Photo courtesy Seattle Pacific University: While nearly empty now, the Seattle Pacific University campus will be a little busier this fall when classes begin for the quarter, Sept. 14. SPU teams, comprised of cross-campus faculty and staff, are finalizing the framework for how the campus will operate, addressing all areas of campus life, from coursework to student residences. One of the first decisions agreed upon was that classes should be a combination of face-to-face and online work, depending on the class.
Photo courtesy Seattle Pacific University: While nearly empty now, the Seattle Pacific University campus will be a little busier this fall when classes begin for the quarter, Sept. 14. SPU teams, comprised of cross-campus faculty and staff, are finalizing the framework for how the campus will operate, addressing all areas of campus life, from coursework to student residences. One of the first decisions agreed upon was that classes should be a combination of face-to-face and online work, depending on the class.

When the new quarter of school starts at Seattle Pacific University this fall, campus life will look different in many ways.

SPU teams comprised of a cross-campus group of faculty and staff, have spent the past few months setting the framework for a plan that establish how the campus can reopen with modified operations when classes resume — two weeks earlier than normal — Sept. 14.

The private Christian university in lower Queen Anne, started modifying classes and campus life in March when the coronavirus pandemic began to spread in Washington state, prompting Gov. Jay Inslee and state health officials to close schools and businesses and order people to shelter in place. At that time, SPU advised all students who could to leave campus, and shifted classes online as much as possible. Now, with summer quarter taking place remotely, leadership is working out the final details outlining how allow university life will resume as restrictions are lifting in the state.

Sandy Mayo, vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion, said leadership teams concluded initial meetings on the fall reopening in early June. During their discussions, they considered a number of potential operating scenarios and then put out a list of recommendations — over 100 — for staff review June 10.

“The recommendations were really broad, in keeping with both state mandates and public health guidelines,” Mayo said.

The recommendations ran the gamut from academics, co-curricular activities, campus health and safety, to residence housing and athletics.

Early on, the leadership taskforce determined that SPU should offer a hybrid format for classes, with some being taught remotely, some face to face and some a combination of both.

Mayo said they also considered who needed to be on campus if there was an option for working offsite; what classes could be offered remotely; what opportunities were available for experiential and in-class learning; what classes could be conducted all remotely if necessary; and whether some course work could be  taught earlier in the quarter in class — frontloaded — in case coursework had to go all remote later.

The mission, Mayo said, is holding onto the core elements and values of an SPU education so “our experience is not compromised.”

Mayo said team members also looked at logistical details: what the classes need to look like to keep everyone safe — whether they should be divided; what the maximum class size could be in a specific room;  how social distance requirements would be met in classes; how students will flow into and out of buildings; down to the air filtration of classrooms.

Taskforce teams also considered what student life would like when school resumed in the fall. Jeff Jordan, SPU vice president of student life, said a lot of thought is going into arrangements for students living on campus, factoring in things such as capacity of residence halls; de-densifying congregate living areas; how many students should be assigned to a room or a suite; community bathroom usage; hygiene and cleaning. Jordan said, most likely residence halls will open, just not to full capacity.

“We are allowing students to come back as long as they understand what the parameters are for living on campus,” Jordan said.

Leadership also are prepared to isolate students if they were exposed to COVID-19 by reserving places on campus, which they had some experience with during the spring.

Jordan said, thus far, students have been pretty good about following the rules, but for those who need reminders, the policy will be to educate and encourage before enforcing.

SPU has yet to make a formal announcement about athletic events, but Jordan said NCAA policies and recommendations will play a part.

“We’re prepared for athletes to come back early if allowable,” Jordan said, adding staff also know that games and sports seasons may shift to different times or could be canceled altogether. “We know that’s a possibility, as well.”

While planning is necessary, Mayo said, the changes are “disruptive, and it’s new for everyone.”

The changes will also present challenges for incoming students and their parents, who have certain expectations of what the college should entail.

“They want that college experience in the way they’ve always understood it,” Mayo said.

Coronavirus, however, has inevitably changed the nature of university life, and it will be up to campus leadership make sure parents and students are not surprised or taken off guard by communicating plans of action clearly and regularly.

“I think it’s just really hard for families to imagine,” Mayo said.

Based on what SPU leaders have learned from the past couple of quarters, Mayo said they already have a good idea of what is needed moving forward. That entails maintaining high engagement with all students so they feel connected to what is going on.

“I feel the academic components we’ll be able to deliver really well,” Mayo said.

And some things have not changed at all, Mayo said. Campus ministries has been and will remain active, with weekly chapel still taking place, and to-go lunches offered for students who might be struggling.

As far as the impacts in the surrounding community, Mayo said expects there will be some.

“We’ll really know the full impact in the months ahead,” she said.

Already she has noticed one change, The Wick, a coffee/motorcycle shop popular with staff and students that was a fixture in campus life, closed.

“I just thought, our campus will never be the same,” Mayo said. “I imagine there will be other changes in the surrounding community. I think there will be some of those elements lost.”