Like so many things in the wake of COVID-19, a definition in the Urban Dictionary will need to change. “Bench sitting” in that publication is currently defined as: “Leisure activity unique to University of Mary Washington, where one or more students observe the activities and/or listen to the conversations of others while sitting on a Campus Walk bench.”
A fall 2020 definition: “Leisure activity unique to University of Mary Washington, where one student wearing a face mask observes from a distance of at least six feet the activities and/or listens to the conversations of others while sitting solo on a Campus Walk bench.”
In mid-March, the prospective surge of COVID-19 brought classes and on-campus activities to an abrupt halt. Just as perspectives and lives have been transformed in the past four months, so also has the campus environment from which students, faculty and staff suddenly evaporated.
“We know how much our students want to come back to campus,” said Vice President for Student Affairs Juliette Landphair. “They want to resume their holistic Mary Washington experience as much as possible.”
UMW’s iconic Adirondack chairs are situated farther apart. Around every turn, there’s a no-touch hand sanitizing station. Desks are surrounded by 64 feet of space. Triple-occupancy residence hall rooms are now singles or doubles. Tables in the dining hall are by reservation, and grab-and-go is the order of the day, with sushi for pickup in The Underground. Picnic tables are on Ball Circle. Plexiglas is prevalent as a protective barrier. Custis, Marshall and South halls have rooms designated for quarantine, if the need should arise.
Welcome to UMW reimagined in the age of coronavirus.
As outlined in #ForwardUMW, a detailed plan released this week for returning to campus in August, change is more than meets the eye. Schedules, relationships and behavior – all will be different. No glad-to-see-you-again hugs. No sitting side-by-side on benches. No studying with friends in the treehouse in Simpson Library. No Eagle Gathering; actually, no meetings of more than a couple dozen people. Athletic competitions are up in the air.
While Mary Washington administrators are focused on helping students prepare for and commit to behavioral and social expectations and requirements, they’re also committed to ensuring the semester runs smoothly and holds some pizzazz.
Students will work through Labor Day and forgo Fall Break. Classes will be a mix of online and in-person until the Friday before Thanksgiving. After a week-long break, students will remain at home to finish out the semester learning and taking final exams virtually. Then, they will have most of January off, returning to campus late in the month.
While around others, everyone on campus will wear a face mask and aim to stay at least six feet apart. And students will have more time – 20 minutes – between classes. That’s to allow for cleaning desks, washing hands and avoiding bottlenecks in hallways.
Monitoring. Masking. Distancing. Cleaning. (MMDC)
MMDC is the mantra for a return to campus in August. It is the foundation of training being developed by Dean of Student Life Cedric Rucker, in conjunction with representatives from the faculty and the offices of Diversity and Inclusion, Human Resources, Student Conduct and Title IX. Required for everyone returning to campus, the training will cover key information about COVID-19 and public health, as well as UMW policies and procedures in response to the pandemic.
At the conclusion of the training, all members of the UMW community will take the “Mary Washington Pledge” agreeing to several things including: regular self-monitoring of health conditions, not coming to campus if sick, wearing face coverings, and maintaining good hygiene practices and social distancing expectations.
Dean Rucker believes the UMW community will be on board. During a Q&A livestream last week, he said that in the end, students are committed to doing what it takes to make the most of their Mary Washington experience.
“They’re excited about reconnecting with this space. They feel that this is their home,” he said. “They recognize that things will be different. They have talked about what they’re willing to commit to make this work.”