In less than a week, the currently sleepy hilltop will be abustle with students, monks, faculty and administration alike, all striving toward the monolithic goal that lays ahead: finish the spring 2021 semester on time, and on campus.
What the Saint Anselm College community achieved last semester, through the dedication and hard work of many, was impressive. While many other schools and institutions (sorry, SNHU) closed for the semester, Saint Anselm College kept students on campus, and closed out the semester without needing a lockdown or any other drastic measures. The students of Saint Anselm, despite the fatigue, strain, and seemingly endless sources of stress, were happier and better off being on campus. This effort, it should be noted, was an imperfect and an incomplete one.
The Student Response Task Force, under the purview of the Student Government Association, compiled and presented to the administration and student body an in-depth look at the achievements and shortcomings of the school during the fall semester, aimed at the goal of improving the school’s response for the coming semester. In an interview with President Favazza in the week before the student body’s return to campus, Doctor Favazza shed some light on the changes the college is making for the spring.
The President of the College began with noting that he, and the other COVID preparation teams, listened to the student feedback. One of the major criticisms the student body levied at the admin was the lack of transparency in the process of loosening restrictions on campus and “opening up” more normal interactions. Despite weeks of “reviewing intervisitation”, these reviews never produced any change, nor inspired any optimism among students. To combat this, President Favazza described a “phase system” where the college would clearly move from different levels of openness and restrictions. Admitting that last year’s methodology of loosening and tightening restrictions was “pretty vague”, Favazza pledged improvement, saying “We are gonna be very clear about the different phases through the semester. We have identified five phases”.
The president stayed mum on what these particular phases would entail, but was willing to provide insight into potential resources that might be “opened up” in the looser phases. Favazza provided some hope when he detailed what might be some exciting developments for dining on campus: “When we get into moderate activity or lighter restrictions, we are looking to be able to open, at least one day a week, the pub, with limited restrictions…hopefully if it can work, open the grille”.
While he didn’t provide specifics, he also indicated that intervisitation would be revamped for the new semester: “We are looking to add ways where we can make the student experience richer…visitation, moving that to a broader visitation, with lighter restrictions”. While students have heard this before, and might be dubious about these claims, they might be heartened to know that a Student Government proposal to increase intervisitation within buildings was passed through the Student Senate and to the administration before the end of last semester.
Visitation and other social needs are closely tied to what should be remembered as the administration’s biggest struggle of the Fall 2020 semester: student mental health. The college should be commended for keeping the positivity rate low, and being ahead of the curve on rapid testing accessibility, but the scourge of college and COVID-related anxiety, stress, and depression was on full display at the end of the fall semester. In response to this, Favazza detailed some promising changes and programs meant to address this growing issue.
The Anselmian Anchors program, first mentioned in Favazza’s email last week, is a program where college staff and faculty will be assigned to students who test positive or are quarantined as a result of contact tracing: “This is coming out of a recommendation from students, one of the focuses of this is providing more care to those who test positive and to those who quarantine. ‘Case workers’ will be assigned students in quarantine, and will check in on them to see how they are doing. It’s a pretty isolating thing, [quarantine], and it gets to the issue of mental health.”
To further the college’s effort of improving communication with the student body, Favazza also revealed that there will be a COVID-19 resource page on Canvas. This page is to present resources for students who test positive or are in quarantine, make clear the college reopening phases, as well as the metrics they rely upon, and more mental health resources related to the virus.
During our discussion, President Favazza revealed that some (not all) professors indicated to him that they were rethinking the workload they were assigning students. “They, a few faculty have had conversations with me understanding that the workload, perhaps trying to recalibrate this, you have to remind yourself students are taking three or four [other classes]”. Many students throughout the fall semester lamented the apparent dearth of understanding that the administration and many professors had with regards to student mental health, workload, and the unique strain of online learning.
To make in-person learning more attainable, the college has made physical modifications to Poisson and the third floor of Alumni hall. Walls were removed over break to ensure that classes that would have otherwise been hybrid will have the capacity for all the students in the class, thus eliminating the need for synchronous zoom sessions.
If nothing else, students should be assured that the college did not rest on its fall accomplishments this semester. The college has made changes, and claims that many of these changes were made as a result of student advocacy, whether through the Student Task Force or Mental Health Committee, or elsewhere. President Favazza remarked that, unlike last semester where we expected the virulence of the pandemic to increase as time went on, this semester, we are going headfirst into the deep-end.
“I don’t think anyone has any illusions over the first few weeks of the semester, it’s gonna get tough…but it will get better, we will have more options”. Favazza expressed hope for the college as the semester continued, noting that nursing students and eligible faculty would have higher access to the vaccine as time goes on, given current New Hampshire state guidelines. However, the college will be at an advantage this semester when it comes to detecting the virus on campus. The college has tripled its testing capacity, now with three rapid testing machines instead of just one.
The administration has promised, above all else, improvements in communication and transparency for the spring semester. Many of these improvements have come about thanks to the hard work and organization of students, and will be implemented by receptive administrators. If these things don’t end up coming to light, it would not have been for a lack of student advocacy.
The Hilltop beckons us all back to her rolling emerald hillocks and towering umber masonry. We must answer its call and return to our home away from homes, unified in our gratitude for the achievements of last semester, as well as our determination to do better this time. All of us- students, admin, faculty and the monastic community- have a duty to these ends.