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Check on your U crew: Back to school Q&A

Answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the Fall 2020 Semester.

With just a few weeks left before the Fall 2020 Semester begins, we know many students, staff and faculty are wondering:

Will the Eccles Student Life Center be open?
What happens if a student comes to class without a mask?
How can I be preparing myself for this unique semester right now?

As part of our #CheckOnYourUCrew campaign, we asked university leaders some of the most frequently asked questions. View the full video and transcript below.

Aug. 4 Q&A transcript: 

Note: This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Morgan Aguilar: Welcome, everyone. My name is Morgan Aguilar. I’m a communication specialist with University Marketing and Communications. Today’s conversation is part of our “Check On Your U Crew” campaign. Hopefully this is something you’ve heard of before today, but Equity, Diversity and Inclusion launched this effort back in April as a way to encourage members of the U community to check in on each other, share resources and offer support.

This summer, we’ve had a theme each month and the theme for August is “back to school,” so checking on your peers, your friends and colleagues to see what they may need as we return to classes, whether they will be in person, online or a hybrid of both.

For this conversation today, I’m joined by Lori McDonald, our vice president for Student Affairs, Marti Bradley, the dean of Undergraduate Studies and senior associate vice president of Academic Affairs, Melonie Murray, associate dean for faculty and academic affairs in the College of Fine Arts and Mark Pfitzner, who is the director of Student Health.

Thanks to all of you for taking the time and taking our questions today. We just have a few weeks left until this semester begins and we know it’s going to be unlike any semester that we have ever had at the U. So, I’ll start with Lori and certainly if anyone else has some tips and wants to jump in, we’ll start with kind of a broad question of what advice do you have for students to prepare themselves right now?

Lori McDonald: Thank you so much, Morgan. Thanks for doing this. I’ve heard sort of this “excited anxiety” as a descriptor of what I think we are all feeling, because this is usually a time of being very excited about the fall starting and our brand new student class starting and a lot of coming back together for the fall.

And yet there are a lot of nerves around a tremendous amount of uncertainty in terms of what this is going to look like and how do we implement all of these public health strategies that are designed to try and keep us as safe as possible. But there’s always lots of questions about what that means. And individuals are experiencing this pandemic in such different ways. We’re definitely all in this together in that we’re all experiencing it, but we need to acknowledge that we all experience it differently.

So that being said, in terms of advice, I know I find more comfort in having multiple sources of information and places where I know I can check in regularly. And I know it could sound rather trite, but suggesting to frequently check our website and the @theU website that is our newsletter and has ongoing, current, up-to-date, real-time information is very helpful. And so I hope that that could be a part of, especially students kind of checking in, just check those websites regularly for tips, for updates and where to get more information and resources.

And then another piece that I would add is, and I think we’re all going to touch on that today, taking care of ourselves is a really big part of checking on your U Crew. We know that college students are already facing an enormous amount of stress in “regular circumstances,” and this has certainly compounded that.

So my advice would be not to be afraid to reach out whether that’s to counseling and mental health resources or other places to connect with people who are also experiencing a lot of the same things. Our faculty, our advisors, we’re really here as a community. And that’s at the core of this whole campaign of checking your U Crew. So I could go on, but I know my colleagues have great advice as well.

Martha Bradley: What I would add to that is it’s still a really exciting time because you’re a student. And we all know and we believe because we’ve dedicated our careers to this, that there’s nothing in your life that can change your life like an education.

So part of the prep you need to do is really setting yourself up to be as successful of a student as you possibly can. For example, enroll. Make sure you’ve got the schedule you want. Enroll in classes. We know that some of you still haven’t enrolled. Don’t keep waiting. Make sure you get the classes that you hope for. You can do a little research on the faculty. You can do research about the class itself. Make sure you enroll.

And once you have, go to the core schedule and download the syllabi for those courses. If you become really familiar with the syllabus, you understand the modality, the way it’s going to be taught, you understand the expectations, you might actually get a head start on the reading. Just familiarize yourself with the lay of the land, so to speak. So check out your schedule, make sure you’re familiar with the syllabus.

I would also encourage you to think about where you’re going to be when you engage. Whether it’s in class, in person on our campus or in a totally virtual world in an online environment, but imagine and prepare the space that you’re going to be working in. If you’re going to carve out a little nook in the corner of your house that you share with a whole bunch of other people, figure out the way you can make it as private as possible. Even if that means cleaning out your closet and being in your closet. But start preparing now for how you’ll be successful by creating a space that will be conducive to your success.

Morgan Aguilar: Thank you. That is really helpful advice. I want to turn to some of the more concrete things about on campus. If we are going to be showing up, will there be any campus activities besides classes, and maybe Lori can take this one.

