President Favazza held a virtual town hall over Zoom this Wednesday night in the wake of a small COVID-19 outbreak on campus. Although not all the questions answered directly related to the outbreak, Favazza did use the forum as an opportunity to continue to project what he has attempted to do since the middle of last March: stay ready, stay calm.
He began the evening’s forum by giving the facts about the outbreak: 8 new positive tests, 4 positives on Tuesday, 4 on Wednesday. All of the cases are among student-athletes, though he was unable to give more information on the cases for purposes of privacy. It is widely believed on campus that the virus made its way onto campus through Dominic Hall and its residents. State health officials and contact tracers are working on site tracing and containing the outbreak. President Favazza made it clear that there is no one “tipping point” the college would have to reach to send students home but also reminded us that some of these factors include the number of positive cases on campus, the density of cases in the Greater Manchester area, and the college’s capacity to test and contain the virus on campus.
President Favazza assured the viewers on Zoom that not only is the campus ready for this troubling event, but that they expected it and saw it as an inevitability. The President claimed that there could be “increased cleaning” as well as changes to the Spagnuolo Gym reservation system. Moreover, he noted that some athletic team meetings and conditioning sessions had been suspended. Beyond that, however, he continued to reinforce that Saint Anselm College would continue to stay the course, and no other major changes will take place, yet.
Some students pushed on this during the question-and-answer part of the evening. Some asked if the possibility of quarantining or testing all of Dominic Hall was in the cards. Favazza did note that there would be increased testing in Dominic, and as far as quarantining the building and whether or not it was a possibility, he said “Certainly. We are not there yet”.
Throughout the evening, President Favazza answered questions from students who sounded concerned, frightened even, about their health and safety on campus. Favazza continued to tell these students if they aren’t normally contacted for random testing or by contact tracers, then they are at liberty to go to health services and request a test. However, President Favazza cited the college’s testing capacity as one measure of success, and there are concerns that increased student requests for testing would quickly stress that capacity.
Continued partying and unsafe social practices were also frequent topics of discussion during the 60-minute forum. Students expressed concerns about crowds on the quads and in courtyards. To this, Favazza repeated the phrases, “We can’t be everywhere at once”, and “I would encourage them not to do that” more than once. There won’t be increased observation of student social behavior on campus; such a role is reserved to the student body and Residence Life staff.
On the topic of RA’s and Residence Life, Favazza recognized the difficulties they have faced this semester with their increased risk and responsibilities. “I know they’re in a tougher role…Try to make it a little bit easier for them” he appealed to the student body. He also noted that if any RA, in the course of doing their job, feels as though they were at risk, they can request a test. There was no further mention of increased PPE supplies or assistance to student Residence Life employees (student employees were given face shields after increased complaints some time ago).
Continuing on the path and staying the course was the theme of the night, with Favazza trying to project calm preparedness in his remarks. When asked about potential changes the college could make, he accepted some as possibilities, including adding Ben-and-Jerry’s ice cream to Davison Hall but balked at others, including Grill reservations, relaxing intervisitation, and a concrete plan to get student representation on the Board of Trustees. The Board is losing several senior members this year, including the Chair and Vice-Chair, and the administration has stated they want to wait until the legal dispute ends until they begin to add students on the BOT. Not only could this take months or years, but would likely be past the end of the pandemic and this inflection point is where student input is so sorely lacking.
During his remarks, President Favazza took time away from the outbreak on campus and directed his attention toward racial justice. He took his stance on the issue, which was nuanced but well measured. He affirmed unequivocally that “Black Lives Matter”, and called on the student body to recognize that in the history of our nation and society, Black Americans have faced myriad prejudices and disadvantages impeding them on the path to full citizenship. He remarked on his past growing up in Memphis TN, where most of the people he was around were black, and despite being from the same place, he recognized that his experience was different, because of the color of his skin. He called on the school’s duty to face racism “with courage”, but also to avoid depicting law enforcement with “broad and negative strokes”. He asked for “open minds and hearts”, and affirmed his belief that standing with and saying “Black Lives Matter” does not put one against law enforcement.
The class of 2020 was not to be forgotten this evening, as the President discussed the ongoing dialogue between 2020 graduates and the school to host their commencement in a way where all graduates can celebrate. These talks are still in progress, but Favazza noted the 2020 banner in Davison Hall represented the unfinished business and commitment the school has to the class of 2020.
There were several positive notes on the night: CAB, Health Services Director Maura Marshall, Dining Hall staff, Residence Life staff, custodial staff, and many more were thanked and applauded for their efforts by Favazza. It is paramount that the Saint Anselm College community thank the selfless services of all those trying to make campus safe, and do all that they can to emulate the caring, community-oriented actions of those individuals and groups.
Despite the sometimes cheery mood (glad to know Pres. Favazza is a Patriots fan), the night was dominated by a sense of anxiety. President Favazza did his best to assuage the worst of these fears, but the campus is still tense. Even though Favazza was sure to say that no finger-pointing or blaming should take place, and he is right to do so, it is impossible to deny that students might be walking a bit faster past Dominic Hall this week.
*Since this article was written, 2 more cases of COVID-19 have been reported; 1 on 9/17 and 1 on 9/18. This brings the total number of positive cases on campus in the past week to 10.