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Breaking Point or Turning Point? That’s Up to You.

Feb. 9, 2021

Dear Billiken Companions,

We’re on the brink of implementing severe COVID-19 restrictions because some students, it appears, have just given up. But you can change our minds. How? No more birthday parties. No more large gatherings in off-campus apartments. No more on-campus parties. No beer-pong parties. No Mardi Gras parties. No more hanging out after meals, without masks on, while sitting too close to one another. 

Those poor behaviors — all violations of our Campus Commitment — have quickly increased our on-campus positive cases in just the last several days. When you add close contacts for each positive case, a continuing increase could ultimately require us to close the University and send everyone home. That would mean finishing your semester, your year, or your college experience at home, online. 

When I tell you I am deeply sad to be sending this, I mean it. I had been working on a very different message, ready to announce new opportunities for student organizations to propose in-person events this spring, extended hours for academic buildings, and more. A working group comprised mainly of students recommended numerous ways students could be in community with one another this spring -- and we were prepared to begin implementing those recommendations. Instead, given what we are seeing happen on campus right now, we need to hit pause on many of those recommendations.

So, what are we seeing on campus right now?

We’re only in the second full week of classes, and I can tell you, things aren’t great. Our isolation and quarantine housing (I/Q) numbers look exactly like they did during the last few days of October, week 12 of fall semester. While our COVID-19 dashboard numbers look pretty good, our I/Q housing numbers are high. Today, we are opening our third property for quarantine overflow space –– the Manresa Retreat Center –– because we are running out of space in Hotel Ignacio and the Grand Forest Apartments.

With Super Bowl exposures likely to appear later this week and Mardi Gras coming, we are not confident about what the coming days and weeks will bring, or whether we will be able to keep you on campus through the end of the semester. Like I said, you can change our minds.

We’re also seeing just flagrant disregard for our public health safeguards. In a matter of days, we had received more than 70 complaints from students about other students, including multiple reports of multiple parties. And those are our numbers before Super Bowl. In Grand Dining Hall, we’ve had reports of too many students, sitting too close together, without masks, long after they have finished eating. Come on. You know better. We even have reports of students with COVID-19 symptoms “self-isolating” in their residence, waiting to tell anyone until after testing positive, with no regard for the risk they pose to anyone they come into contact with.

What are we doing this week?

Based on the recommendation of students on the working group we convened over winter break, we will restrict building-to-building visitation for residence halls and on-campus apartments during the following periods:

We know you need in-person community. Several campus departments are finalizing details for small, in-person activities for Saturday, February 13. Watch for updates in SLU Groups, on Student Involvement Center’s social media, and in your campus housing facilities. These activities have been approved as exceptions and designed with public health safeguards in mind; staff will be on hand to assure the activities are as safe as possible. We really hope we are able to offer these and they don’t have to be canceled. 

We also are at a point where we are strongly encouraging our residential students who must quarantine to do so back home with their families. We understand that many have vulnerable loved ones at home that make this decision complex. Every on-campus quarantine decision will undergo a review of any circumstances that prevent a student from going home. You are welcome to email pandemic@slu.edu with questions about what might qualify someone for on-campus quarantine housing.

What could happen next?

Honestly, this depends on you. Just as you did early last fall, you need to be vigilant about following our public health practices. Doing so will reverse our escalating COVID-19 infections and close contacts.

However, we are prepared to implement more restrictive measures. Other universities have already abandoned face-to-face instruction and moved to fully online instruction. Some have temporarily adopted a “stay in place” approach.

Here are just some of the additional restrictions we will implement should we need to:

We really, really don’t want to do any of these things. We know you don’t want to do any of these things. But we have to be ready, and we want you to know what to expect.

One final reminder: I’ve been talking about consequences for the University. I want to remind you that there are also some serious consequences to individuals, particularly those who host parties: termination of housing contracts (for on-campus students), suspension, or even expulsion. 

So, what can you do to prevent greater restrictions?

A lot. Based on what we’re seeing on campus and in our COVID cases, these are the actions you can take immediately -- and encourage your friends to take -- to curb spread and maintain the current levels of restriction:

This is awful — when can we get back to normal?

I can’t answer this question, but I want you to know I get it. I get that you’re sick of the pandemic, of the masks, of the physical distancing. I get that the winter break was long, and you really, really missed each other. I get that it is seriously COLD outside. 

I know there are a lot of temptations to let your guard down. We made it through the fall in-person. There are finally vaccines. Nothing bad has happened to you . . . yet. I really do understand how exhausting this is. Believe me, the staff and faculty who are working so hard to provide you with an in-person education are equally sick and tired of all the things. 

But we aren’t across the finish line yet. And there are new variants of the virus quickly making their way toward our community.

That’s why I am coming to you now, before we need to take more restrictive measures because we genuinely need your help and you can make the difference. If each one of us does our part, we can open up opportunities for you to propose in-person events, to begin using a few more spaces on campus to gather, and add other community-building experiences. 

Believe me, I am ready to share a new Event Proposal Form and tap into your creativity for new ways to connect in-person. Let’s get through the next couple of weeks, bring down the numbers, do the right thing, and we’ll open up more opportunities.

To those who always do the right thing, thank you. To those who’ve become a little complacent, recommit today.

We need you. Let’s do this.

Debra Rudder Lohe, Ph.D. (she/her/hers)
Interim Vice President for Student Development