BY AUSTIN RUFF
Students headed back to Fort Hays State University residential halls this past month, kicking off the start of the 2020-2021 academic year. Throughout the summer, FHSU Residential Life officials kept students in the loop with several updates, protocol changes, and all the effects the pandemic would have on their experience in the dorms. Through these emails, phone calls, and text messages, residential life informed and prepared for the start of the year.
Due to COVID-19, residential life had to make a number of changes in order to ensure the safety of students. These changes began even before students arrived on move-in day. Beds, desks, and other furniture were arranged in a way that allowed for a six foot distance in double-occupancy rooms. Occupancy numbers on each floor in halls like McMindes were reduced in order to mitigate the number of students using each community restroom.
The schedule for arrival of students was spread out over several days, starting on August 11, and continuing throughout the following week. This allowed for limited hallway traffic, reducing the risk of transmission. Students were given an allotted block of time to move-in their belongings. This time varied from thirty minutes to an hour, depending on the residential hall.
Per university policy, all students and guests were required to wear face coverings during the entire move-in process. For students, the process was an adjustment, but residential life staff helped the process go more smoothly.
“It was pretty hectic, but the staff was very helpful and got me moved in,” said FHSU freshman and Victor E. resident, Macie Walters.
Regarding adhering to the mask policy, Walters said she has noticed students following procedures as best they can.
“We all wear them pretty religiously, and we keep track of how many people are in a given room, and when there are too many people, we disperse,” she said.
Students in the residential halls are being called upon by the university to take personal responsibility for not only their own health, but for the health of their peers. In the official Phase Three Reopening Plan, released by FHSU prior to move-in day, students were instructed to not only wear face coverings and social distance, but to look out for their own health and the health of their peers.
In the plan, it asks that students to conduct personal health screenings, watch for symptoms, and stay home if need be. Students were also asked to exercise increased personal hygiene, and to routinely disinfect frequently used areas in their dorm rooms, so as to prevent additional infection.
Resident advisors will also be issuing warnings when a student is found not to be wearing a mask outside their dorm room. If a student is warned by a resident advisor three times, the fourth time will result in a fine.
Brinkley Klein, a resident of McMindes Hall, says that, despite the strict rules, “I’ll do anything to keep campus open.”
Although there has been a considerable increase in cases recently, FHSU Chief Communications Officer, Scott Cason, said many of those cases were related to individuals not following proper mitigation techniques set in place by the university.
“Most of the spike we saw in positive cases was traced to weekend social behaviors where the wearing of face coverings, social distancing and hand washing wasn’t followed,” Cason said.
FHSU has also implemented changes to McMindes Cafe, with a large reduction in available indoor seating, and a one-person-per-table rule. An outdoor picnic area has also been set up, providing more available seating for the cafe. A new option for take-out, introduced this year, allows students to grab their meal from the cafe, and return to their dorm rooms, which was introduced to reduce overall crowd size in McMindes Cafe.
Despite these changes, a few things have been kept the same. Students were allowed to stay with selected roommates and suitmates when possible, and students staying in halls like Wooster and Stadium Place experienced only minor adjustments this semester.
However, according to the residential life web page, the university has put together a contingency plan in the event of a resurgence in cases. If a large-scale move-out of students would become necessary, prorated funds will be issued to students living in residential halls. Additionally, students who cannot leave campus due to extraordinary circumstances will be allowed to remain in the residential halls. The university has also reserved several floors in halls like McMindes, in the event of large scale isolation or quarantine.
The official residential life reopening plan states the plan to housing and on-campus dining operations focus on enhancing student success and mitigating the potential spread of COVID-19, while still providing FHSU students with an engaging on-campus living experience.
“Like hundreds of colleges this fall, we got off to a rocky start,” Cason said. “We established policies, procedures, and resources we believe are working to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our campus community.”