University President Gregory L. Fenves explained to students in a virtual town hall on Oct. 16 why Emory decided to continue limited residence hall occupancy and condense the spring semester by starting classes later and eliminating spring break. 

Fenves stated that while he and the executive vice presidents reviewed several options, the combination of the impending flu season, cold weather reducing outdoor activity and the volatility of COVID-19 made continuing a largely virtual academic experience the safest option.

“I know how many Emory students are disappointed that we couldn’t bring back all our students, that we couldn’t bring back all our seniors for their last semester,” Fenves said. “But in this once-in-a-century pandemic, we have to prioritize the health of the entire community.”

The University’s goal is to return to entirely in-person instruction with full on-campus residency for the 2021-22 academic year. 

After Fenves’ introduction, Student Government Association (SGA) President Lori Steffel (21B) moderated a question and answer session. SGA had emailed students a form for submitting questions the day prior, and Steffel compiled a list of the most frequently asked questions for Fenves, Vice President and Dean of Campus Life Enku Gelaye and Interim Provost Jan Love. 

The first topic concerned the University’s decision to not invite back seniors for their final semester.

Fenves said the University opted to offer additional rooms to off-campus first-years since it has been Emory’s “traditional commitment” to have all first-years living on campus, but did not directly address the decision to not invite seniors for in-person classes.

Professors will not be prohibited from assigning asynchronous content on mental health days./ Gabriella Lewis, Assistant Multimedia Editor

The conversation then shifted to mental health breaks. Steffel raised student concerns about demanding schedules, burnout and heightened anxiety, all of which have manifested for myriad students this semester. 

“We know everyone is exhausted,” Love said. “We’re to trying to organize the spring semester to say to faculty, ‘Take a deep breath, judge the pace of your course and the content of your course in light of the fact that we’re all suffering through a pandemic.’”

Love stressed that each school will decide if and when to include breaks, however, professors will not be prohibited from assigning asynchronous content on mental health days.

“I simply encourage you to plan ahead … so that you would be able to rest on a day when there are no classes,” Love said.

Gelaye spoke about the conversations she has had with students to determine how Emory can best provide support. She said being patient with one another as the University develops resources for students to cope with stress is important.

“When I talk to students, although they understand we have counseling and we’re going to make additional resources available, what they’re really looking for is empathy and compassion and one-on-one engagement,” Gelaye said. 

Steffel inquired about study abroad, athletics and commencement, but the panel stated that details are still under review. Love explained that the University is working on creating study abroad programs and Gelaye revealed that a more detailed proposal for athletics would be released in “two to three weeks”. 

Fenves continually commended the Emory community for being vigilant in preventing the spread of COVID-19, as minimizing the number of cases has allowed some students to enjoy an on-campus college experience.

“Your willingness to be part of a community, to follow the public health guidelines and to live up to our community compact has been truly amazing,” Fenves said.