Dear Middlebury Community,
We are writing with some updates about the remainder of the fall semester, and with some news about some additional on-campus living and learning opportunities to promote community connection.
Community Accomplishment and COVID-19 Fatigue
As we reach the halfway point of the fall semester, we first want to acknowledge the tremendous work, dedication, and determination that has been required of all of us this year, and to commend our students, faculty, and staff for all that we have accomplished to be here–together once again. We also want to acknowledge the clear and present fatigue of contending with a global pandemic, at more than seven months in, with no defined endpoint. Even as we maintain a low prevalence of COVID-19 on campus and in Vermont, and as we continue to practice the essential behaviors that have brought us to this point, we face regional and national surges that lie as close as our borders with New York, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, and even in counties in Vermont. As Dr. Anthony Fauci recently noted, we are facing a second wave of COVID-19 as we continue to respond to the first. This situation makes our pandemic fatigue all the more challenging.
At this moment, we long for the time when we can return to what we consider a more normal way of living, learning, and connecting. With all that we have accomplished, we face daily challenges and stresses in being together, yet apart. We know that this is difficult, and we are all feeling it in our daily lives. Many of you, including first-years who are starting to form friend groups, and senior Febs planning for their last weeks on campus, have shared that you would like more opportunities for connection, and we have heard you. Below you will see a number of changes we will be making.
Current Conditions and Expanded Phase 2
We will be as direct as possible: Given current conditions and state of Vermont limits on gathering sizes and physical distancing requirements, we cannot move to Phase 3 as we conceptualized it. However, an Expanded Phase 2 is possible. When we formulated our plans for the phased opening of the Vermont campus, in July and August, we imagined that we might come to a point where the nation and the world would see a dip in cases of COVID-19, and where we would be able to advance to Phase 3, with an expansion of travel and both on-campus and off-campus activities. That has not happened. Instead, we are seeing continued spikes both nationally and in the regions around us.
As we observe the experiences of other colleges and regions, we have seen, again and again, how quickly conditions on campuses can change. We have learned from colleges much like Middlebury that it only takes one exposure for an outbreak, and one outbreak to prompt an entire campus lockdown, with no in-person learning or dining, no access to athletics facilities, and no gatherings of any kind. We want to avoid this at Middlebury, and continue the practices of open learning that we have enjoyed so far.
What Will an Expanded Phase 2 Look Like?
Every decision we have made in our response to the pandemic has been based on science, state of Vermont and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, and our ability to offer the most meaningful experience we can at Middlebury, and that has not changed. We have examined options for expanding our current ways of living and learning while still complying with Vermont regulations and have concluded that we may make some small but significant expansions of Phase 2 in the areas of dining, studying, and performing together. As always, we will proceed with caution and with the ability to reverse course should conditions change or compliance with our COVID-19 protocols falter. We need to be clear, however, that there are some changes we are unable to make because we must comply with Vermont regulations. For example, Vermont mandates that students, faculty, and staff observe strict social distancing of at least six feet while on campus. The state also requires us to limit the occupancy of designated common areas, to ensure that occupants maintain physical distancing.
With all of this in mind, the following changes will be effective today, Tuesday, October 20, unless otherwise specified:
- Expanded Lounge Access: Ross Fireside Lounge will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. for all students and 24 hours a day for residents. The space may be used for dining hall seating as COVID-19 capacity allows. Proctor Lounge will be open from 7 a.m. to midnight. Students may access Proctor via the dining hall entrance by the bookstore during regular hours and via the front door between 8:30 p.m. and midnight.
- Dining Hall Choice: Students may choose any dining hall on campus for meals. They must still maintain six feet of distance from one another and wear face coverings except when eating.
- Residence Hall Access: As of Wednesday, October 21, students may access any residence hall between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., with the exception of the townhouses and other small campus houses. All residence hall lounges continue to be open around the clock. It is important to remember that limits on gathering sizes in common areas and room capacities still apply, and congregating in hallways is not allowed because of the inability to physically distance from others.
- Study Spaces: Students received a message on Friday detailing new hours and opportunities for study spaces on campus, including Bi Hall and Crossroads Café, and reservable private spaces at Twilight Hall.
- Stressbuster Activities: We will be offering an expanded calendar of Stressbusters, starting November 2, and a full listing will be available soon at go/stressbusters and on Presence under the “stressbusters” tag. Activities will range from yoga to guided walking meditations at the Knoll to “speed friending” for first-years.
Following are changes to come:
- Performing Arts and Sport-Related Activities: While audiences and fans are not permitted by the state due to gathering size limits, our faculty and staff are working diligently to organize some additional performance and fun sport-related activities that comply with COVID-19 protocols. We will share information about those activities once plans are in place.
- Feb Graduation: We are planning an informal student-only celebration for Feb graduates before they leave for Thanksgiving break, and will share more information when it becomes available.
- Spring Plans: We are developing some exciting plans for the spring semester, and will share those plans soon.
- Faculty and Student Meetings: Rooms are available for faculty and students to meet in groups no larger than 50 indoors and 75 outdoors. Space reservations must be made through our 25live database and an event request form must be submitted. Gatherings should be opt-in rather than scheduled during official class times to ensure that anyone who does not feel comfortable participating is not obligated to do so.
- Building and Room Access: Faculty and staff working on campus may meet with students for casual gatherings in groups of 10 or fewer, following health and safety precautions. This means selecting a location that allows for physical distancing, with outdoor locations preferred whenever possible. Face coverings must be worn, except when individuals are eating together, in which case strict physical distancing must be maintained. All classrooms and event spaces have been assessed for physical distancing, and the COVID-19 Safety Max Occupancies are listed in the 25live database.
- Campus Events: Student organizations, faculty, and staff may reserve space for events with up to 50 people indoors and 75 outdoors by completing an event request form. Refer to Event Management guidelines for details.
- Food at Events: If food is included as part of the event request, an appropriate location will be assigned. Spaces will be selected to allow for physical distancing and to ensure that ventilation has been assessed to determine if face coverings can be removed while eating. Food should not be included as part of regular classes as this is not consistent with Vermont guidelines. Food can be incorporated into time spent together outside of class, when individuals can choose to participate and the event is planned in an appropriate location with precautions in place.
- More information: Our Phase 2 summary page describes activities that are currently allowed on and off campus.
Finally, we have been in close contact with Student Government Association leaders about student concerns with end-of-semester logistics and stresses related to the pandemic. We have taken their concerns into consideration and will be in touch about solutions next week.
Thank you for your attention to these updates and for your continued work to maintain a safe and healthy environment for all. We look forward to learning about the ways in which you are creatively coming together through the semester and beyond. We are grateful to have this time together, in pursuit of our mission, and with as many in-person experiences as we safely can have.
Provost and Executive Vice President
Acting Dean of Students