Students: Important Information About the Fall Semester

Dear Students,

Since late June when we announced our campus plans for the fall, the national context with regard to Covid-19 has worsened considerably. While we are still hoping to open the campus as planned, shifting national conditions as well as updated regulations by the governor of Massachusetts have required us to tighten our rules. This communication may seem unusually strict for Williams.  However, all of the measures outlined here are designed to protect the safety of our community, and we look forward to a time when they are no longer necessary.

Our ability to welcome students back to campus is possible only if all community members act in a manner consistent with our protective measures. We are holding all students accountable to our public health guidelines — this includes students living in our residence halls, as well as students who are enrolled in person and living nearby in off-campus housing. While I fully expect students to respect these rules and show care for each other, it is important to know that students who egregiously violate our health requirements can expect to be immediately transitioned from in-person to remote enrollment, and will be required to leave campus. Such violations might also lead to a formal disciplinary process that could result in probation, suspension, or expulsion. Please know that we will be strictly enforcing our policy in order to protect the campus community.

I will start with a bulleted list of important changes to our plan, and then provide additional details about those updates, including information about packing, arrival, testing, quarantine, and public health requirements. If, after you read our updates and protocols, you feel conditions are such that you would prefer to study remotely for the semester or take a leave or gap year, we certainly understand. Please contact Cyndi Haley in the Dean’s Office as soon as possible if you would like to change your enrollment option.  Between now and arrival, we will continue to monitor the situation to determine whether we need to change course.

Important updates:

  • Upon arrival, students will be quarantined in their dorm rooms until they have received TWO negative Covid-19 tests. Initial quarantine is expected to last a minimum of five to seven days. During this time, students will only be allowed to leave their rooms to use the bathroom and to go to the testing site for their second test. All meals will be delivered into a central dorm location for pick up during quarantine.

  • In addition to the initial in-room quarantine, students will be required to remain on campus at least through September. This means that going to Stop and Shop, Walmart, and other off-campus destinations—even within Berkshire County—will be prohibited during this time, although students may exercise or hike with appropriate social distancing in the surrounding area.

  • Once the on-campus quarantine ends (if the health conditions permit), students will not be permitted to travel outside of Berkshire County for the duration of the fall semester. The only exceptions to this policy are medical or family emergencies. All travel outside the county must be cleared in advance by the Dean of the College, and will likely require some level of quarantine upon return to campus. Students who travel without advanced permission will not be permitted to return to campus.

  • Initially, we plan to test students twice per week. Each student will be provided with a schedule and instructions. Testing is required without exception. Any student who misses more than one test will not be able to remain on campus. Their enrollment status will immediately be changed from in person to remote, and they will no longer have access to any campus buildings or resources.

  • Our fitness center and all indoor athletic facilities will be closed at the outset, and are likely to remain closed throughout the fall semester. This means that students, including varsity athletes, will not have access to indoor athletic spaces (e.g., pool, squash courts, basketball courts, etc.). Coaches will work with athletes on developing outdoor training activities. Outdoor PE options will be available for all students. As the semester unfolds, we will assess the situation and determine whether it is possible to provide access to any of our indoor facilities/equipment in a safe manner.

  • Varsity athletes will not be engaged in any team activity (formal or informal) until the week of September 14th. At that point, coaches will work with athletes on approved outdoor training activities.

  • While we anticipate that our student organizations, clubs and groups will be active this semester, their default mode of operation will be either outdoors with adequate social distancing or online/virtual. Student groups cannot use indoor campus space for group gatherings without advance permission. Student groups who wish to request the use of indoor space for group activities will need the approval of a faculty or staff adviser, and their proposal will need to include an explanation of how they intend to use the space in a way that meets all public health requirements (room capacity, social distancing, mask wearing, etc.).

  • Driscoll and Whitman’s dining halls will be open for take-out meals only. The Snack Bar, 82 Grill, and Grab & Go will be available via mobile ordering through the new GET App.  Although students cannot eat together in the dining halls, this does not mean that you will be required to eat alone. Students can eat together outside (with adequate social distancing) and students in the same pods can eat together without the use of masks and social distancing.

  • An increasing number of faculty members (more than half so far) have informed us that they plan to teach remotely this fall. Some faculty may decide to switch from hybrid teaching to a remote-only option after pre-registration—or even after the semester begins—so please be aware that course modalities are subject to change, and students may find that some or all of their courses are remote.

In addition to these important updates, I’d like to provide some additional detail about your arrival and campus life during the fall semester.


We recommend that students pack lightly for two reasons: (1) each student will be responsible for moving their own belongings to their room, so it will be important to take only what you can comfortably carry on your own; and (2) students may need to shift their housing assignments during the semester, so having fewer items will make it easier to move if necessary.

  • For public health reasons you won’t be allowed to access stored or shipped belongings until after your initial quarantine period is complete and negative test results are confirmed. We encourage you to travel with any clothing and personal items (prescription medication, toiletries, schoolwork, entertainment, etc.) you’ll need during quarantine and through September.

