Yale prepares to welcome students for fall semester 2020

(Photo credit: Dan Renzetti)
Friday, August 21, 2020

Yale University will soon welcome more than 1,900 undergraduates to live and study on campus, a step that follows months of intensive preparations for a fall semester in which fastidious attention to health and safety will serve communal teaching, learning, research, and life.

In all, about 5,200 Yale undergraduates — or 85% of the total undergraduate population — are enrolled for the fall. About 1,600 undergraduates “enrolled in residence” will live in off-campus housing in New Haven. Another 1,700 will study remotely.

The university also will welcome about 7,500 graduate and professional students this fall, most for campus study, some for remote study. The vast majority will live off campus, and most in the New Haven area.

Including a small number of graduate and professional students living in dormitory-style campus housing, residential density on campus at Yale will be about 40% of capacity.

The significant but limited return of the Yale student body occurs as New Haven and Connecticut have been experiencing some of the nation’s lowest transmission rates for COVID-19. (See Yale’s COVID-19 dashboard.) University leaders emphasize collective responsibility for adherence to health and safety rules and for behavior conducive to public health — and thus to education.

Each of us has a vital role to play in maintaining the health and safety of our community,” President Peter Salovey wrote in an Aug. 14 email update about the semester ahead. “Every single one of our choices, from putting on a face covering to maintaining distance from others, makes a difference.”

Salovey and Provost Scott Strobel announced on July 1 that Yale would welcome first-year students, juniors, and seniors back to campus for the fall semester. Sophomores, juniors, and seniors are eligible to return to campus in the spring. Graduate and professional students may study in New Haven during both semesters.

Reducing the on-campus undergraduate population enables social distancing measures necessary for containing the virus.

Starting Aug. 24, students representing three of four undergraduate classes move into all 14 residential colleges and Old Campus over five carefully choreographed days.

Returning undergraduates will be immediately tested for COVID-19 and will quarantine in their rooms or off-campus housing until they receive results, expected within 36 hours. In addition, all students moving into residential colleges and Old Campus dormitories during move-in week must quarantine inside the college or on Old Campus for a total of 14 days from their date of arrival.

Whether living on campus or off, undergraduate students enrolled in residence must already have tested negative for COVID-19 within the 14 days prior to arrival. Any students testing positive at Yale will be isolated in designated on-campus rooms or in their off-campus residences until released by Yale Health, which will provide students medical monitoring and advice during their isolation.

Students who test positive will also be referred to the university’s campus-based contact tracing program. Close and low-risk contacts will be notified by the contact tracing team. Close contacts living on campus will be asked to quarantine for 14 days in their dorm rooms; students living off campus in New Haven will quarantine in their off-campus residences.

All students enrolled in residence, primarily undergraduates and including those living off campus in New Haven, are expected to monitor their health daily for COVID-19 symptoms, and will be tested twice weekly. There will be testing locations in eight of the residential colleges and elsewhere on campus. All faculty, students, and staff must complete online health and safety training.

Graduate and professional students have been arriving in New Haven throughout August. They also are subject to mandatory arrival testing, daily health monitoring, and health and safety training. Some graduate and professional students have stayed in the city throughout the pandemic.

Prior to returning to campus, undergraduate, graduate, and professional students must review and sign the Yale Community Compact, affirming their commitment to limiting the spread of COVID-19 by respecting federal, state, local and Yale public health guidance and protocols. Students unable to meet these commitments will lose access to campus.

Faculty and staff also must commit to following a complementary set of public health measures and protocols, including conducting daily health checks when coming to campus. They will be offered free viral testing through the university’s screening program. Some faculty and staff will be required to be tested for the virus weekly due to the nature of their duties.

Instruction begins Aug. 31 for Yale College. Start dates for Yale’s graduate and professional schools vary. Most lectures and seminars — the bulk of instruction — will be conducted remotely; some in-person classes will start in mid-September. The reactivation of laboratory research began June 1, proceeding in phases.

We’re all in this together,” said Marvin Chun, dean of Yale College. “Even though we have challenges ahead, I have full faith in this community. Students can be confident that the staff, the residential college heads and deans, and the faculty are behind them and are working to provide them with a rich, fulfilling college experience.”

