Kent State welcomes back students living on-campus ahead of the new semester

A family moves into Clark Hall on Kent State’s campus Aug. 16, 2020.

Connor Steffen, reporter

Kent State University kicked off its five-day, staggered move-in process Wednesday ahead of a fall semester that will adhere to the state’s social distancing and safety guidelines.

Move-in began Wednesday and will take place through Sunday. Students were assigned staggered move-in time slots based on their last name and housing assignment in order to reduce large crowds from forming during the process. Move-in parties were also limited to four people this year.

“It seems like there’s a good plan in place coming in today and seeing how the move-in was,” said Debora, mother of freshman aeronautics student Lucas, who moved into Clark Hall Wednesday. “It made me feel more comfortable.”

Columbus resident Kristie Gardner moved her third child into college Wednesday. Her daughter, freshman Sara Gardner, will live in Allyn Hall this upcoming semester. “It’s a lot different. Definitely a lot less people at once,” she said.

Upon arrival, students received a welcome kit from the university, containing a Flashes Safe Seven Principles postcard, a student pledge card, two washable Kent State face masks, forehead thermometer strips, hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes. 

A limited number of shopping carts were available for use during move-in. Kent State staff sanitized each cart before they were made available for use again.

“It’s obvious the university has some steps for cleaning, you can tell. The building is sanitized nicely. That makes me feel a little bit more comfortable,” said Lucas’s father Mark. “You notice everyone is distancing, wearing a mask.”

By Sunday, campus will house approximately 3,757 students throughout 23 reduced-capacity residence halls, said Eric Mansfield, assistant vice president of content strategy.

Manfred van Dulmen, interim associate provost for academic affairs, said students are not required to be tested for COVID-19 prior to moving onto campus. 

“We’re not testing all students who are coming back, but we are testing students who are symptomatic,” he said.

However, about a dozen students arriving from states listed on Ohio’s travel advisory list were asked to move in early and self-quarantine for 14 days. As of Aug. 16, Florida, Idaho, Mississippi and Nevada are the states indicated on Ohio’s Travel Advisory List

According to the Ohio Department of Health [ODOH], “Those entering Ohio after travel to states reporting positive testing rates of 15 percent or higher for COVID-19 are advised to self-quarantine for 14 days.”

Kent State is not enforcing the advisory to self-quarantine, rather they are taking an “honors system” approach, according to Mansfield.

Residence halls will be at 67 percent capacity at the start of the school year. Maximum occupancy across housing was cut to 5,648 total beds this fall, down from last year’s total of 6,331 beds. 

“Students are allowed to have one visitor in their room at a time,” van Dulmen said. “If they have a roommate, their roommate also, at the beginning of the semester, has to agree so that there can be a visitor in that room.”

Signage is dispersed throughout all on-campus housing to provide residents with the maximum capacity permitted for leisure spaces, kitchens, elevators and other public spaces. Signs also provide visuals of proper social distancing protocols and safety guideline reminders.

All triple room and quad room options were eliminated this semester, and Prentice Hall rooms were converted to single occupancy. Verder Hall will not be in use this semester, Emily Vincent, director of university media relations, said.

Kent State extended the deadline for students to opt out of their housing contracts to July 10. According to the university, nearly 1,000 students opted out for the 2020-2021 school year.

Residence Services lost nearly $14 million this school year due to decreased occupancy in residence halls, Vincent said.

“We want students to feel safe and comfortable,” she said. “If they don’t feel safe and comfortable living in residence halls, we want to be flexible to accommodate them.”

Nursing student Marina traveled from Columbus to move into Clark Hall Wednesday for her freshman year at Kent State. She’s disappointed with the circumstances surrounding her first year of college. 

“It’s unfortunate that we have to do this—that this is kind of how we have to go through our first year, but I think it’ll just make everything a lot better when it gets better,” she said. “It’ll be a lot more worth it.” 

Individual rooms will be set aside in residence halls for students showing symptoms of COVID-19 but are not yet confirmed positive and are awaiting test results, Vincent said. 

Van Campen Hall has been converted into an isolation hall for students with confirmed cases of the virus. The Office of Global Education, formerly located in Van Campen, moved to Terrace Hall. 

Measures are also in place to ensure the safety of students living off-campus. The Division of Student Affairs has been working closely with Fraternity and Sorority Life, asking them to remind members to socially distance, avoid hosting large social gatherings and wear masks. 

“[It’s] not just putting something in place where you’re saying, ‘Well, you can’t do this,’ but having people understand why this is and how it’s everybody’s responsibility to keep campus safe,” van Dulmen said.

University representatives are also working alongside the city of Kent to manage social gatherings surrounding campus. Kent State has started to engage in canvassing neighborhoods off-campus known for having high volumes of social gatherings, van Dulmen said. 

The canvassing process entails going door-to-door and talking with students living off-campus about safe behaviors such as why it’s important to have small gatherings, wear face masks, and keep distance. 

“I’m very proud to be part of this community. I think we’ve done an amazing job,” van Dulmen said. “Now we have to work the plan.We need everybody to work our plan, to work with Flashes Safe Seven, to adhere to the guidelines that we’ve put in place.”

van Dulmen said Kent State differs from other institutions of higher education in how they go about enforcing guidelines. He said conversation will be key, and a punishing component will not be the starting point for the university.

“[We’ll] have conversations when students don’t comply,” van Dulmen said. “We try to understand why this is happening …[if] students, don’t feel it’s for them to wear a face covering, then the question is maybe ‘Can you participate remotely? Is that an option? Can we make that work for you?’” 

van Dulmen emphasized the importance of university faculty and staff being understanding during this time.

“We’ve not changed the formal [attendance] policy, but we have a temporary policy in place where we’re asking instructors to be flexible around students being sick, having other caregiver responsibilities as well.” van Dulmen said.

Jay Graham, interim executive director of the Office of the University Architect, said 1,127 instructional rooms were modified across the Kent campus and all regional campuses. To date, the university has printed over 92,000 signs for all their campuses. 

The signage will remind students and staff to follow the Flashes Safe Seven Principles, offer visuals for proper social distancing in classrooms and hallways and indicate classroom capacities.

“They help to remind and encourage our students and faculty to remain physically distant as best they can,” Graham said.

At the start of the new school year, Kent State officials will begin meeting daily at 8 a.m. to monitor campus conditions. Additional meetings will take place throughout the week between university staff and local health departments, Graham said.

“Even though those transmissions are very transient in short periods of time, we wanted, again, to just provide the best opportunity for our students and faculty, to limit the opportunity for transmission,” he said.

Fall classes resume Aug. 27 at Kent State’s main campus and all Kent State branch campuses. 

Contact Connor Steffen at [email protected].