An empty classroom in WMU's Sangren Hall

An empty classroom in WMU's Sangren Hall leaves chairs pushed in neatly, patiently waiting for in-person instruction to begin again. 

WMU is fully intending on welcoming students back in the fall, President Edward Montgomery said during a town hall meeting June 15. 

In-person instruction will begin on Sept 2, along with related activities. Classrooms, dining halls and residence halls will all be open, Montgomery said.

“When we open those activities as we do, we’re going to be doing it in a way that maintains safety as our top priority,” Montgomery said. “Which will mean our campus will have to look and operate differently than it did before.”

WMU is also looking at a 37% capacity for classrooms under social distancing guidelines, said Jennifer Bott, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. For example, the largest classroom in Wood Hall that holds 300 students, will now hold about 70.

Testing, social distancing, and sanitation and hygiene are going to be the three key strategies for a safe return to campus in the fall, said Kara Wood, Associate Vice President for Community Partnerships.

“We need to have adequate monitoring and testing in place, and we can say that we have implemented the best practices to quickly identify and catalog potential introductions of COVID-19 into the campus with electronic daily symptom screening through the GoWMU main page for all employees and students,” Wood said. 

While testing is not required, it is encouraged. Rapid-result COVID-19 testing is now available at Sindecuse, Wood added.

For social distancing, WMU will continue to promote remote work, will restrict in person meeting sizes and will require that cloth face coverings be worn in campus buildings, unless an individual has a health condition that prevents them from wearing one.

Students will be provided with two cloth face coverings, Wood said. 

The frequency for common cleaning practices will be increased, as well as implementing new ones, Wood said. 

Frequent disinfecting and cleaning of facilities and equipment, along with restrictions on shared tools will be in place, Wood said.

Employees will be responsible for cleaning their own individual work areas and touch areas.

Wood also said that starting Friday, there will be one-time building access available. This will allow those to gather materials in planning for Summer II, fall planning work or other responsibilities that require hard copy material. 

A sign up sheet will be made available on the academic affairs website.

The admissions team has also taken steps to create virtual yielding activities for the incoming class, Montgomery said. Along with building a classroom prototype in Sangren Hall for what the indoor design features could look like that would keep students, faculty and staff safe.

The team was able to mark what fixed seating would look like with a six-foot social distancing requirement.

Reducing exposure to potential hazard to where appropriate may include modification for how people enter and exit buildings, increased ventilation rates, opening windows and installing physical warriors, such as sneeze guards.

Use of common areas, waiting areas, breakrooms, copy areas and kitchenettes will be limited to a number as needed for social distancing, said Andrew Bachmann, Emergency Management Administrator and Police Lieutenant. The capacity for these areas should be posted, he added

When students return, facilities will look at bringing back additional resources for cleaning touch points including, door knobs, handrails, lightswitches and other surfaces will be cleaned with greater intensity and frequency, Bachmann said. 

Dining will remain as grab-and-go. In the fall, there will be a capacity of 50 people for plated meals inside. Housing capacity is also being evaluated for two or four residents per bath.

Montgomery also said he wanted to also commend the WMU community for demonstrating resilience in uncertainty and a changing environment. 

“Helping us navigate this global health and economic crisis has really been because of the quality of the people,” Montgomery said. “We’ve been able because of that to transition to distance education while continuing to provide our students high quality academic opportunities.”

He added that the university had online orientations, which have never been done before. Faculty have also continued to work on grants, some have even focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, Montgomery said. 

Montgomery also said that the deaths of George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks serve as a reminder for the unfinished business that we still face as a society. 

“Systematic racism is there in our police and legal system.” Montgomery said. “But, it is also there in our housing, healthcare, and our education system and right here at WMU.” 

He said he thanked WMU community members who reached out to an appeal that was sent out last week for ideas to eradicate racism on campus.

“Black lives matter,” Montgomery said when asked if black lives mattered at WMU. “They matter at WMU and they matter in our country.”

Montgomery also said that they take alleged racist statements on social media seriously. He said they take these things into investigation. 

If the statements made from the students were confirmed, the student is called to to tell what is expected from WMU’s community members, said Diane Anderson, Vice President for Student Affairs.

This will give an opportunity to help educate the student on a better way to look at the world, Anderson said. Tools would be provided to think differently about what they see.

“Many times what we need to do in those situations is educate,” Anderson said. “Because we obviously protect free speech on our campus, even speech that is reprehensible to us. At the same time what we believe very strongly is we can use our own speech to address that speech and let people know how inappropriate it is. It is not in keeping with who we are as a campus. If they want to continue to be a member of this campus, we would expect very different kind of language and attitude. We want to help them there.”

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