Welcome everyone to our 22nd Community Conversation addressing planning, response, and operations in the time of COVID-19. Our apologies for the brief delay in getting started this afternoon. I’m Joe Helble, the provost of Dartmouth College, joining you from the Starr Instructional Studio in Berry Library on Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 17, 2021. I’m joined today as always by Justin Anderson, our vice president for communications, from another studio on campus. And Justin and I are joined today by three guests—Kathryn Lively, dean of the College and a professor of sociology. Dean Lively is in her 19th year as a faculty member and has been a frequent visitor to Community Conversations.
And we are also joined by two individuals who are with us this week for the first time—undergraduate Student Assembly President Cait McGovern, a senior and a member of the Class of ’21, majoring in psychology and history modified with Russian area studies; and Student Assembly Vice President Jonathan Briffault, also a senior and member of the Class of ’21, majoring in government and history. We’ll follow our regular format today with a brief campus update, live Q&A moderated by Justin, a conversation with Kathryn, Cait, and Jonathan mostly about winter term in this pandemic year and ending with an opportunity for them to answer your questions directly.
This week, I’d like to start directly with the numbers and turn our attention at the outset to testing. Now that we’re entering late Feb., most of our northeastern peer institutions, Ivy league institutions, and NESCAC liberal arts colleges alike, have classes underway and have had on-campus students return to campus with a few not completing move in fully until next week.
Our term-based calendar, of course, has Dartmouth on a completely different schedule with undergraduate midterms now behind us, winter carnival about to enter its third and final weekend, and the end of winter quarter classes just three weeks away on Wednesday, March 10. Hard to believe how quickly the term has gone.
Surveillance testing for those on campus and in the local community has continued as planned these past two weeks. Since our last Community Conversation on Feb. 3, the weather with cold and occasional sub-zero temperatures, snow and even some ice has been great for outdoor activities on campus and for the start of winter carnival, but it did slow process of surveillance testing results on one occasion and I learned this morning, slowed processing the samples collected yesterday, Tuesday, Feb. 16.
Specifically, for those of you who were tested yesterday afternoon, you may see a delay of approximately 12 hours compared to the normal, 12- 18-hour turnaround times in receiving your results because the weather slowed transportation of our samples to the testing lab yesterday evening. Results should be available shortly. We appreciate your patience.
Now, apart from these minor weather driven delays, overall, our surveillance testing continues to work well, I would even say extraordinarily well. And the results provide campus and community health that remains very, very positive.
As of yesterday, Feb. 16, we had conducted more than 114,200 tests with some 18,000 of them conducted over the past two weeks—the same number we saw in the previous two-week period which is of course as expected. There have been a total of two positive tests in that period, inclusive of students and employees, a positivity of 0.02%, which is now lower than the level we saw throughout much of the fall term.
There have been no new positive tests and no new confirmed cases among students in the past five days, no new positive tests and no new confirmed cases among employees in the past eight days. Even with national case counts falling—from a seven-day average of approximately 140,000 new cases per day two weeks ago to just over 81,000 new cases per day seven-day average reported by the New York Times this morning—this very low level on our campus is a very positive development and an encouraging sign.
Particularly when we know that here, this decrease to almost zero new cases in the past week is not due to vaccination. It’s due to our community continuing to mask, stay socially distant, and avoid large gatherings. Doing the things, we all need to do and continue to do to keep the disease at bay. Now, new cases will not remain at zero, of course. Our dashboard shows we do have individuals in isolation which means individuals are symptomatic and awaiting testing results, but again, the very low number of new cases over the past two weeks is an extraordinary positive sign.
With these two weeks of testing data now added today our totals our positivity for the year 2021 stands at 0.13%, the same low level we saw for the entire period of July through December 2020. In terms of trends on other college campuses, for our NESCAC peers that have conducted 2,500 tests thus far in 2021 and who are reporting data positivity ranges from 0.08 to 0.37%. For our Ivy peers reporting data, all lie rear 0.18 to 1.2% with four Ivy universities reporting levels between 0.18 and 0.27% that being the low end other than Dartmouth. For our state university peers, UNH and UVM, both are seeing higher numbers than in the fall as are most universities in the country. Both lie between 0.5 and 0.8% positivity.
Now, these comparisons need to be made carefully because every campus is different, sits in a different community, has different facilities and campus layout with different background levels of transmission nearby. But as we saw in the fall, Dartmouth continues to have a comparatively low rate of positive tests relative to the vast majority of our peers even throughout New England.
Before I move on let me stress how impressed I am by the very positive news of such low case counts and let me use it once more as an opportunity to remind us all of the importance of remaining vigilant and following the now familiar protocols: To get tested regularly, and for students this means twice each week. To remain socially distant, to avoid large gatherings, to wash our hands frequently, and to wear a proper mask and wear it properly.
