Students at the University of Tulsa will head back to campus on August 16, 2020, which comes just a week before the semester starts.
Only, university representatives said this semester is going to look a little different. Before setting foot on campus, students must get tested for COVID-19.
Matt Warren is the chief compliance officer for TU. He said the fall semester may see some changes, but it is going to be innovative. He told News On 6 that the university is constantly working to improve and refine its plans.
“We have completely redefined our physical campus to transform our spaces into safe spaces for our students,” Warren said. “There are no differences in the cost to our students. I will say there are differences in the cost to the institution.”
According to TU, all on-campus housing is at reduced capacity and all residents will have a private room. Matt said they are working diligently to clean potential hot spots like communal bathrooms and showers.
The university also implemented isolation spaces on campus for sick students to quarantine. Even dining is different. Now students can place orders on their phones and pick up their food at the dining hall.
All of TU’s classrooms have been reconfigured so that classes will reach in-person capacity at 30 people, and every class is spaced out so students can be at least 6 feet apart from each other and the instructor. Matt said they’ve instituted a rule where you wear masks all over campus, and they’ve placed hand sanitizer and disinfectant in all their classrooms. The institution said it has also rented tents that will be outside on a semi-permanent basis to create bigger spaces where student organizations can more safely gather in an outside environment.
“We are encouraging students to have as normal of a collegiate experience as possible, and that means we’re having, on the back end, to be more creative about finding those spaces; about setting up the guidelines around those activities to make sure they can proceed,” said Warren. “It’s going to be a new experience, but it’s going to be one that we think will best suit our students moving forward.”
He said orientation is moving along as planned, with half of it being a virtual experience and the other half in a small group setting. According to TU, roughly 30% of their courses are moving online, while 15% will be completely in-person, including labs and performance-based courses. The remainder will be hybrid learning.
“Our attendance policies will relate to the receiving of the course content. So, whether you attend virtually or attend in person, that is up to the student,” said Warren. “We want to make sure we are empowering all of our students, as well as our faculty and staff, to know that their health and safety is paramount, and we will accommodate that this semester.”
Warren said students have more options this semester in choosing how they would like to receive educational delivery than ever before. He said the spirit and resilience of students' lives on.
"I have just been so impressed by the willingness of 18 and 19-year-old young adults to say, ‘I'll wear a mask,’” said Warren. “You know, ‘I will forego my Friday night activities, because I know that increases the danger, you know, on campus, or for my faculty member who I care about.’"
Students will also have the option to choose virtual learning, but not everyone wants to do that. One student said last year's college experience was cut short, but he's hopeful to add some structure back into this semester's schedule, even if it’ll be different from the traditional experience. Nicholas Tsahiridis is a rising sophomore from Branson, Mo. He said it’s hard to be motivated in a virtual setting, so he chose in-person instruction this year.
"There's definitely distractions being at home with work and family and everything like that,” said Tsahiridis. "I am glad we are actually going back on campus and able to be face-to-face with the professor and be able to talk to them during office hours."
Tsahiridis said he is excited to be back in school, surrounded by friends.
“You know, I’ve been home since March, and it’s been nice having some family time. I love my family, don’t get me wrong, but I feel like I am definitely ready to get back out on my own and just experience college again since I really only got about ¾ of the regular school year,” Tsahiridis said.
Tsahiridis believes TU has done a good job of keeping students informed, especially during an ever-evolving time full of unprecedented circumstances.
“I feel like they’ve been very detailed about the instructions that they’re sending out, and I feel like they’re taking all the necessary precautions,” Tsahiridis said. “There are definitely nerves there, but I am a big optimist, so I’ll make the most of it, and I am just super excited to get back into it. And I know, obviously, things will be different, but we still have the support from the teachers and fellow students.”
Warren told News On 6 that the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of students is taken very seriously. He said the school will work with students to reduce the risk of them falling behind.
“We provide mental health resources to all of our students. It is free. They have easy access to them,” said Warren. “We’ll be doing a combination of both virtual appointments and in-person experiences to make sure that the mental health and well-being of our students is being looked after this semester.”
The University of Tulsa said it wants the community to be vocal about their concerns and reach out without hesitation.
“One of the wonderful things about the University of Tulsa is that we’re a small institution,” said Warren. “You know, we can and have time to actually have those conversations with students and parents to make sure that their individual needs are met.”
Warren said the ‘what ifs’ are some of the most difficult conversations to have, “Because this is such a fluid and just dynamic situation.” He said every one of their plans for the fall has a ‘what if’ plan attached to it.
To learn more about the resources available to TU students, click here.