Syracuse University freshman are starting their college careers in much the same way they ended high school not long ago…in a very strange way due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Students have begun moving in to on-campus dorms with a mix of excitement and caution.
A smart speaker played music as families received orientation materials through car windows under tents. Director of First Year and Transfer programs Carrie Abbott says they’re trying to keep spirits up.
"I'm out here, my whole orientation team is out here. We're still clapping, we're still cheering, we've still got orange balloons. Our entry looks a little different this year, but we're still making everyone feel as welcome as normal. Students are excited to be here, they have their Orange shirts on, I see some cars with 'Syracuse Bound,' so they're excited to be here. Obviously a little nervous, but everyone's nervous on their college move-in day."
More than 800 families pulled up to the Skytop parking lot for check-in Monday, where they received their class t-shirt, orientation schedule, and school ID. But they’re also being checked for COVID. Staff verified a negative coronavirus test result within the past 10 days, and then took another sample. Twelve to 15 saliva samples will be pooled for one test to check for any signs of the virus. If it comes back positive, each person in the pool will be tested individually. Vice Chancellor Mike Haynie was on hand to administer screenings and greet families.
"This is also a class that didn't have high school graduations. Many of them missed an awful lot of this transition from high school to college. We're going to do our best to create an experience for them that is meaningful."
At the same time, Haynie is also trusting students to follow the rules, like wearing masks and social distancing.
"I'm someone that's going to start from the perspective that these students can elevate, that these students can rise to the high expectations that we have for them. That's where, not only our university, but where our community should start."
On the other hand, Haynie says they will not tolerate those who put the health of others at risk. Campus looks different in order to help students stay safe. He says there are mobile classroom trailers, as well as nearly two dozen large tents to provide space for what might normally take place in campus buildings, whether it’s studying, taking a virtual class, or getting a bite to eat.
"The physical density of our dining halls has to be reduced. The extent to which where we can have a dining hall packed with students sitting shoulder to shoulder can't happen. We've pivoted. We not have grab and go meals, full meals, that students can take from the dining halls, take to the tents, sit outside, socially distanced."
Students will attend classes in person or virtually on campus, while others have chosen not to come to campus at all, and learn remotely from home. By Friday, about 5,000 first-year, transfer, and returning students are expected to be checked in and screened at the Skytop Parking Lot.
SU Chancellor sent a welcome message to the SU community, which can be seen below.
Dear Students, Faculty and Staff:
Welcome back to Syracuse University. And to those newly joining us, welcome to the Orange family. It is so good to be together again. After a long summer for all of us, it has been a joy to see our new students arriving in phases over these last few weeks. There is nothing better than seeing our community back on campus together, engaging with each other and living the Orange experience. And for those students studying remotely or from afar, you are as much a part of our Orange family as ever.
A lot has happened in the world since we were all together last. The pandemic has taken a horrible toll on lives, families, communities and our country. While a source of stress for all of us, many of you have felt this pain in deeply personal ways. At the same time, there are renewed calls for justice, equity and to end anti-Black racism and hate in all its forms. This should give us all hope.
Just as the last few months have been unlike anything we have seen in our lifetime, so too, will be this fall semester. As we return to our studies, research and academic pursuits, I want to thank everyone who has played a role in bringing us together again. There are many changes we have made to our campus. Some you see: signs everywhere reminding you to social distance and wear a face mask, outdoor classrooms, and over a thousand hand sanitizer stations in our buildings. Other things aren’t visible to the eye: the new air filtration systems in our buildings, the countless hours faculty have dedicated to reformatting their classes, and the time spent by staff to get our campus ready.
We’re together because we want our students to have the best possible experience at Syracuse University. And we want to remain together for the entire semester. That will require all of us to be responsible for ourselves and each other in doing everything we can to create a safe environment. That means wearing a mask wherever you go, practicing social distancing, and not congregating in large groups on or off campus. I know it’s not what we are accustomed to. But nothing is business as usual these days.
Being together means living, learning and working with people who hail from diverse and unique backgrounds. It is one of the things that makes our university such a special place. Let’s extend grace to one another as we make new friends, open ourselves to understanding the experiences of others, and treat our community with kindness. We are a community that is inclusive, equitable and welcoming. What is unwelcome here must be racism, anti-Semitism, prejudice, bias or harassment of any kind. We are an anti-racist campus, and our actions must follow those principles. And it starts with all of us.
As we begin this semester together, let’s enjoy this moment that we have all been working toward and waiting for all summer. We are happy you are with us, wherever you are. And let’s commit to those things that will allow us to stay together for the semester: wear your mask, keep your distance, and look out for yourself and for each other. Here’s to our new academic year.
Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.