Michigan State University closed its campus in the middle of its spring semester earlier this year due the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, there have been a lot of questions about when students could return and what classes will look like when that happens.
Last week, MSU President Samuel Stanley Jr. announced campus would reopen in the fall.
Students will take classes both in-person and virtually until Thanksgiving break, and then those classes will shift completely online for the remaining few weeks of the semester and final exams.
WKAR’s All Things Considered Host, Sophia Saliby, talked with President Stanley about his decision to bring students back.
On how he plans to support black students and other students of color on campus going forward
I think what we need to do is talk about concrete things we're doing to help deal with systemic racism on our campus. This is why we created this Diversity, Equity and Inclusion group to create a strategic plan for the university. It's why we're talking about having a [chief diversity officer] with direct reporting line to the President …. to really coordinate the efforts we're doing on campus, and I think those things are starts.
We've talked about creating a multicultural center, which again has been a longstanding demand for students on campus to help them feel more secure. I think we need to do more education; we're an educational institution, and I think this is something where we can educate people. We can help people understand how other people are experiencing the world, and that's a great part of education. So, we'll have mandatory training in [diversity, equity and inclusion] for students, faculty and staff starting this fall. These are all small things, but I look forward to working with students, faculty and staff to figure out other ways in which we can engage.
There have been massive protests across the country including in East Lansing against police brutality and racial injustice following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week.
On how he reached the decision to reopen campus to students in the fall
You look at what we've learned about the virus, how we've learned more about transmission, the importance of face coverings and masks essentially in preventing transmission, the effectiveness of social distancing, we believe, in slowing these curves down and stopping increased spread of the virus. I think those have given us some tools to approach campus in the safest way we can.
Stanley says he’s pleased with the progress Michigan as a state was making to curve the spread of the virus. He’s trained as an infectious disease doctor. Stanley says the university would close down campus again if the state sees a second wave of the virus, and it becomes unsafe again.
On what classes will look like for students
I think when you come back to campus, you'll find that there will be both and in-person and remote or virtual classes offered. For the large classes, like the 400-500 classes of freshman chemistry, those are going to be online, primarily, because we can't figure out a way to safely put people in large auditorium shoulder to shoulder, even wearing masks is not going to work. So, those courses will be online. It'll be the smaller seminar classes and more importantly, probably the laboratory classes and experiential research opportunities and the classes in music, theatre arts; these are things we'll be able to back to in-person.
On how student life will change
I think people will be wearing masks, so that's the first thing. I think that's going to be an important component of it because we know that's effective against virus transmission. We will do social distancing, so when you have events, people will be expected to be maintaining social distancing. I think more things outside, weather permitting, in Michigan. We have tents. We have opportunities, and we know things are safer outside. Then for the larger events, we'll really have to look at the public health implications and work with the state.
So, everybody always asks me, what about football? And the answer is, it would depend on what we could safely do within the stadium and whether we can make sure that the students and coaches and everyone else are protected and safe.
Stanley also says the university has improved cleaning regimes in buildings and dorms. Students will most likely be grabbing food from dining halls and eating it somewhere else like outside. Buildings like the library will have limits on the number of people who can be inside at any time.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.