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Gorman announces in-depth fall semester plans

Illustrated by Chloe Xu

By Savannah Kuchar     7/1/20 4:24pm

Students returning to campus in the upcoming fall semester will have to adjust to a number of precautionary changes all subject to change, such as rearranged housing, bathroom schedules and mandated COVID-19 testing, implemented in efforts to protect against the spread of COVID-19, according to an email sent July 1 by Dean of Undergraduates Bridget Gorman. Students will have until 5 p.m. CST on July 6 to fill out a survey stating their enrollment and housing intentions for the next semester.

Isolation housing at Sid Richardson

According to Gorman, the Sid Richardson College building will be converted into isolation housing for anyone who tests positive while on campus. Students from Sid Rich who were previously planning to live on campus will now be reassigned beds at other colleges, based on an additional round of room draws at all colleges. Gorman said the new Sid Rich building is still on track to be completed by December 2020.

“To all members of Sid Richardson College, please know how sorry I am that we had to make this decision,” Gorman wrote. “It is not what any of us wanted, but it is the best option given the circumstances.”

Alison Drileck, a Sid Rich senior, said she had been living with her two suitemates for the past three years, and that it was scary now not knowing whether they will be able to spend their last year together. 

“As a rising senior, the idea of being across campus from the close friends I have made at my residential college is a little heartbreaking as I was really looking forward to spending that time together,” Drileck said. “It’s scary not knowing where I will be living next year and having to adjust to living in a new environment during this time.”

According to Nia Prince, president of Sid Rich, Sid had been thinking about how to preserve college culture even before Gorman’s announcement. Prince said that the college already plans to create online community spaces, replace “Floor War” competitions with “Suite Wars” and create a Spotify playlist to replace Radio Free Sid.

“Sid already has a lot of things coming for us with the new building and I think we were already prepared for major changes this year,” Prince, a senior, said. “I think they chose the one community that can definitely handle it.”

New Housing and Dining regulations

According to Gorman, “families” composed of roommates, suitemates or those who share a floor or bathroom will be configured within each residential college. Student occupancy on certain floors at Will Rice College, Baker College, Hanszen College and Jones College will be further reduced, to limit the number of students using a shared bathroom. Access to colleges will be limited to current students and select Rice personnel, and floor access will be additionally limited to those residents only, meaning no visitors or overnight guests will be allowed.

Anyone with a suite-style bathroom will be provided cleaning materials, while common bathrooms will be frequently cleaned each day by Housing & Dining staff. Gorman said that any students who share a bathroom must develop daily schedules that reduce the number of people in there at a time. 

If a student is exposed to COVID-19, Gorman said they will be required to quarantine in their room or off-campus apartment, and any on-campus students not quarantining and sharing a bathroom or floor with them will be temporarily relocated to a hotel near campus at no cost.

According to Gorman, all students with an on-campus meal plan must use their home servery exclusively, meal times will be staggered and indoor seating such as in commons will be limited. Serveries will no longer have self-serve options such as salad bars, and to-go hot meals and some pre-packaged items will be available instead. 

Return to campus

Arrival times for returning to campus will be staggered, with greater Houston area students and Orientation Week coordinators and college presidents moving in beginning July 27. All returning students can have only one family member or friend over the age of 18 help them with moving back, while new students are permitted to have two people help them. Move in instructions with more details will be sent later this month.

All students will be tested for free when they arrive back at Rice, according to Gorman, and will be required to check their temperatures on a regular basis. The administration requests  students get tested prior to coming back to campus if possible. All students are also now required to have a flu shot prior to October 30, and they must sign a Culture of Care Agreement regarding responsible health behaviors before returning to campus.

Gorman said that the university will be expanding their use of outdoor spaces for both learning and socializing. Residential college quads will be enhanced with more furniture and temporary outdoor structures and tents will be set up on campus as well. Students are asked to bring their own portable chair for outdoor use, if possible, and that one will be provided if students are unable to provide their own.

Face coverings will be required in all indoor spaces, outside of a student’s own room, and when in close proximity to others including in outdoor spaces, according to Gorman. Public gatherings, inside or out, will all be limited to 50 or less people, including any events held by student activities. Classes and other indoor meetings will be further limited to no more than 25 people.

Calendar, tuition and other uncertainties

The academic calendar has been modified. According to Gorman, tuition will remain the same, but students can appeal their financial aid if they have been impacted by COVID-19. A petition was started by McMurtry College senior Jennifer Ho, asking that the university lower tuition due to the drastically different nature of this semester.

“The justification for the tuition and housing cost increase is that Rice needs funding to help cover new crisis investment,” Ho said. “While this is true to an extent, there is an underlying argument that current students are responsible for shouldering these costs. What is the point of having a $6.5 billion endowment if it cannot be utilized in a situation like this?”

Gorman’s email did not provide additional details for international students, beyond advising them to speak to the Office of International Students & Scholars. Dhananjay Singh, an international student and a Brown College junior, said he thinks that the university needs to make more accommodations for international students especially regarding tuition.

“Luckily, I was stuck in Houston before I could leave for Qatar, so I am currently on campus and can return for the fall,” Singh said. “However, international students that will have no access to campus facilities, professors, etc and are forced to take classes online are being subject to pay full tuition fees which is unacceptable. Furthermore, people like myself that are stuck here do not even have the option to take a leave of absence as our visa is directly contingent on our status as full time students.”

The Rice Crisis Management Team has created a Frequently Asked Questions page online, and Gorman will be hosting an online Q&A session Thursday July 2 at 3 p.m. to answer additional questions. 

[7/5/20 8:45 a.m.] The story was updated with a quote from Ho.

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