After nearly a year of virtual learning, member institutions of the Atlanta University Center welcomed students back to the residence halls.

Halfway through the spring semester of 2020, Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, Spelman College, and the other schools in the AUC decided to move virtual learning and close the residence halls to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Omar Estrada Torres serves as the Dean of Student Services and Campus Life at CAU, and he has made the safety of the students living on campus a high priority.

“Our parents have an advocate in me to look out for their son’s and daughter’s journey here, particularly in metro Atlanta,” Torres said. “Many of our students, many of our families aren’t necessarily from here.”

All the member institutions, including Spelman, have been using the medical recommendations the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have released following social distancing and testing guidelines.

Before arrival, Spelman made it mandatory for its students to move into their single-occupied dorm room and one person who was helping her move in to show a negative COVID-19 test result.

Once settled, all three schools administered a five-day quarantine period to stay inside their residence halls until the period ended.

To let the time go by, the schools had several activities for everyone to participate in.

Spelman’s activities included virtual scavenger hunts, movie nights, Peloton Workouts with a free two-year subscription, and seminars about the COVID-19 pandemic, social justice, and voting issues.

Jaydah Jenkins, a junior at Clark Atlanta and a member of the Campus Activities Board, was one of a handful of upperclassmen students who decided to move back onto the historically Black campus during the pandemic.

“The transition was difficult just because it wasn’t the norm,” Jenkins said. “But I’m starting to become more comfortable with the new regulations.”

Jenkins said she decided to move back on campus to help provide an environment for the incoming freshmen and new transfer students as they start to get used to becoming a “Panther.”

Jenkins organized a campuswide virtual “trap ‘n paint” activity for the 500 students living on campus. She said she thought it was a great way to interact with each other safely.

“I delivered paintbrushes and canvases to each residence hall and we were all on Zoom, and we were listening to music together from inside our rooms,” Jenkins said.

Now that the quarantine period has ended and classes for the spring semester started on Feb. 1, the students, professors, administrators, and anyone who works at CAU must have a rapid COVID-19 test twice a week.

All the schools have designated isolation halls to accommodate if a student tests positive; students who test positive will receive treatment from the newly formed AUC Health and Wellness Center.

As part of Morehouse School of Medicine’s Morehouse Healthcare network, the AUC Health and Wellness Center provides quality health care services to students at the Atlanta University Consortium Center. The center provides various health and wellness-related services for students like primary care, behavioral health services, and wellness services to help them grow physically, mentally, emotionally, academically, and socially.

Torres raved about the new healthcare center because “they have a variety of specifications and it provides a lot more assets particularly for our students given their health challenges and some of the challenges that are common in the Black community, particularly with regards to diabetes, sickle, and asthma.”

When Torres meets with CAU’s President George French, the first thing he knows he will be asked is, “What are we doing to protect my scholars’ health and safety?”

Torres said he knows that the standards and protocols that the school is administering are doing that.

“I do feel safe,” Jenkins admitted. “I think I feel safer than I ever did before [the pandemic] at CAU.”

(Photo: Clark Atlanta University)

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