Amid COVID pandemic, colleges prepare to welcome students back to campus


By Kara Witherow, Editor

This August, students across the state and around the country will converge on college campuses, ready to start a new school year.

While much will look different – masks are required on all University System of Georgia campuses, social distancing will be enforced, and hand sanitizer will be used more than ever – a good deal will stay the same, say leaders at two South Georgia United Methodist-affiliated colleges.

Keeping their 750 students safe and healthy is the top priority of Wesleyan College’s leadership.

“We are going to do everything we can do bring them back safely and keep them healthy while they’re here,” said Dr. Vivia Fowler, president of Wesleyan College.

Since early spring, Wesleyan faculty and staff have been planning and preparing for the start of the fall semester and have developed guidelines and protocols on how to safely return to in-person instruction.

Upon their return to campus, every student, faculty and staff member will sign a pledge to “Protect the Pack.” By signing the pledge, they promise to monitor themselves for coronavirus symptoms, to isolate themselves from others if they are symptomatic, to wear a mask when around others, and to observe social distancing and good hygiene practices.

“We’re moving ahead with rigorous plans to alter our behavior and the way we interact with each other to keep everyone as safe and healthy as we possibly can with the understanding that anything can change,” Dr. Fowler said.

They’ve gotten creative in redesigning class schedules to meet in larger spaces, changed the guidelines for room capacities for all spaces, have installed technology so every classes can be simulcast, and have set aside one wing of one residence hall in case the need for isolation arises.

“We have the benefit of a large campus and a small college,” Dr. Fowler said. “We’re going to do as much outdoors – outdoor meeting, outdoor dining, outdoor activities – that we can possibly do, and we’re blessed to have a wonderful campus and good weather into the fall.”

Like other colleges and social institutions, Andrew College has felt the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have grieved the loss of being together in the spring, of experiencing the normal rhythm of friends, sports, the arts, college activities, and one on one support and conversations,” said Dr. Linda Buchanan, president of Andrew College. “We have also grieved the souls lost in our community and around the world.”

With small class sizes – Andrew College’s average class size is less than 15 students – they’ll be able to abide by social distancing guidelines, Dr. Buchanan said. Modifications have been made to the dining hall, athletics, academics, and cocurricular offerings.

Religious life groups and organizations will be able to meet on campus with masks and social distancing guidelines in place and enacted. 

Both Dr. Fowler and Dr. Buchanan said their schools are at an advantage to care for their students well.

This spring, Wesleyan College created a group comprised of faculty and staff who each called 25-30 students weekly. Called Campus Connectors, they contacted the students, talked with them, and if there was a need, helped connect them with the appropriate people. Wesleyan College plans to continue the Campus Connectors program into the fall semester.

“We have a very intimate campus environment and we stay in really close contact with our students,” Dr. Fowler said.

Andrew College uses its size to its advantage, too. Faculty are able to form close relationships with students and help mentor them through college and life.

“Resident advisors will be particularly mindful of building community on each floor,” Dr. Buchanan said. “Our faculty are always attuned to the needs of first-year students; it’s what we do best.”

Both Dr. Buchanan and Dr. Fowler said that they covet prayers as they prepare for a new, uncertain school year.

“South Georgia United Methodist churches can support us with prayers,” Dr. Buchanan said. “It is going to be a difficult fall semester, no doubt about that.”