Lynn Cooley, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, added: 

Our first concerns are always for our students’ health and academic success. A great deal of careful planning went into the phased re-activation of research, which began successfully in laboratories in June, and in the field and off-campus in July. Our students have been great partners during the planning process and in keeping the community safe during the summer. We look forward to welcoming new students to the graduate school, whether they are here in New Haven or starting remotely.”

Residential life this fall

The heads of Yale’s 14 residential colleges are developing plans to provide students a warm home imbued with community spirit — a hallmark of the university’s residential college system, said Julia Adams, head of Grace Hopper College and chair of the Council of the Heads of College.

While it’s true that many things will be tremendously different this fall, one thing will not change: The residential colleges will remain the heart and soul of Yale College,” Adams said. “Our first-year students will experience them as such.”

In a break from tradition, juniors will reside on Old Campus and first-year students will live in the residential colleges. This change — first-year students typically reside on Old Campus — was required to facilitate social distancing in the colleges.

Students living in the colleges will be assigned to a suite where they will have their own bedroom and a shared common area and bathroom. During the 14-day arrival quarantine, after receiving a negative result from their first viral test at Yale, they may access courtyards and any common areas that are open as long as they respect social distancing guidelines.

College dining halls will open to residents after the arrival quarantine, with social distancing measures in place. (During arrival quarantine, the university will provide prepared meals, snacks, and drinks.)

All-weather tents will be erected in college courtyards, providing additional common space for students and a place to play a board game, read a book, or study in inclement weather.

We’ll be utilizing the outdoors as much as possible,” Adams said.

Masks, which the university will supply, or other face coverings must be worn in all public spaces. Everyone on campus must maintain at least six feet of space from others when in all public spaces. Masks and social distancing are not required when students are in their own residential suites or apartments.

Visits to campus by people who are not Yale students, faculty, or staff will be strictly limited during the semester. Students enrolled in residence may visit each other in their respective colleges provided they wear masks or face coverings and maintain social distance. Students will be free to patronize shops and restaurants in New Haven as long as they wear masks and follow distancing guidelines, as well as any other state requirements.

While the university will limit the size of gatherings both indoors and outside to accommodate social distancing and conform to density guidelines, the residential colleges and other campus institutions and groups will organize virtual events for entertainment and enrichment.

The colleges will use virtual spaces to allow sophomores and other undergraduates studying remotely during the fall to stay connected to their on-campus communities, Adams said, adding that college heads and deans are already in regular contact with students through Zoom, the video-conferencing app.

Extracurricular activities that cannot be conducted with appropriate social distancing, such as dramatic performances, singing groups, and some other musical groups, will be re-imagined to occur online. Many others will continue with appropriate distancing.

Club and intramural sports, fitness classes, and other recreational athletics may be permitted if they can be conducted in accordance with state guidance and distancing measures. In-person intramural sports are tentatively scheduled for late September. Payne Whitney Gym will offer certain recreational opportunities based on distancing requirements and capacity restrictions. The Department of Campus Recreation is also developing a campus-wide e-sports (video games) program tentatively scheduled to begin in early September. (E-sports will not count toward the Tyng Cup, the annual intramural sports competition among the residential colleges.)

Sterling Memorial Library, Bass Library, Gilmore Music Library, Haas Arts Library, Marx Science and Social Science Library (formerly CSSSI), and the Divinity Library are scheduled to reopen on Aug. 31 to faculty, graduate and professional students, and to staff who have been approved to work on campus. The libraries will be opened to undergraduates enrolled in residence after mandatory quarantine and waiting periods. The university library is finalizing plans for delivering library materials to residential colleges and for mailing materials to students and faculty off-campus. A contact-free pickup service will operate out of the Sterling nave, representing another option for safe and convenient access to materials.

Whether in the residential colleges, the libraries, or other public spaces on campus, students will have a wide assortment of places to study, sip a coffee, or confide in a friend or mentor, Adams said.

While the annual dinner welcoming first-year students isn’t possible under current circumstances, the college heads and administration are exploring options for simulating the experiences virtually. A virtual opening assembly, including an address from President Peter Salovey, is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Sat., Aug. 29.

A lot of careful thought and attention has gone into welcoming our students and making them feel at home during these challenging circumstances,” Adams said.