  • Linens (sheets, pillow, blanket, towels) will be provided for the initial quarantine period. Students will be expected to return the linens after they have been cleared from quarantine.

  • Students should bring their own thermometers for personal use.

Arrival on campus

Two weeks ago, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker issued an executive order on travel to the state that requires completion of a travel form and a 14-day quarantine before entering the state (or a negative Covid test result within 72 hours before arrival). Violators can be fined up to $500 per day. Our protocol for students (described below) meets state requirements.

  • All Williams students must certify they have completed the travel form as part of the campus check-in process. This certification, along with instructions for completing the travel form can be found here. Please read the document over in advance, before travelling to campus.

  • We ask every student, regardless of place of origin, to quarantine for 14 days before coming to campus. If this is impossible, please minimize risk by practicing vigilant hygiene and social distancing, and quarantining for as long as possible prior to arrival.

  • Given these new state travel restrictions, we strongly recommend that family members do not accompany your student to Williams. If you must do so, please respect the governor’s order. As a reminder, to minimize risk of campus contagion you’ll be asked to drop your student off at a designated drop-off zone and immediately leave campus. Family members will not be able to accompany students to their dorm rooms or spend time with them after drop off.

  • If a student or accompanying person has symptoms of illness, tests positive for Covid-19, or is placed in quarantine prior to leaving for Williams, they must stay home until cleared to travel by a medical professional. We’ll be happy to work with any student who needs to postpone their arrival on campus.

Testing upon arrival

Testing and contact tracing are the backbone of our health and safety protocols, and are critical to controlling transmission of the virus. This is the only way to identify Covid positive individuals who are asymptomatic and limit their interactions with others.

All students studying on campus in the fall—including those who are living in off-campus housing— will be required to participate in the testing protocol. Students who fail to responsibly participate in the testing program as instructed will not be allowed to be on campus or to use any on-campus services.  These students will be transitioned from in person to remote enrollment and must leave campus immediately.

  • Testing will occur at drop-off and is required before students can access their rooms.

  • All students are required to wear a face covering while waiting for testing; the site is designed to allow 6 feet between individuals. Staff at the testing site will wear face coverings and protective gear.

  • Students will be asked to complete a quick symptom check to confirm they are feeling well. Next, they will sanitize their hands and complete a brief registration, confirming their identity.  They will be given a specimen bag with a sterile swab and a specimen tube labeled with their name and date of birth.

  • Students will then perform their own swab under the observation of a trained staff member (Note: Students under 18 year old will have the swab performed by a trained staff member).

  • Williams has contracted with the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard for our testing kits and processing. Williams will staff our testing site. The Broad test is a RT-PCR test that is a high throughput version of the CDC 2019-nCoV Realtime RT-PCR test. This test uses nasal swabs in the lower nasal cavity (anterior nares swabs) and differs from the more uncomfortable test involving a swab placed deeply into the upper nasal cavity (nasopharyngeal swabs).

Initial Quarantine

After taking the initial test, each student will be quarantined in their dorm room until they have received two negative tests. Students can expect to be in quarantine for five to seven days upon arrival and should plan accordingly. Students who test positive for Covid-19 will be in isolation for a longer period.

  • During initial quarantine, students will be restricted to their rooms, and movement will be restricted to bathroom access, picking up meals delivered to the dorm, and going to the testing site.  Bathrooms will be stocked with cleaning supplies so that students can sanitize between each use. Students must wear a face covering when they exit their rooms for these purposes.

  • All meals will be delivered into a central dorm location for pick up during quarantine.

In addition, every room will be equipped with a MicroFridge, a combination microwave/mini-fridge that Dining Services will stock with a Quarantine Care package, including food items to supplement the delivered meals.

  • Students may not meet with or visit friends in-person during quarantine —even when wearing a face covering and while practicing social distancing. We do encourage students to interact with their peers virtually (online).

  • Results of students’ initial tests should be available within 48 hours. Anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 will be notified by Student Health Services. Those who test negative will see their results via an online portal.

  • Students will be scheduled for a second test after they receive the results of their initial test. Students will be permitted to leave their rooms (with face coverings) in order to go to the testing site for their second test, and then must return immediately to in-room quarantine.

  • After a second negative test, students will be released from quarantine.

  • Any student with a positive test result, regardless of whether they live on campus or off campus, will be relocated to specific isolation housing with ongoing medical and dining support.

  • Because some students might remain in quarantine after classes begin, we will be asking all faculty to hold the first day of their courses remotely even if the class is scheduled to meet in person.

Quarantine through September

In addition to the in-room quarantine upon arrival, there will be a “campus quarantine” for all students living in the residence halls at least until the end of September.

  • From arrival until the end of September, students will be required to stay on the Williams College campus. This means that travel to Stop and Shop, Walmart, and other off-campus destinations —even within Berkshire County— will not be permitted, although as noted above, students may exercise or hike in the surrounding area. Use of personal vehicles will be prohibited. As noted in earlier communications, there will be no travel away from campus during this period unless there is a medical or family emergency.

