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The Tree wears the Sorting Hat: How Re-Approaching Stanford shakes out next to peer institutions

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On June 29, Stanford released its first of a series of “Re-Approaching Stanford” weekly newsletters, a coronavirus-era take on the “Approaching Stanford” welcome process for first-years and transfers that’s also directed at continuing students. The newsletters, co-authored by Vice Provost for Student Affairs (VPSA) Susie Brubaker-Cole and Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education (VPUE) Sarah Church, update the student body on the University’s plans for the upcoming academic year and the changes that the University is making in what will be a fundamentally different student experience. 

Many colleges across the country are making similar sacrifices in order to bring students back. We compare some key points of Stanford’s plan with peer institutions that have also released fall plans, including Harvard, Yale and the UCs.

Breaking down Stanford’s reopening plan

The University’s current reopening plan invites incoming freshman and sophomore classes back in two noncontiguous quarters (fall and summer), meaning they would have to move out after fall quarter and move back in for the summer quarter. ASSU Undergraduate Senator Jonathan Lipman ’21 noted that “moving in/out of campus … multiple times represents a significant burden for many students.” 

However, by making two class cohorts move in/out, the University was able to work out a system that is mostly consistent with student preferences indicated on an ASSU survey issued mid-May while also giving priority to the upperclassmen. For example, giving frosh and sophomore classes the summer quarter means reducing the conflicts juniors and seniors might have had with outside activities such as internships, jobs and graduate school plans, which were heavily cited in the survey as defining opportunities for future career prospects. 

Moving forward, what looks to be most important to the student body as represented in the survey is for the University to “mitigate concerns for students who are affected.” The first “Re-Approaching” newsletter discussed “investing time and money to help students find internship opportunities during other parts of the year,” and helping students away from campus find meaningful activities to do. 

In the second “Re-Approaching” newsletter issued on July 6, the University announced that they “have created a system of more than 30 working groups” broken up into categories like “Residential Assignments” and “Campus Life”  to address as many student concerns as possible. In addition, to target more specific problems, the University administration wrote that they would create “an additional set of working groups” focused on “academic continuity, including student support and enrichment programs, planning for in-person classes, and planning for online classes.” 

The second Re-Approaching Stanford newsletter also addressed a new challenge to the existing complications of next year’s plans. A July 6 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) measure states that nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 visa students attending schools operating entirely remotely for the fall semester “must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status.” 

This could potentially complicate Stanford’s current class cohort reopening plan, as each undergraduate class year is required to take at least one quarter online and only frosh and sophomore classes are invited back to campus for fall. Stanford is currently “analyzing the DHS guidance to provide Stanford students accurate and timely information” and have not released any official academic plans in response to ICE’s decision. However, University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne stated that Stanford will file an amicus brief in support of Harvard and MIT’s lawsuit against ICE. 

On who’s invited back to campus 

Stanford’s plan for bringing back two class cohorts to campus for each quarter means that the campus will have about half its usual undergraduate capacity. Similarly, Princeton will also be bringing back roughly half of their undergraduates each semester, with the frosh returning to campus in the fall with the juniors, and sophomores with the seniors in the spring. Dartmouth has announced in their reopening plan that they will “bring back more than half of our undergraduates for the fall term and anticipate doing so for each subsequent term through the summer of 2021.” They have given priority to certain classes for each term, with the class of 2024 receiving priority to be on campus for the fall and spring terms. 

Harvard will be bringing less than half of its undergraduates back — its 40% includes all first-year students for the fall semester. 

Yale has stated in their reopening plan that “for each semester in 2020-2021, three classes of students will be in residence.” For fall 2020, they are giving first-year students, juniors and seniors the option to live in residential colleges and other campus housing. For spring 2021, sophomores, juniors and seniors can choose to live on campus. 

UPenn will make housing available for all frosh, transfer undergraduates and sophomores who applied for housing, and will also lease additional off-campus housing to juniors and seniors who applied for on-campus housing but are unable to be accommodated.

