Update from President Kurt Dykstra, October 29, 2020

Dear Trinity Students:

I trust that your Advising Day is going well as you think about next semester, in particular, and your future, more generally.

I write to supplement my email to you from a couple of days ago, providing more information for you about Trinity’s plans for the Spring 2021 Semester.  Please read this at your convenience.

As I announced two days ago, in the Spring 2021 semester, Trinity is moving to (i) a largely in-person, socially-distanced on-campus academic experience with a video-streamed remote option available; (ii) a COVID-aware residential housing experience with off-campus penalty-free housing options permitted; and (iii) a COVID-modified return to athletics and campus activities with health and safety protocols to minimize and manage the virus.

Please note the important qualifier words on the above paragraph such as “largely,” “more,” and “modified.”  COVID is not vanquished – something that we know first-hand at Trinity during this past week.  The State of Illinois and Cook County restrictions, protocols, and limitations remain in place and could well change.  Campus safety policies implemented this Fall will not go away (and likely will be intensified as more people return to campus).  Spring 2021 at Trinity will not be like Spring 2019.  COVID is real, persistent, and showing no immediate signs of disappearing.

At the same time, all of us need to be able to navigate, in various ways, this present world as well.  Over these last eight months we have learned quite a lot about the virus, adapting to new protocols and modifying the ways in which we carry on the tasks of life.  As serious as COVID is, overall physical and mental health, human flourishing, and broad societal needs also are important considerations.

As a College, we have learned a lot in these months.  We have established new means of support for this community with success coaches, new avenues for mental health support, and modified ways of interacting with one another.  We have held some classes on campus and in person.  We have created new ways of having campus worship, both virtually and live/live-streamed  We have created a campus public health system out of whole cloth with limited, at best, assistance or support from any outside agencies.  We have had over 200 students living on campus and have learned to manage, though not eliminate, COVID.  We have resumed modified athletic practices, campus activities, and artistic performances in a balanced way.  We have resumed campus tours for college visitors.

Eight months into this pandemic we, Trinity’s campus and our broader society, are in a better place to handle the particular challenges of this time.

With all of this as background, let me describe in a bit more detail our Spring plans.  This is not meant to be a comprehensive description; there will be questions and further details to work out.  We also are working on more detailed information to be placed on the College’s website and will circulate a link as that information is posted.  Perhaps most importantly, as we all have learned over the last year, in this environment planning needs to be nimble so that it can adjust to changing facts and increased knowledge.  In all of our equations, there are more variables than constants – a frustrating but obvious reality.

The Spring Academic Calendar (All Students)

In order to give more time for adaptation, push further beyond the holidays, and limit the mass departure and re-entry to campus, we have decided to modify the academic calendar for Spring 2021, particularly as it impacts our Traditional Undergraduate students.  Here is a description of those modifications.

Start Date/End Date.
For the Traditional Undergraduate program, classes will now begin on Tuesday, January 19.  Due to the different calendar-year schedule for our Adult Undergraduate and Graduate programs, those programs generally will begin as previously scheduled (please see the revised schedule linked below).  For the Spring term, all programs will conclude on the dates previously identified.  The revised schedule is available on the Registrar’s page on Trinity’s website.

Spring Break.
Spring Break during a pandemic creates special challenges.  The wholesale departure from campus that occurs during Spring Break, with the accompanying travel far beyond our campus borders, creates significant campus health risks upon the community’s return.  Moreover, based upon the current guidance from the Cook County Health Department, we anticipate that many students would need to quarantine for 14-days after returning from Spring Break travels.  In this COVID season, the attendant risk that such broad travel and exposure creates is too great.  As a result, as you can see from the revised calendar there is no Spring Break in the modified Spring 2021 schedule.

However, we also recognize that breaks and rest are important.  As a result, we have built separate break days into the modified Spring 2021 calendar:

  • Tuesday, February 16;
  • Thursday, March 18 (Advising Day);
  • Friday April 2 (Good Friday);
  • Wednesday, April 14
  • Tuesday, April 20 (afternoon – OPUS)

While Trinity will not be in session on Good Friday, we will have class on Easter Monday and all offices will be open on that day.

Class Delivery Mode(s) (All Students)

Many of our students, consistent with student sentiment across the country, earnestly desire to have in-person courses.  Others of our students, equally earnestly, are not able or comfortable having in-person classes at this time.  Trinity will be providing modes of teaching that seek to meet all of our students’ needs.

