds and bring them online as early as March of 2022, which is significantly in advance of what we’d originally targeted as sort of the August-September date. That will allow us to both utilize some beds for undergraduate housing as needed, but also help alleviate the pressure the graduate students are feeling. And frankly, the entire community is feeling in not having sufficient space to house all of the workforce, all of the students that we want to be able to house. And we’re not quite there yet, but that feels as though it’s something that will come to pass.
And we look forward to being able to confirm that we’ve actually achieved that. Over the slightly longer term, we are actively engaged in discussions with trustees around the sequence of renovations for undergraduate housing, which everybody I think would say has been long overdue. The trustees at their last meeting approved the infrastructure renewal fund in a funding mechanism that will allow this to go forward. We’re working on finalizing plans for SwingSpace so that we can move students out of existing residence halls and begin that renovation process. And that’s something that I would expect mid-October, sometime in the fall, we’ll have more concrete information and begin to be able to track and show a schedule for that work. And over the longer term, it’s intended that that work would add bed space and begin to move us out of being as constrained as we have been really since Dartmouth went coed, if you’d go back into the record.
Thanks. That’s great. That’s going to be a big help, both for the quality and quantity of student housing. Thanks, Rick. I think I’ll turn back to Lisa now. And then also, maybe Justin has some other questions. Lisa, you mentioned in your previous answer, this idea of when we might be kind of beginning to live with COVID on a routine basis. And I guess more immediately, what are the metrics you’re watching or the scientific studies you’re watching that will help us to determine when we can relax the mask policy again?
So there are many different sources that we’re following to really help inform our guidance, our recommendations to you and to Rick. Let me just outline a few. So first there is the scientific literature, of course, and this includes the peer reviewed publications really from around the world, as well as what we call the preprint articles. These are articles that have not yet undergone the full peer review process, but rather a sort of in-house screening by a pre-print screening team. That can be done rapidly usually in about 24 hours for really quick turnaround compared to the many months of the usual peer review process.
And things are moving so fast with COVID data, everyone has had to consider the pre-print data more than we ever have before. So then secondly, I would say there is the national state and local guidance that we track and try to see how best to apply that to our unique setting and circumstances. As you know, and I think mentioned our current masking mandate is compliant with town of Hanover, New Hampshire State Health Department and CDC guidance. So that’s something else that we track.
And then I would say, I guess, thirdly, you also mentioned too, that we look to see what our peers are doing, not as a directive, of course, but as a benchmarking process. And we participate in Ivy Plus and other university and college consortia where we’re really constantly sharing our current policies and rationale for adopting and adapting those policies. But some of the metrics that we’re following now, it’s really a set of metrics, a composite of several key factors and includes things like the vaccination rate among our students, faculty, and staff, and the vaccination rate in our local community and beyond.
Our test positivity rate is another factor. And then our case rate and details about who is getting ill. Are they breakthrough cases? What was the likely source? How severe is their illness? The epidemiology with the case rate piece, but also then some of the clinical information. And then lastly, while this hasn’t been a limiting factor in the past, of course we do follow hospitalizations and bed utilization locally and across the state. And I certainly hope that will not become an issue for us, but it is something that we do also track. So really put together, there’s really just a whole host of factors and that we have to consider, and it’s really this composite set of variables and criteria that we have to be tracking and assessing.
We have time for one more question. And Lisa, I’m going to give this question to you and I’m going to do so with the caveat that I realize it may be too soon for you to respond, but as a former newsman, I can’t resist the temptation to ask you about something that is in the news. And it has to do with booster shots. There’s news that the Biden administration may begin to recommend booster shots for certain groups of people. And so my question to you is just generally your view on booster shots and then more specifically your view on Dartmouth administering them or contracting someone to administer them for the community.
Yeah. So great question. Hot off the press. And I really appreciate that. So there’s already been recommendations for booster shots for certain high risk individuals, those with certain immunocompromised conditions and that meet certain criteria. That actually has also been adopted by the State Health Department in New Hampshire and issued. So that is something that as clinicians we are beginning to follow, I will say, I have said. And I think even in this forum of the community conversation and elsewhere that I was fully anticipating booster shots to be part of our future. And I think we’ve heard from many experts that it wasn’t a question of if, but when booster shots will be recommended. So this is not a great surprise to any of us. And I think if the data are there and the science is there. And I know it’s been evaluated for a broader use before, it’s going to be announced from the administration.
I do think we want to follow the science. We want to do what is medically indicated and from a public health point of view indicated. So again, I was fully anticipating booster shots would become part of our lives and I will certainly promote them when they are sort of officially issued as a recommendation from our public health authorities. And again, you had asked earlier about what does it mean to be living with COVID? I think booster shots are part of what living with COVID is going to look like, just as we get annual flu shots. Right? And we know our COVID vaccines are actually much more effective than our usual flu vaccine.
