Coronavirus’ impact on F&M community, steps taken

By TCR Editing Staff || Gabby Goodwin, Katherine Coble, Alex Pinsk, Ruby Van Dyk

Photo Courtesy of fandm.edu.

At 4:35 pm on Wednesday, March 11, President Barbara Altmann announced that Franklin & Marshall College will shift to online instruction in an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19, coronavirus. After spring break ends on March 23, the College will shift to online-only course instruction. This period of online courses will extend through at least April 3. During this period all students living on campus will be required to go home unless they petition otherwise due to extenuating circumstances. Shaw explains that “any student who is able to go home needs to go home. We know some students require exceptions, but others, particularly in F&M’s privately-owned housing, should do what is safest for all.” This requirement does not apply to upperclassmen students living in campus-owned or campus-partnered properties such as College Row, College Hill, and the West James Properties. However, although these students are not required to move out, they are encouraged to practice safe habits including social distancing to prevent the spread of coronavirus. 

The announcement comes at a chaotic time in higher education, as hundreds of colleges are closing their doors and moving to online-only education for the next few weeks or even the remainder of the semester. The institutions range from Ivy League universities, major state flagship campuses, and liberal arts colleges like Amherst and Bowdoin. Other peer institutions of F&M, such as Gettysburg and Dickinson, have not yet opted to switch to online-only instruction. Instead, both have opted to extend their spring break by one week, leaving any further steps to be decided. As of Monday, March 16, there are currently 76 assumed positive cases of coronavirus in Pennsylvania, centered predominantly in the Philadelphia area. There have been no confirmed or presumed cases in Lancaster County or any of the counties immediately surrounding it. 

One major prompt for F&M’s decisions was the news that a faculty member came in contact with someone who later tested positive for coronavirus. Although she is not showing symptoms and has self-quarantined since receiving this news, the faculty member taught one class at the College before being notified of the incident. According to President Altmann, the Student Wellness Center has informed the students involved in the class and there is no reason to suspect any F&M students have been exposed to the virus thus far. 

During the period of online-only instruction, all campus services will remain open albeit with potentially reduced hours. This includes Dining Services, the Wellness Center, both campus libraries, and the Alumni Sports Fitness Center. All faculty members may continue to use their offices, and all administrative offices will operate as usual with professional staff reporting during their regular hours. “Faculty and staff are working hard to make sure that we find creative methods for delivering academics and programs after spring break,” said Dean Shaw regarding online instruction. In other words, this new system of learning involves efforts by many to execute effectively. Faculty and professional staff are working hard to make the transition as seamless as possible. 

The new policy has already had a dramatic impact on campus life, particularly athletics. In a meeting with the presidents of the colleges that compete in the Centennial Conference on March 12th, 2020, the decision was made to send all of the spring athletes home with the rest of their respective student bodies and allow practices to resume April 3rd, and competitions to resume on April 6th. As of March 12, 2020, all Franklin & Marshall varsity athletic away events are cancelled. All home events will take place through March 22nd without spectators, and all contests from March 23rd through April 6th are postponed. On the same day, F&M Spring Break team trips were cancelled and the NCAA announced the cancellation of all winter and spring championships. 

As an exception to this decision, F&M had negotiated a “waiver” with the Centennial Conference, as F&M was the last member school to go on Spring Break. This waiver enabled F&M spring sports teams the opportunity to stay for all or a portion of Spring Break, continue to practice, and schedule opponents who were willing to travel to Lancaster to play games. Then, the student athletes would head home for a “Cyber Break” and await a decision on April 3rd about returning to campus. Despite F&M garnering this “waiver,” however, bringing other universities to compete at F&M proved to be a difficult task, as most spring athletes at F&M were sent home with the rest of the school this past Friday anyways. 

