During the last 18 months, Babson College has been living through a seemingly never-ending whirlwind of change and adaptation. “I have never heard the word ‘pivot’ used as much as in the last 18 months,” says Babson President Stephen Spinelli Jr. MBA’92, PhD.
As the Delta variant surges throughout much of the U.S. and the world, that constant need for adaptation hasn’t ended. This fall, 3,800 students will be returning to Babson, with more than 1,900 of them living on campus, the largest number of residential students in the College’s history. Their eminent arrival has meant a lot of discussion about what campus life will look like.
“COVID continues to be an incredibly dynamic and constantly evolving public health challenge, especially for a residential college campus,” says Lawrence P. Ward, vice president and dean of campus life.
At two recent forums—one targeted to students and the other to faculty and staff—Babson outlined guidelines for the fall’s return to campus. A detailed dive into those plans also is available at the College’s website.
The good news is that, while an indoor mask requirement has been put in place for the first few weeks of school for all individuals regardless of their vaccination status, life on campus will be much different than last year, when the pandemic required a number of restrictions.
“The knowledge we have gained over the last 18 months gives us confidence that we will have a great year ahead. We are ready.”
Babson President Stephen Spinelli Jr. MBA’92, PhD
This year, students will be able to experience many of the hallmarks of campus life: eating together in College eateries, gathering for club meetings, working in small groups on projects, and participating in athletic competitions. Spacing requirements, such a ubiquitous part of last school year, will be far less stringent.
“From the classroom to residence halls, and Trim dining hall to athletic competitions and student clubs and organizations, we are looking forward to students being able to enjoy a more recognizable, in-person experience this year,” Ward says.
With the fall semester set to begin, Kelly Lynch, Babson’s chief operating officer, best sums up Babson’s philosophy with a simple phrase: “We start strong in order to stay strong.”
That’s why, from now until September 17, the institution is in what it calls the “re-entry phase” of the semester. Everyone returning to campus will need to be tested upon their arrival and then, during this initial period, they will be tested thereafter once every seven days.
All students are required to be vaccinated, and an overwhelming number already have complied (staff vaccination rates also are exceedingly high). Just under 200 students, who were not able to vaccinate in their hometowns, will receive their vaccinations once they return to campus, and that will push overall student vaccination rates even higher.
All unvaccinated individuals, whether students or employees, will be required to wear masks and be tested throughout the school year. Proven mitigation strategies, including cleaning protocols and air filtration systems, will continue to be utilized.
A Capable Community
A big goal of the early period of the semester, Lynch says, is to start the school year on a solid footing and gather as much COVID-related data as possible on the Babson community, so the College can make well-informed decisions in the future. That’s essential, given the ever-changing nature of the pandemic. “Shifting conditions, particularly related to variants, require us to be nimble and agile in our decision making,” Ward says.
Becoming complacent is not an option, as Babson continues to monitor emerging data and trends at the local, state, and national levels. As in the past, the institution’s plans will be informed by federal, state, and local public health authorities, and the input of the College’s public health and environmental safety consultant, Environmental Health and Engineering.
“COVID continues to be an incredibly dynamic and constantly evolving public health challenge, especially for a residential college campus.”
Lawrence P. Ward, vice president and dean of campus life
Babson’s leaders are well aware that some adjustments in the College’s policies and protocols may become necessary in the future. However, the last 18 months have taught them that the College community can handle whatever challenges are thrown at them. “We know we can do it,” Lynch says. “We know how capable this community is.”
For the College community now, the task at hand is welcoming back students, a large number of whom have never been to Babson’s campus. They may have never been to a game, for instance, or met with a professor face to face. “Many of the students don’t even know what normal Babson is,” says Ken Matsuno, Murata Vice President of Academic Affairs and dean of the college.
As a result, faculty and staff may need to be extra supportive as students find their way. “We have to meet our students, and each other, with added patience and respect,” Ward says.
The start of the school year always brings with it the hope and excitement that comes with new beginnings. Despite all the uncertainty that swirls around the pandemic, this year is no different. The College is prepared and excited to welcome back its students. “I am energized,” Spinelli says. “The knowledge we have gained over the last 18 months gives us confidence that we will have a great year ahead. We are ready.”