My letter to students regarding the change to UMass’s reopening plan

Last night, the University announced a change to their reopening plan. In short, the goal is to reduce the number of students on campus and in the surrounding area. While I applaud the efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus, and the science-based decision making, I felt it was important to reach out to my students to both acknowledge the stress they were undoubtedly feeling with such a change so close to the start of the semester. I also want to point out that there was still an option for those students who had nowhere else to go as I felt that this message was (understandably) minimized in the announcement.

My letter to my students is below. I post it in case anyone else wants to use it as a template.

Hello all,

This is not how I would have liked to introduce myself, but I guess that, over the past year, we have all had to adjust to the non-ideal. I am Dr. Toggerson and I will be the instructor for the lecture portion of this course. I know that many of you have questions about how the course will be run etc., and I am working to get a syllabus out to you as quickly as I can to answer these questions. However, that is not the purpose of my writing to you today.

I am sure that, by now, you have all seen Chancellor Subbaswamy’s email about the changes in the fall reopening plan. I want to begin by saying that I definitely believe that this pandemic is a real and dangerous situation. However, I also want to acknowledge the additional stress that some of you might be feeling right now with this dramatic change so close to the start of the semester. I hear your stress, and if there is anything I can do as a faculty member to mitigate that stress, do reach out.

I now want to take a moment to speak directly to any of you whose very health and well-being may be negatively affected by this decision. I know that some of you may not have anywhere else to go, or you may not have adequate internet at home, or you might be afraid of abuse if, for example, some people you live with found out your true sexuality/gender identity. I want to point out that there is a section in the announcement which reads (my all-caps for emphasis),

“We recognize there are some students who are dependent on campus housing and dining, and others, including some international students with specific visa requirements and students in healthcare fields, who will need to reside on campus. These situations will be handled on a case-by case basis, and IN MOST INSTANCES WILL BE ACCOMMODATED.”

If short, if you need to come to campus for your own health and safety, that is still possible. I feel that this aspect of the plan was easy to miss given the overall tone of the message. I do not yet know the application process; I have asked but have not yet received a response. When I get one I will pass it along. Being on campus will NOT be fun, and the rules will be draconian, but it will be a warm room with internet and access to food.

Your first concern is your health and the health of your family (however you define the term). I am going to do my best to help you in this regard. Along the way, I hope to share my love the deep beauty of nature which we will explore together over the coming semester.

Stay safe,
-Dr. T.