Going backwards: Tour guides talk a return to almost normal campus tours
When the pandemic hit, one of the first things to go was the in-person campus tour. The familiar sight of a student tour guide walking backward through the Rice Memorial Center was replaced by virtual tours. But this year, in addition to virtual tours, in-person campus tours are back — albeit not exactly the same as they used to be.
Tour guide chair Jen Spell said that one change in campus tours is a reduction in the number of visitors per tour group. The total number of visitors per group has decreased from around 10 to 15 people pre-pandemic to around three to six people currently.
Smaller tours can be difficult because visitors tend to ask more personal questions, according to Spell.
“When tours are extremely small, sometimes it’s extremely hard to give them because you have to do more personal tours,” Spell, a Jones College senior, said. “In general, you can’t know everything — you’re not going to be able to cover every major on campus.”
Dani Morgen, who has been a tour guide since her freshman year, said that a smaller group size creates a more positive experience for both her and her group of visitors.
“I think having smaller groups is always more beneficial. When it’s smaller, [the visitors] are able to ask more questions,” Morgen, a Duncan College senior, said. “Sometimes it’s easier as a tour guide, too. When you have 20 people, you actually have to really shout and manage all those people and sometimes I end up repeating myself ... but with a small group, I feel like it eliminates that.”
Dan Helmeci, a tour guide chair, said that although the total number of visitors on a tour has decreased, the total number of visitors on one tour shift has remained at around 60 people.
“The amount of guests that are allowed on one tour shift is capped at 60, so that’s staying for now,” Helmeci, a Jones junior, said. “I think with the amount of tours we’ve added, we’re having just as many [guests] as we did before COVID,” Helmeci said.
Another change in campus tours is the addition of Rice COVID policies, according to tour guide Jackie Wu. Visitors must comply with the campus COVID policies, which include an indoor masking requirement for gatherings of more than 10 individuals. Wu said that Rice’s current COVID policies have not significantly affected her tours.
“I don’t think that these restrictions really affected the way I [have conducted my tours] in that most of the time we are walking outside,” Wu, a Hanszen College sophomore, said.
Morgen said that she has not faced any trouble with visitors’ compliance with COVID policies.
“People are super respectful of [the Rice COVID policies],” Morgen said. “I have not had any issues nor have I heard about any issues from another tour guide.”
In addition to implementing COVID policies, campus tours no longer include a tour of the residential college indoor spaces, according to Spell.
“We used to go [inside residential colleges] before the pandemic. I would actually take them up to my double and show them my room,” Spell said.
But beyond the COVID policies and the changes in group size, tour numbers and tour stops, much of the campus tour structure has remained the same, according to Helmeci. There haven’t been any specific changes in the total number of student tour guides, which is usually around 80 before 10 to 20 new tour guides are hired starting October.
Helmeci also said that the core aspects of campus tours have remained.
“We still get to have that in-person connection with people. That’s one of the best parts of the job — just interacting with people on a one-on-one basis,” Helmeci said.
Wu said that despite never having experienced a Rice campus untouched by the pandemic, she is still able to present the student experience and the culture of care.
“It’s definitely very interesting this year [conducting] and leading tours when I feel like I haven’t had the experience of an upperclassman who had in-person classes and had a normal semester,” Wu said. “I think in general we [are] giving the same rundown of what Rice looks like, not just physically going around but also talking about the things that we do, like what resources are offered through Rice … what events … what student life looks like at Rice and what academics look like.”
More from The Rice Thresher
When October comes around, students start walking around campus wearing cozy sweaters and holding hot lattes from Rice Coffeehouse. As the cold approaches, something changes within the freshman class as well: talk of midterm exams, projects and pumpkin grades begin. About midway through the fall semester each year, instructors submit midterm grades — nicknamed “pumpkin grades” because of the season — to let freshmen know how they are performing in their classes.