This letter will ask you to commit to your plans for the spring semester, on- or off-campus. There is a lot of detailed material here; please read this letter carefully so that you can make as informed a decision as possible.
One thing we have going for us this time around is a bit more experience in what our campus looks like and how it functions with COVID guidelines in place. Last August, we were all anxious about the logistics of re-opening the campus. So much depended on students’ willingness to abide by the rules. My colleagues and I won’t rest until the semester is over, but we’re definitely impressed so far. The vast majority of you have shown yourselves to be responsible, capable citizens of Williams, exhibiting care for yourselves and your community. Keep up the good work.
Now that faculty have voted on a spring term calendar, we need to ask you to declare your intention to study on campus or remotely, or to take a leave. Please fill out the Intent to Enroll form as soon as possible, and no later than Tuesday, December 1. We won’t accept requests to live on campus received after December 1. All students must complete this form, even if you intend to continue your status as is.
To complete the Intent to Enroll form:
1. Go to the Williams Student Records homepage
2. Choose Student Records → Self-Service Forms → Intent to Enroll Form
While you must complete the form by no later than December 1, please do so as soon as you have made your decision. Earlier responses will allow us to begin our planning process sooner, and increase the chances of a good result for all.
Before you jump to the form, please read the rest of this letter carefully: There’s a lot of information here that you’ll want to have before you commit.
Public health considerations
First, our ability to offer an in-person option will depend on the public health outlook in January and February. If COVID rates spike on campus or in the region, we may have to shift to a remote or partially remote semester. We hope such moves won’t be necessary, but can’t make promises until we have more reliable data about the public health outlook for February. I advise you to follow the data yourselves, by regularly checking the Covid ActNow data for Massachusetts and Berkshire County and watching for emerging trends.
The spring semester will begin on Wednesday, February 17, and will run until May 29. There won’t be the usual two-week spring break in late March. Instead, there will be a few “health days” embedded in the calendar. Travel will be prohibited during the brief breaks, since the need for post-travel quarantine would disrupt the academic schedule.
If all goes well, we expect classes to end on Wednesday May 19th, with a reading period running from Thursday May 20th through Sunday, May 23rd, and final exams running from Monday, May 24th through Saturday, May 29th.
As was the case in the fall, we’ll again allow you to request an arrival date and time within a specific window. You’ll report for an initial test on arrival and then go straight into quarantine until you’ve cleared two successive negative tests.
One difference is that we plan to allow students to pick up their own to-go meals from the dining hall during quarantine, unlike in the fall, when students stayed in their rooms and had meals delivered.
Students who are on campus this semester and plan to be here again in spring will most likely be able to keep their current housing assignments. There may have to be some exceptions, and we will let you know as soon as possible if you’ll be asked to move.
If a much larger cohort of students plans to be on campus in the spring, we won’t be able to guarantee everyone a room to themselves. If you currently have a double to yourself, you may have to share with a roommate in spring. Similarly, if you’re off-campus now but planning to return from remote study or a leave, it’s quite possible that you will have a roommate. (We’ll set aside a small number of singles for students with a documented medical need.)
Additionally, if we have a much larger cohort of on-campus students, we may also house some students in local hotels, where the college is reserving blocks of rooms. Many peer schools are doing the same.
This is information everyone should consider before deciding whether you want to be on campus in spring. Dean Doug Schiazza will send additional information soon about how the housing lottery will work for students who are currently away from campus and planning to return this spring.
Dining will for the most part operate as it has this fall. Both Driscoll and Paresky will open Monday through Friday for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and on Saturday and Sunday for brunch and dinner only. The hot and cold air screens will remain in place, with additional menu items offered to go.
The ‘82 Grill, Fresh ’n Go, and Lee Snack Bar will all be open for lunch Monday through Friday, and seven days a week for dinner service.
All meals will be to go, and there will be no seating in the dining halls. You should anticipate longer queueing for meals than this fall, because of the expected increase in the student population, combined with COVID precautions. If you do plan to return, the Dining staff encourages you to download and use the GET mobile app to pre-order meals at ’82 Grill, Lee Snack Bar, and Fresh and Go.
The latest information about hours and locations is always available on the Dining website.
The safety precautions next spring are likely to look similar to the ones that have served us well so far. Here are a few details:
Following your initial quarantine, you’ll participate in regular testing, on a schedule to be determined later. Students will again live in pods, and will be expected to practice social distancing and masking when interacting with non-podmates. Travel and hosting of visitors will be prohibited. Indoor student gatherings will be restricted to established occupancy limits, and all informal gatherings will be limited to 10 people at most. Students who have not already signed our Public Health Commitment will have to do so before being allowed to return for the spring.
