In a letter to faculty, students and other stakeholders, Morehouse College President David A. Thomas announced plans to partially reopen its campus in January to accommodate up to 1,200 freshmen and upperclassmen and a limited number of faculty and staff members for the Spring 2021 semester. The mostly-online academic program will also feature select classes offered in person so that students clamoring to return to Morehouse can resume a traditional college experience.
Morehouse made the decision to reopen for a hybrid Spring 2021 Semester after hearing from students and parents and collaborating with partnering institutions at the Atlanta University Center also planning to reopen in January. The AUC Center is monitoring the spread of COVID-19 and the development of a vaccine. The decision to reopen could change due to the fluid nature of the spread of the virus.
“As we look to the spring, we will embrace a new normal,” Thomas said. “Our students will be able to return to the historic campus that inspires them to achieve greatness and bond as brothers. The Morehouse Emergency Management Team has developed a plan that will allow up to 1,200 students to live and learn on our campus following strict health and safety protocols. Morehouse will offer a hybrid academic program with a limited selection of in-person classes and a full spectrum of asynchronous online courses. I know I can count on the men of Morehouse and our faculty and staff to adapt to the resulting demands on teaching and learning.”
For Fall 2020, all instruction was virtual-only, with a curriculum that Thomas described as rigorous, engaging, and relevant to future careers. “We offered signature experiences and built a sense of community online,” Thomas said. “Our virtual classrooms featured an impressive guest list of career professionals who logged on to teach master classes from their offices. And our weekly Crown Forum community conversations recently featured a talk by President Bill Clinton, as well as a day of learning with the Clinton Global Initiative University.”
Other virtual offerings have included worship services, student-faculty office hours, and career counseling. All fall sports were canceled, however, along with international and domestic study-away programs. Students surveyed in the fall overwhelmingly supported a return to campus, nevertheless.
Morehouse closed its campus on March 12, 2020, due to the global pandemic.
After becoming concerned about the spike in deadly cases of COVID-19, not only in the City of Atlanta and Fulton County, where Morehouse is located, but also in states where the College successfully recruits many of its students: California, Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Texas, Morehouse administrators and its Board of Trustees decided to close the campus.
“The health and safety of our community is our top priority,” Thomas said.
The Spring 2021 Semester, which is scheduled to begin on Feb. 1, 2021, will begin Morehouse’s gradual return to campus life. Thomas outlined a number of preventative and safety measures the campus is enacting to thwart the spread of the virus:
- Select courses will be offered in-person, depending on the availability of professors, and the major and classification of students. Classes open for cross-registration will be taught virtually, as will the majority of the academic program.
- Staff members will work on staggered days and schedules. Other accommodations will be made for employees with pre-existing conditions or family obligations that would not allow them to work on campus.
- Morehouse College will follow health and safety guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and the Georgia Department of Public Health. Those guidelines include: mandating safety face masks; maintaining 6-feet of social distancing space in classrooms, residence halls, offices, the cafeteria, and other campus facilities; washing hands frequently; and using hand sanitizer.
- Morehouse will also follow strict building sanitation protocols that are essential to keeping COVID-19 cases low, such as disinfecting high-touch points three times daily.
- In addition, the College will provide medical guidance to students, administer COVID-19 testing, and identify and isolate those who could potentially spread the virus. Non-residential students, employees, contractors, and visitors entering campus will undergo mandatory temperature checks.
- Indoor events at Morehouse will be limited to 10 people; outdoor events will be limited to 100.
- Some buildings will be closed.
- Students will still be able to access the Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library, Chivers Dining Hall (with space for socially-distanced seating during meals), the Morehouse College Bookstore, the P.O.D. Market, and select academic centers.
- A campus restaurant will provide both remote and in-person services.
- Safety face masks and temperature checks will be required for entry to the campus.
- Students, faculty, and staff will undergo robust COVID-19 testing and symptom monitoring by an app. Students testing positive for the virus will be quarantined in a residence hall set up for that purpose, and contact tracing will be utilized to mitigate the transmission of the virus.
- The Morehouse Department of Student Health Services will oversee containment measures, including tracking test results and symptom reports.
“While we fully recognize and understand that no mitigation measure is guaranteed to eliminate the spread of the virus, we believe that the measures to be implemented prioritize the safety of our campus community,” Thomas said. “We will continue to monitor COVID-19 data, including trends with infection rates and hospital capacity, and will make further adjustments if health data deteriorates.
The 2021 academic calendar includes the return of Maroon Tigers winter basketball and J-Mester (Justice-Mester), a series of social justice-based classes held from Jan. 11-29, 2021. A mental health and wellness break from classes is scheduled on Wednesday, March 31, and Thursday, April 1, with the break continuing through Good Friday, April 2. Final exams are May 3-7. The Spring 2021 Semester ends on May 7, and Commencement Weekend is scheduled for May 14-16.
Reopening plans could be altered due to the fluid path of the pandemic and the national increase in infection rates in Georgia and Morehouse’s key enrollment areas, Thomas reiterated.
“Our mission is to educate men with disciplined minds who will lead lives of leadership and service, and that drives us to move forward with a gradual return to normalcy, and to the traditions that Morehouse holds dear,” Thomas said. “This return to campus will allow our students to begin to resume a traditional college experience.”