So what a great opportunity to really use the science, the unprecedented moment in vaccine history here, to use the benefits of that and to be able to really help turn around this pandemic. What I would like to see of course is global equity, right? I’m the director of the Center for Global Health Equity and to see greater equity with access to vaccines. And I know that’s coming, but yes, I think boosters are likely to be in our future. And I think they make very good sense if they will help protect all of us who can get vaccinated.
Lisa, thank you very much for that response and for all of your responses today. And Rick, thank you also for joining us today. It was great to have both of you. Dave, I’ll go back to you to introduce our final guest.
Dave, I’ll go back to you to introduce our final guest.
Well, our next guest is Kellen Appleton, the director of first year trips. Kellen is a member of the Class of 2020 and is focused on preparing for the arrival of the Class of 2025. Welcome, Kellen.
Hi, Dave. Pleasure to be on here.
Great. It’s good to have you. Kellen, I know the DOC First Year Trips Program has a long history. Can you tell us a bit about its origins and why it is still such an important part of the arrival experience for the first-year Dartmouth students to this day?
Sure. So first year trips started as a program at the Dartmouth Outing Club back in 1935, which is almost 90 years ago at this point. And it was started in response to this expressed desire from graduating senior students when they were reflecting on their time at Dartmouth, finding that they wished they had spent more time and earlier time engaging with the natural spaces and the outdoor activities that you can find here.
So in response, the Dartmouth Outing Club started running this first year trips program that was an opportunity for incoming students to have these sorts of natural experiences in outdoor spaces around Dartmouth, right from the first day that they got to college.
At first, trips were primarily aimed at people who were interested in being part of the DOC. It was a little bit of a recruitment tool, but starting in the ’70s and ’80s, student organizers such as yourself. You were trips director back in what? ’85?
The kind of base of first year trips started to expand a little bit. And expand rapidly, actually, as trips was aimed at all incoming students regardless of what their interests were, their backgrounds were. And this has expanded continually until today where we see about 90% of incoming students every year participating in a first year trip. So it’s become this kind of ubiquitous experience for incoming students. It’s had a long history over the last several years of helping to foster those sorts of connections to people and place that people want to have in the communities that they find at college.
I think that’s a lot of the significance and the staying power of it. I mean, I think back on when I was on Trips in 2016, and that’s what I got a lot out of this. These sorts of connections and these sorts of space for personal reflection as I was coming from a very small high school and a low income space and being the only person from my state in my year. And this gave me a space to look at the Dartmouth community, find my place in it and adjust to it. And so I think that’s had a lot of the staying power.
And beyond that, I think a lot of the power that comes from Trips is the sense of student involvement with it. It’s very much a community force. Just this year, there’s over 10% of the current undergraduate population is involved in Trips in some way. There’s over 300 student leaders, as well as over 100 support staff members, as well as folks who are organizing and captaining these sorts of things. So it’s a huge outpouring of student support and I think really shows the Dartmouth community is ready to welcome these incoming students. And that’s a really significant experience to have when you get here.
Yeah, that’s awesome. Justin?
Kellen, I understand that trips will be structured a little bit differently this year in part because of the pandemic. How will it be different and how will it be the same?
Good question. So I’m actually really, really pleased with what we’ve come up with for this year. I’ll preface this with saying from this perspective of an individual student or an individual trip, the experiences of trips this year are not going to be that different from ordinary years. Starting on Sept. 3 when the majority of incoming students arrive on campus and integrated with the new student orientation calendar, trips are going to start running on the fourth and fifth of September going out in these waves, accordingly with their housing communities. And they’ll spend three nights with their trip together, coming together on the last night with several other trips to share a large group meal and to share some evening programming before they come back to campus. So we’re still going to see that familiar and time tested model of about eight incoming students paired with two upper level mentors, students in the form of trip leaders who will go on some variety of trip.
We have all sorts of trip types. I think we’re up to 38 this year. And I’m really excited, actually, this is something that’s new and different as well. We’ve expanded a bunch of the different types of trips. A new one that I cooked up a little bit this year was a museum exploration, which is a partnership with the Montshire Museum to explore some of those spaces over there and have some of these connections continue that way. So that’s the basic structure of it and those are a lot of the ways that they’ll stay the same.
One major change this year from last year, not from last year, but from previous years, is how we’re interacting with the Mount Moosilauke natural area and the Mount Moosilauke Ravine Lodge. In the past, this sort of large group end of trips experience that I alluded to earlier has happened at the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge. But with a slightly different schedule this year and some shortening of our window, we’re sending more trips out at a time and more trips overall than ever before. Part of what that means is we’ve completely surpassed the capacity of the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge to hold all those students at once.
We are not going to have everyone go to the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge, but instead we’ll have that end of trips experience at couple of different places around the upper valley. Beyond that we’re still committed to the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge area. It’s one of our most treasured places. I have a lot of personal significance there. And we’ll have some individual trips going there to have their trip programming, and we’ll also be providing some shuttles and special dinners for folks who want to go up there through the fall term.
So those are some of the ways that they’ve changed, but overall, I think I’m really pleased with how we’ve adapted this year. And I think it’s because of the tireless efforts of all sorts of students that are working hard on this, as well as staff partners around campus. I’m excited for it.
Kellen, unlike you and unlike Dave, I’m not a Dartmouth alum and I did not go on trips. I’m curious if you could just say a little bit about your goals for trips generally, but then specifically for this year, which is an extraordinary year that follows what was already an extraordinary year.
Sure. I think our goals for this year, and for trips in general, are the same that they’ve always been, which is providing this welcoming experience for incoming students to form connections to each other, to give access to upper level students that can serve as mentors and resources as they go through their time at Dartmouth, as well as opening up space for personal reflection and creating the sense of place in the spaces around Dartmouth and in the natural spaces that we find here. And those are our big overarching goals and I think that remains the same. I think those are two extremely significant and go across all sorts of circumstances.
That being said, like you’re saying, this is an extraordinary year. People have gone through extraordinary experiences, positive, negative, different, no value judgment on anything. Yeah, so I think keeping that in mind, I think that coming to Dartmouth is going to be a big step in different ways for folks. And we’re trying to be intentional about that, providing space for these types of personal reflections, making sure that people are challenged in the way that they want to be.
Trips gets a lot of value out of this challenge by choice model of putting people just a little bit into their discomfort zone in order to grow and have these positive experiences. And we’re mindful that even in a normal year as well, but even this year especially, even going on trips can be something that’s uncomfortable. Even if they’re doing an activity that had already done in a space that they’ve already been, you’re coming together with groups and new people and socializing in ways that you may not have before. And we want to be really conscious of that and provide many options and spaces for people to find what they need to thrive as they enter the Dartmouth community.
Kellen, this all sounds really fantastic. I can’t wait to see some of the trips go out next month. I recall that you were also hired as director of first year trips last year for the class of 2024, which of course had to become a virtual program. Your whole team had to pivot. What can you tell us about plans for the Class of ’24 this year?
Yeah, so you’re right. I was first year trips director as well. I was hired to do that and we worked and pivoted to, starting in April of 2020, towards creating what became the Orientation Peer Leaders Program, which was the program that we had for the spaces that we were in and I think provided a lot of community for people. And I’m really proud of that. But also keeping in mind that people in the Class of ’24 want and need the kind of experiences that people find on trips still. That sense of community is something that a lot of students that are still looking for.
Right now, my priority is ensuring that this goes off for the Class of ’25, and I want to be clear about that. But I think we’re looking to the future and seeing the kinds of partnerships and programs we can do with outdoor programs, with new student orientation, with the whole division of student affairs.
For instance, there’s going to be, during orientation, some specific programming for ’24s. Getting them in on some of those experiences that they may not have had last fall, like the traditional twilight ceremony. And also looking at specific programming for ’24s throughout the year through outdoor programs, creating these outdoor experiences for people that want them. All this culminating the next time that all of the Class of 2024 is back together on campus, which is the start of their sophomore summer.
This is still in the preliminary stages, but we’re very excited to continue to support and expand and uplift the sophomore trips program, which is a several decade old program at this point that seeks to give some of the same sorts of experiences that people find on first-year trips. These sorts of community and place and reset and reflection, and these senses of place that we see on trips to sophomores before they go into their sophomore summer.
I anticipate that we’re going to see a lot of demand for that this year, this upcoming year, and I think that’s something that a lot of people are really looking forward to. And I think I’m excited to continue to be here and support those programs in the ways that students want to see them. And I’m excited to get students involved with planning that as well. So lots of stuff coming up, and we’re excited to keep supporting ’24s as they find community here.
Oh, that’s great, Kellen. Thank you. And it’s really neat to actually have the opportunity to have the students involved in ideating and planning some of these events. Very unusual. I really want to thank you again for all the hard work you’re doing this year and last year to make the transition to campus as effective and welcoming as for both classes. So thank you for joining us today.
Well, thanks everyone for joining us today for Community Conversations. Thanks, Justin, for your help as always. Thanks, Kellen and Rick and Lisa for joining us. And I look forward to seeing you the next time.