Lori McDonald: Yes. The short answer to that is yes, there will be a number of activities for student support services, advising student activities and clubs. All of those things are still going to be options and have chances to engage. It’s just that we’re going to see it done differently. And to start out with, especially, it will be in more virtual formats.

All of our offices made some pretty quick pivots to delivering those services through modes like Zoom and online conferencing, and those are still going to be available. And whether it’s setting up an appointment at the counseling center to meet with a counselor through one of those modes that is secure and private to, we’re having a virtual student clubs and organization fair on September 9th. This will be a chance for students to see what some of the over 600 clubs and organizations that we have registered with the campus community are and what they have to offer.

So, I would suggest that absolutely there are activities. It’s just going to be done differently. I know we have Melonie with us from the College of Fine Arts. Our arts are such an integral part of the University of Utah culture and the way we celebrate creativity and scholarship and all of the things that we value is often through creative expression.

And I have been so impressed with how our arts are going too, which is often an experiential opportunity, how they are really thinking about ways to do things virtually. Our arts bash is usually a wonderful marker of the beginning of the semester, where students learn how they can use their arts pass and for discounted access to artistic events. And they’re doing that virtually this year. There will be a video that students can watch and then enter for some swag and things like that.

So, it will be different and there will be lots of emails and newsletters that suggest how to connect more virtually. But there will also be a few things on campus and those will be much smaller groups and more from a perspective of that distancing. Perhaps rather than having a speaker come, where we had a lot of people in a room listening to a lecture, a visiting speaker, it might be virtual or it might be displays in an area where we can control the number of people who can come in and out and see it slowly. So that’s the quick answer to that.

Morgan Aguilar: Okay. And what sort of things are still going to be open on campus? For example, will the Marriott Library be open? The Student Life Center? We’ve had a lot of questions about how that’s going to work this semester.

Lori McDonald: Yes, the Marriott Library just opened yesterday in a limited capacity. It is a phased opening. The first level is now open and by next week, the second level will be open. And it will again look a little different. There are a few areas that will be restricted to discourage people gathering in large groups. But there will be a number of places for individuals to study by themselves or in very small groups with distancing and with extra cleaning and precautions.

Face coverings will be required in the Marriott library and all buildings on campus as a protective measure. The Eccles Student Life Center will be opening next Wednesday and similar to the library it will be slightly phased. There will be a requirement to make a reservation to use the pool so that they can control the number of people that are using the pool based on our Utah health department guidelines.

There won’t be necessarily reservations needed for the fitness area, but there will be a limit to the number of people who can be there and you may need to be delayed in entering. A lot more cleaning protocols and there will be some restrictions. We’ll ask that people bring their own water bottles. And water bottle filling stations will be open, but not the regular water fountain that people may be used to.

So, yes, a lot of these facilities will be open on campus. Although again, looking differently. Dining is very similar. Dining facilities will be available. A lot more to go options for food. And there’s actually going to be an app where you can make an order ahead of time, which allows for a little bit more selection in terms of what you’re going to grab and go. And those will be available from the Peterson Heritage Center and the new Kahlert Village dining facility.

Morgan Aguilar: Okay, great. That’s really helpful. Thank you. So we’ll turn to Marti now, some tips maybe for students to be successful under this difficult, unique and brand new learning environment.

Martha Bradley: So, I’m an administrator, but I’m also a teacher. I always teach along with my day job, I guess you would say. And it’s always true in a classroom that there will be some students who raise their hand all the time and participate in discussions, and some students who just kind of sit on the edge. In campus, some of those students will contribute in campus discussions, but there are going to be different sorts of settings for learning this semester.

So what I would encourage you all to consider doing is make sure that you figure out a way to engage. If you’re in a Zoom meeting for example, you can speak up, but if you’re too shy to speak up, be sure and ask a question or make a comment in the chat section. I think more and more teachers are learning to play off of the questions in the chat feature of Zoom meetings. And that becomes the source of the content of the discussions. So figure out a way to be engaged.

And visit the campus site regularly. Your faculty can tell when you have opened it and engaged with it. And we actually know that students who regularly engage in campus are more likely to get higher grades and to be successful. So there’s a relationship between that kind of engagement, even if it’s in a virtual world and how successful you’ll be.

Morgan Aguilar: Okay, perfect. I should disclose I’m starting grad school this fall and haven’t been in school in a very long time, so I’m taking all these tips in too, so thank you. And can you explain also the four different modes of classes that are going to be new this semester?

Martha Bradley: So, Melonie and Lori know this because they were on the Marmalade committee that figured out all of the details around classroom instruction for this fall, but there are four basic modalities.

