Back to School: COVID-19 Edition

President Linda Livingstone speaks outside of Pat Neff, answering questions about Baylor's response to COVID-19. Brittney Matthews | Photo Editor

By Meredith Pratt | Staff Writer

Students returning to Baylor’s campus in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak will experience a semester like no other. In order to familiarize students with the new policies and procedures, President Linda Livingstone has sent out several emails outlining changes that can be expected this fall.

The new rules and organizational changes being implemented are to ensure that all COVID-19 requirements recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state and local health authorities are met.

Dr. Kevin Jackson, vice president of student life, said in a Facebook Live video with Livingstone that his goal is to give students the most “vibrant Baylor experience as possible” while keeping them healthy.

With this mission in mind, the university continues to evaluate and plan for accommodations to student activities and Baylor traditions taking place this fall.

Planning for events such as Family Weekend, Homecoming and All-University Thanksgiving is still in the works, but students can anticipate online activities in place of ones traditionally held in-person in addition to some “scaled-down” in-person events. Additionally, Homecoming’s date has been changed to Oct. 16-17.

Fall break has been canceled, the thanksgiving holiday has been shortened and classes will be held on labor day to make up for the shortened schedule.

A favorite event for Baylor students, Christmas on Fifth, will not take place this semester as students will not be returning to campus after Thanksgiving break. Jackson said his team is hoping to arrange a Christmas event that can be livestreamed from campus.

Jackson also said one of Baylor’s athletic traditions — running in the Baylor Line —will still take place, but with some modifications.

“Our goal is to provide the opportunity to every new student to run in the Baylor line at least once this year,” Jackson said.

Daily life at Baylor will also look different this semester.

One of the most evident changes on campus will be the enforcement of social distancing guidelines, both in and out of the classroom.

In addition to offering online and hybrid-style courses to minimize crowds, building occupancy levels and seat density in rooms will be reduced. Lines in dining halls, the bookstore and the mailroom will be spaced out as well.

Several tents, located at Fountain Mall, Glennis McCrary Music Building and the Baylor Law School, have been assembled to provide overflow academic space for students. These structures are climate-controlled and will feature WiFi and LED lighting. Additional tents can be found outside of all dining halls.

Other academic changes include revised attendance policies and office hours offered both virtually and in-person. Moody Memorial Library and the Student Life Center will remain open for public use.

Students can also expect to see increased health measures this semester. Face coverings are mandatory and over 550 hand sanitizing stations will be spread out around campus. Plexiglass barriers will be installed where deemed necessary.

Drinking fountains will not be used, and hand dryers will be turned off or removed and replaced with paper towel dispensers. These precautions aim to minimize potential student-to-student transmission.

All dining locations will be cashless, accepting only Dining Dollars, Apple Pay, Google Pay or credit/debit cards. Self-serve will be replaced with grab-and-go meals from an adjusted menu in order to speed up service.

Freshii, located in the Bill Daniel Student Center will be closed and converted into a mobile order pickup station for other restaurants in the SUB.

Livingstone said air circulation in buildings will be improved with air filtration technologies like HEPA filters and UV-C light treatments.

“UV air purifiers use short-wave ultraviolet light to kill airborne pathogens and micro-organisms such as mold, bacteria and viruses,” Livingstone said.

Livingstone also said pastimes across campus will take place as close to normal as possible.

“We will have intramural activities,” Livingstone said. “Some sports won’t be engaged in that have [been] in the past because they have a lot of physical contact, but other activities will continue. So our student life staff have looked at how we can continue to have activities on our campus, but do them in ways that respect social distancing.”

Despite the many new policies and structural changes, Livingstone has praised those preparing for the students’ return.

“I am so appreciative of how our faculty and staff have stepped forward on behalf of our students to deliver what promises to be a Baylor-quality educational experience this fall in the midst of this pandemic,” Livingstone said.

Similarly, Boerne senior and student body president Sutton Houser expressed his gratitude for the steps Baylor has taken to ensure students return to a safe environment. He also said his hope is that students adopt a positive mindset about the semester ahead.

“The Baylor family has endured much this year and, despite it all, we find our strength in turning fear of the unknown into hope and collectively supporting one another,” Houser said. “We each have the ability to share our light with others during this uncertain time, so let us radically love one another as we embark on a new school year.”

Frisco senior and student foundation co-president Geneava Moore’s message to students as they return is also one of optimism.

“This year is going to be filled with lots of things, but you have the choice to make several of those things positive or negative,” Moore said. “There is hope for brighter days ahead.”