Kat Namon ’22
President of the College Joanne Berger-Sweeney held a virtual town hall for students to answer questions regarding the COVID-19 outbreak and how it will continue to affect student life on Monday night. This was the first of three town halls offered by the President for different constituent groups of the College. A town hall for staff and faculty was held on Monday, Apr. 6, one for parents was held on Tuesday, Apr. 7, and one for alumni will be held on Wednesday, Apr. 15.
Berger-Sweeney was joined by Dean of Academic Life Sonia Cardenas, Assistant Vice President for External Affairs Jason Rojas, Dean of Campus Life & Vice President for Student Affairs Joe DiChristina, Vice President for Enrollment and Student Success Angel Perez, and Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Anita Davis.
Major topics addressed included move out dates, details regarding graduation, and what the fall semester may look like. Students were asked to send in questions by Thursday, Apr. 2, but were also allowed to send additional questions during the course of the Town Hall for real-time answers. While the President was able to answer approximately 15 questions, Rojas indicated that more than 90 questions remained at the end of the call and students were encouraged to email their remaining questions to email@example.com.
Prior to the Town Hall yesterday evening, Berger-Sweeney had sent out a campus-wide COVID-19 update. This update included assurance that students would be receiving partial housing and meal plan reimbursement. This reimbursement would apply to “any student who has vacated Trinity housing—on campus or at a Trinity study away site” and promised that the minimum amount returned to students and families for these costs would be $1,200.
DiChristina spoke on the number of students currently on campus. He mentioned that 185 students still remain on campus, a number that is down from the 270 figure he quoted about two weeks ago. The Tripod reached out to DiChristina to get clarification on the reasons for the decrease. DiChristina indicated that the “primary reason the numbers went lower is that students needed time to put plans in place to travel and to purchase airline tickets. It is likely the number will end up around 170 through most of April.” During the town hall, DiChristina indicated that this higher number was unusual, with many peer institutions having as few as 50 students remaining on campus.
Students asked Berger-Sweeney what efforts had been undertaken to assist Trinity employees and if any had been laid off as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Berger-Sweeney indicated that she was “pleased to report that no Trinity employees or faculty have been laid off.” She added that ABM, Trinity’s facility partner, has also continued to maintain full employment on campus . However, Berger-Sweeney did indicate that Chartwells has laid off several workers, telling the community that those employees will “continue to have health benefits through the summer.”
Regarding student move-out, DiChristina said that, ideally, students would not be staying overnight to complete the move-out process, adding that “we are trying to do it in a staggered fashion and adhere to CDC guidelines…We are trying to do it in a way so that students are here for two to three hours and moving their belonging.” DiChristina stressed that at the moment his hope “is that students would be able to gather their materials and then leave campus.” DiChristina indicated that students would be informed about more details in the next several days.
Few details were immediately known regarding the College’s plans for the summer, including whether or not summer courses and summer research projects will be held or if the college will be open for housing students over the next few months. Cardenas and Berger-Sweeney stated that more should be known about these topics in the next two to three weeks. Cardenas added that “We are moving as quickly as we can to reach a decision about that.”
Perez also spoke to admissions and student employment concerns, indicating that student workers who have been unable to continue their work online, depending on their income, may be able to work for the Admissions office. “This is a critical time for admissions, as we have admitted a class and want to get prospective students connected to current students,” Perez added. “If you are a student who was employed on our campus and are still interested in working, we do have opportunities for you,” he stressed. Perez also indicated that we was aware of increased stress imposed on international students as a result of uncertainty around international borders and their ability to return in the fall. Perez indicated that Trinity will do all they can to work with those students and explore alternatives as needed.
In addressing concerns about Commencement for the Class of 2020 after the 2021 academic year, Berger-Sweeney emphasized that a primary concern had been to ensure the college would be able to offer housing for those who would return to campus for the event, adding that “we wanted to ensure we could provide as much of an experience you would normally expect, but of course it will be a little different.” Berger-Sweeney also emphasized that students would be involved in designing the “activities of commencement” that will take place a year from now, and that in making a decision regarding commencement, she felt it was important “for as many people to be back on campus, face to face.”
Thus, Berger-Sweeney indicated that “next summer seemed to be the best option for that criteria.” Students also asked questions about when seniors can expect to receive diplomas and if refunds for senior week expenses will be given. Cardenas indicated that the decision on diplomas should be “up to the students…we can certainly send them in the mail if that is what students prefer.” Berger-Sweeney, on the question of senior week refunds, indicated that those discussions had not taken place, adding that getting “refunds for room and board” was the first priority for the College.