Guidance on In-person Activities, Meetings and Events
Sept. 2, 2020
Dear Billiken Companions,
Over the last few weeks, many of you have asked for clarity about the University’s restrictions on in-person meetings and events. You’ve also shared your deep concerns that, without in-person community, students will continue to feel isolated, have difficulty creating and sustaining community, and potentially resort to parties and other gatherings that may create a greater risk of COVID-19 infection. I want you to know I hear you. I hear these concerns and want to share some additional information that should create greater consistency, clear up confusion, and empower you to know what you can do for in-person connection this fall.
As announced several weeks ago by both the President and the Interim Provost, we have new, temporary restrictions on in-person events this fall. A new interim policy should be finalized later this week, which has been developed in consultation with representatives for faculty, staff, and students, colleagues in the Office of General Counsel, and many others. This policy not only will formalize information already announced to the community, but it also will provide more nuance than before and will codify the University-level process by which limited exceptions may be granted. Stay tuned for the formal policy later this week.
In the meantime, a large group of folks has been working to create a detailed guide to provide you with greater clarity on what you can do in person this fall. Thanks to the input of a number of you, I came to see that there were (as there always are) gaps between University policies and the application of those policies to the lived experiences of students. While our communications have referred to “events” and “meetings,” you also engage in much less formal gatherings and activities--many of them things you’re already doing. To me, it was obvious that you are able, for instance, to meet up with a small group of friends or student organization members or that your RA could bring together residents from your floor outdoors for connection and community-building. These things didn’t, in my mind, rise to the level of an “event” and the restrictions on “meetings” did not (in my mind) apply.
But I appreciate this isn’t what you heard, so I am grateful to have an opportunity to offer additional guidance, thanks to a lot of input from students. To this end, I am happy to share this Guidance for Student Activities, Meetings, and Events. This guide was developed in collaboration with multiple staff members who work with student organizations and with approximately 25 students (from a range of organizations and leadership roles, as well as students who have expressed confusion and frustration about the lack of in-person opportunities for connection). We worked hard to make implied things explicit and visible and to reduce confusion wherever we could. Importantly, we also heard from a diverse group of individuals, to ensure that we were not unconsciously privileging the perspectives and experiences of dominant identity groups. I am deeply grateful to these individuals for sharing their wisdom; the guidance document is richer and more comprehensive for their input.
Hopefully, this document will help you to better understand what you can do and what you can expect going forward. Certainly, it isn’t perfect; we may need to revise again as conditions change and/or as we head into the spring term. But as long as everyone abides by key safeguards (particularly distancing and mask-wearing), this guidance will hold. And I promise you, if the need for social distancing and masks eases, we’ll certainly consider how we may be able to ease the restrictions currently in place.
Finally, I want to say: I get how powerful in person connection is. It’s why you wanted to be back on campus in the first place. It’s why staff and faculty wanted you back on campus. So, I want you to know that we recognize that, even though the guidance we’ve developed provides support to existing groups, we also recognize that isn’t enough. For those newer to our community or those who haven’t yet “found your people” here, we know we also need to facilitate more opportunities for you specifically. To that end, we have groups working on adding more robust and engaging virtual programming, and on identifying a small number of appropriate exceptions for outdoor events that bring together students from across campus. Our shared challenge is to do the latter safely, and we’re working on that. You’ll soon hear more about these opportunities, from the Student Activities Board, the Student Involvement Center, and others.
As I close, let me give another shout out to all the students who’ve come forward to share concerns and help me to understand the need for additional clarification. I appreciate you -- all of you -- and I look forward to seeing you soon (either in a Zoom meet-up or as I walk around campus).
Debra Rudder Lohe, Ph.D. (she/her/hers)
Interim Vice President for Student Development