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Student Development Message: “Welcome Back. We’ve Got This!”

Aug. 17, 2020

Dear Billiken Companions, 

Over the last week or so, the campus has come alive again. We’ve been welcoming you (new Bills) and welcoming you back (returning Bills). And it has been so good to see your smiling eyes above your face masks! As we restart on-campus learning for the fall, I wanted to take a moment to issue a friendly challenge, to share some important reminders and priorities, and to wish you a smooth start to the new academic year. (Apologies for the length of the message … I’ve just really missed you, and I’ve been saving up!) 

First, the challenge . . .
As I am sure you have heard, there are lots of folks around the country who expect on-campus education to fail this fall. People think there’s no way a college campus can contain the spread of COVID-19 and avoid massive outbreaks that send us all back to online learning. In particular, “they” doubt you. “They” are sure you will put parties ahead of purpose, socializing ahead of social commitment. “They” think there’s no way we can make it all the way to Thanksgiving break before we send everyone home again.  

And here’s something else: sometimes, “they” might even be you! Sometimes, “they” are me. When I am feeling overwhelmed by how many safeguards we must have in place this fall, and what they mean for how we do this thing we care so much about, I can succumb to fear and worry. I can forget that there are plenty of folks around campus who may not abide by the public health safeguards we’ve committed to, and many of those folks aren’t students! 

The truth is, every member of this campus community has a responsibility to keep it safe and to make it possible for us to safely stay on campus this fall. Because there are more students on campus than staff and faculty, you’ll be more visible. But know the burden isn’t yours alone. I am here to carry it with you. All staff, faculty, and administrators should be, as well, since this is our common home. 

You have a deep commitment to being persons for others, and you know - even better than the rest of us - that this commitment is what honoring campus safeguards is all about. And if you see others -- including staff, faculty, and other students -- who are at risk of proving the skeptics right, offer a gentle nudge. Most of us want to do the right things, but we sometimes forget. I’ve been thinking of this not as “policing others” but more as “encouraging others.” I’m grateful when someone encourages me. 

Second, about those safeguards . . .
I want to take a moment to recognize that the safeguards we need in place this fall are going to challenge us all. They are challenging me, and they will continue to do so. On paper, the safeguards seem easy enough –– wear a mask, keep your distance, wash your hands, etc. –– but the truth is we don’t live our lives on paper. In the real world, we find ourselves in situations where there can be more gray than black and white. And sometimes, the way we write policies can lead to more confusion, not less, and my goal today is to help resolve any confusion. Most students truly want to do the right thing, understand the importance of the safeguards, and are committed to following them -- but sometimes there are nuances in the gap between words in a policy and the lived reality on the ground.  

For instance, what happens when you’re walking outdoors alone with your mask off (allowed under the University’s Interim Face Mask Policy if you are assured of 6 feet or more between you and others at all times), but find yourself on the sidewalk between classes, when there are many more people on the sidewalks? (put your mask on and leave some space as best you can) What if you’re going for a walk outside with friends, do you all really need to wear your masks then? (yes; it’s just too hard to stay 6 feet apart from those we’re socializing with!) And if the science suggests a “close contact” is someone exposed to someone with COVID-19 for 15 minutes or more, closer than 6 feet, with masks off, does that mean it’s okay to be up close without masks for 14 minutes? 12 minutes? 6 minutes? (no; we want to do everything we can to reduce risk, and having everyone follow all the safeguards all the time is key) One important thing I’ve been trying to remember is that the safeguards work together; we practice each one in addition to the others, not one at a time. 

The truth is, we are all learning new ways of being in community, and we’ll keep learning all semester. We all will struggle to resist the default of physical hugs and high fives, to sitting right next to someone on the steps of a building, to walking out of our rooms with our masks off. That’s muscle memory. We did those things much longer than we’ve done these.  

Below this message, I offer some brief reminders of our key safeguards, as well as a few tips for navigating more ambiguous situations. You can review the full list of campus safeguards here and in the Campus Commitment you have (hopefully!) signed as a promise to do your part.  

Third, a few priorities for the new academic year . . .
In addition to honoring our Campus Commitment to University safeguards and to “proving them wrong,” I also am asking you to do three more things: 

  1. Stay connected: It’s important to stay connected. This is always true, but it feels even more important during a pandemic. For starters, you or someone you know may well need to be in isolation or quarantine this fall (if you haven’t already!). That’s hard. It’s tough to not be with or see others for an extended number of days. Additionally, some of your closest friends may be learning remotely. Or you may be learning remotely. For all these reasons, I am urging you to go out of your way to stay connected. Whether through social media or text messages or old fashioned paper notes and cards - your friends need you, and you need them. Social distancing does not mean social disconnecting. I think we can make each other feel close, even when we can’t stand close. If you are struggling, please connect -- with the University Counseling Center, with the Dean of Students Office, with Campus Ministry, with Campus Recreation and Wellness, with the Student Involvement Center, or even with me.
  2. Don’t make assumptions: there are lots of reasons why someone may be choosing to learn remotely this fall or arriving on campus after the start of the fall term. Don’t automatically assume they have COVID-19. And even when you know someone who has contracted COVID-19, don’t assume they did something “wrong”! We all risk exposure every time we leave our homes. Many people have contracted the virus while also doing everything they can to limit their risk. And if you are the person who has been exposed or has contracted the virus, you are just as much a member of our family as ever before.
  3. Keep your other commitments alive: In addition to stopping the spread of COVID-19, Billikens have all sorts of commitments they need to maintain in order to feel a sense of purpose and to live out their higher purpose and serve the greater good. I can tell you that the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t stopped me from working to advance racial equity and dismantle institutional racism in my own sphere of influence. It hasn’t stopped me from working on ways to enhance students’ mental health and well-being here at SLU. And it hasn’t stopped me from serving others, campaigning for candidates I believe in, or reading books that challenge my worldview. I hope it won’t stop you from engaging in activities that bring you alive.
  4. Reframe your experience of the campus safeguards: I am grateful for Oriflamme leaders who challenged me last week to reframe how I have been thinking of the campus safeguards. One said that, instead of thinking about “putting on your mask,” you could think of it as “putting on your love for your neighbor.” Another said that, instead of grumbling about how annoying the safeguards are (especially the face mask requirement), you could think of it as honoring your commitment to others. I am deeply grateful for Oriflamme’s leadership -- on all things and especially on these ideas for reframing -- and I am accepting their challenge. I hope you also can find ways to reframe the safeguards as expressions of love rather than restrictions on autonomy. 

Returning to campus this fall is a tremendous privilege. Many undergraduate and graduate/professional students across the globe are not able to be in community on campus. But accepting the invitation to return comes with a serious responsibility. We all –– and this means me and my colleagues, too –– we all have to do our part. If we have any hope of staying on campus this fall, we all have to prove the critics wrong. 

It will not be easy. As I said to Oriflamme leaders a week or so ago: I am an extrovert and a Southerner. This means I not only need people … I need to hug people! The pandemic has definitely been a challenge for me in this regard. So if you see me out on campus, please send me an “air hug”! Even though it won’t be easy, I do think it will be worth it.  

Happy that we’re a community less dispersed than we were last spring. Proud to be a member of a community that is going to prove all the nay-sayers wrong. 

Warmly, 

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


Campus Safeguards 

You can find the complete list of safeguards here. Here are some key safeguards and some tips for navigating them. 

Masks

Social Distancing

Events and Meetings

Hand Hygiene and Sanitizing

Monitor Your Health

A Few Other Reminders

Thanks to those who’ve already completed these important tasks. If you haven’t yet done so, please: