Haverford College has erected seven tents on its 216-acre campus for outdoor classrooms and gathering spaces, with WiFi, hard floors, lights — and even heaters for cooler weather.
Thirteen trailers have been moved onto campus, too, largely for isolation and quarantine space, if needed. All students will have single rooms and will be asked to keep a log of their interactions in case contact tracing for the coronavirus becomes necessary. Nearly 4,900 signs have gone up inside Haverford buildings with 609 more outside, noting safety protocols and rules. And the leafy campus with its scenic walking trail has been closed to the public, except for approved visitors and contractors. Guards are posted at the entrances.
“We are as ready as we can be,” Haverford president Wendy Raymond said.
Students — 1,022 will live on campus — have begun to arrive; classes will start Sept. 8.
Haverford and other small schools in the region hope their size and somewhat self-contained campuses, referred to at times as a bubble, will help them fend off the coronavirus. Unlike Temple, which enrolls thousands of students and is woven into the fabric of a city, they can close off their campuses to the public to some extent.
“It’s our effort to make the bubble a little more real,” said Swarthmore spokesperson Alisa Giardinelli.
Several larger campuses have reversed course in recent days and gone to remote instruction after outbreaks, including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which has 1,025 cases and, closer to home, Bloomsburg University, with 119. And Temple announced Sunday that it would be holding remote classes after 103 student cases were reported.
Some smaller campuses, including Earlham College, a liberal arts school with Quaker roots like Haverford, are continuing, with few cases. Earlham started classes Aug. 10, with about 600 students living on its Richmond, Ind., campus and taking many classes in person. A couple hundred others are studying remotely.
“I have been thrilled with our first three weeks back on campus,” said Earlham president Anne Houtman. “We have had only one positive student case, and they managed to head home without infecting anyone else. We have had only four faculty and staff positive cases since March and none of those led to a spread of infections on campus. Fingers crossed we can keep this up until Thanksgiving!”
Having a smaller campus that can be closed off to visitors doesn’t mean faculty, staff and students won’t come and go.
In a letter to nearby residents, Swarthmore president Valerie Smith said she is asking students not to frequent borough stores or restaurants. She explained the campus closure, which takes effect Monday and will include the campus’s woods, tennis courts and playing fields.
“We are making this difficult decision to ensure the safety of the on-campus community, as well as of residents of the borough and surrounding area,” Smith wrote.
Even Swarthmore students who live off campus will not be allowed to use the facilities because they aren’t part of Swarthmore’s virus testing program. Both schools are requiring students and staff who are on campus to undergo testing.
“I understand [the closure],” said Fran Blanchette, a Media resident who strolled Swarthmore’s campus Thursday. “Whatever it takes to keep the kids safe.”
To students, it’s a bit surreal.
One afternoon last week, Anya Slepyan, 21, sat near a large grassy field, known as Parrish Beach, where students usually study, eat and hang out. Campus workers had divided the lawn into more than 150 squares, marked off in white paint and spaced apart.
“These squares, I think they are hilarious,” said Slepyan, a Swarthmore student from Kentucky. “I understand why they’re there. It makes sense, but I think it’s a funny addition.”
Both campuses have fewer students living on them than normal. Swarthmore invited freshmen and sophomores and, in some cases, upperclassmen to campus for the first semester. The school was prepared to accommodate 900, but fewer than 700 came. Nearly 800 students will study remotely.
At Haverford, about 300 students, less than a quarter, are studying remotely.
J.P. Franco, a Haverford freshman, said he plans to stay on campus and follow the rules. He’s glad Haverford is giving him a chance to be there.
“I’m excited to get to know new people and have my classes,” said Franco, an economics major from Florida.
Haverford gave faculty and students the option of remote or in-person teaching and learning. Currently, 54% of classes will be virtual and 46% in person. Most classes at Swarthmore will be virtual.
Faculty on both campuses have been preparing for another unusual semester.
Krista Thomason, an associate professor of philosophy at Swarthmore who is teaching remotely, has had to make adjustments. Her students live in multiple time zones, domestically and abroad, including Mongolia, China and Norway.
She’ll hold a once-a-week live class meeting online and offer recorded lectures that go along with assigned readings. A Google chat will allow students to participate on their own time.
“I feel like mostly what we are trying to do is make the best of a terrible situation,” Thomason said. “I’m going to try to take it week by week and I’m going to encourage my students to do the same.”
Raymond said the hardest part is recognizing that despite all the planning, some students and staff may still get sick.
“There is no guarantee that we are going to be COVID free, and we are not,” she said, noting that one employee tested positive earlier this month but had not been in contact with anyone else on campus.
Raymond is counting on the school’s honor code and strong sense of individual responsibility to community to help ensure that safety protocols are followed.
“We think we can really make a strong go of this,” she said.