As our taskforce co-chairs, Josh Keniston and Dr. Lisa Adams, advised in the recent email campus communication and consistent with updated guidance by the CDC last week, Dartmouth’s face covering policy requires that cloth masks, if they are used, have at least two layers and be cleaned frequently.
To help the Dartmouth community comply with all aspects of our masking policy, disposable masks remain available at the Thompson arena surveillance testing site. Those masks are disposable and should be worn for only one day and then properly disposed of. Full details on our masking policy are available through our Dartmouth COVID website by following the links for health and safety and turning to the face covering policy FAQ page.
Turning now to a few updates regarding the terms ahead. As I mentioned two weeks ago, spring term classes, both in-person and remote, will begin as scheduled for undergraduate, Thayer, and Guarini students on Monday, March 29. For summer term, our COVID taskforce has been reviewing our travel policies, in light of current trends and needing to make decisions about travel programs months in advance of the travel date. With that input, we have made the decision that we will not, unfortunately, be able to relax Dartmouth travel policies for the summer.
Specifically, given the slower than hoped for vaccine rollout, duration of protection for those who have been vaccinated and perhaps most importantly, given the emergent of the new variants that appear to be more transmissible, the current policies in place for winter and spring terms will be extended to the summer term.
What this means is that all formal undergraduate off-campus programs for this summer including foreign study programs and LSAs will be cancelled. While I cannot promise or offer any guarantees, I remain hopeful that if accelerated vaccine rollout does occur over the summer—and we have heard encouraging signs over the past few days from the federal government—if that does occur, we will be able to resume some off-campus programs this fall.
Similarly, all summer travel-based leave term programs supported by Dartmouth for undergraduate and graduate or professional students, whether domestic or international, will also be cancelled this summer. Exceptions may be made for essential domestic or international travel among faculty, staff, and graduate and professional students with the prior approval by a dean or vice president of the appropriate division.
We will continue, however, to promote and encourage remote or home-based summer opportunities for these students and for all employees throughout the course of the summer. Travel guideline pages on the Dartmouth website are in the process of being updated to reflect these changes.
Finally, for those of you who like to plan ahead, let me offer a brief announcement regarding fall term course selection. In order to have a clear sense of fall term campus operations, we’ve made the decision to postpone fall 2021 term course selection from spring to summer this year.
We therefore intend to utilize a schedule for fall ’21 course selection as we did last year for fall ’20 course selection. Specifically, the fall term course selection period will run from Aug. 4 to 12 with the course change period running from Aug. 20 to 25. This schedule will apply to all undergraduates as well as students at Guarini and Thayer.
Let me end with a few comments on what I am seeing on this campus and in this community right now. With case counts on campus remaining low and winter weather in Hanover fully cooperating temperatures are, in fact, forecast to drop to 6 degrees Fahrenheit or lower tonight, all of the winter carnival activities and recreational activities remain fully available and are fully utilized. I spoke often of the Dartmouth community’s wellness to embrace winter and that has been fully on display and it has been wonderful to see.
On a personal note, I’ve spoken so often about the skating rinks on the Green that some of you know I was recently asked whether I had given them a try. I hadn’t, and I don’t own a pair of skates but late last week on a quiet afternoon I was on campus and headed over to the skating rink.
Now, I learned three things while I was there that afternoon. First and foremost, I learned that I don’t skate nearly as well as I remember. I don’t believe I’ve a pair of skates on my feet in 15 years or more, and let’s just say that it showed. Second, I was reminded of how great it is just to be outdoors in this incredible setting on this campus on the Green, Baker Tower in front of me moving around and giving something new a try. It wasn’t pretty but for me it was energizing. And third, I had the chance to learn from our Outdoor Programs office staff how well utilized the rink and other outdoor activities have been. Something I am counting on continuing to see these final three weeks of the term.
As of Monday, just two days ago, there had already been over 1,700 rentals of skates at the rink. At the winter activities center where snowshoes, tubes, and cross-country skies are available over 1,200 rentals. I got an update on everyone who came together over December and early January to make this all possible.
The Facilities Operations and Maintenance—FO&M—carpentry shop who quickly transformed the Hanover Country Clubhouse into a winter equipment center and put together a skate rental trailer; FO&M’s electrical team who made the trailer a livable space; the FO&M groundskeeping crew who erected the skating rinks and who undertake the painstaking work of maintaining the ice on a daily basis and who maintain the propane fire pits scattered around the rink and around campus. Athletics for their help in transitioning the HCC clubhouse quickly. Conferences and events who coordinated all of this across campus and with the town of Hanover. The town of Hanover itself and town leadership for their help and support of making these activities possible for our community on the campus and on the Green. Student Life who worked with staff and students to collaborate on programming and communications, and of course the Outdoor Programs office staff including a sizable student staff who have been putting everything into action.