The first is what you would be most familiar with, which is an in-person class setting. But everything about it will look and feel different because all of the students have to be six feet away from each other. All of the students and the faculty need to be wearing masks. And if a student is sick, the faculty member needs to record or create a Zoom recording of the class so that they participate from home. So that’s the in person version.

Many classes are doing a hybrid version, which includes some in person components and then some fully online components. So for example, there might be two days of lectures online and then much, much smaller breakout discussion groups that are in person on campus on a Friday, for example. So that’s what we call a hybrid.

Then for fully online they’re synchronous or asynchronous. And synchronous means that everyone in the class is on the site at the same moment in time. So, if there’s a Zoom meeting, for example, you have to be in the Zoom meeting to participate in that class.

For asynchronous, the faculty might do that with a couple members, but they would record it. And students who couldn’t be there at that time could watch the recording at a different time. The asynchronous version of online is particularly good for international students who are in a totally different time zone and would have a harder time being available in a synchronous setting.

Morgan Aguilar: Do students have the option, then, to take a course remotely even if that course is only offered in person?

Martha Bradley: It depends. If the course offers different sections, they can sign up for a section that is remote or in person. But you can’t just choose. It has to be listed that way in the course schedule.

Morgan Aguilar: Okay. Got it. And we’ve also had some students wondering, because in the spring we kind of switched to where there were more pass/fail options available. Will we be doing that again this semester?

Martha Bradley: No, we’re not making adjustments to the credit/no-credit policies for the fall semester. There are some courses that have pass/fail options or credit/no -credit options, but we’re not doing that across the board like we did in the spring.

Morgan Aguilar: Okay. Thank you so much, Marti. We’re going to turn to you now, Mark. Some of our health, really directly related to the virus questions. We know that masks are going to be required on campus. Can you talk a little bit about the details of where masks will be required on campus?

Mark Pfitzner: I kind of look at masks as pretty much you should be wearing them all the time with a few exceptions. Obviously, if you’re at home and everybody is healthy in your household, you don’t need to wear a mask. But if you’re on campus, you should be wearing a mask most of the time. If you’re eating a meal, you obviously can’t wear masks. But when you take that mask off, you need to make sure that you’re socially distancing while you’re eating to prevent spreads. Because there have been outbreaks associated with that.

And then additionally, if you’re outside on campus and walking around and you’re able to maintain greater than six feet social distancing, I think it’s okay to pull your mask down if you would need to. But I caution people. If you’re constantly reaching up and pulling your mask down, you are kind of increasing the risk that if you haven’t been washing your hands regularly, you might be contaminating your face. So for the most part, try to wear your mask as much as possible. And then remember the cloth masks, especially you should try to launder them fairly regularly with use.

Morgan Aguilar: Okay. And we know many of our members of our campus community also are wondering how the testing and tracing is going to be handled. And I know that much of that is kind of still being sorted out, but is there anything that you can share about that at this point?

Mark Pfitzner: Yes. I mean, I actually spent most of my morning and meetings discussing the testing. So we’re looking at currently having a test site on campus. It will be mainly for students who seek care through my office, as well as the contact tracing that will go on. So, there will be a group of people doing contact tracing on campus. And if a student needs to have a test related to that contact tracing, they’ll be referred to this site.

Our master plan is there’s going to be kind of a hotline number for campus and posters will be going up talking about, “these are the symptoms of COVID-19.” And if you think you have the symptoms and you need to get tested, to call that number. And that number will be not only for students, but also faculty and staff. So anybody who is concerned can call that number.

And then through the care navigation system offered through University of Utah healthcare, they will then help direct you to the most appropriate testing site and location. So faculty and staff, obviously you’re going to be referred to your normal care provider and then not all students necessarily will need to come to the campus test site if they live further out in the valley and they have their own primary care provider, they can seek care in that regard. And we can also give them other options through the university system because all of the U’s mobile testing sites will be up and running as well.

Morgan Aguilar: Okay. And we know there will be a process, of course, in case the student does test positive for COVID-19. What is our quarantine process for those students?

Mark Pfitzner: So, we should maybe first talk about the differences between quarantine and isolation. So quarantine is if you were exposed to somebody, then you’ll be contacted and likely be sent to be tested. If you’re tested and you’re exposed, you will need to quarantine for 14 days. Even if you have a negative test, the CDC is still recommending that you need to quarantine for a full 14 days.

Now, if you test positive for COVID, then you will be told that you need to isolate. And that isolation process will be you’ll continue isolating for 10 days after that positive test provided your symptoms have resolved. And so those are the two kind of key differences between a quarantine and isolation.

And obviously there is some various permutations and am I better? Am I not better? And our office or your healthcare provider can help guide you through what would be the best recommendation for you?

