Photo by Jessica Keller: While residents were more frequently seen enjoying Seattle Pacific University’s campus during the 2020-21 school year, it will be business as usual when the 2021-22 school year kicks off, Monday.
Photo by Jessica Keller: While residents were more frequently seen enjoying Seattle Pacific University’s campus during the 2020-21 school year, it will be business as usual when the 2021-22 school year kicks off, Monday.

With athletes and residence student staff already settled in and the majority of students arriving today, Seattle Pacific University’s campus is showing the signs of life largely absent during the past year and a half.

With the start of fall quarter of the 2021-22 beginning Monday, SPU will resume operations largely resembling pre-pandemic years, although strict safety measures, Jeff Jordan, vice president of student life, said.

Most exciting, Jordan said, is the return of in-person classes and campus operations, rather than the mostly online or hybrid model employed the last year and a half.

Not that operating during the pandemic hasn’t taught SPU staff and administrators some valuable lessons, however.

“I think one of the things we’ve learned is the importance of being together,” Jordan said, adding hearing each other’s voices in person rather than Zoom and being able to work collaboratively in the same room has made a difference.

Jordan is also reassured that, should SPU have to shift its operations again to reflect a change in the pandemic, leadership and staff would be able to adjust to the circumstances.

“Whenever you have to learn something, it’s helpful somewhere along the line,” he said, adding should SPU have to return to remote learning again, staff now has a better idea of what works and what doesn’t. “The good news is we have some practice in it.”

SPU is still following some practices put in place during the pandemic.

For example, residence halls will not be as populated this year, and there will be no more than two students to a room. This is similar to how SPU structured living arrangements when only a few students were living on campus in the midst of the pandemic.

As well, at least for the time being, everyone will be required to wear masks and maintain social distancing, Jordan said.

The biggest addition to ensure student safety, however, centers around vaccines.

SPU, along with many other universities in the state and country, is requiring students be vaccinated in order to attend college. Staff are required to be vaccinated, as well.

With that requirement, however, comes a lot of work. Jordan said administrators will have to track whether students have provided proof of vaccination — or their exemptions for religious and medical reasons — by the first day.

“We’re most concerned about the students who have not responded at all,” he said, adding it will be up to administrators to determine how to monitor and enforce proof of vaccination.

While keeping track of vaccination records is a trial, Jordan does not think the vaccination requirements will drastically affect enrollment numbers.

Although it is still too soon to say for sure, Jordan said, students were still enrolling for school as recently as mid-summer, which is normally a time where those numbers would remain flat.

“At same time in 2018, we would not be expecting it to tick up,” Jordan said.

Another exciting prospect for the future SPU is exploring new ways to do things.

While in-person classes are now the focus again, Jordan said some staff members are considering whether their programs might be enhanced by incorporating more virtual learning.

“We’re looking at some specialized things,” Jordan said.

During the pandemic, a few faculty members established a global teaching partnership with faculty of the same program in a different country, where the classes were co-taught and the students completed a tangible project together remotely.

“We started it this past year as a way to mitigate students not doing study abroad,” Jordan said.

Now, more faculty members are training to do this.

“It’s probably not the same as going to Morocco … but this is a way to do global learning and to have people in both classrooms working together and have students working together,” Jordan said.  “There might be some real options for the future for some students who may not be able to travel.”

Jordan said, all things considered, he is very proud of how SPU faculty banded together during the pandemic and collaborated to solve problems and keep the university running.

“We’ve kind of had to think about what’s most important to us and reprioritize some things,” Jordan said. “COVID forced us to do this to some degree, and we’ve had some really good conversations.”