Fall 2020 Semester Plan

Hello, Trinity Community,

I write to you today about our plans for the Fall. I know that we have communicated with you repeatedly over the summer about those plans. But I also know that as the fall semester gets closer and as the world around us continues to experience the effects of COVID-19, you have been asking questions about those plans and wondering if we would be modifying them in any way to account for changing factual circumstances and recently released governmental guidance. So, I write to you to share and describe Trinity’s modified plans to be In It Together during this unique Fall semester.

In short, for the Fall semester, while the campus will remain open, Trinity is moving most of its academic program on-line and offering limited campus housing for students.

Let me tell you why we have made this decision, how we came to it, and what this all means for our students and for their education.

All of us hoped – and expected – that, after the flow in spring, by late summer we would be seeing a substantial ebb in the spread of this virus. That is what the models predicted and that is what the data was showing. That expectation informed our announcement back in May that Trinity intended to return to a predominantly in-person, on-campus experience for this Fall. And, behind the scenes since that announcement in May, scores of people at Trinity – included among them members of our science and nursing faculty, student life team, physical plant members, food service providers, and College leadership – have been working tirelessly to best prepare this physical campus for the return of the human community in the Fall. This COVID Response Team’s work is as comprehensive and as good as you will find anywhere – and largely done with non-existent, delayed, or contradictory guidance and regulation from the State of Illinois and Cook County.

So, I want you to know that for months, Trinity has been working the problem with the stated goal of a return to campus in the fall for students, faculty, and staff.

Unfortunately, over the last month, the promising COVID infection trends took a decidedly unexpected and unfortunate turn. Instead of receding, the virus is resurging. You have seen the reports and heard the news. This is not solely an issue in education. For example, professional sports teams have barely been able to operate without infections, even with all of the sizable resources at their disposal; the Miami Marlins, for example, did not last much more than a weekend before COVID infections paused their play and put the rest of the Major League Baseball season in jeopardy. In the last ten days, most small college athletics programs, including ours, have postponed Fall competition to Spring. More states, counties, and cities have implemented quarantine travel restrictions for persons coming from other states both near and far. And, very importantly, in our recent survey of our Trinity students, a sizable – and growing – percentage of you told us that you wanted or needed to have the semester altered due to the COVID-19 situation.

We are committed to providing an outstanding Trinity education that best protects the vulnerable members of our students, faculty, and staff while creating the kind of memory-making college experience that every member of the Trinity community, and especially our students, wants to enjoy together. Every institution, whether implicitly or explicitly, vows that the safety of their community is a paramount concern; Trinity refuses to simply pay lip service to a platitude. We really mean it.

So, on the cusp of the start of a new school year, let me tell you how, in the face of new facts and current reality, we are modifying our plans for Fall. More detail about these plans can be found at the College’s website. Students, in particular, will receive additional detailed information about fall plans and their next steps by way of email and other communication shortly after receiving this message.

We are calling this Fall plan Trinity: In It Together because we believe that this provides the best realistic opportunity for the Trinity community to learn together and to support one another during this remarkable time. There is much around us that can easily tear us apart and cause division. Surely the COVID virus and the policy choices that flow from it could cause such a result. Thankfully, and to your credit, that has not been Trinity’s experience thus far and I trust that we will keep the faith with one another. For we need to continue to come together.

Our Trinity: In It Together plan seeks to do just that. Our Fall will not be like the Fall of 2019 – but it will not be like the end of the Spring Semester 2020 either. The campus will remain open in modified ways: faculty will have access to their offices, classrooms, studios and labs; the Huizenga Library will be available; limited residence halls will welcome students with modified safety expectations; new co-curricular opportunities will be available; and campus ministries will offer worship and discipleship experiences.

Permit me to describe all of this in some further detail. First, I will start with Trinity’s academic program. Most of our courses will be offered entirely remotely. In fact, for most of our students in most of our programs, the entirety of the semester can occur without needing to be on campus at all. I know that this is a relief for some, a frustration for others, and a disappointment for all. We heard what you told us about your concerns of returning to a traditionally residential campus in the present environment. We share those concerns.

Though students will not be present in a classroom, this is not a repeat of the Spring’s emergency transition. Rather, our faculty will have the full resources of their offices and campus spaces available to them to provide a more comprehensive remote learning experience. They also will have more time to craft courses designed with that model in mind.