Morgan Aguilar: Okay, Mark, thanks so much, a lot of really important stuff there. And we also of course, want to talk about the challenges that we know are going to be faced by our faculty members. So, we have Melonie here today to talk about that. I really think we’ve got to think about this as our faculty will kind of be on the front lines right now, as we return to campus and keep our community members safe. So what types of safety precautions will faculty be taking in the classrooms when there are those in-person classes?

Melonie Murray: Thanks Morgan. So faculty are working to update their syllabi to include information about all of the health and safety precautions and protocols that are being put in place. And they are planning to review and talk about all of that information with students during the early part of the semester, just to make sure all of the expectations are clear and that everybody understands why those precautions are in place. That it’s really about everyone’s health and safety as a community.

Disinfectant wipes will be available to wipe down the workspaces upon entry. So faculty and students are responsible for wiping down their own workspaces as they enter a space and before class begins. And then in terms of the spaces, of course, all of our instructional spaces on campus are different. And so classrooms are being set up to facilitate physical distancing. In some cases that means removing furniture or rearranging furniture and, in some spaces like in our dance studios, that means putting markings on the flooring. We’re adhering to six feet of social distancing. And then faculty members, if they are lecturing and projecting, they’ll be 10 feet for physical distancing and the same thing for physical activities like some of the activities that happen in the performing arts.

For spaces that use specialized equipment, such as many of our labs and studio spaces on campus, those departments have been working with the environmental health and safety office on developing some cleaning protocols that are really specific to the needs of those spaces and the equipment. And that will all be included in the syllabi and part of the initial semester discussions that happen in classes. Some spaces have even developed traffic plans with signage, for entry and exit or to denote one way traffic.

And then I’ve heard so many individual faculty members who are really thinking specifically about their experiences and their classes to think about sort of personalized strategies. For example, a faculty member recently who teaches really large lecture courses, she shared that she was concerned about sort of the tendency for students to linger after class. And often we’ve all been in those large lecture halls with a big class and to then a great lecture. And then there’s a handful of students that want to stick around after and keep talking or ask questions for the instructor. So this faculty member was already talking about developing some language in her syllabus to sort of prevent that from happening.

And she was going to have conversations with students early in the semester about walking meetings after class. So they exit they’d go outside and walk six feet away from each other. If it doesn’t need to be a confidential discussion. So things like that. I think faculty are being pretty creative. But there’s been a lot of thinking and planning and the faculty are of course, very concerned about the students’ health and safety.

Morgan Aguilar: Absolutely. And to that end we know this is going to be a tough piece for our faculty members—if a student is not wearing a mask, although they are required on our campus, and they come to class without that mask on, any advice for how that should be handled as a faculty member?

Melonie Murray: Sure. I’m so glad that you asked this question because I have to say this has been the single most common concern that I have heard from faculty members. ‘What do I do if a student shows up for my class and they’re not wearing a mask?’

The first thing I say to them is know that there’s already a lot of messaging going out to students about personal responsibility and about our community’s health and safety. And so students are already hearing this messaging and our students are smart. They understand the importance of face coverings for public health. We’re encouraging all of our faculty to include those statements about base coverings in the syllabus, like I mentioned, and then to also talk about it so that there can be a class discussion.

However, if it does happen that a student shows up without a mask, the first thing is to try to understand why to make sure that it may not be a choice. Maybe they lost it. Maybe they forgot it when they walked out of the building to head to class. And so many of our faculty members are already planning on having extra masks on hand in case that’s the case. Faculty members may also direct students to some of the stations that will be available on campus, where they can get a mask. If they do forget theirs or lose theirs.

If a student has a personal reason for being opposed to wearing a face covering, then faculty will have a discussion with them and really encourage them to maybe enroll to shift sections, to take the online section, or to look at another option. At the end of the day, if the student really refuses to wear a mask, they will be asked to leave just because it’s a public health issue for the rest of the class. And then the dean of students would be notified because at that point it’s a student conduct issue.

But like I said, I feel like there’s such good messaging and our students are smart and they understand the personal responsibility and that it’s a privilege for us to all get to be together on campus during a pandemic. And so I’m hoping it’s not an issue.

Morgan Aguilar: Okay, awesome. So much important information. And again, we are all in this together, so thanks everyone so much for joining us. I want to remind you all about some really important resources as well, where you can find answers to many of the questions we asked today and more. Lori mentioned it at the beginning but start with You will find information on returning to campus there as well as the latest news as it relates to COVID-19.

And I also really encourage you again, to check @theU regularly. It is definitely your best source for University of Utah news. And then finally, will give you tips on how to get involved and check on your U Crew, and we even have a link there where you can download the graphics to share on your own social media.

Thanks so much again to Lori, Marti, Mark, and Melonie for joining us. And thank you everybody for watching.