HMC Student Advisory Committee Update on Planning for the Fall Semester

The student advisory board’s purpose is to advise the Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students (Dr. G), and it is composed of representatives from Dorm Presidents, Honor Board, Head Mentors, ASHMC Senate and other organizations to represent various parts of the student community. The board is split up into four subcommittees:

  • The ResLife subcommittee has been discussing ways to ensure safety for residents and dorm attendants in common areas such as communal kitchens, bathrooms, dorm lounges, courtyards, and the laundry room. They also made recommendations for policies surrounding dorm events, HMC and non-HMC guests in the dorms, as well as student move-in.
  • The Parties/Events subcommittee has been discussing how to minimize risk during social gatherings, including their size and location based on various social distancing regulations from the CDC and LA County Department of Public Health.
  • The Academic subcommittee has been looking for ways to maximize students’ learning experiences while following safety guidelines. They have been discussing ways for students to collaborate and use study spaces safely, as well as academic resources such as AE/Grutoring. They also made recommendations regarding academic accommodations, support for technology, and the use of labs and the machine shop.
  • The Contact Tracing/Communication subcommittee has been talking over different technologies available for contact tracing, as well as how to minimize campus density in indoor spaces. Contact tracing will be essential to our ability to return to campus and live together so they have also been discussing different scenarios for isolation and quarantine procedures as well as bathroom ratios. This group is also thinking through how to best communicate with the student body given the current lack of clarity around the requirements and safety protocols the College will need to implement to open in the fall.

As we have all seen generally over the past few months, clear guidance on adapting to COVID has not been readily available. For example, we only recently received Guidance for Congregate Living Facilities (PDF). Opens in new tab by LA County on June 18th. This is the sort of guidance that the College needs to follow in order to open—and stay open—for the fall semester. Plans are being made for a variety of County restrictions, which have become more specific as more information becomes available. As we receive this guidance, we think through how to operationalize the regulations on the Mudd campus specifically.

Communication

One primary challenge has been the question of how to communicate; clear communication is an issue we have even in drafting this email! The advisory committee is anticipating both the restrictions of the hybrid model and offering student solutions to some of the challenges of this model that we can accept and follow upon returning to campus. While we want to share all the ideas that are being put forth in meetings, we are neither making the decisions for the College, nor are we fully informed on decisions that are yet to be made by federal, state, and county authorities.

Social Policies

Another challenge we are anticipating is enforcement of social distancing and other protocols we will be following this fall. One primary challenge thus far is envisioning what social standards and protocol could look like. Currently, LA County has not approved any social gatherings of any kind. This regulation will inform what rules and regulations the college will need to implement in order to receive approval to open. First, communication of what exactly is being enforced will need to be clear. Second, we believe that social distancing policies should be reasonably consistent between the academic and residential ends of campus, and we acknowledge that the need to gather for academic purposes will not be considered in the same way that social gatherings will be considered based on regulations. Third, we don’t want to overload the Honor Board in dealing with violations or harm the long-standing respect of the Honor Code. One solution that was discussed was a system similar to the Noise Complaint form, such that anonymous student complaints can be made if any students feel their health/safety are at risk due to other students not following social distancing protocol.

On the residential side of campus, social interactions will need to be very restricted. As LA county is reopening slowly and in phases, we foresee the campus doing something similar. We are cognizant that student interactions may be curtailed more than they would be for the LA County general population, because college campuses are determined to be high-risk environments (similar to sports stadiums) and a virus could easily spread throughout the community and shut the school down. Nonetheless, our phases will be guided by the decisions being made at the county level. Included in this is the realization that Wet Season and other 1C/5C parties will be canceled for the fall, and possibly into the spring. When it is determined that social interactions can happen in some form (either later this fall or next spring semester), it is important to note they will not look like they previously did, and they will likely take place outdoors, with small numbers, face coverings and social distancing.

Outbreaks and Contact Tracing

Another challenge we anticipate is preparing for the possibility that the college may be forced to shut down during the fall semester, if LA County and/or Mudd has an outbreak. Currently, LA County is defining an outbreak on a college campus as three or more individuals. While this number is seemingly small, it has become apparent that close contacts with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 who is living in campus housing quickly becomes a large number. The amount of time and resources needed to contact trace, isolate and quarantine individuals is significant. This is why we are focusing on reducing density on campus and having the procedures and resources ready to support sick and exposed students. LA County has made it clear that they will work with colleges who may have outbreaks, but that they may have to instruct an institution to close in the event of an outbreak. We have raised concerns for students who may need to stay on campus and the many complications of moving out. We have also raised concerns for students who are not able to return to campus in the fall; classes, campus life, and student resources should all be accessible to these students. The advisory committee is also working to help determine solutions to some of these concerns, knowing it will be impossible to mitigate all of them; Mudd will be a very different place this fall semester.

Safety

Obviously, another challenge we anticipate (the most important of all) is student, faculty, and staff safety. This will have implications for visitors, guests, events and parties, classes, bathrooms, you name it. For example, one of the guidelines the college is working under is a limit on the number of students sharing a bathroom. And you probably have already heard the general guidance to avoid public restrooms. Everyone wants a fall semester that looks as normal as possible, but we have to be especially thoughtful of our fellow Mudders–especially the immunocompromised and all the staff and faculty who will be putting their lives at risk so we can continue our education. We are looking at lower-risk practices that put safety first while also trying to find creative solutions so students can still have an enjoyable on-campus experience.

Academics

\While the faculty are preparing and planning in a similar way to this advisory committee, there are a number of facets to the Mudd experience that we have identified for consideration. One is the importance of study groups and after-hours access to Shan classrooms. Another is Clinic and Thesis, and how groups will meet despite distancing protocol. In general, student academic meeting spaces like AE, the Machine Shop, and the Makerspace will need new protocol. Another consideration is for clear and caring academic accommodations if students become sick, or have to isolate, and miss class or assignments as a result.

As our Mudd community is small compared to other schools, we have the opportunity to bring every Mudder back to campus, should they choose to return. Our recommendations in policies and such are based on the guidelines provided by Los Angeles county and the CDC guidance so that we can abide by legal directives and safety standards for our community. Our hope is to abide by these guidelines while keeping in the spirit of our unique and collaborative Mudd community. If you are interested in learning more about the guidance and directives we are currently working with for planning, the links to some resources are provided below:

LA County Public Health (legally binding directives)

Other

The student advisory committee has compiled a list of recommendations for Dr. G to represent students in Cabinet discussions. With other bodies of the school also doing the same, the Cabinet will come together to finalize these recommendations and advise the Board of Trustees in their decisions. Given the severity of the situation and the risks associated with coming back, the Trustees will provide the broad guidelines of our return to campus. They will meet on June 30 and we expect that decisions will be communicated to the community as soon as possible after that meeting. The student committee will continue to work together afterwards in order to operationalize these decisions and advise Dr. G on how to incorporate them into our student life.

We understand that these are unsteady times with many unknowns. The purpose of this letter is to inform our Harvey Mudd Community of the conversations going on behind the scenes. We have been working together to prioritize health and education in these circumstances so please bear with us as we all attempt to face these unprecedented challenges. Our goal is to see each and every student happy and healthy as can be this coming Fall and in the many semesters to come!

Please feel free to contact a member of the committee if you have any questions, concerns, or suggestions:
Reslife – Savanna Beans
Parties/Events – Lorenzo Calvano
Academic – Mariesa Teo
Contact Tracing/Communication – Jenny Lee

Sincerely,
Dr. G and Mariesa Teo (on behalf of the Advisory Committee)