By Kara Gravley-Stack, Dean of Students, Title IX Coordinator
August is generally a colorful time on a college campus, filled with enthusiasm for a fresh start to a new academic year. Staff are preparing the campus grounds and buildings for faculty and students’ arrival. Employees in student service areas are preparing for students to move into the residence halls, welcome the newest Dragons to campus, and usher in large-group activities that capitalize on the excitement and enthusiasm that accompany a typical fall semester.
But, fall 2020 is far from typical. The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing all of us to think differently about how to prepare the campus, welcome new students, and ensure we have systems in place to address our campus community’s health and well-being.
Since MSUM shifted spring semester instruction to an online format in March, faculty, staff, and administrators have grappled with the challenges of continuing to provide quality educational and co-curricular experiences for our students. We are concerned about the physical and mental health of students and employees. We also know students want the coming school year to be as close to normal as possible. First-year students who experienced significant disruption to their senior years in high school want a return to normalcy, but they also want to be safe and keep their families safe. How will we do this?
We are planning for as much face-to-face instruction as is safely possible. We will adapt to various scenarios, depending on guidance from the CDC, Minnesota Department of Health, and our university system. We are preparing our campus spaces to reduce transmission risk. We have systems to support students and employees who contract COVID-19 or come in close contact with someone who has.
MSUM launched Dragons Care: A Plan to Return to Campus to communicate with our university community about the steps we are taking to create a safe environment for our Dragon family. Our Dragons Care website, mnstate.edu/emergency/dragons-care, provides timely content that makes students, staff and visitors feel safe, welcomed, supported, and informed so they can focus on learning and enjoying the Dragon experience.
As a Dragon family, we are in this together. We all need to do our part to help each other stay safe and healthy. We will require all people to wear masks when in campus buildings and unable to maintain an appropriate physical distance. Our facilities management staff have developed enhanced cleaning protocols for campus buildings. Informative signage brings our Dragons Care message to students and employees about how to keep one another safe. We encourage the Dragon family to be aware of their physical condition — to self-monitor for COVID-19-related symptoms and to take care of themselves if they feel sick. We will support students and employees to help them recover and protect our entire community.
Students and employees receive frequent communication updating them on plans for the coming semester. We encourage everyone to look for updates on our Dragons Care website and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. We encourage students, families, and employees to email questions to DragonsCare@mnstate.edu.
We know this is a difficult time for everyone. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all of us somehow, and the uncertainty may leave some of us feeling anxious about the start of a new academic year. At MSUM, we remain committed to providing quality educational and co-curricular experiences for our students while providing safeguards for our students’ and employees’ health and safety. As we monitor the progression of COVID-19, we will continue to review and revise our Dragons Care plan. But, one thing remains constant — DRAGONS CARE!