Now, I mentioned this because this story is only one story—a story of campus wide coordination and collaboration, quietly and behind the scenes and it is the story of what has made this term possible.
It’s also the story of what has made continuity of education possible for all Dartmouth students, whether in Hanover in the classroom, in Hanover in the lab, or working remotely from home, or distant locations scattered around the world. It is IT and the libraries and facilities and communications and Dick’s House and the faculty and staff and so many other divisions and departments across the campus coming together quietly and collaboratively to make all this possible.
To all of them and to all of you, let me close by saying thank you for believing in our students, thank you for supporting our students, and thank you for making things work as well as they have. Justin, over to you to see if there are any questions that our audience has for us today.
Thanks Joe, nice to be with you today. The last time I saw you were sticking triple axles on the rink on the Green. So good to see that you in one piece and you survived.
I have no memory of this and yes, I survived.
Speaking of the rink and the skating and you sort of addressed this, but one questioner asked whether or not undergraduates are taking advantage of the winter programming and it certainly sounds like they are based both anecdotally on what I see and also based on some of the numbers that you just cited. If there’s anything else you can say about that, this viewer would be interested in that. And then similarly, looking forward to the spring, are we going to be embracing spring or maybe embracing mud season at Dartmouth just as we’ve embraced winter?
So, yes, although I don’t think embracing mud season has quite the same ring to it. Celebrating spring or something like that that we need to, we need an appropriate characterization and name for it. But seriously, the answer is yes, absolutely, we are looking for ways to make outdoor opportunities engaging and available to our students.
So, I may have said in a previous Community Conversation broadcast, we are intending to bring knack tents around campus we are intending to take steps to make it much clearer to students how one can reserve and utilize those, because of some of the feedback we’ve gotten over the course of the fall term was that it wasn’t exactly clear how they could use them, when they could use them, whether they could reserve, and what events and types of activities they could hold in them. We are working on providing clarity and much more information around that at the start of spring term.
In terms of specific activities, I know that Eric Ramsey and Kathryn Lively and her colleagues in Student Affairs are thinking long and hard about this, that would be a good question to put to Kathryn a little bit later and it might be a good question to put to Cait and Jonathan as well and see if they have ideas that have started to surface from the student community.
We are absolutely interested in getting input from the student community. We do not have a spring term suggestions email address yet set up but as I’ve said before the winter term suggestions email address is still being monitored and it’s a great way to offer suggestions on things we might do outdoors in the spring.
In terms of utilization, I think the numbers speak for themselves. I know that the skating rinks because I can see them outside my office have been utilized every single day since they have opened. I’ve read in The D about students who have never skated before here at Dartmouth coming from temperate regions around the globe getting out on skates for the first time and that is exactly the spirit that we would hope to see. It’s a wonderful use of the facilities. And the fact that I’ve been asked several times about whether we will do this again next year says to me there’s a strong interest in the community in having this continue.
Joe, by far the question that is being asked most often today is related to our low positivity rate, and now this is a question that we’ve gotten in the past when we talk about the low positivity rate on campus, and when you bring it up on Community Conversations. A number of people have asked what this could mean for spring term and as far as letting more students back on, will you let more students back on, will you have in class instruction, will you consider allowing more visitors for commencement, and what will happen with, say, family weekend. So, a lot of interest in what these numbers mean as we look forward.
So, I appreciate those questions, Justin, I get them or variations of them frequently. I understand how so many of us as soon as we see signs of hope are looking for a return to normalcy. But I will say that part of the reason I think our campus community has been able to navigate this extraordinarily well is that we have kept in place policies that we know have been successful in keeping the community safe and giving the students the opportunity to engage with one another on campus but within bounds that feel manageable, giving them flexibility and freedom but also asking them, expecting them to adhere to protocols and participate in surveillance testing.
So, what does that all mean in terms of the specifics? I can tell you that right now as of today it is my understanding it is highly unlikely; we would be able to accommodate visitors for commencement or for any graduation celebration in the spring. Why is that? Because we anticipate that we are going to need to keep social distancing in place even in May or June because we will not have significant penetration of the vaccine in the community.
We anticipate that as a public health measure it is going to be in everyone’s best interest including the local community to minimize the number of people who travel to Hanover for a concentrated event, at a single point in time and space. In this we’re not different from the few other institutions that have already announced their commencement plans so it is highly unlikely we will be in a position to invite visitors to participate virtually other than in the campus celebration around commencement. But it is important to us to give the opportunity to graduating students, seniors and graduate students alike, to gather with their classmates and friends in a safe, socially distanced way for a final celebration.
