–by Steven Bieber
PUBLICATION DATE: Sept 14, 2020
As Lourdes University kicked off its fall semester on Aug. 28, Sister Barbara Vano, president for Mission and Ministry and Director of Service Learning, discussed the challenges of providing an education to students during this time in the Russell J. Ebeid Hall on campus.
The university has new protocols in place for students and staff. Vano stated, “What we ask is that everywhere in the public spaces everyone has to wear a mask and social distance. When students come from housing or commuting, at whatever building they primarily enter, they will have their temperature taken the first time they are on campus.”
Because Lourdes is a private Franciscan university, in the past students could regularly attend service at the university’s Queen of Peace Chapel. Due to Covid-19 there are some changes. “Because that is used primarily by the sisters, and many of them who come to services there are in the vulnerable population, we have left the chapel closed to the public. What we are doing is referring people to Saint Joseph’s or we also help them find a local church. We have some prayer spaces on campus for personal prayer,” Vano said.
Many universities across the country had to find new and safe ways to house students. Fortunately for Lourdes, students were already in apartment-style housing. Vano noted that there still had to be some minor changes to the way students were housed.
“We just limited the number of people in an apartment. We have one and two-bedroom apartments and sometimes we would have two or three people in a bedroom using bunk beds or something. Now they have these new apartments so we limited the number of people in each apartment as well as keeping some apartments separated and empty to use as quarantine space,” Vano explained. “One of the reasons we felt comfortable talking about reopening is because we knew that it’s one person and his or her roommate with one bathroom and a living room and a kitchen, so they’ve got a lot of space to spread out. They’re not sharing the bathroom with five other people down the hall. It makes it much safer, and then of course there are all the supplies around so people can disinfect and clean their area.”
Students arrived at different times to avoid large clusters as they were moving in. To protect students, multiple events were canceled or modified. The Convocation, which involves gathering students and parents to celebrate the start of the academic year, was canceled and the annual barbecue for students as they were moving in was spread out to keep students safe. Most orientation events were held via Zoom. Students were still able to do service projects at different service sites. However, they were sent in smaller groups and wore masks.
This year students will have the option to attend class in-person or online if they cannot return to campus or they do not feel safe. Unfortunately, attending class online is not the same as attending class in-person. “They lose a lot of the more relational pieces of face-to-face instruction, but we’ve tried very hard not to have that be too impactful. We do have some students who were not able to return to campus either because of their personal health situation or because we have some students in foreign countries who aren’t able to come back right now, so for them, everything is strictly online,” Vano noted.
According to Sister Vano, between 50 to 60 percent of classes are either face-to-face or a hybrid of in-person and online. When Covid-19 is no longer a threat, Sister Vano looks forward to being able to get together without having to do so much planning. She also looks forward to being able to shake someone’s hand or give them a hug.
Sister Vano offered students at Lourdes some advice to get through this time, “Be patient with yourself and have a sense of humor, and always talk about your concerns. There is nothing worse than sitting there and worrying about something and not having a trusted friend or a counselor or a professor that you can talk to about it. I think then that those concerns get bigger in your head than they need to be. We just hope people will seek out the conversations and we’ll help them.”