How did Trinity decide who stayed on campus for the rest of the semester?


Photo by Kathleen Creedon

This article is a part of the Trinitonian’s coverage of Trinity University’s response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Click here to read the rest of our coverage.

On March 12, the university notified students that residence halls would close in four days due to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). March 20 is the final day students with extensions can live on campus. After that, fewer than 30 students will be living in the dorms.

Of the 270 requests received, the university offered 35 exemptions (28 for international students, seven to non-international students). Sixty-six exemptions were denied. One hundred forty students were referred to Residential Life for extensions until March 20, and most were granted. David Tuttle, dean of students, oversaw the housing extension and exemption process.

This interview was edited for length, clarity and style.

The university prioritized international students and students with issues related to continuity of care or extremely unusual family situations. How did the university figure out how many students it could care for?

It wasn’t that we looked at the number and then said, ‘Okay, this is too many.’ The approach from the beginning — and it was really just me that was reviewing that request — but the approach from the beginning was that any of the people who basically wanted to be here because of jobs, internships, continuing through to the summer, because they’re going to be here in the summer, people who are job-searching — just right off the bat, none of those were considered to rise to the level of exceptions. I was holding the international student requests until I could coordinate with the International Student Services staff because those issues were beyond my level of expertise. There were questions about which students lose certain status and would not be able to return, were their countries under lockdown? There were things that I just didn’t have as good of a grasp on as international student staff so we kind of held those to be the last group of exceptions. And then really spent a lot of time on the hardship requests and really tried to work with a lot of those students, some of whom just needed more time to find arrangements.

Was the process done on a rolling basis or did you review all the requests after the deadline?

Oh, there wasn’t even a deadline initially. It was going to be done on a rolling basis. But after the first couple days, I asked if they would put the deadline of March 15 on the web page because it started to really slow down. And it really just became extension requests.

Was there a certain number of students the university was aiming for?

There was no number set, no preset number. It had nothing to do with finances. It was all based on minimizing health and safety risks and making sure that we could keep that number as low as possible. If we had granted every exception, we’d have, you know, 100 and some students on campus and the opportunity for them to get sick or require being quarantined and things that just were beyond our ability to manage would be too much. So we all agreed that, that we should really keep those as low as possible. And try to also, you know, be flexible with those who required a humane response. There were definitely difficult decisions but nothing related to university finances. It’s all about really de-densifying the campus.

In a follow-up, Tuttle noted “The idea was to have as few as possible. I did see some names pop up on the emergency fund list, and things seemed pretty dire, so I did circle back to offer them to return. No takers yet, but they were very gracious. There are lots of concerns about housing any students so we don’t have a certain number of spaces we need to fill. But I do feel like if something new comes up, I can be flexible.” Tuttle confirmed that there are now 28 students staying on campus.

Why did the university decide to close City Vista too, even though it is pretty isolated from campus?

The decision about City Vista was because we have kind of a caretaker relationship between the university and student versus if they were off-campus in an apartment. And so, if somebody was required to be quarantined or somebody became infected, then we would be responsible for monitoring and, to some extent, care for those students if they weren’t hospitalized. And so, the decision was really about students and not about where they lived.

How will the university support the students who are staying on campus?

These are extraordinary times. This is unprecedented. So it’s going to be bare-bones for those students, and right now, every day brings new challenges, new questions, new issues, and people are spending a lot of time looking at all these things and trying to look at the most important things first. Right now, it’s getting the remote synchronous learning, preparing for that. The second thing is getting people out of the residence halls. And then the third thing is taking care of employees. The students that are here are going to be moved into the same residential area, they will have their meals at Mabee [Dining Hall]. So we’re looking at basic services right now. TUPD will always be here. So security, housing, they have dining. They have beyond that, you know, they obviously have internet access to do the remote synchronous learning. Beyond that, I don’t know that there’s much that we will be able to offer them. I just don’t know that we have the capacity, and given the health concerns, I don’t know what they need. But we will ask them. We need a little time, and then we will circle back with them.

Students have been really good. I mean, they’ve been, even if they haven’t liked this decision or their extension, I mean, people have been overall pretty gracious. They’ve been pretty understanding, they’ve been pretty agile. And then there were a few cases where students were denied and the form didn’t adequately allow them to express the difficulty of the issues they were facing. And some of them circled back, and we were able to get a fuller picture and take care of those students and their needs. So I think overall, it’s been a pretty good, pretty effective process.