Travel restrictions as I just announced today, we are keeping policies in place for the summer and so that means we do not anticipate relaxing travel over the course of the spring. And some of these I understand the arguments that we can be more aggressive and open the campus up more fully but there’s so much we don’t know about the emergence of the variants and whether or I should say when they are going to make the way to our campus. It’s a race, as many have said, between vaccination and the penetration of the variant.
The positive downward trends in case counts, there’s no guarantee they will be monotonic. We could see an increase when the variants take hold, and we think it is best to proceed cautiously and thoughtfully while monitoring the data in making these decisions. Will there be more students in the spring than the winter, yes but we are not approaching anywhere near full density because keep students in individual rooms and keeping the measures in place and dedensification in place are important elements what has helped us navigate fall and winter so successfully, and I will say, when others haven’t if you’ve looked at the headlines.
Joe, since I’ve asked you to look into your crystal ball and talk about the spring, I’m going to ask you to stay there and look at your crystal ball about the fall. There are a number of questions about the fall and whether or not we should expect that we will have all students back and that we will have faculty in the classrooms? Realizing that, you know, it’s still February, it’s still freezing outside, what is the thinking right now as we are planning for fall and the beginning of the next academic year?
I am hoping, Justin and I want to emphasize hoping, this isn’t blindly hoping there are conversations taking place with the academic leaders who oversee this, and we are asking questions about what we need to do to make this possible. But I am hoping that just as last summer was a transition from pass/fail to graded evaluation of distanced learning courses, we can use this summer as a transition towards more in-person educational opportunity for those students who are enrolled in the summer. It’s more straightforward in the summer because we will have sophomores or largely will I sophomores and juniors who deferred their summer plans last summer on campus so the curriculum that needs to be developed is a little bit more narrowly focused and enables us to put in place a curriculum that has more sections offered in person.
What that number will be, I don’t know. It will depend upon state of the disease in the region and nationally as we get closer to summer term. It will depend upon penetration of vaccine in our student faculty and staff community. I am hoping we will be able to use summer towards a transition where we increase the number of in person offerings.
By fall, right now, as of today, our planning is for an operational in-residence normal fall term. What does that mean? There are a lot of caveats and it may turn out that we are able to increase the number of students on campus substantially but not get to 100%. It’s part of the reason why we have delayed fall term course selection from the spring to early August to give us the maximum amount of time to see how things unfold and to give us the maximum possibility or probability of being able to offer a substantial amount and perhaps even all of our curriculum in person this fall. It’s just simply too early to answer that question. But we’ve structured our decision-making process in a way that will give us a maximum amount of time to make data-driven and thoughtful decisions in support of that goal.
Joe, we have time for just one more question and it’s really a clarification on something you said earlier, when talking about the different variants that we are seeing develop across the country and across the world. You said when the variant arrives which I assume means that as far as we know, we have not seen the U.K. variant or the Brazilian or South African variant on campus yet, is that right?
That is correct as far as we know but I want to be clear we are not doing the sequencing that would enable us to make that assertion or come to that conclusion with absolute certainty. We are basing that on the relatively low and continuing to decrease numbers of cases, knowing that other campuses where these strains have emerged the number of case counts has started to increase rapidly.
We are exploring different avenues for sequencing and we may even have more to say about that in two weeks. The reason I cast it as an inevitability, Justin, is I think as well as we have done in keeping case counts low and keeping this at bay, as it spreads across the United States just as we were not able to keep COVID from infecting our campus and the Upper Valley community last year, I think it is simply inevitable that the variant strains that more transmissible will make their way to New Hampshire, and to this part of New Hampshire, and to our campus.
Our hope is to stay ahead of it. Our goal is to keep case counts as low as we possibly can and through that, again, do everything we can to keep the campus community as safe and healthy as we can to keep the surrounding community as safe and healthy and keep it at bay. Thank you for that question and certainly more to be discussed on that as we move forward with success of Community Conversations over the course of March and April.
I would like to have our guests join us on-screen if we could, I’m pleased to welcome back Kathryn Lively, dean of the college and professor of sociology; Undergraduate Student Assembly President Cait McGovern, senior and member of the Class of ’21; and Student Assembly Vice President Jonathan Briffault, also a senior and member of the Class of ’21.
So, Jonathan, Cait, Kathryn wonderful to have you here. Thanks for joining us today. I think you know, if you’ve seen Community Conversations in the past and Kathryn certainly has been with us several times, I will ask you a series of questions. I’m not going to go in any particular order, I’ll move it around for about 10 or 15 minutes and we’ll open it up to the outside audience and see what’s on their mind.
In that spirit, Cait and Jonathan, I would like to start with each of you and this is the only time I’m going to do this, I’m going to put this question to both of you—how about, Cait, you first. But I’d like to ask each of you to tell our audience a bit about your view of the role of Student Assembly and why you personally got involved. So, Cait, why don’t you start us off.
