Lauralyn Lin 5 min read Coronavirus

How is Wellesley College Handling COVID-19?

For the Wellesley community, speculation about our 2020-21 school year ended in late July when President Paula A. Johnson announced a plan to bring back half the student body this fall. While I am one of the many students who has opted for a leave of absence, many of my peers are back in school now, taking their chances on campus out of necessity, unproductive home environments, or a desire to see friends after months of isolation. In this post, we’ll dive into how Wellesley has adjusted to COVID and what the campus experience looks like. 

 

Who’s on Campus?

 

Broadly speaking, first-years and sophomores were invited back to campus for the fall, and juniors and seniors for the spring. However, plenty of upperclasswomen are currently on campus, including international students who have been in the U.S. since March, student leaders in residential life and college government, seniors doing honors theses or graduating in December, and others by special petition. Altogether, an estimated 1,200+ of the usual 2,500 students are physically back this fall. 

 

In terms of housing, every student lives in a single, with 3-5 self-selected blockmates nearby. Blocks share a bathroom sink, stall, and shower, and masks are required in all common spaces. Students aren’t allowed to use stovetops or ovens in the kitchens, but they do have access to microwaves and refrigerators. 

 

For food, our three largest dining halls are open: Bae Pao Lu in the Lulu Chow Wang Campus Center, Bates Dining Hall, and Tower Dining Hall, the latter two of which are within the major dorm complexes on each side of campus. Meals are primarily grab-and-go, though students may also sit at socially-distanced tables and can only eat with their blockmates.

 

As for purchasing food off of the meal plan, student co-ops like El Table, Cafe Hoop, and Punch’s Alley have been closed for the fall, along with Collins Cafe and the Leaky Beaker in the Science Center. The Emporium in the campus center remains open for pick-up orders only. 

 

How Are Classes?

 

Wellesley has switched from our traditional two-semester system, where each student takes an average of four classes per semester, to a four-term system where students take an average of two classes per term. This means that fall semester has been broken into two sections: Term 1 ends on October 13, and Term 2 runs October 26 through December 11, with remote options for reading period and final exams. 

 

Classes are a mix of online and in-person, though the latter are greatly reduced in size and mostly held in larger spaces cleaned daily, with desks six feet apart and upgraded audiovisual technology. Class deans, departmental tutors, and Helpdesk tech support are all available over Zoom, and professors are encouraged to offer remote office hours but may meet with students in-person if they reserve rooms beforehand. 

 

With few exceptions, the term system is generally unpopular among students. While many of us were excited when it was first announced, it has been exhausting in practice — a semester’s worth of coursework being necessarily trimmed down and then crammed into seven weeks. With a single class now equivalent to 20 hours of work per week, common complaints range from inability to retain any of the fast-paced material to exacerbated struggles with mental and physical health. 

 

One silver lining, however, has been the new study abroad options. With the term system, students may now enroll in Wellesley courses for the first term of a semester and then study abroad in the second. As Term 4 programs in the spring are designed primarily for first-years and sophomores, these classes can now study abroad earlier in their college careers and enjoy more flexibility in program options. 

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Testing, Social Life, and Services

 

Every student is required to complete a daily health check app for symptoms and go to asymptomatic testing twice weekly, with results available within 24 hours courtesy of the Broad Institute. Since move-in on August 17, there have only been two positive cases: one in the first week, and one most recently reported on October 7. 

 

In regards to new COVID-era restrictions, the campus is currently closed to visitors, and students may not bring guests into any buildings — they are only to socialize outside with masks and appropriate social distancing. Students also aren’t allowed to visit the homes of any friends off campus, and travel to Boston is strongly discouraged, with all our usual shuttles — the MIT Exchange & Senate Bus, Wellesley-Olin-Babson shuttle, and Natick Mall shuttle — being suspended for the fall. Access vans for students with disabilities are still running, and students may bring cars or use the Zipcars on campus. 

 

Like our classes, many of the usual services and social events are a mix of virtual and in-person offerings. Health Services and the Stone Center Counseling Service are available for in-person and virtual appointments, and facilities in the Keohane Sports Center are open for reservations ahead of time. Reservations are also required for access to Clapp Library, and curbside pickup for books and other materials is encouraged. The path around Lake Waban — a popular walk for both Wellesley townspeople and students — is open only to those on campus. 

 

Socializing has been difficult with the rules in place, but students are trying their best with blockmates and socially distanced events. Many performance and athletic groups are practicing outdoors or with appropriate physical distancing in larger spaces, and Schneider Board of Governors (SBOG), the student group responsible for planning social activities on campus, has hosted many outdoor movie screenings, lawn games, and mini-golf days, along with some indoor activities (e.g. paint and trivia nights) and virtual events like escape rooms and bingo. 

 

Finances and Future 

 

With this year’s tuition raise carrying on as scheduled and plenty of grief surrounding financial aid packages, the general consensus seems to be that Wellesley did not do enough to accommodate for the financial impacts of COVID. Tuition, room and board, the meal plan, and the student activity fee add up to $76,220 total for the 2020-2021 school year, and students living at home still pay $29,060 in tuition per semester, along with the $328 activity fee. Work-study students are also capped at working 10 hours per week, a reduction from the 20-hour maximum in normal semesters. 

 

All in all, being on campus is a mixed bag. With the mid-semester break coming up, students are expecting guidance soon on what they are and aren’t allowed to do during their week off, and President Johnson also recently released an update for spring 2021, with classes in Term 3 projected to begin on February 8 and campus to be closed for Wintersession. 

 

While the administration has sent out almost weekly reminders about compliance with rules — and students are also none too happy about the restrictions on campus life — Wellesley has yet to experience an outbreak, so it seems that everyone is mostly abiding by the guidelines so far. With cases in the greater Boston area still holding steady, and assuming that our community continues to remain careful and vigilant, Wellesley might just make it through the 2020-2021 school year. 

 

Thinking of applying? Check out these blog posts: 

The Ultimate Guide to Applying to Wellesley

How to Write the Wellesley College Essay 2020-2021

How I Got into Wellesley 

Wellesley Dorms: What They’re Like + My Experience

 

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Short bio
Lauralyn is a junior at Wellesley College studying political science and psychology. She's been with CollegeVine for two years now as a test prep consultant, marketing intern, and livestream host, and spends the rest of her time on ballroom dance and books.