After students clear their individual quarantines, there will be an initial campus quarantine — length to be determined. At that point, we will determine whether it is safe to revert to our current established boundary (campus plus specified North Adams corridor).
Registered Student Organizations (RSOs) will continue to conduct the majority of their activities virtually. Students wishing to hold in-person events will have to submit written requests, including detailed plans for Covid-19 precautions.
NESCAC, our athletic conference, hasn’t yet made a firm decision about spring sports. Student athletes should be prepared for the possibility intercollegiate competition will be canceled, as was the case for fall and winter sports. If this happens, the coaches will work with athletes to design safe training opportunities.
Before ending the campus life section, I want to strike a somber note. Students tell me I’ve become known for stern emails, which is funny since I’m not a stern person! But it would be wrong of me not to remind everyone of the fact that Williamstown tends to be a cold, dark, and snowy place from January through early April. That will make for some important differences from campus life this fall: you won’t be able to eat and congregate in larger groups outside. Most gatherings will have to be indoors, in much smaller groups. Recreational and social options will be limited, and students will have to walk to pick up meals and bring them back to their living spaces multiple times per day.
I don’t wish to deter anyone who feels that coming back is the right choice. And winter can also be a fun time to be in the Berkshires. But we do owe you a realistic sense of what to expect.
The course catalog for the spring semester will be available starting November 9th. You’ll be able to see what courses will be offered, which faculty will be teaching and in what modality (remote vs. hybrid). Please know that the modality of some courses may change after the publication of the course catalog, since the number of in-person courses we can offer is a product of the number of students who return and the number of classrooms large enough to accommodate everyone with social distancing. If enrollment is high, we’ll likely need to switch some in-person courses to remote, in order to satisfy demand.
It’s much too early to predict whether an in-person commencement will be possible next June. We’re hopeful that we’ll be able to offer some sort of celebration for current seniors, but it may not be possible to hold a traditional, official commencement with the conferral of degrees, or to welcome family members to campus.
We do know that we won’t be able to allow the traditional two-week window for on-campus senior activities. But we do plan to work with the class officers to see if we can come up with a scaled-down and Covid-safe set of events. We’ll explore this in more detail during the spring.
Returning from a leave
If you’re currently on leave and want to return for the spring semester, you must complete both the intent to enroll form and the appropriate readmission form. When you access the latter, please make sure to fill out the correct version: there are different forms depending on whether you’re returning from personal leave, academic leave or health-related leave. The version for returning from health-related leaves requires a personal narrative as well a medical provider statement.
You must submit all of the required paperwork, including the provider component, before December 1. Please plan ahead to make sure your forms are submitted on time. We won’t consider late requests to return to campus from medical leave.
Student Health Insurance Plan
As a reminder, all students are required by Massachusetts law to have health insurance valid for use in the state of Massachusetts. For students who are on leave or studying remotely, but plan to enroll for the spring semester, you will automatically be enrolled in the College’s Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP) for the spring semester. Coverage will be effective February 1, 2021.
If you or your family have an existing health insurance plan, you may submit a waiver to exempt yourself from the SHIP. Please be on the lookout for more information about accessing the health insurance portal and waiving health insurance via the College’s SHIP if necessary. More information about the SHIP may be found on the Student Health and Wellness Services website.
This is a lot of information to absorb. Our campus emails have gotten impressively long, which reflects how much news we often have to share with you. It also reflects how much work is going on to make return possible in the spring. The fact that so many students want to return is a “good problem to have”: a sign that our investments are paying off and making it not only possible but desirable to come back. But it’s also a hard problem to navigate, since we need to balance your ability to choose what’s best for you with our ability to provide for your needs and safety.
I hope you’ll make a considered decision based on what we’ve told you. If you have questions or want to discuss your options further, please feel free to reach out to me or your class dean (see below) for more information. I will be in touch with more specific information as it becomes available later this semester. Meanwhile, thank you for all you have each done (individually and collectively) to help us succeed so far this fall. I am very heartened to see the ways in which you are working hard to care for yourselves and others, while also making the most of an incredibly challenging semester.
All best wishes,
Want to talk over your decision for the spring semester with a dean?
First years – contact Dean Christopher Sewell at [email protected]
Sophomores – contact Dean Tamanika Steward at [email protected]
Juniors – contact Dean April Ruiz at [email protected]
Seniors – contact Dean Janice Williams at [email protected]
International students – contact Dean Ninah Pretto at [email protected]