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Potential campus return for Western students fall 2021

Students and faculty are curious in anticipation of a potential return to campus

Western's Red Square during fall 2018. Students may or may not return in person to this place in fall 2021. // Photo by Lauryn Haywood

By Lauryn Haywood

A spark of hope for a return to normalcy ignited with the Feb. 4 announcement, Plans for Returning to Campus this Fall sent out by Western Washington University’s President Sabah Randhawa. The possibility of a return to campus has raised questions as students plan their future with Western.

According to the announcement, the health and safety of Western students is the university’s number one priority. Western is working with the Whatcom County Health Department to ensure this, said Public Information Officer Melissa Morin said in an email to The Western Front. 

“Our staff meets biweekly with WWU regarding our joint COVID-19 responses,” Morin said. “During these meetings, WWU informed us of their intent to increase their dorm populations in the fall of 2021. We will be working with them throughout the year to help plan for the return of more students while ensuring appropriate safety and mitigation measures are in place.”

The basis of what in-person classes could look like is unknown at this time. Second-year theatre student Leah Shannon shared her experience with current in-person classes to give a glimpse into an experience most Western students do not have right now.

“[For typical daily procedure] we get in a line, socially distant,” Shannon said. “[Our professor says,] ‘I'm going to check your temperature,’ and would take your [and] check your COVID[-19] symptom cleared form. We have maps of where we go that we use that he's super insistent [with]. We always sanitize and everything like that.”

Shannon is enrolled in a theater movement class that takes place on campus once a week. Movement courses are difficult to maintain distance with, Shannon said, but the professor and school still make it work with required safety measures. 

Students living on campus or taking in-person classes are entered by the Health Center into a system where they are tracked for COVID-19 called the badge system. 

“We are required to get a bi-weekly COVID[-19] test,” Shannon said. “They have to obviously be negative [to attend class]. But if we are even overdue for the [COVID-19 symptom] daily survey and [if] our badge is yellow, we're not allowed to go in.”

The return of students to campus is hard to estimate for Whatcom health officials. It is too early to project what the circumstances will look like in the fall and will depend on the circumstances in the future, Morin said. 

Western has many decisions that are still dependent on the circumstances, said Western’s Director of Communications Paul Cocke in an email to the Front. 

Students may be able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine on campus depending on the supply, Cocke said. It is undecided whether or not the COVID-19 vaccine will be mandatory for students to be allowed back on campus.

“The decision [of mandatory vaccination] is being reviewed, but no decision has been made yet,” Cocke said. 

The future for Western students is still unknown as fall quarter is seven months away, and vaccinations are in the process of early distribution. In the meantime, students can check their vaccination phase eligibility right here

However, anticipation is on the horizon, as up to 5,000 people a week could possibly receive the vaccine starting this March. The question is whether all of these procedures and plans that are in place will be enough for a safe return to campus in the fall and resume normal activities.  

Even before the vaccine, Shannon said she feels safe on campus, but that is not a determinant of the future. Cocke said the school is following and depending on all of the state health and safety guidelines to ensure the health and safety of the Western student body.


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