In the coming weeks, the thousands of Penn students who will come to campus from around the world globe face a unique set of challenges as they adjust to a hybrid semester. These hurdles will be faced most intensely by residential advisors and graduate associates, who are students that work for the University and are integral to dorm life.
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As the start of the academic year approaches, students, faculty, and families alike continue to worry about exactly what the fall semester will look like. The University announced its plan for a hybrid semester in late June, with all students invited back to campus but most learning taking place remotely. Penn’s announcement also included a Student Campus Compact which stated that all community members must agree to wear facial coverings in public, avoid large gatherings of all types, and follow other health-related guidelines. Still, many questions about social life and safety remain.
Since Penn announced its decision to pursue a hybrid model for the upcoming semester, students are trying to decide whether or not to return to campus this fall. With COVID-19 cases on the rise in Philadelphia and elsewhere, it is not unlikely that quarantine restrictions will be reinstated and University operations will need to be adjusted. The University’s June 25 announcement of the hybrid model acknowledges that “some plans could change, depending upon the progression of the virus and/or applicable state and local government guidance,” and Chief Wellness Officer Benoit Dubé reaffirmed that the University’s plan to bring students back to campus is “not immutable.”
Although Penn announced that students can return to campus for the fall 2020 semester, the experience will be very different from what students are used to. Among other changes, all classes with 25 or more students will be conducted online, on-campus housing will be less dense, and all in-person activities will conclude before Thanksgiving break.
Penn announced Thursday that students will be invited to return to campus for the fall 2020 semester under a hybrid model of instruction. The official announcement detailed changing housing and dining policies, an updated academic calendar, expectations for adherence to a new Student Campus Compact, and other new policies relating to campus life.
The novel coronavirus pandemic and subsequent nationwide shutdown mean the coming academic year will be unlike any the Penn community has experienced before. If students are allowed back on campus in a few months, masks will be the norm up and down Locust Walk, in-person classes will likely be outnumbered by Zoom meetings, and group activities will be limited to small gatherings.
For the past few days, cities around the country have erupted with protests against racist policing following the brutal murder of George Floyd and many other Black individuals at the hands of police officers. Philadelphia has been no exception, as citizens flock to the streets to join the nationwide protests. Penn must hear the voices of these protesters both in the streets and online through petitions to take concrete actions to reduce its complicity in racial violence. The University can take immediate action by disarming the Penn Police Department, and banning the “box” asking about prior criminal records from its application for admission.
If there is anything to be learned from this time of rampant unemployment and violent protests, it is that our lives are fragile and our institutions are fallible. The pandemic and police brutality against Black Americans highlights the need for policy that outlives political cycles — policy that has staying power even as the world becomes a world that we do not know. Furthermore, the global crisis has emphasized that our society relies deeply on the strength of its workers, and that the laws that protect them in return often fall short of their sacrifice.
University administrators released an email last week outlining four contingency plans for the fall semester, ranging from some in-person classes to a fully digital approach. The email stated that among other policies, the University is evaluating a plan to house fewer students in the College House system.
The novel coronavirus pandemic has taken an enormous toll on communities worldwide, both physically and mentally. While people are told to practice social distancing and celebrate events together yet apart, many are suffering from newfound or worsening mental health issues as a result. Penn's student population is far from immune to these conditions — nearly one in five college students have reported significant declines in their mental health as the pandemic progresses. The isolation experienced by many students of all backgrounds can lead to depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and many other challenges.
Penn’s administration often champions our campus’s diversity — students who come to Penn each have unique experiences and identities. This said, amid the current COVID-19 pandemic, different students are experiencing the pandemic in extremely different ways. Students have galvanized their voices throughout the online semester to ensure that Penn’s administration hears their point of view, successfully demanding a delayed in-person commencement for the Class of 2020, an extended pass/fail deadline, and payment for Penn’s contracted dining workers who were laid off from Bon Appétit Management Company.
This past Wednesday, Cornell University announced that it will not be requiring prospective students to submit SAT or ACT scores in the 2020-2021 admissions cycle. While Cornell is the first Ivy League institution to introduce a test-optional policy, it follows recent decisions made by other universities in light of the novel coronavirus pandemic. In response to canceled tests, the University of California system, Case Western Reserve University, and others have announced they will not be requiring standardized test scores for next year’s applicants.
Penn has recently canceled on-campus summer courses, shifting all coursework to a remote format amid the coronavirus outbreak. The University states that, despite this change, there will be no reduction in the cost of summer learning. The announcement, from an email to the entire Penn community, also detailed a tighter budget for the 2021 fiscal year, including a university-wide hiring freeze, restrictions on overtime work, and limited merit-based salary increases or mid-year salary adjustments. While tuition for summer session courses varies based on school, prices range from $4,564 to $7,092 per credit unit, plus an additional general fee.
Provost Wendell Pritchett recently announced that the deadline to opt in to pass/fail grading for the spring semester will be extended from April 13 to April 29, the last day of classes this semester.
Penn is usually buzzing right now with admitted students decorated with lanyards, exploring campus. For many regular decision admits, visiting campus is influential in their choice of college. Due to the unprecedented effects of COVID-19, Quaker Days has been canceled. Despite this, unlike many other universities, Penn has not pushed back the May 1 deadline to accept its offer of admission. While Penn is offering online materials and a virtual tour to the prospective Class of 2024, it is likely that many students will make their choice without a clear sense of what Penn is like. Here are ten points admitted students should consider before deciding whether to join us.
In this time of uncertainty and stress, schoolwork cannot be the first priority for many students or faculty. Penn has already allowed students to mark some or all of their classes as pass/fail if they so choose before April 13. Additional changes supported by some students include easing requirements for assignments and exams, extending deadlines, and finding creative ways to accommodate entire classes in virtual classrooms. Many faculty members have already instituted such policies. Here are 10 of our favorites.
Provost Wendell Pritchett announced Friday that Penn is adopting a new grading policy which allows undergraduates to opt in to take any course pass/fail, including ones that fulfill major and general education requirements, without counting towards the total number of pass/fail courses a student may take over four years. While these changes are a positive step, they do not go far enough. In light of an unprecedented disruption to daily life and student coursework due to the coronavirus, Penn must switch immediately to a universal pass/fail policy.
In the midst of a global pandemic, approximately 140 dining hall workers from Penn will be laid off starting March 31. The affected staff members are employed by Bon Appétit Management Company, Penn’s dining services provider. The decision to lay off workers was made by Compass Group, Bon Appétit’s parent company. After learning about Compass Group’s plans, the Student Labor Action Project started a petition for the workers to not lose their jobs that currently has approximately 5,300 signatures. College senior and SLAP member Erik Vargas also said SLAP plans to create a GoFundMe page for the laid off workers.
Penn President Amy Gutmann announced earlier today that this year’s Commencement ceremony is canceled and being replaced with a virtual event in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
Penn students have been navigating a global pandemic over the course of the past few days, fighting for their safety with unclear guidelines from the University that have left students frustrated and afraid. While it is unreasonable to expect Penn to have all of the answers during an international crisis, administrators’ methods of pushing students off campus have been unacceptable.