By Charmaine Lim, SBM Editor-in-Chief
*Updates incoming as more information is released*
*Updated as of 11:12 p.m., March 28, 2020*
Like many other colleges, Messiah has officially announced that spring classes have been moved online for the rest of the semester.
An email from the President’s Office went out on the afternoon of March 16, 2020, stating that “Messiah College will now be conducting all undergraduate and graduate coursework online for the remainder of its spring semester.”
Due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus, Messiah has chosen to limit the virus’ potential by cancelling in-person classes and asking students to move off campus. This followed an earlier email before Spring Break began, where students were advised to bring their textbooks and valuables with them as they went home or traveled for the break period.
In the email, President Phipps said, “This was a difficult decision, and I acknowledge the sense of stress, anxiety and loss that a change like this can bring.”
Prior to students going home for Spring Break, many organizations decided to cancel their events. The Senior Exhibit for art majors had already been canceled due to Messiah’s initial decision to enact a two-week quarantine after the end of the break period. In that time, classes were to be held online.
Because of the timeframe around the initial quarantine decision, events like International Gala were also canceled. Many performance-based shows were also canceled due to the uncertainty around whether students would be able to return to campus after the quarantine period and Easter Break. With the decision not to re-open in-person classes for the rest of the semester, there are still decisions being made around events like Honors Project Presentations and graduation.
“The Provost Office is working with faculty and administrators on the answer to this. Once it is decided, it will be put on the blog, FAQ, and communicated to affected students by faculty,” Ran said.
The act of moving classes online is currently in the works, as many students and faculty members are being asked to use Zoom, a video-conferencing website and app, to conduct classes. For classes that are more practically based, like nursing and Adventure Education, the College is finalizing a way that students can still achieve their credit hours and continue working towards their degree.
“The Provost Office is working with faculty and administrators on the answers to all of these questions. Once it is decided, it will be put on the blog, FAQ, and communicated to affected students by faculty,” Danielle Ran, Director of Communications, said.
However, many students have other concerns, like being able to stay on campus if they had already planned to do so over Spring Break, being able to continue work study positions and when they’re allowed to move their belongings off campus. An email with more information related to this will be released near the end of Spring Break, according to Ran.
Updates regarding work studies will be released after the 14-day self-quarantine period that will take place after Spring Break ends. Messiah’s self-quarantine period is not to be confused with Pennsylvania’s state-wide self-quarantine announcement from Gov. Wolf, which takes place from 12:01 a.m., Tuesday, March 17 to 11:59 p.m., Monday, March 30.
Further information about graduation and commencement will also be made by March 24, 2020. Until then, President Phipps and the Provost’s Office are working together to determine the best course of action.
“I want you to know that I share in your deep disappointment and sadness,” Phipps said. “This is certainly not the spring semester any of us imagined or wanted. I already miss you and all of the energy and joy that you bring to campus.”
In a recent email with a video update from President Phipps, she assured students that the College will find a way to celebrate seniors, even if it means postponing commencement for a few weeks.
“I want to personally reassure you that we will celebrate you,” Phipps said. “We will have a ceremony to recognize your significant accomplishments and to be together.”
Currently, the Residence Life Office has said that students who are already on campus can apply to continue living on campus for the rest of the spring semester. The deadline for this application is 5 p.m. on Thursday, March 19. This decision applies to both international and local students.
For students off-campus, a check-out date has officially been announced. Students will have from April 1-May 2, 2020 to check out of their room, and all sign-ups must be done by April 14. Resident Directors have sent emails with information regarding check-out times. For seniors who wish to stay on campus until Commencement, this link will take you to a different form.
Due to the mandated two-week self-quarantine in Pennsylvania, students are being asked not to return to campus for checkouts before April 1, 2020. Gov. Wolf stated the quarantine is meant to limit the possibility of spreading COVID-19 among people who are going outdoors. He also announced that all non-essential stores and businesses are to close from Thursday, March 19 at 8:00 p.m. until further notice. Businesses who choose not to comply may be punished through fines, citations or license suspensions.
As of March 28, 2020, Messiah had its first confirmed case of COVID-19. The individual was in a higher health risk group and took all the necessary steps to inform the Engle Center. In turn, the Engle Center informed all other individuals who interacted with this employee when he was contagious.
For purposes of privacy, the identity of the employee has been kept private. Anyone who knows this employee should respect their privacy in this time so they can focus on making a full recovery.
A meal plan with three swipes a day will be provided for students who are staying on campus in apartments and don’t currently have a meal plan. Lottie Nelson Dining Hall has revised its hours to provide breakfast from 7-8 a.m., lunch from 12-1 p.m., and dinner from 5-6 p.m. every day. This will be the only dining option on campus, as all other dining facilities will be closed.
The majority of campus facilities will be closed during this time, including the Fitness Center and academic buildings. The Engle Center will remain one of the few facilities open at this time, on both the healthcare and counseling side. Students are advised to call the Engle Center with any questions before dropping in. The Murray Library encourages students to continue using their online resources during this time.
All academic and administrative buildings will only be accessible through Messiah ID/card access from March 17-30, 2020. Campus buildings not equipped with card access will be open from 8 a.m.-5 p.m., with the exception of Eisenhower opening at 6 a.m. and Hoffman opening at 7 a.m. Employees not carrying their ID cards will have to contact the Department of Safety to gain access to buildings. Students will not have access to academic buildings at this time.
If a student suspects that they are symptomatic or have previously come in contact with individuals infected with COVID-19, they can call the Engle Center at 717-691-6035 to discuss being tested. The Engle Center does have the supplies to test for COVID-19 according to CDC and PA Department of Health guidelines for screening.
In this time, students are being asked not to return to campus, even to meet with faculty members. Work study positions that require check-ins or meetings should make other arrangements with their supervisors.
Regarding questions of whether students will receive a refund on dining and housing plans, “the College has not made a formal decision regarding potential partial refunds. Updates and information related to this issue will be posted on the College website.”
The campus bookstore has provided additional services in partnership with Follet Higher Education Group to provide free shipping on any supplies needed, extended return dates with free shipping and access to eBooks at no additional charge. These resources are especially important to note for students who were unable to bring all their textbooks home with them.
Students who have more questions can visit the FAQ page, which will be updated as the College has more answers. This is the first place the College will release more information, so students should monitor the page as decisions are made. For daily updates, students can visit the emergency blog. Text updates are also available in the event of emergencies and can be found through FalconLink.
President Phipps will be providing weekly video updates every Thursday.
The Pulse will continue to post updates online as more information is released. The Pulse Rewind podcast will also be releasing regular updates for the rest of the semester.