A virtual welcome, we all know, is not the same as smiles, hugs and the buzz of excitement around the start of the academic year.
In the wake of a decision to delay move-in to residential halls because of several COVID-19 cases on campus, Eastern Mennonite University hosted a series of virtual events to welcome students and their parents and caregivers.
Members of the campus community, including administrators, contributed to two town halls, one for students and one for parents and caregivers, as well as a worship service, among other online orientation events already scheduled for the weekend. A workshop on racial justice, hosted by the Student Government Association and Black Student Alliance, capped the schedule.
Classes begin Tuesday, Aug. 25, and faculty are busy reaching out to students with details on the shift. Residential students will move in Sept. 3-6.
A panel of administrators took a range of questions during the Student Town Hall about new move-in plans, how the household model would function, symptom tracking, commuter student health and safety, and more. President Susan Schultz Huxman, Provost Fred Kniss and Dean of Students Shannon Dycus took questions sent in by students, with Director of Student Programs and Orientation Rachel Roth Sawatzky acting as host.
A similar event later in the weekend for parents and caregivers offered the opportunity to hear from Huxman, Kniss and Dycus. Vice President of Student Recruitment and Innovation Jason Good was the host.
“The decision was difficult but right,” Huxman explained, a necessary move, even at such a late stage, to protect the health and safety of EMU’s campus community.
The affected student leaders and staff are important contributors to setting EMU’s campus culture and critical to the success and welfare of the community as new students arrive, she said.
Huxman reiterated that the Virginia Department of Health and Center for Disease Control guidelines for higher education institutions do not recommend in-home or entry testing of students, faculty or staff. EMU has implemented a daily symptom check and included quarantine before arrival, masking and physical distancing measures in addition to other health and safety protocols, she said.
[Visit the FAQs at www.emu.edu/coronavirus for more on health and safety protocols.]
Huxman acknowledged criticism for the delay, but also offered grateful thanks for “the outpouring of support, grace and prayers.”
Campus Pastor Brian Martin Burkholder and Campus Ministries staff hosted a Sunday worship service on the theme of worship, welcome and blessing. Two pastoral assistants and a professor offered anecdotes of belonging.
“Has there been a time when you felt included and someone showed hospitality when you least expected it? Or has there been a time when you did that for someone else?” said pastoral assistant Naomi Davis, echoing the theme of the service. “I pray that is something we can pass on…I do hope EMU can be that place for you, that you find clubs and spaces and moments where you are welcome, unexpectedly or when you do expect it, but that you find home here.”
The service was rich with music offerings from EMU’s Chamber Singers and the student-led group Celebration.
Even as transition can be overwhelming, and especially such a strange one as what we’re all experiencing, Burkholder reminded listeners of the power of faith.
“We know that our life experiences, our faith and nurture has brought us to this point and God is with us. God is with each one of us. God’s love shines through and surrounds us. As you go, go inspired even in the midst of change and loss and the dynamic of an unknown future, trusting that all will be well. All will be well, even if quite different than what you imagined.”