Hillsdale College released its official return-to-campus protocols for students, staff, and faculty on Aug. 5. Among some of the biggest changes: mandatory masks indoors, daily temperature checks, and newly-installed anti-viral technology.
In an email to students, Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn said freshman convocation and the first day of classes will “occur as scheduled” on Aug. 23 and 26, respectively. He stressed the college is doing everything in its power to resume normal activities in a safe and legal manner.
“Right now there are no legal impediments to our resuming,” Arnn wrote. He said the college consulted with three leading public health and epidemiology experts to craft its reopening plan.
“We have taken many steps to ensure the safety of everyone, especially those in vulnerable groups,” Arnn said. “You will see that they are far-reaching.”
Among the new procedures — listed extensively at returnplan.hillsdale.edu—are mandated masks indoors and daily health screenings until Sept. 5, nurses on call after hours, and dining hall capacity reduced to 50% with two new grab-and-go locations for students, one in Strosacker Science Center and one in Lane Hall. The college will also reserve four apartments in the College Park Townhouses to quarantine any students who may contract COVID-19.
“These steps comply with the law as it exists today, and will be adjusted as necessary,” Arnn said in the email. “Also it complies with the best evidence about the nature and course of the virus, insofar as we can determine what that is.”
In addition to these protocols, equipment has been installed across campus to help reduce the rate of virus transmission indoors.
All campus buildings have been equipped with modular ionization technology ”documented to neutralize and eliminate COVID-19.” High-efficiency particulate absorbing (HEPA) air filters will also be installed in high-traffic areas, and four Clorox 360 machines — electrostatic disinfectant sprayers — will be used to disinfect large rooms in “an average of five minutes.”
Arnn concluded the email with an exhortation to the Hillsdale community not to shrink from this challenge, nor neglect its work as a college.
“We should proceed about that work intensely, as always we do,” Arnn said. “We should be cautious about anything that spreads the coronavirus, but we should not forget the joy of being together.”
This joy of being together is something Dean of Women Diane Philipp does not want the college to lose sight of.
“We’re trying so hard to keep this momentum going of the typical, fun Hillsdale atmosphere,” Philipp said. “It’s going to be a challenge. So we’re going to try to get everybody to partner with us to keep that momentum and joy happening.”
Philipp eyes the Class of 2020’s graduation, which took place the weekend of July 18, as the model for a successful semester.
“We’re really trying to create that same culture that occurred during graduation. We had 2,700 on campus,” Philipp said.
During the weekend, graduates and their guests were required to wear masks indoors and were subject to daily temperature checks. The commencement ceremony took place outside at Frank “Muddy” Waters Football Stadium, where everyone sat six feet apart. There are no known coronavirus cases connected to the event.
“No one struggled with the requirements, they were dutiful about it and really came together,” Philipp said. “Graduation showed us that everyone is smart and serious, and that’s what we’re expecting this time, too.”
Philipp said mask-wearing will be especially important for the first two weeks on campus.
“We’re going to have to have everyone mask up and to be really dutiful about it. It is the one thing that seems to really help,” she said.
Philipp stressed that the college is working hard to ensure that students will get to participate in the normal, fun activities Hillsdale offers.
“Student Activities is doing a ton. They’re going to try their best to create fun — permitting social distancing and we’re going to require masks at all events — but you should be socializing as normal human beings,” she said.
“We have to make some changes, but we’re going to get as close as we can to it as long as everybody abides by a few basic principles.”
Director of Health Services Brock Lutz said the college’s coronavirus plan is solid, as it’s based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and input from Hillsdale Hospital.
“We are going to do everything we can to keep everyone as safe as possible while we do what we love, which is to learn and grow together as intellectual and moral people,” Lutz said in an email.
One big reason to bring students back on campus was mental health, Lutz said. Students, as human beings, are meant to bond together in community.
“In quarantine, it became very apparent that it is very hard for students to engage in the level of intense learning and education on their own and very clear that it is better for all of us mentally, emotionally, and intellectually to do it together as a community,” he said.