We are intending to have most courses offered both (i) in-person, socially-distanced, on-campus, and (ii) remotely.  Students will have the option of selecting how they want to take their course load in the Spring – either as an in-person student or as a remote student.  This selection is but for the student’s Spring course load in total, not on a course by course basis.

Does this mean that every course will be offered in-person?  Not necessarily.  Some courses either need to be or are better offered remotely, including, for example:

  • Some larger in-person courses may be offered in a hybrid fashion (e., in-person for part of the course and remotely for part of the course) so that the size of the class can be managed and de-densification practiced.
  • In some instances, a particular faculty member’s health and safety situation might necessitate a course being offered remotely.
  • In some instances, a course might have predominantly remote students registered for it, making it most effective to teach the entire course remotely for all students in that course.

Courses that occur in person will also be streamed remotely, both for those students choosing to take the Spring 2021 Semester remotely and for those in-person students who might find themselves in a temporary quarantine situation over the course of the semester.  Improved classroom technology and the experience that our community now has with on-line platforms – from, for example, Zoom to Brightspace – make dual delivery possible and more effective.

Many of our employees have regularly been on campus since this summer and also have adapted to new ways of doing familiar tasks.  Many faculty, as well, have accessed the campus this Fall to teach, to meet, and to do scholarship.  As we move toward a socially-distanced on-campus experience, the steps that we have made during the Fall will continue into the Spring.

We continue to encourage employees having health situations, personally or in their families, that cause elevated concern to access the available campus resources so that, where appropriate, accommodations can be made.

Campus Housing (Traditional Undergraduates)

Trinity will have housing available, though as an effort to manage the risks of outbreaks, we are not necessarily going to fill the residence halls to the same degree that we did prior to COVID.  Similarly, Trinity will continue the suspension of its residential requirement policy (which is a continuation of our Fall term practice).  This means that any student is able to live off campus – whether in their family home or in an off-campus apartment or house – without incurring a penalty.  We remain committed, in the long run, to the benefits of a largely residential collegiate experience, but this Spring modification to our housing rules is part of the necessary adaptation to the COVID situation.

At this time, we do not know how many students will prefer to live in the College’s residence halls.  Very soon, students will receive an email with a housing intent form to collect this information.  While we will attempt to accommodate as many on-campus requests as possible, please know that it is possible that we may have more demand than available space.  In that case, we will then seek to prioritize student housing preferences.

Testing and other safety protocols (All Students)

Trinity will continue to enforce the existing protocols already in place that include daily screenings, mask-wearing, sanitization, de-densification, and distancing.  To date we have utilized a strategy of symptomatic testing – that is, testing persons of known exposure and/or significant COVID-like symptoms.  At a minimum, that will continue as well.  We expect to conduct asymptomatic testing for specific populations as well such as residential students and student athletes.

Athletics (All Students)

The College, consistent with approaches taken by the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and our athletic conference, the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletics Conference (CCAC), is moving toward a return to some athletic competition, in modified ways.  Our teams have been practicing on campus in various ways for more than a month.  Where health incidents have arisen, the affected athletes and teams have followed the protocols instituted by the College to address these situations.

Back in August, the CCAC moved Fall athletics seasons to the Spring semester.  That stacking of seasons, along with other logistical considerations, is part of the ongoing planning for Trinity’s return to intercollegiate athletics for the balance of this academic year.  As more decisions are made and more information known, further announcements will be made.

Campus Activities and the Performing Arts (All Students)

In ways somewhat similar to athletics, other Trinity activities on campus, including student life activities and the performing arts, for example, also have been occurring and will continue to occur in modified ways.  As a campus, we will work within governmental and safety limitations to create more opportunities on campus for the campus community.  At this time, we do not anticipate opening the campus widely to outside groups during the Spring term, again as a means to mitigate the risk that arises in bringing large numbers of outside persons to campus.

In Closing

I fully recognize at least two things.

First, I know that you will have questions after reading this message.  Please know that we are working diligently to get more information ready for release, including working on a revised FAQ section.  That information, and much more additional information, will be available over time on the College’s website.

Second, none of us know precisely what the future holds; we must remain flexible and open to continual adaptation.  Spring ’21 will not be like Fall ’20, which was not like Spring ’20, which was not like Fall ’19.  Our commitment to support one another, extend grace to one another, and care for one another will be a hallmark of this era in Trinity’s history and of our story together.  We are a Romans 12:12 people who “[r]ejoice in hope, [are] patient in suffering, [and] persevere in prayer.”

Yours most sincerely,

Kurt D. Dykstra, President

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