  • Students should bring a supply of toiletries, prescriptions, and other necessary personal items to last through September.

  • At the end of September, we will assess the infection rate and determine whether we can loosen this policy.

Ongoing testing

Initially we plan to test students twice per week.  We will evaluate our testing protocols as the semester moves forward and determine pace and schedule in response to an assessment of conditions on campus. Students will be provided with a testing schedule and instructions.

  • It is imperative that students stick to their assigned testing schedule. They may not miss their appointments.

  • Any student who misses more than one test will not be able to remain on campus.  Their enrollment status will immediately be changed from in-person to remote, and they will no longer have access to any campus buildings or resources. We recognize that this policy is strict and does not provide flexibility; this is the only way to ensure that our testing and contact tracing can work effectively. Thus it will be students’ responsibility to make sure they are tested as scheduled.

  • Our testing protocol relies on communication via students’ mobile devices. Students must update their mobile phone information in PeopleSoft. To do so, log into PeopleSoft →  Williams Student → Student Records → Personal Details → Contact Details → Phone → Edit Phone.

  • Students who do not have access to a mobile device, or have an international mobile phone number, should contact Cyndi Haley as soon as possible to discuss an alternative plan for communication.

Travel after September

Even if we relax the on-campus quarantine, students will not be permitted to travel outside Berkshire County for the duration of the semester. The only exceptions to this policy are medical or family emergencies, and all travel outside the county must be cleared in advance by the Dean of the College. Students who travel without advanced permission will not be permitted to return to campus.

Public health guidelines

All students received a copy of the Student Community Health Commitment on June 30. Every student must sign this commitment in the Housing Portal prior to initial testing & check in. Please be sure to read this document carefully.

  • It is crucial for students to feel comfortable communicating to each other about following health and safety guidelines. Please speak up (respectfully) when you see someone falling short of our expectations. Similarly, please be gracious and understanding if somebody lets you know that they are concerned about your behavior. We will fail even before we have a chance to succeed if students don’t hold each other accountable and treat each other with respect.  We expect the majority of monitoring and corrective behavior to happen among students.

  • If we learn that students are not upholding our guidelines in regard to face covering and social distancing, we will initiate a conversation with a dean. Any continued infractions will result in removal from campus. Students’ enrollment status will be changed from in-person to remote, and they will no longer have access to campus buildings or resources.

  • Some health violations are so egregious that a single (first) violation will result in immediate removal from campus. These include but are not limited to: not following all rules of quarantine or isolation when required to do so by health professionals, not adhering to travel restrictions, inviting/hosting individuals who are not currently enrolled Williams students on to campus, purposefully exposing others to or threatening others with the fear of contagion, or hosting/attending a gathering or party where the number of guests or social distance between guests violate the public health guidelines. This policy applies to both on- and off-campus residences. Both hosting and attending such gatherings pose untenable risk, and we cannot allow students who behave in these ways to remain on campus.

  • In addition to removal from campus, repeated or egregious violations will likely result in formal disciplinary action.

Remote courses

An increasing number of faculty members (more than half so far) have informed us that they plan to teach remotely this fall. Some have personal risk factors to consider, and many with children are contending with the possibility of disruptions at local preschools and K-12 school systems. Others believe that it is a better format for their particular subject matter. Some faculty may decide to switch from hybrid teaching to a remote-only option even after the course catalog goes live, so please be aware that the listed modality is subject to change.

These and other potential changes in faculty plans are increasing the chance that even students living on campus may be attending all or a significant number of their classes virtually.

Thanksgiving break

Please note that students are expected to leave campus prior to Thanksgiving Break and continue the semester (including reading and finals periods) remotely. Students will be expected to vacate residence halls no later than noon on Sunday, Nov. 22. Classes will be held on Monday, Nov. 23 and Tuesday, Nov. 24 and students will be expected to participate remotely.

Students who need to remain on campus during the Thanksgiving break and through December and January can petition to do so. Our current plan is that those approved to stay would remain in their fall semester rooms; however, there will be some instances in which we may need to consolidate students or close buildings, requiring some students to move. Those who are given permission to remain on campus during this period will not be allowed to travel outside Berkshire County and then return to campus housing.

The realities of a very different fall

I recognize that this letter presents a very different kind of fall semester than you likely were envisioning. I wish the circumstances were different, and I am looking forward to the time when innovations in vaccines and therapeutics allow us once again to interact in the ways we most value. For now, however, it is important that each of you has an accurate sense of what campus life will be like this fall.

If you want to reconsider your plan to live on campus, you still have the option to change to remote study or take a leave or gap year. If you’re considering such a move, please contact Cyndi Haley in the Dean’s Office immediately to let us know.

I’ll continue to email you with additional announcements or changes to help you feel comfortable with your decision, whatever it is, whenever new information emerges. Thank you for your patience and support as we respond to evolving guidance from federal, state and local health officials and adapt our plans as needed to keep our community safe. Meanwhile, I’m sending you best wishes for the remainder of the summer.

Marlene Sandstrom
Dean of the College and Hales Professor of Psychology