Sept. 18: Update for Students — Fostering Community and Connection

Dear Students,

As we conclude the third week of classes, I write to provide a brief update on public health measures, as well as opportunities to foster community and connection. 

Maintaining Public Health Measures

Thank you for doing your part to help us to be where we are right now: offering an on-campus experience. You should feel good about this community achievement.

Each day, as I walk around campus, I see, for the most part, that students are working very hard to adhere to public health measures, like wearing their face coverings and practicing physical distancing. We still have some improvements to make, notably creating more physical distance between yourself and other students when you are eating. As a community, however, our collective adherence to these public health measures, joined by our aggressive testing strategy, are enabling us to offer the on-campus experience.

Recently, I have been receiving inquiries about whether the college would change some of our policies — specifically, increasing the permissible size of gatherings, and allowing students to enter residence halls other than their own. 

While we are fortunate to have had only two active student cases of COVID-19 so far this fall, we must all be mindful of just how quickly this can change. Recent events at colleges and universities across the country, including small colleges like Colorado College and Gettysburg College, underscore that now is not the time to reconsider what we know to be effective measures for mitigating the transmission of COVID-19 on our campus. 

Perhaps even more relatable is that as of Sept. 16, Trinity College, a NESCAC peer, is managing 14 active student cases of COVID-19. As you know, each student who tests positive for COVID-19 typically has many close contacts and each close contact has to enter quarantine for 14 days. Generally speaking, the state of Maine and Androscoggin County are faring well, but the Maine CDC and Governor’s Office continue to take a disciplined and cautious approach to managing the pandemic. Until an effective, scalable, and accessible vaccine is broadly available, we must stay the course of our “new normal” — -otherwise we will find ourselves managing outbreak(s) and potentially needing to transition the entire campus to remote learning.

Residence Halls as a Primary Source of Community

I am aware that restrictions on large in-person activities and the challenges of gathering informally make it difficult for some students to connect with each other and to build community, which are important dimensions to flourishing and having a fulfilling experience. Our residence halls and houses have never been more important in serving as the platform in which to connect with each other. As we move into the colder months, they will become even more important as students take their Dash meals back to their residence halls.

While practicing physical distancing and wearing face coverings, students are welcome to gather in residence halls and houses with other students who live in the same building. Common rooms are open for hanging out, studying, socializing; playing ping-pong and foosball; and video gaming. Students are also welcome to gather in one another’s rooms in small groups, masked. As a rule of thumb, if people live in the building, they can go into one another’s rooms (if invited!). 

Whether you live in a Frye Street house or in a First Year Center in Parker Hall, each residential community is going to gather differently. Communities across campus are sharing common meals together outside, hosting ping-pong tournaments, going for walks through Lewiston, or gathering on lawns for games of spike-ball and corn hole. Your JA or RC is here to help initiate some of these gatherings, to respond to the interests you express, and to help by providing supplies and resources that make it possible for you to socialize on your own terms.

Identifying Campus Programming

Whether you are a first-year or returning student, I suggest taking the advice of your Student Government co-presidents, Perla Figuereo and Lebanos Mengistu, at Opening Convocation: “Try an activity you have never tried. You’d be surprised how many friends you will make just by trying out a new club or extracurricular.” 

And as Stephanie Kelley-Romano, associate professor of rhetoric, film, and screen studies, said at Convocation, “Sign up for something that you would normally never do. Be open to the experience.

I realize that even if you are ready and willing, it can be difficult to know where even to look for activities and programs, especially for first-year students. Here’s a brief list of resources:

  • Opportunities for recreation, fitness, and peer health are all online, including counts of how many people are using various spaces at any given time.
  • The Office of Intercultural Education supports a range of events and programs.
  • Install the Bates Engage app on your phone, or check in on the Engage website, to help you get involved with all aspects of life on campus.
  • As Kelley-Romano also said at Convocation, ask returning students, your JAs and RCs, about their activities. It’s a great part of the Bates culture that students want to help first-years learn the ropes.

In closing, we will continue to consult with public health experts for guidance to inform our decisions related to public health measures, and we will continue to be creative thought partners as you look to form community and connection in new ways.

All my best,

Josh