Marie Osuna – Staff Writer
The past school year has been anything but normal. Masks, distancing and online classes have defined a school year taking place during a global pandemic. However, as COVID-19 vaccines are being administered daily, students are wondering: what will next fall look like at Gustavus? Will we still have to wear masks and continue social distancing? Will having the COVID-19 vaccine be required to come to campus? How does the tuition-free ninth semester work?
Unfortunately, answers to these questions are not immediately available. Like previous decisions on whether to re-open the college after the March 2020 shutdown and what policies to follow this academic year, it all depends on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the MN Department of Health. Nevertheless, the College is hoping things will look more normal next year.
“The COVID Leadership Team is planning that we will continue to move in the direction of a more typical college experience for the fall. Our goal is to have a high vaccination rate among students and employees and to reach a level of herd immunity among the campus community. With a high vaccination level, it will position us to lift many COVID restrictions,” Barb Larson Taylor, Chair of the COVID Response Leadership Team, said.
When it comes to vaccinations, many students are wondering if Gustavus will require students to be vaccinated for COVID-19. However, that question remains up in the air as well.
“College leaders are in discussion about whether we will require students to be vaccinated. As has been the case during this entire pandemic, there are still many unknowns. Experts do not fully understand the long-term effectiveness of the vaccine, we do not know if new variants will emerge, and we have not heard clear guidance from the MN Department of Health or the CDC as to what COVID restrictions may still be needed in a workplace or school setting even if there is a high vaccination rate,” Taylor said.
It is unclear how overall student response to potential requirements will be, but Sophomore Emma Anderson voiced her support for continuing COVID safety measures.
“I will 100 percent continue to mask next year if that’s required. I also think vaccinations being required would be good as long as Gustavus accommodates those who may not be able to get vaccinations over the summer, since vaccinations are not currently available to every community,” Anderson said.
As for students wondering about how the tuition-free ninth semester works, those interested should contact the Provost’s Office to discuss their specific situation. Eligibility for the ninth semester requires having been a full-time student during the 2020-2021 academic year, holding a cumulative grade point average of 2.00 or above, and not having been suspended for any academic or disciplinary reasons at any time. Students are also required to complete the ninth semester on campus (no study-away experiences qualify).
Senior Jared Zaun is one student who is thankful for the tuition-free ninth semester offer.
“It made my COVID troubles far less problematic and didn’t force my hand in accepting less than I had initially intended to graduate with,” Zaun said.
Zaun will utilize the tuition-free semester to make-up courses he struggled with during the spring 2020 lock down. Zaun found himself struggling to pay attention to his courses after they were transitioned to an online format.
“In-class discussions are basically nothing when you are having them over Zoom. There’s just so much less participation,” Zaun said.
Zaun is a philosophy and physics double-major, and feels that both majors require classes that are delivered most effectively in-person. Zaun noted that physics labs were especially difficult in a virtual format.
“Physics labs, instead of doing actual things you have to command an instructor around the room. I was operating the lab equipment remotely. It’s very impressive, but nothing in comparison to actually doing the work,” Zaun said.
Though the COVID leadership team has not yet made many decisions that students are wondering about, Taylor encourages returning students to stay tuned.
“Students will receive emails throughout the summer with ongoing updates about plans for fall.
Students are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated this summer if they have not already done so,” Taylor said.