Harvard, UPenn and Dartmouth announced that they expect all undergraduates to be housed in private bedrooms with shared bathrooms. 

Most of the UCs will provide housing at a lower population density to a limited number of students. UC Berkeley* announced that they will be providing housing to up to 6,500 students. Housing offers for the academic year will be prioritized based on a variety of factors, including students’ financial need for affordable housing, the distance of a student’s primary residence from campus and the enrollment preferences of juniors and seniors who may wish to take courses or participate in other activities offered on campus. UC Berkeley’s fall reopening plans are currently in question however due to a surge of coronavirus cases linked to fraternity parties.

On preventative measures

In regards to public health, all universities have stated they will be following preventative measures such as accessible COVID-19 testing, contract tracing, social distancing and strict cleaning protocols, as well as quarantine and requiring students to wear face coverings on-campus. Most universities have stated that face coverings must be worn in all public spaces. Princeton noted, however, that “people are not required to wear a face covering outdoors if they are able to maintain physical distancing of at least six feet from others.” Similarly, UC Santa Barbara, UC Irvine and UC Merced stated that face coverings would only be required on campus where physical distancing is not possible. Many universities are pushing for campus events, such as social gatherings and club activities, to be held remotely.

In its Student Campus Compact, UPenn has asked its students “to collaborate with Penn on daily wellness checks with the new PennOpen Pass mobile app (details to be distributed)” and is also requiring all students to be up-to-date on all vaccines and to receive a flu shot. Dartmouth is also requiring all students “to participate in daily health screening via an app or website” and all students coming to live on campus will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. Harvard stated in their plan that they “will include, among other features, the requirement that students and residential staff participate in a viral testing program that will begin with an initial screening upon arrival, followed by testing for the virus every three days while in residence.”

On Greek Life/social gatherings

Many universities have stated that there will be strict limitations on campus life and social activities this upcoming school year. In their Student Campus Contact, Stanford wrote in their first weekly newsletter that “it is highly unlikely that campus events and parties will be allowable, and even smaller gatherings could be limited.” UPenn asked its students to “refrain from organizing, hosting, or attending events, parties, or other social gatherings off-campus that may cause safety risks to me and other members of the community.” Princeton stated that “many social and recreational activities will be unavailable, impermissible or highly regulated” and explicitly stated “parties will be prohibited.”

While many universities’ plans exclude guidelines and restrictions on Greek Life, with the shift to teaching online for the majority of courses, sororities and fraternities will most likely have to rely on virtual gatherings for the upcoming year. With no foreseeable end to the current coronavirus pandemic, social gatherings of large groups will likely be prohibited and for the time being, the Greek life scene on most campuses will have to come to a halt. 

On academic planning

Stanford released a detailed academic calendar on July 2, which was sent out in their second weekly newsletter last Monday. Many universities, such as those in the Ivy League, the UC System and the CSU system, have stated that the majority of their courses will be conducted online, with some exceptions for in-person classes. UPenn noted that their plan allows for classes with fewer than 25 students to potentially have an in-person option, as space allows, and will be held in larger spaces with assigned seating. Many UCs included exceptions for laboratory courses, some performing arts classes and some courses in clinical health fields. 

Yale will begin classes on Aug. 31, with UPenn following on Sept. 1, Harvard on Sept. 2, and Stanford on Sept. 14. Dartmouth will begin the undergraduate fall term on Sept. 14 as scheduled and will shortly announce move-in dates that will reflect a 14-day quarantine for all students upon arrival. 

On athletics

Stanford recently cut 11 sports, including men’s and women’s fencing, field hockey, lightweight rowing, men’s rowing, co-ed and women’s sailing, squash, synchronized swimming, men’s volleyball and wrestling, as a result of financial challenges worsened by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Some sports like football have been cleared for practices, but it’s still unclear if they will be competing in the fall.

The Ivy League has decided to suspend fall sports, including football, with no date set for return.

Contact Vivian Jiang at jiang.vivian2 ‘at’ gmail.com.

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Vivian Jiang is a high school student writing as part of The Stanford Daily's Summer Journalism Workshop.