Another group significantly affected by the virus are study abroad students who had to be sent home due to their programs being cancelled and travel restrictions that are beginning to be imposed. One such student is Mackenzie Blackwell ‘21, whose IFSA-Butler program at the University of Edinburgh was cut short as all students were told to return home. Blackwell admitted that being sent home was “really sad” but conceded that “at the end of the day I’m just thankful for my health, my family, and my friends.” She insisted that she would study abroad again in a heartbeat, and would particularly love to return to Scotland. 

Another student, Lily Noble ‘21 who had been studying in Rome, Italy added that: “We are all at this point trying to make the best out of a bad situation. I definitely have noticed some culture shock because I think being ripped out of an experience like study abroad so abruptly can be earth shattering.” But she also added that the time now she has at home has given her time to reflect: “This is giving me time to contextualize and appreciate the time I had there and unpack that while preparing for whatever is to come.”

The possibility of F&M not reconvening in person for the rest of the semester is particularly disappointing to seniors, who are in their last semester at F&M. There is a possibility that graduation could be impacted if the college ends up having to remain online for the rest of the semester. “Personally, all the news about coronavirus has hit us seniors pretty hard. It’s been an absolutely surreal, a somber thing, this whole evacuation from campus. Primarily because even though the email from the president says that students can return on April 3rd, we don’t actually know if we’ll be able to. This puts us seniors in a strange position. Should we be making all of our goodbyes now because we mightn’t get the chance to later? Should we refrain from tossing ourselves into the throes of emotional farewells because we’re going to be back in a few weeks anyway? It’s difficult to say. All I know is I am desperately hopeful that we return to campus in April. I, like so many seniors, am not ready to say goodbye to everything just yet.” said Johnny Tecklit’ 20 

Additionally, multiple major campus events will be canceled even past the current April 3 online-only date. These include the Central Pennsylvania Consortium (CPC) Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies Conference, originally to be held on April 4 and including the scholarship of students from Gettysburg, Dickinson, and Franklin & Marshall. The College Entertainment Committee similarly announced that in light of other decisions in the festival world – including the cancellation of Austin City Limits and postponement of Coachella – Spring Arts 2020 has been officially canceled as a preventative measure. It was originally intended to be held on April 18. All other campus meetings, talks, and events have been entirely canceled through April 3, with more ramifications expected to come. 

In light of the unforeseen change to student housing, the College has announced that students not receiving financial aid who live in College-owned housing will receive a refund valued at 2/15 of the cost of room and board, to be credited to their account for the fall 2021 semester. The refund given to students on financial aid will depend on the institutional grant portion of their individual financial aid package. Generally, the 2/15 adjustment will be offset by the need-based grant and thus these students will not be given a credit or refund. The College has also announced that all students who have moved home will be paid the equivalent of their typical work-study pay each week. All of these policies are meant to ensure the smoothest transition possible for all students regardless of financial background. 

“We’re counting on students to understand the power they have to help protect vulnerable populations by practicing social distancing and other recommended actions. We have members of our community whose well being could depend on others’ choices,” says Dean Shaw. Everyone must be conscious and vigilant in their efforts to make campus and the greater community as safe as possible.

President Barbara Altmann explains that student wellness is particularly important at this time despite the unpredictability of the situation. “Student well-being is, as always, our first priority. I know that the uncertainty involved is very hard on everyone, and perhaps most of all on our students. We just don’t know yet if we’re going to be able to resume normal operations, and it’s difficult to advise people on the best course of action, especially regarding travel, when the situation shifts so drastically from one day to the next. I’m glad that we can continue to house the students currently with us, and that from what I’ve seen, people are treating one another with empathy and understanding even while exercising social distancing. We’ll have to make the next round of decisions very soon. For the moment, there is still value in keeping our options open,” says Altmann.

Senior Katherine Coble is the News Editor. Her email is kcoble@fandm.edu.

Junior Ruby Van Dyk is the Assistant Managing Editor. Her email is rvandyk@fandm.edu.

Senior Gabby Goodwin is the Managing Editor. Her email is ggoodwin@fandm.edu.

Senior Alex Pinsk is the Editor-in-Chief. Her email is mpinsk@fandm.edu.

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