Thank you so much for having us. We’re excited to be here. I’ve been involved in Student Assembly since the end of my freshman year and initially got involved because I’m passionate about our community and interested in both the initiatives and the advocacy that Student Assembly does to positively impact the student experience here at Dartmouth.
Since joining Student Assembly I’ve seen the incredible work Student Assembly can do and I’ve been involved ever since. So, part of the biggest role of Student Assembly is advocating for students but also listening and making sure that students know they always have other students right there for them ready to do what we can to ensure that this Dartmouth experience is the best that it can be for them.
Can I ask a follow-up, were there any particular projects or issues that you would point to as high points and say, “This is why I got involved in Student Assembly?”
Yes, one of the projects that really got me involved in Student Assembly was addressing food insecurity on campus because that’s something where Monique Walters and Nicole Nape, who are both 19s here at Dartmouth, they were very passionate about and senior leadership on the assembly really inspired me to remain involved with Student Assembly but remain passionate about the work we can do to address food security on campus.
Thank you, Cait. So, Jonathan let me turn to you with the same question. Tell me a bit about your role the view of Student Assembly and what it was that got you involved.
In some ways I’m the opposite of Cait I had never been involved until I ran last spring in what I think was a very-Dartmouth story. I had spent the first three years of my time getting involved in faith-based, social, academic, and other type and athletic clubs and I had an opportunity to have leadership roles there and in conversations with Cait while on our study abroad we realized we had a passion for trying to improve the communities we are a part of.
She helped convince me that I could do more and step out of those communities and try and unify the things I had seen that affected students across various divides and try and affect those through Student Assembly. I think in that sense one of the things that I think is really appealing about the work we do on Student Assembly is that we are able to bridge some of the divide between the administration and the students and we’re able to take those conversations that sometimes have a nuanced answer or sometimes there are questions that students want to ask but don’t feel super comfortable asking and we’re able to have those conversations with administrators and then translate them in some sense for students and bring them the answers and help them to live their lives at Dartmouth the way they want to. And I think we can play a role in helping students get the help from the college that they need whether that’s mental health or academics or as Cait pointed out food insecurity which is a huge priority of ours.
Let me ask you some of the things you touched on. My interaction with the two of you and Student Assembly have been to observe that you and your colleagues have been great at compiling very detailed lists of COVID-related operational questions from the undergraduate student community. So, could you tell us a little bit about that, very detailed and lengthy list of questions but it’s been very helpful for me and Dean Lively to see that. How did that come about and how do you go about collecting questions, how do you decide when the moment is right to solicit input from your peers.
Cait and I can’t take credit for that idea unfortunately. Our predecessors Luke Cuomo ’20 and Ariela Kovary ’20 were the originators. I think what we realized we’re an inquisitive bunch and we were really worried and really scared at the beginning of the pandemic what this situation would look like and a lot of students felt they didn’t know where to turn. Student Assembly was able to step up and actually compile, ask students what they were fearing, what they needed to know more about and send those questions to you.
And the way we choose when we’re going to do that is basically when big important things happen. Our first set of questions went out when students didn’t know where their stuff was and they wanted to know when they could get their stuff back, their valued items. And another question when the College said we might not have students back in the fall and students wanted to know where they could be and that’s how we come to decide we’re going to send questions out.
That’s great, thank you. So, I want to come back to both of you and questions but first let me turn to Dean lively and ask her a few questions. Kathryn, I know that you meet with the leadership of student affairs or colleagues in student affairs rather than meet with the leadership and Student Assembly as well as frequently. Give us a sense of how often you and your colleagues m meet with the Student Assembly leadership and I know you meet with other student groups as well I would like to ask you to tell us a little bit about that.
Thanks for having me back and thanks for asking. Thanks to John and Cait for being here. We are meeting with student leaders like a lot. And during the fall I met with, I have the privilege of meeting with Jonathan and Cait more frequently than I do now. I currently, they might with their advisor Eric Ramsey I think it’s weekly, so I get a lot of updates about all the good work that they are up to. I also I am the advisor for Palaeopitus which is another organization a council of student leaders across the board, so I meet with them a couple of times a week. I meet with another group of students who are really just more of a sounding board for me and my colleagues who have representatives from Student Assembly and Palaeopitus and various other student organizations, committee on student organizations, and student life. My colleagues in opal meet with their constituencies on a regular basis. It’s sort of a, we try to be as open as possible. As often as frequently as possible to meet with students not just through their organizational posts, but also as individuals and we do that through office hours and a variety of other contexts. As you know, Joe, since you were there, we both had the opportunity to meet with a group of students and senators last week. Which I thought was incredibly helpful and really nice to see people who by their face, who I had only seen by email. And I was actually fortunate enough to have Jonathan and Cait come to a board of trustees committee meet where they were able to explain to those about what does student government look like at Dartmouth and their experience with Student Assembly. I would say its frequent and fluid.
