Hui Li ’21
Co-Chief Graphic Designer
Spring 2021 marks the first semester that College of the Holy Cross has opened its campus to a larger portion of its student body since it closed around this time last year, when COVID-19 cases were first starting to rise both in the state and nationwide. Since then, the school has undertaken a large amount of effort in order to start welcoming students back safely.
It has taken nearly one year of planning and policy revisions to bring students back to Mt. St. James, and much of the success of those plans depends on the cooperation of students both on and off campus. Among the many staff members working to communicate the importance of student compliance are the college’s Associate Dean of Students Paul Irish and the school’s Director of Student Integrity and Community Standards Kevin O’Connell.
Both Dean Irish and Mr. O’Connell have several years of prior experience in higher education. Both were working at Holy Cross when the earliest concerns about COVID-19 spreading to Worcester arose. When asked about that uncertain time last year, Dean Irish replied, “I am reflecting on where we were last year. We were just starting to hear about the first cases from overseas, and within two, three weeks, right after Spring Break, it arrived on our campus, and we know how quickly things progressed to the point where we had to move to remote learning. Over the past year we have learned so much.”
He added that the College’s current plans and protocols are based on criteria developed by health officials and other experts in the state. “We feel really well prepared for our semester, with testing and our protocols. These have been informed by state guidelines for higher education, advice from the medical professionals we are working with, and learning how other institutions of higher education have responded to in person learning and living.”
Mr. O’Connell, whose primary role on campus involves addressing allegations of student misconduct, has been focusing on COVID compliance. This semester, he is responding to reports of students not following the COVID safety rules, which include but are not limited to getting tested twice a week on nonconsecutive days, completing daily symptom tracking, staying at or below room occupancies and maximum gathering sizes both on and off campus, and wearing face coverings.
“Those particular areas are of significant importance, but I also think that they’re going to generate the most type of dialogue. We’ve already seen that, particularly with the gathering sizes in some residence halls, and some folks who have struggled with that, so that has been a big part of our response this semester,” said Mr. O’Connell.
He shared that according to some of the residential data he has been monitoring, there have been some residence halls with lower rates of overall testing compliance than others; some students are not getting tested twice a week, and the routine tests are very important in monitoring the College’s situation in the present and for the future.
A key part of staying safe this semester lies in community members holding each other accountable. There are options to report concerns regarding COVID noncompliance on the Holy Cross Student Integrity and Community Standards website, which also has a link to the full list of COVID compliance rules along with more specific details about student compliance for the Spring 2021 semester. The form is open to any member of the campus community and to residents living on or around College Hill where some off-campus students live. “Individuals can submit these concerns anonymously. If they’re observing [concerns relating to noncompliance] and want someone to know, please, we ask folks to step forward,” stated Mr. O’Connell.
Despite some of the reports of noncompliance that Dean Irish and Mr. O’Connell have been addressing the past weeks, the campus community has been able to stay safe enough to move from the elevated-caution Orange Alert into the more “COVID-Normal” Yellow Alert, which has been effective since Feb. 8. In order to keep moving in a positive direction, the community must maintain high levels of COVID compliance. “I’m optimistic for the semester, and that we will be able to be successful with the cooperation and determination from the community that we are seeing,” said Dean Irish.