Campus Report

COVID-19 Update: Planning for 2020-21

Dear Kenyon students and families,

Earlier this month, the most unusual semester in recent history came to a close. And with little more than an exhale, we are deep into the planning for next academic year. While we have yet to finalize our academic calendar, we continue to target August 27 for our first day of classes, on campus and in person. There are many details to work through, and many shifting variables; we will provide another update by June 15 to let you know of any adjustments we need to make to our start date, the rhythm of our semester or other routines to promote public health. In the meantime, I know you must have many questions about what campus will be like in a COVID-19 world, and while I cannot answer them all now, I can share with you the principles that are guiding our planning.

We will actively engage with state, local and expert guidance, and we will seek informed answers to questions of our own. There is much to consider, including the steps each of us will need to take to minimize risk for ourselves and others — wearing masks, maintaining safe physical distances, practicing good public health hygiene and monitoring our health closely. Nationally, public health researchers are developing new guidance for schools and residential programs, and we will draw on the best science available as we develop our own strategies for the fall. Provost Joe Klesner is leading the planning and has formed a set of faculty and staff working groups to address key considerations. These include, among others:

    • Academic calendar, including class and athletics schedules;

    • Programs for regular virus testing, contact tracing and symptoms monitoring;

    • Health and safety issues in the classroom;

    • Modifying study spaces, residential spaces, dining practices and social events;

    • Supporting students who need to study remotely;

    • Protecting vulnerable members of our community. 

Over the course of the summer, we will work with state and local health authorities to adapt our spaces and practices so that we are ready to welcome students back for in-person instruction this fall. 

Decisions about how to live and learn together will be informed not only by science, but by our residential mission and values. The work that lies ahead goes beyond what we need to do for the fall semester or even next year; rather, we are defining how Kenyon will operate in a COVID-19 world, which will be with us for at least as long as it takes to develop a vaccine. There is no doubt that our new normal will take some getting used to; from housing, dining and classroom arrangements to the size of social gatherings, there will be new expectations for how we interact. I have every confidence that the kindness and care that are signatures of our community will emerge in new ways as we adapt to our changing circumstances. In all of this, our goal is unwavering: to carry out the mission of the College while protecting the health and safety of our community, supporting our students and employees, and stewarding the long-term health of the institution.

We will build on our strong foundation with openness, creativity and hope. The Class of 2024 has enrolled with enthusiasm; it is robust in number, academic profile, and racial, ethnic and geographic diversity. Each new class invigorates the Kenyon community, expanding our talent and potential. In the coming months, we will draw on the talent and optimism of Kenyon students, faculty and staff — not just to sustain the College but to advance it, embracing this unique opportunity for innovation and productive change. 

The questions of how to move forward in a new COVID-19 world are big, and daunting. There are no perfect answers. So we must focus on what is clear, certain and manageable. And in that category I would put the following: I am confident that we will find solutions that will be informed by science and the best guidance available from public health authorities. I know that our process will be a close collaboration with local and state health officials. I am certain that we will be flexible in accommodating the health needs of all members of our community. And I trust that we will draw from the insights and expertise that Kenyon faculty, staff and students bring to these issues. 

When I reflect on all that we have accomplished these past two months — eight weeks of remote teaching and learning, the juggling of new, often competing priorities, the ways in which we have maintained connections even at a distance — I continue to be moved by the strength and character of the Kenyon community. They will be our bedrock as we adapt to a COVID-19 world. 

With deep appreciation,

Sean Decatur

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