Let me ask you a follow-up question on that. How do students who are studying remotely, does that happen through channels you described or is there a separate way you or Student Assembly have to be intentional to reach out to the community that isn’t in Hanover.
Everyone is equally socially distanced, so I think this term it has been easier to stay in touch with students no matter where they are because it is now normal to reach out by Zoom or to set up a meeting. I think one of the things that was concerning previously with student leaders in general, is that when people were gone for a D-term, they were just sort of gone they would stop checking their email. But now when students are remote, they are just as engaged, and I think can be just as connected as those who are actually on campus.
Great. Thank you. So Cait I want to turn back to you now and building on this theme. I’m interested in what you and the senators are hearing from your student communities about winter term operations or students engaging in the outdoor activities that have been made available to them. From my perspective looking on the green but you’re going to have information that I don’t, and Dean lively doesn’t. Are students engaging in the outdoor activities is there anything in particular that stands out.
Students have been utilizing the outdoor activities. You mentioned you’ve heard positive feedback about the ice skating rinks by the green and how people are honestly looking forward to having them return in the next years and the years after that. A lot of the feedback from students has been positive and many do feel as though the energy here on campus is much more positive and a lot better than the energy it was this fall. So, the activities outside having not only the ice skating rinks but the fire pits and different opportunities over on what was once the golf course have really made there be a lot of different things students can do and they have been really appealing.
Thinking about that and building on that, do you have any advice or suggestions you would give those of us in the administration as we think about going back to the question that Justin asked me that came in from outside, how do we build on this to make spring term equally engaging, embrace mud season doesn’t quite work as a slogan.
Yeah, I think approaching spring term the biggest part is continuing to listen to student feedback and what students are really looking to see from that spring experience. Because I know the students that are here this term there may not be some of them that are going to be returning for spring term and some students coming from spring term there only experience may have been being on campus this fall. Showing there are more opportunities to do things outside and the college is putting forward creative solutions.
In the past we have never had fire pits or ice rinks at the Green and now we have them I can’t imagine Dartmouth without them. They have been wonderful and an incredible fixture on campus. Listening to students and hearing what opportunities have been more helpful. More outdoor or indoor activities and given that spring term is mud season it’s construction season and winter the two seasons at Dartmouth so hopefully when we get to spring term, we’ll find interesting things for students to continue doing.
That’s a really good point in terms of how we think about and approach it. And I have to say I know I keep coming back to the ice rinks but when we first started talking about it, it has exceeded my wildest hopes for what it might be and when I walk past in the evening and see the tree lit up on the Green and Baker Tower lit up and both rinks filled with students skating this is exactly what I have envisioned Hanover should look like in the middle of the winter. Student community being outdoors and really, I’ll say it again, embracing it in a real community-oriented way.
Kathryn, I want to ask you one quick question, Jonathan I’ll come back to you to the final question and we’re going to turn it over to Justin and see what questions our listeners have for you three. Kathryn, I want to start by saying you’re always asked what’s coming next as I often am. As soon as we get announcements about winter term move in, students or parents understandably begin asking questions about spring or summer. The questions Justin asked are in that spirit. I received an email from a parent with a ’24 with a question on the minds of many and I wanted to put it to you. The parent writes I’m paraphrasing what might be done if anything to allow the first-year students who have not been here this winter to bond with their classmates when they return to campus in the spring. For example, can we think about grouping all first years together in certain dorms like we were able to do this winter or is it possible to plan some outdoor activities that are accessible to all as soon as spring quarantine ends. So where is your thinking and what are your thoughts on that.
I think those are really good questions. Part of the reason we were able to put all of the first years together in one dormitory, residential hall, this term is because there actually weren’t that many here. What we’ll do is what we did in the fall, that first year students will live with other first year students with their residential house communities. And so, they will have the opportunity residentially to bond with their other first years in their house communities and absolutely, on having again depending where we are in terms of disease progression, and public health guidelines we will be having just like we did this year lots of outdoor activities and sort of in person activities that people will be able to participate in once students are able to come out of quarantine. So, one of the things that’s interesting about spring as we all know who have spent time here is there’s actually three seasons in the spring term. So, we’ll start with winter and then we’ll get to mud and immediately to summer. There will be opportunity in a variety of ways we will be able to see the spring term.
Jonathan let me end with asking you the final question and I’ll ask you to be brief in your answer, so we have time to turn to outside questions. What are you hearing right now? What questions are on the minds of your fellow students, seniors and others alike as they look ahead to the end of winter term and spring and summer.
