Administrators answer students’ COVID-19 questions at YCC town hall
In a webinar, Yale administrators took students’ questions on a variety of topics related to COVID-19. They repeatedly emphasized their “risk budget” used to make decisions.
Courtesy of the Yale College Council
In a virtual town hall, University President Peter Salovey, Yale College Dean Marvin Chun and other senior administrators explained how they weigh tradeoffs between protecting physical and mental health.
Over the course of the hour-long meeting, administrators on the Zoom webinar addressed tensions and confusion over new COVID-19 policies that were introduced during winter recess. The administrators fielded questions from students spanning a variety of topics, from mental health to the University’s “risk budget” and changes to the Add/Drop period. Yale College Council President Bayan Galal ’23, YCC Director of Health and Safety Jordi Bertrán Ramírez ’24 and YCC Senator Michael Ndubisi ’25 — a reporter for the News — moderated the online discussion.
“We really have three priorities that we consider,” Chun said during the town hall. “One is mental health and student well being. One is physical health, of course, and the other is just our educational mission, staying in the business of education and having a robust, active, stimulating campus life.”
Describing administrators’ decision-making process, Chun said that public health experts present a “risk budget” to the school, which shows the physical and mental health consequences of administrators’ decisions. Administrators then make policy decisions based on their effect on the risk budget. Chun acknowledged that per this model, the best way to help student mental health would be to resume in-person learning and open dining halls, although per the model such actions also carry risks to physical health.
When asked to describe Yale’s reasoning for delaying in-person learning for the spring semester, Salovey said the decision was based on projections for the peak of the Omicron variant surge in New Haven. The peak was projected to be near the time when students were initially scheduled to return to campus, he said, which would pose hazards to both the University and the surrounding New Haven community.
While many restrictions remain in place over the coming weeks, Salovey added that future events like graduations for the class of 2020 and 2022 are still scheduled to take place as planned.
Throughout the town hall, administrators repeatedly affirmed that the safety of the broader New Haven community was a primary concern when making decisions about students returning to campus.
“Remember, the community members are much more vulnerable to a bad outcome with COVID than a typical student,” Salovey said, “We really have to think about others here. I know that most students feel that if they got COVID it wouldn’t be the end of the world, but it can be for others, and we need to be careful about that.”
In an email to students in early January, Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd announced that as part of a two-phased arrival quarantine, students should avoid eating at New Haven restaurants. The restrictions made national headlines. During the town hall, Boyd reiterated the policy on dining in New Haven, saying that indoor and outdoor dining are uniquely dangerous due to the lack of masking while eating.
“I knew from questions in the past that people were all gonna write to me to say, can I go for a run? Can I go for a walk? Those things are okay. It’s going into an indoor space or a very crowded outdoor space [that is not allowed],” Boyd said.
Professor Emeritus of Emergency Medicine Sandy Bogucki addressed concerns about which extracurricular activities would be allowed over the coming weeks.
Students are allowed to reserve classrooms for study groups while masked and in small groups, Bogucki said, although classes may not be held in such rooms. Performing arts activities will likely be allowed to meet while masked and under supervision from a faculty member, she added.
When asked why a faculty presence at extracurricular meetings was important for COVID-19 safety, Bogucki said that there is a higher risk of non-compliance from students when there is no faculty member present.
During the town hall, Chun also addressed changes to the course registration system, specifically explaining why the Add/Drop period had been moved forward to end after the first week of classes.
“Unfortunately, this is by faculty request,” Chun said. “The faculty do not want the Add/Drop period to extend two weeks into the term because they find it makes it very difficult for them to start their classes properly and to build a kind of a learning community, especially in smaller classes, where there’s a lot of interaction.”
Chun also responded to concerns from immunocompromised students and those with disabilities, some of whom asked about remote learning options for the rest of the semester. He said that if a student feels they cannot participate in in-person learning over the course of the semester, they should take a leave of absence, and noted that restrictions on leaves of absences have been reduced greatly.
Chun also expressed remorse that the residential college gyms remain closed, explaining that the policy is related to poor ventilation in the spaces.
Yale College classes began digitally on Jan. 25.