For a small number of programs, especially upper level courses in those programs, remote learning simply is not a plausible way to do the necessary work. For those limited students and programs, your courses will be in-person and on-campus. Over the course of this week, those limited number of students in these particular programs will be contacted directly by the departments’ faculty to discuss how these programs will proceed on-campus in the Fall.

Second, students, you may decide that living on campus is desirable or necessary to continue your academic career at Trinity – even while your classes are online. Some of you face housing or technology challenges, are international students, or need to be on campus for certain academic programs.

Students, look for an email from Vice President Becky Starkenburg shortly after receiving this message that will clearly outline how you can re-assess your housing options. The kind of residential experience that Trinity – or, frankly, any college or university – can offer during this COVID moment will not be typical. We recognize that many students will choose not to live in the residence halls under these circumstances, opting instead to wait until life returns to a more “normal” time to resume living on campus. At the same time, we expect that some students will find even this very restrictive housing option appealing in the context of their other options. Vice President Starkenburg’s email will provide you with detailed information on this important decision and will provide you with more substantial information on what the residential experience will look and feel like in this COVID-era. We want you to be able to make wise decisions that, as much as possible, best suit your particular situation.

Third, what will campus life look like this Fall? Surely, with limited persons on campus and state restrictions on gatherings to 50 people or less, some of the most important Trinity traditions will be modified. As a Christian College, Trinity will provide regular campus worship and discipleship experiences in ways that are different from both our “usual” forms and from what we experienced in the sudden shift in the Spring.

We will continue to tackle the important, difficult, and seemingly intractable issues in modern American life and continue to do so from a biblical worldview. College is a season and place to think hard about important issues, issues that matter. It is a dedicated time to get in on the big conversations that have captivated the human intellect for centuries. This especially is so at Christian colleges. As a result, we will continue to expand our knowledge so that we can deepen our wisdom. We want to be a people and place that knows and loves God – and knows and loves the justice, grace, and truth that God cares so much about, too.

Importantly, Trinity will again offer students a Student Success Coach, and we will open a new Remote Learning Support Center to support students in the specific challenges faced in online learning. Counseling services and academic support will be available as they have been before. Campus offices will be staffed in person during normal business hours. Student programming, the arts, athletics, and others across campus are working to craft experiences that harness the best of our Trinity traditions, perhaps create new ones, and adapt them for this short and unique season.

We are offering a full-service college experience and adding new programs and structures to support our students during this temporary season of disruption. To that end, our pricing will remain the same and existing financial aid packages will be honored. A Trinity education already is typically priced at or below that charged by our peer institutions. At the same time, we recognize that every student’s situation is different and, due to the generosity of friends, alumni and supporters of Trinity, have created the In It Together Fund that, by application, also can offer direct financial assistance to students in need of particular help.

Let me emphasize in closing that this is a short and unique season even as it is a frustrating one. Measured over the span of a college experience, let alone an entire life, a semester is a limited time. I do not mean to minimize the disappointment that this news brings – trust me, all of us feel it, especially after working so hard for so many months to return to an on-campus and in-person experience. At the same time, those who have gone before us experienced depressions and world wars lasting multiple years and, in their own ways, persevered through those more disruptive eras. I am confident that we, too, will persevere through this trial and do so together.

Over the last number of weeks, I have gone back to re-read C.S. Lewis’ wonderful message to students in the fall of 1939. He gave this message, “Learning in War-Time,” to students about to embark on their studies as the world stood at the edge of World War II. His words, edited slightly to fit our moment, perhaps will speak to you as they have to me:

The [COVID pandemic] creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If [humanity] had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure the search would never have begun. We are mistaken when we compare [pandemic] with “normal life.” Life has never been normal. Even those periods which we think most tranquil … turn out, on closer inspection, to be full of cries, alarms, difficulties, emergencies. Plausible reasons have never been lacking for putting off all merely cultural activities until some imminent danger has been averted or some crying injustice put right. But humanity long ago chose to neglect those plausible reasons. They wanted knowledge and beauty now, and would not wait for the suitable moment that never comes.

We, too, as a part of the Trinity community want knowledge and beauty now. So in this season and during this time, we will pursue knowledge and beauty, wisdom and truth, for God’s glory and for the good of the world.

I look forward to spending the Fall with you and look forward to seeing how God will use this time in our lives together.

Yours most sincerely,

Kurt D. Dykstra, President