To ask Student Assembly to be brief in a list of questions. Student are asking about spring break whether students are going to be here. What the on-campus spaces will look like for the spring, expanding library hours or more access to the hawk or new ways to reserve spaces and I think as you’ve seen with the questions you’ve already answered, how will summer and fall change and how will the ’20s be welcomed back and ’21s for commencement. We’ve gotten more information about that, but I think those are the longer-term questions students are thinking about. As you pointed out every time something is announced there are more questions and more issues that come up, but I think that the first one is what does spring look like and how can we keep opening this campus up in a safe and healthy way.
Great, thank you. Well, there we are certainly aligned because those are the questions the task force, Dean Lively and I are asking ourselves all the time so thanks so much and thanks to all of you for the questions. Justin over to you.
Thank you, Joe and I think we’ll start with Cait. Cait, a viewer writes in to ask, what you would say is the most common challenge for students during the pandemic over the course of the last year? Realizing of course that there’s students are not monolithic, lots of different problems for different people, different challenges but is there one challenge that is seen by the most number of students as far as you know or in your view?
Certainly. I think that many students have been facing robust sets of challenges because as you said every student is coming with a different set of experiences. But most of the issues that we’ve heard from students and their concerns are related to three categories, mental health, academics and social life because all students, whether you’re remote or in person or being on campus you are certainly having a different experience than usual and it’s tricky to navigate. If it’s your first or last year, it’s still difficult. And one of the biggest pieces is communication. Some students are confused about what the guidelines are, or resources are available to them or what steps are being taken by the college to ensure that students are being adequately supported. Those have certainly been the three big issues and the one core common theme that’s connecting them.
Kathryn if I could go over to you and actually playing off something that Cait said, mental health is something that we have been talking about on community conversations since almost the beginning. And wondering particularly about the winter where the days are shorter, it’s colder, hard to get outside. How has the dean of the College been handling mental health questions and concerns over the course of winter term and has there been more of a need than in the fall?
Actually, I don’t know for sure if there’s been more of a need, but because there were high needs in the fall, and I think everyone was just more scared as Jon and Cait mentioned, and we didn’t know so there was ambiguity for people to deal with. Some of the ways we’ve been working with some of our practitioners in Dick’s House have worked through their own licensing to actually be able to provide support for individuals no matter where they are around the world. And so, we continue to support our students whether they are here or on campus through telehealth. The use of telehealth for our counselors is actually opened up the possibility and made it easier for students to get access to counselor but obviously, you know, counselor having an appointment with a counselor is only one piece of what it means to have wellness.
We’re in the process of continuing to roll out vary types of training for our staff so that our staff have a better eye on the situation to be able to perhaps intervene or to reach out or ask questions of students. We have been working carefully and systematically with our student wellness center to offer an entire really amazing suite of both in person and virtual offerings which made available to the larger community including staff and faculty of yoga and mindfulness and things like that. Many of our house communities are also partnering with individuals at Dick’s House as well as the student wellness center to do house based residential life-based community wellness and mindfulness practices and programming within the residential halls. So, we’re really trying to push it out into every aspect of the campus and so if someone doesn’t feel comfortable for example going to Dick’s House that they still have plenty of opportunities to tap into mindfulness or other forms of wellness. And I’m also happy to say we just hired two new counselors at Dick’s House as well as a psychiatrist. So that’s all very good news.
Jonathan, if I could go over to you. What do you feel like feedback—what student feedback do you feel like the administration has not acted on or not addressed? I know that Student Assembly you provide as much feedback to the administration as you can, try to get the concerns of fellow students addressed. What do you feel like you have tried to get the administration to do that for whatever reason it couldn’t or hasn’t been able to?
Yeah, I think to stay with one of the themes that Cait mentioned in the last question, I think and it’s a really tough thorny issue around communications and how we can keep students updated not only what’s going on at the college but what the actual scope of the rules are and what happens when you break the rules or follow the rules. And just I think that students understandably are sometimes really confused and don’t know where to turn and there’s a lot of resources out there and I commend the administration for continually creating new resources but there end up being a lot of them and they can be hard to work through. So, I think that that’s the overarching things we have heard from students sometimes we’re still confused.
Cait, if we could, I could jump over to another question for you. The provost during his introductory remarks talked about the positivity rate at Dartmouth and how it compares to peer schools and to other schools around the country. I’m curious what you are hearing from your friends at other schools? And how their experiences compare to your experience at Dartmouth. So, like what is different at Dartmouth, what is Dartmouth doing well or what is Dartmouth not doing well-behaved on what you are hearing from your friends at other schools?
