As we came back for our spring semester on campus, there were a handful of changes introduced to students during the transition back. Mixed into these changes was open hours returning to campus — with some modifications to meet COVID guidelines.
Some of these changes to open house hours included the following: a masking requirement for everyone on the floor when they are traveling within the halls or interacting with people who are not a part of their ‘family unit,’ a limit on the number of people in each room, encouragement to social distance with the rooms themselves, and the discouragement to eat or drink.
In addition to these changes, the time frame of open hours (from last spring) shifted from three days a week down to one night a week for three hours.
When looking at the Taylor community right now, there are a lot of items that are still far from normal. From weekly chapel rotations to a lack of napkins on the Dining Commons tables, it hardly seems like the best time to bring back a social activity like open hours.
With that said, students across campus spoke up about wanting open hours to return, leading to the decision to have altered open hours for the spring, according to Skip Trudeau, vice president of student development. This push to have open hours went as far as having an online petition circulate towards the end of J-Term, affirming Trudeau, as well as other members of the PeRT team, beliefs from the students.
“PeRT was discussing open hours as we anticipated Grant County’s move from red to orange,” said Trudeau. “We did hear of the petition and were already in discussion about open hours. A petition affirmed that some students were interested in open hours.”
Overall, open hours offer a sense of normalcy to the students of Taylor. A key part of communal living is having a shared space and being able to share that space with friends.
Jesse Brown, dean of students, said this was a key reason to bring back open hours.
“We really felt like students wanted to share their living space with friends,” said Brown. “Open hours is part of their campus experience.”
With that said, the return of these privileges were granted with conditions. In the same notion, these conditions seem to be inconsistent. When gauging the opinions of hall directors, two hall directors declined to answer, stating that all questions about open hours should be directed to those in student development, specifically citing Brown and Trudeau as recommended contacts.
Sophomore Jonathan Kersten, a PA in Samuel Morris Hall, finds the rules difficult to understand without accountability. Specifically, he said PAs were told to not act as "mask police." He stated the floor had a struggle with this, estimating the 30% of people on the floor were not obedient to this.
“It is difficult for people to follow these guidelines when they are used to living on their floor/wing the other 165 hours of the week when they are not expected to wear a mask,” said Kersten.
If PAs are not responsible for this duty, who is?
According to Brown, this falls under the jurisdiction of Residence Life.
“I and others have heard of students following and students disregarding the expectations,” said Brown. “Res Life and myself respond to those who do not follow the expectations.”
Additionally, we’ve already seen these rules being changed to fit special “circumstances” such as additional hours being offered on the snow day, on Tuesday, Feb. 16 . These exceptions were made, according to Trudeau, based on “a specific request from some staff folks who wanted to take advantage of the fact that classes had been canceled to inclimate weather.”
While special situations arise, if we are already shifting rules and aren’t being clear in communicating the rules, how are we supposed to learn the actual expectations being set out?
Taylor students are eager for the return of open hours, but there is definitely some fear that still remains. Junior Annika Peterson, a PA in Olson Hall, discussed her fears.
“While I am excited for the new opportunities for interaction within the Taylor community, especially for our freshmen who have never experienced open hours before, I have hesitations in terms of how it will increase the spread of covid across campus,” Peterson wrote. “As a PA, seeing how covid has spread so rapidly among groups of people across campus and how it has affected our community so negatively this year, I was initially very hesitant to hear about open hours being allowed and nervous to see how closely the students will follow the guidelines.”
With a low number of cases on campus thus far in the semester, we would hate to see that number increase because of a lack of clear rules being enforced across the board.
As a campus, the return of open hours offers a sense of normalcy and is exciting for a majority of students. However, the current precautions being set into place need to be more consistently outlined and accurately enforced.