Spring 2021 Plan Elicits Mixed Student Reactions


Photo courtesy of The Sentinel

This afternoon Dickinson announced its plan to bring students back to campus for the Spring 2021 semester. Classes for everyone will begin as scheduled on January 25, with half of the campus invited back at a time.

According to the email from the President’s Office, Dickinson will be bringing back all students throughout the semester by staggering returns. First-years and sophomores will return to campus in January and stay until spring break where they will return home for the remainder of the semester. In March, juniors and seniors will arrive on campus until the semester ends after spending the previous few months taking courses remotely. Any student that does not wish to return to campus can spend their entire semester remote and a petition will be available for any students with extenuating circumstances to live on campus for the full semester.

This plan was one of the six options President Ensign previously informed the faculty she was considering during an Oct. 20 Zoom meeting. In a poll posted to The Dickinsonian’s website that asked which of the six options readers most preferred for the spring, this option garnered the least support, with just 3% of the 323 respondents choosing this plan.

While this plan allows seniors to spend the latter half of their semester on campus, some students are worried classes may be fully remote again by March. “Many of us are worried that the actions of the freshman and sophomores, and how they handle the new rules regarding COVID will determine whether we get to come in March…I am worried that these students fresh into college will want to get the ‘college experience’ since they have not yet, and disregard rules regarding group size and outings,” said Sophie Ackert ’21.

Many first-years were eager to receive a full semester on campus after being virtual in the fall and were disappointed to see the college’s spring plan. “As a first year student, it was very disappointing to see the plan for next semester. We’ve all been looking forward to going on campus, but the two months we are given is simply too short and not financially worthwhile to me and others that live hours away. I hope the president reconsiders the plan for next semester,” said Christina Nhan 24.

If first-years and sophomores do not follow guidelines, Ackert fears her on-campus spring may be in jeopardy along with the rest of her class. “I sincerely believe that seniors are much more likely to follow these rules, and I hope that the school sees that as well. While I hope that all students follow the rules and act accordingly, what I am asking of the school is that when it comes March, that the final decision to bring juniors and seniors back is not largely reliant on the actions of freshmen and sophomores,” Ackert said. 

To ensure the safety of everyone, students must present a negative COVID test before arriving on campus and obtain a 2020-2021 flu vaccine prior to the start of the semester. Once on campus, students will be tested twice a week and must continually update a Daily Symptoms Tracker. Faculty will be tested once a week.

“I’m personally alright with the decision. It is not the scenario I thought they were going to go with, and I know that it may be challenging for some, but I’m just happy that we get to go back at all,” said Sophie Martin ’21. “Being a senior, I’m glad to have some time back on campus before I graduate to be with my friends and say goodbye to Dickinson, properly,” she said.

Others question the financial feasibility of bringing students back with the necessary safety precautions. “I think that it’s a good thing that Dickinson is bringing people back to campus. I am however, worried. I live near Syracuse University, which is a larger school, which has managed to deal with COVID fairly well,” William Moorman ’23. “The issue I see is that there is no way Dickinson can manage to get a large enough budget to take all of the measures that a school like Syracuse can. All the same, I personally am glad to be going back to campus,” he said.

No decision about winter or spring sports has been made by the Centennial Conference, but on-campus student athletes will be allowed to participate in workouts and team practices.

In addition, in the midst of decisions about the spring semester domestically, Dickinson has also chosen to suspend all study abroad options with the exception of the Dickinson in Washington D.C. program. There are plans to allow the current senior class to study abroad for a semester or even full year as seniors, but nothing concrete has been agreed upon.

Some students feel as though, due to the small size of the student body, all students should have been allowed to return at once in the spring. “I understand the importance of the student and faculty safety, but morale and mental health should also be taken into consideration,” said Jannah Souverain ’24. “Being that the student body is relatively small, I believe it may be possible for us all to be on campus while adhering to social distancing guidelines; maybe changing scheduling to minimize overcrowding among other things,” she said.