Certainly, when it comes to Dartmouth there seems to be certain aspects of campus that have been more accessible than peer institutions. My sister doesn’t have success to the library and that’s something I feel lucky to have access to this term because it certainly has made a large impact on my academic experience. And I know other schools there’s been less knowledge of positivity rates and that transparency. Additionally, we’ve heard there’s been different access to vaccines and many Dartmouth students that want access to the vaccine but that isn’t necessarily under the college control. Those seem to be some of the common themes in terms of access to campus but the vaccine and those resources.
Kathryn if I could go back to you. A viewer writes in and asks whether or not for students who are living on campus winter term and spring term, in the same room, will they be able to leave their stuff in the room during spring break?
Yes, well I believe that is the case. I’m going to leave it there and if I am wrong, I will make sure that I correct that statement in the next message to the community. But I believe that is the current plan, yes.
And just staying with you, and staying on spring, when will the exact arrival dates be shared for students who will be coming in the spring?
I’m hoping we will be sending out a communication on that later this week or at the beginning of next week. There’s a little bit of discussion still happening because our arrival dates land around some religious holidays, so we want to be sure we’re respectful of people’s ability to travel.
Jonathan, if I could go back to you, earlier Dean lively mentioned that she meets with you guys regularly. How do you feel that the relationship between Student Assembly and the dean of the College, how has that—I guess the first part of the question, people are asking how exactly do you work together? And then relatedly how do you think it has gone over the course of the last year.
Yeah, definitely. I think Cait and I as Dean lively mentioned we meet with the counselor daily. We work closely as well as administrative offices around campus. As Provost Helble mentioned we meet with them and we reach out and I will say everyone is extremely kind and generous with their time to meet with us when we reach out. We work closely with administrative groups and on the subject of how is that relationship work, sometimes we don’t want the same thing or sometimes we want more than can be given. So, I think that it is fair to say, and I believe they are always productive discussions and center on how we can best protect and help students and best protect and help the college but sometimes we come in with different opinions and leave with different opinions and that’s in some ways how it should be. It’s been a productive and helpful conversation to have every time we have it. And we will continue to do so long as Dean lively and everyone else is willing to talk to us.
And I want to add, you’ve added some very, you’ve pushed us to think about things that when we were thinking about vision over here, there are things that you raised to our attention and we were like oh, those were things that we had just missed that were sort of a given from a student perspective. So those things have been really helpful and very much appreciated.
And we have time for one more question. And I’m going to go to Cait and building off what Dean Lively said, Cait, as we’re heading into spring term pretty soon, how do you feel that Student Assembly has done its job and performed over this incredibly challenging and unusual year when you think back on your experience?
I’m certainly proud of the work Student Assembly has done this year. The pandemic has not been easy for any students. We have about 30 students on Student Assembly who have been working tirelessly since summer so ensure students voices are heard, to work on initiatives to positively impact on a not-so-great year and we’ve been appreciative of that because these are students on off terms at home in different parts of the world and country and they hop onto a Zoom call every night at 8 p.m. eastern to talk about what we can do as an assembly to positively impact. The work when it comes to the questions and student security work and mental health advocacy and I’m looking forward to seeing what we do in our final term in office.
As are we Cait and thank you for that and thank you for joining us today and Jonathan and Kathryn, thank you so much for spending the last hour with us. We really appreciate it. With that, I will go back to you, Joe.
Thank you, Justin. Kathryn, thank you as always and Jonathan, Cait great to have you with us and thanks for the discussion and conversation today. I just want to end by saying that the first time what I will call the COVID era I received along with Dean Lively a very extensive list of questions from Student Assembly. It was as I kept scrolling through the document and saw the length of it, I thought this is really thorough this is really impressive. This reminds me of a very challenging homework assignment a faculty member might give to one of our students. It was so well thought through that the questions themselves were illuminating and made it clear there was a thirst for communication and open discussion and dialogue with the student community that has been helpful to me as we work our way collectively through COVID and I hope it’s been helpful to the students as well. I’ve been encouraged about the engagement and what I would characterize as a genuine effort partnership. I will take under advisement the comment about Jonathan thinking about communications more intentionally and deliberately because there we know there are always things to be done to communicate more openly and effectively. We might want to follow-up with you off-line to talk about potential channels that we could use beyond email and these kinds of venues to communicate more effectively with the student body.
But please keep it up, please continue to engage. As you said, we cannot and will not be able to act on every suggestion and idea that’s put in front of us but I can promise you we do take every one of them seriously and I think it’s enabled us as a community to navigate our way through COVID, knock on wood, extraordinarily well so far because of this partnership so great to have you here as part of it, thank you so much, keep doing what you’re doing and best of luck with the remainder of winter term and your studies here at Dartmouth. That’s all for this week’s community conversation. Thanks to everyone for tuning in we’ll be back with you in two weeks for the final community conversation of winter term 2021. Stay save everyone, stay healthy and we’ll see you soon.