Eye on KELOLAND: Returning to a changed campus


BROOKINGS, S.D. & VERMILLION, S.D. (KELO) – Public universities in South Dakota will once again be bustling with students come August 19th. However, things are going to look different.

It’s been five months since university students in South Dakota were on their campuses for class. And in three weeks they’ll be back, but their college homes are going be different.

“We are so excited to have you back and we think that you’ll be able to still get what you want from your college experience. Just it will look and feel a little bit different. If we can hang in there and get through the look and feel that’s a little bit different, there’s something really exciting on the other side. Think of all the memory associated with just being on campus during this time. If you can do college in COVID, you can do college anytime,” Doug Wagner, Director of the Muenster University Center at USD, said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted officials at public universities like USD and SDSU to re-imagine higher education practices and even redesign classrooms.

“We’ve evaluated all of our classrooms, we’ve recalculated capacities, really spreading people out following the CDC and Department of Health guidance. So, in this particular classroom, we have seats staggered to where there is six foot of distance between our students in our classroom. Also, because this particular environment happens to include fixed seating, we’ve also installed some plexiglass barriers as well,” Dennis Hedge, the SDSU Provost, said.

“We’ve gone into every classroom space and we have resized it for social and physical distancing. Wherever possible, every student in every classroom will be six feet apart from every other student. In spaces where that’s not possible, so spaces like laboratories or clinical settings, you’ll see a lot of plexiglass,” Kurt Hackemer, the USD Provost said.

Plexiglass barriers and less students in a classroom at once will be a new normal for college education. Students might also be learning in settings that aren’t typically used as classrooms.

“One of the things on the academic side is we are utilizing some of our spaces over in the student union, we’re flexing them into classroom spaces,” Hedge said.

“Probably the biggest one is Aalf’s Auditorium, which is the big auditorium in Slagle Hall that normally seats over a thousand. We’re using that as a classroom and we can fit about a hundred people in there,” Hackemer said.

Classrooms aren’t the only aspect of college life that’s changing. Dorm life and communal living is a big part of being back on campus too.

“We will provide them with some room set up information so that they can set up the rooms in a little bit more safe and healthy way. We’re going to continue to promote the hand washing and really practicing good sanitary practices. Wiping down door handles and then wearing masks when other people are around, when it’s not just them and their roommate in their room,” Michaela Willis, SDSU Vice President of Student Affairs, said.

Both SDSU and USD will have rooms set aside for any students who may get sick and need to be quarantined or isolated. Common spaces, like dining halls, will be operating at lesser capacities.

“Just taking some of our meeting spaces, our ballroom spaces and really our common spaces, just reducing that down so that way we can have students, faculty, staff and even visitors be able to socially distance,” Wagner said.

College during a pandemic — it’s going to be different. But these changes have been made so students, faculty and staff can be safe in their return.

“We have been working really hard all summer to prepare for your return to campus and to really promote healthy and safety all across the university. So, as you look to come back to campus, I would ask each of you as students to think about the small things that you can do to make this a safe place for the Fall semester. That’s washing your hands frequently, that’s using hand sanitizer, that’s wearing a cloth face covering when you’re around others,” Willis said

The Board of Regents decided last week that masks will be required in public spaces at each of the six public universities.

Follow these links for the back to school plans for each of South Dakota’s six public universities:

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