A Letter to Students: Combatting COVID-19 and Systemic Racism

The following letter was sent to students on Aug. 7, 2020:

In less than a month, we will welcome many of you back to campus. As we approach this new academic year, some of you will be living on campus and going to classes in-person, while others have decided to take all of your classes online. And many of you will be taking a hybrid approach, with some classes on campus and some online.

No matter your chosen mode of learning, we are very excited to see you soon.

So much has happened since my last letter to you. We continue to face the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, which will require new practices and protocols at Elmhurst University. COVID-19 remains a serious threat, as many states all over the country are experiencing a spike in new cases. We are committed to doing everything we can to help mitigate the spread and keep everyone in our Bluejay community as healthy and safe as possible.

Additionally, our country, as well as other countries and regions around the world, have exploded in anger and frustration over racial injustices that we continue to see play out in our communities. Much work needs to be done by each of us to move forward in ways that change our world so that people of all colors—particularly Black and Brown people—are treated equally and, most importantly, with dignity as fellow human beings. As a University and as an administration, we look forward to engaging in that important work with you.

Getting Involved

While much has changed since March, I want all of you to know that the Division of Student Affairs has been working hard to develop in-person programming (with physical distancing and wearing a mask) and virtual programs. Things will be different on campus, but we encourage all of you to join a club or organization, attend events and make new friends. Whether you are a commuter student or a residential student, enjoy a coffee or iced drink from The Bean. If you’re a commuter student, hang out in the new Commuter Student Lounge (where the mailroom used to be). Check out the new prayer rooms for our Muslim students adjacent to the new Commuter Student Lounge. Elmhurst University is your home away from home. No matter how you are learning this fall, everyone is welcome on campus.

If it is possible for clubs and organizations to meet in person while maintaining physical distancing, the Division of Student Affairs will work with you to make that happen. If physical distancing is not possible, we have all become somewhat knowledgeable in the use of Zoom or Microsoft Teams for meetings. You have my commitment, as well as that of the rest of the Division, that we will provide the very best co-curricular programs, whether you are on campus or doing everything virtually.

Keeping us Safe and Healthy

For us to provide you with an outstanding co-curricular experience, we will need everyone’s assistance in mitigating COVID-19 on our campus. To be successful, we will all have to follow new protocols and procedures that may challenge us. But they have been put in place for your safety and for the safety of your fellow students, staff, and faculty. I urge you to join me and the rest of campus in following them.

  • Personal practices: Please help all of us remain healthy and safe by washing your hands frequently, physical distancing, using hand sanitizer (all faculty, staff, and students will receive a 2 oz. bottle of hand sanitizer) and wearing a face mask (required by the State of Illinois and Elmhurst University).
    • Everyone will be required to wear a face mask in all University-owned and -operated buildings. Face masks will be required in all classes taught on campus. Face masks will not be required outside if physical distancing is practiced. Residence hall students will not need to wear a face mask in the privacy of their own room. If you leave your room or have guests in your room, we are requiring you to wear a face mask. Elmhurst University is giving one cloth and one disposable face mask to every student, faculty and staff member. I would recommend that you get additional face masks, as cloth face masks should be washed on a regular basis.
  • Self-monitoring: We are asking all faculty, staff and students to self-monitor their health daily prior to coming to campus, or prior to leaving your room if you are a residential student. We will be using an app recommended by the CDC and developed by Apple. The app is called Apple COVID-19 and is available at COVID19.apple.com/screening. We are asking students, faculty, and staff to download the app and take your temperature daily. If the app tells you to stay home or if your temperature is 100.4 degrees or higher, please stay home or in your room and contact your doctor or Student Health Services. We are asking students, staff, and faculty to use the “honor” system in checking their symptoms. In other words, the University will not be checking to see if you do this every day. We believe the majority of people will do the right thing to keep all of us healthy and safe.
  • Testing positive: Testing, contact tracing and, if necessary, quarantine and isolation, are key components of our plan. I need to begin by stating there is no shame in testing positive for COVID-19. The student conduct process will not be used simply because you test positive. If you test positive, we ask that you complete the Elmhurst University COVID-19 Self-Reporting Form online. Contact tracing will only go as far as contacting those associated with Elmhurst University.
  • Elevators: Elevator use on campus will be limited to two people or fewer. We are encouraging people to use the stairwells as much as possible if they are able to do so.
  • Travel: We are asking all faculty, staff and students to limit their out-of-state travel during the Fall Term, especially to states that have been designated as “hot” states.
  • Public transportation: Commuter students should wear face masks, wash their hands and use a hand sanitizer before and after using public transportation to campus.
  • Residential students should regularly clean their rooms with a disinfectant cleaner. Faculty and staff should likewise clean their office space and/or desk with a disinfectant cleaner at the start and at end of the day.
  • Health services: Student Health Services and Counseling Services will operate by appointment only. Walk-ins will not be accepted. We do not want people congregating in the waiting rooms.
  • Large gatherings: Parties or large social gatherings will be prohibited in the residence halls, apartments and houses. Individuals hosting parties or large social gatherings in University-owned and -operated buildings run the risk of being removed from housing immediately. Hosting or attending large social gatherings off-campus is also discouraged due to the rate at which COVID-19 can spread in these settings.

Confronting the Challenges

Elmhurst University has a long history of embracing change and responding to the evolving needs of students, faculty, staff, the community, and society at large. We will build on these longstanding strengths as we continue to confront the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

We must work together to break the strong hold COVID-19 has on all of us. If we make safe and healthy practices part of our daily routine, then and only then will we get back to “normal.”

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would see something like COVID-19 have such a devastating impact on the world. These are definitely troubling and scary times. Many of us are struggling with this pandemic for a variety of reasons. It is OK to be scared and frightened; many of us are. For many, this has caused stress, anxiety and even depression. I encourage students who need someone to talk to, to schedule a confidential meeting with one of our counselors in Counseling Services. Or, if you prefer, our University Chaplain is always willing to lend a listening ear.

Finally, I wanted to state that you have my commitment to work for you, as students, to help move the needle forward on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion, and to do everything possible to make campus as safe as possible for your return. I admit that I do not have all the answers and that I am not perfect. What I can continue to do is to treat every student with fairness, respect and dignity. My door is open to any student who may want to talk to me about how we as a campus can move the needle forward.

I apologize for the length of the letter. We are faced with two major issues — COVID-19 and systemic racism. I honestly believe that if we all work together, as I know we can, we will defeat the virus and we will make Elmhurst University a vibrant, healthy and safe place for all students, no matter their race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion, ancestry, or differing abilities.

I look forward to seeing many of you soon.

Bluejay Proud!

Phil Riordan
Vice President for Student Affairs

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