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A successful semester

Longwood, H-SC make it to the finish line

Longwood University and Hampden-Sydney College took a different path than other institutions of higher education during the fall 2020 semester by choosing to return to in-person classes and maintaining that status even as the COVID-19 pandemic has continued.

Ultimately, both Longwood and Hampden-Sydney have avoided any significant outbreaks of the novel coronavirus. The last day of undergraduate classes for Longwood will be Tuesday, Nov. 24, while H-SC has a bit longer to go, wrapping up Monday, Dec. 14.

Longwood officials and students took a few moments Wednesday, Nov. 18, to grade how the university and its students managed themselves this fall in Farmville in the face of the pandemic.

“I think it went really well,” Longwood Assistant Vice President for Communications Matt McWilliams said. “I think a lot of credit is due to our students who took a lot of personal responsibility and, by and large, followed the guidelines that we set in place. The entire community kind of really rallied together and decided collectively that we wanted to make this semester work, and I think it did work.

“So, (I’m) really pleased and really proud of our students, especially, for their behavior and responsibility that they’ve shown all semester.”

Longwood Dean of Students Jennifer Fraley said she would have to echo that reaction.

“Our students were faced with a very difficult challenge for this semester, and they rose to that challenge and really did take personal responsibility for making sure that not only themselves but also their fellow Lancers got to remain here during the semester,” she said. “This could have gone poorly, and it did not based on the really hard work that everyone in the community did to make sure that they were being responsible and really leaning on each other to have support and navigate what is a very challenging situation.”

McWilliams honed in on specific measures he thought were especially crucial in making the semester a success.

“I think really what worked was our commitment in the processes that we set in place before students got back — we put them in place over the summer — to really aggressively quarantine and contact trace all cases that we knew of on campus, to make sure that students who contracted the virus were isolated from the rest of the community and that we could track who they came in contact with,” he said. “And then for students who were exposed, they had a place to quarantine safely. But then in addition to that, part of the whole equation is that we had to put support systems in place for them so that they could stay on track with their classes, so that they could have meals delivered, so that they felt like their mental health was being taken care of and their physical health was being taken of.”

He said Fraley was an integral part of that. Fraley said the university erred on the side of caution.

“We were very aggressive with isolation and quarantine depending on the circumstances,” she said. “And that meant that unfortunately, fall being allergy season, there were many students that went into isolation or quarantine based on symptoms that did not have a definitive diagnosis. And as soon as that diagnosis was confirmed that they were not positive or they had not been contact exposed, they were, of course, free to resume their normal lives and activities. But based on that aggressive stance that we took, we were able to really curb those numbers and keep them under control.”

Another measure Longwood took was to make sure it had a multi-disciplinary team put together that could streamline all of the processes required to take care of students’ daily needs, Fraley said.

She noted that on the academic side of things, this meant making sure faculty were notified that a student would be participating in class virtually. If they had in-person classes or if they had hybrid classes that required them to be in person, the team made sure that faculty knew that the student was absent for medical reasons so they were not penalized.

The multi-disciplinary team made sure that whether students were isolating or quarantining in place, they had meals delivered, they were checked on every day and they had point-of-contact with the University Health Center as well as with someone on the Isolation and Quarantine Management Team.

Fraley said this helped make sure students’ needs could be met for the duration of their stay, whether that was for 24 hours in isolation or quarantine, or if it was for 10 days.

Longwood junior Sarah Meeks spent time in quarantine and gave a first-hand assessment of how well the university handled things this fall to make the in-person semester possible.

“Longwood did such an amazing job to keep us healthy and safe during these difficult times,” she said. “I am so glad that we were able to stay on campus all of fall semester.

“During my quarantine experience in Arc Dorm, Longwood did everything possible to help make me feel comfortable and safe throughout my stay,” she said. “I feel that all of the students appreciate the extra outdoor seating along with the fire pits that have been placed throughout campus, so we are able to socialize with our friends in a safe and social-distancing environment. I appreciate Longwood making college life as ‘normal’ as possible.”

McWilliams said Longwood will look to continue to promote outdoor outlets for student life as the university progresses into the spring semester.

Longwood Student Government Association President Brandon Bowen said he thinks the university’s fall semester went extremely well considering the global pandemic.

“We look at other schools such as (James Madison University) and the bigger-population schools and how they were in person maybe two weeks before they had to go home, and we stuck (it) out for the entire semester and maybe at the most we had 35 active cases at one time,” he said. “If nothing else, I think that’s something that we can really celebrate.

“We worked really hard. I think all the students were pretty diligent. We know that the task force that Longwood had implemented, the COVID task force, they did really well in giving us opportunities for us to continue to enjoy student life while being on campus.”

Farmville Mayor David Whitus said he was offering praise to Longwood President W. Taylor Reveley IV on Tuesday, Nov. 17, given how well the university has managed the COVID-19 response.

“I view their dashboard frequently and have been pleasantly surprised at how few cases they have had this semester,” he said. “The same is true for H-SC.

“When you see students out in town, most all of them are wearing a mask,” he added. “As a community we are most appreciative of their efforts to prevent spread.”

Most Longwood students will be headed home next week for good until classes begin for the spring semester on Jan. 13.

“It was a very prudent decision to end in-person classes at Thanksgiving and not have students return to campus after going home,” Whitus said. “If we can continue to be vigilant in mask-wearing, hand-washing and social distancing, it appears light is at the end of the tunnel in the form of a vaccine.”

Area businesses also benefited significantly from the responsible patronage of the college students this fall, something North Street Press Club and The Fishin’ Pig Co-Owner Nash Osborn spoke to.

“We were all obviously a bit nervous to have everybody come back into town with everything going on, but I think that Longwood and Hampden-Sydney did a fantastic job with how they dealt with it, and also the students,” he said. “They were very vigilant about following the guidelines and mask-wearing, at least in our businesses. I think that the students played a large role in how successful this really was.”