Swarthmore’s Administration Plans for the Fall 2021 Semester

One of the reasons Jennifer He ’24 committed to Swarthmore College was the gorgeous arboretum on Swarthmore’s campus. Think of the redwood walkway and the beautiful rose garden in the spring. Unfortunately, she still has yet to see it, and any of her Swarthmore friends, in person. 

“For the last two semesters, I have been remote learning from Kansas,” she wrote in an email to The Phoenix. “I have been remote for the entirety of my freshman year.”

As the Spring semester wraps up, Swarthmore students have no doubt begun to look ahead to what will be happening in Fall 2021. He and many other students are excited to hear that the college plans to bring all students back to campus.

On March 5, President Valerie Smith sent out an email signaling to the community that the college expects to return to full on-campus activity in Fall 2021. Now that it is later in the Spring semester and vaccine rollout has generally been a success, Dean of Student Activities Jim Terhune emphasized this plan to return to campus. 

“We are committed to returning to in-person learning on campus for the fall. We truly believe that in the fall we will be back to having all students on campus, in-person teaching, and a full complement of out-of-class activities in full swing,” he said in an email to the Phoenix. 

The only possibility that would affect the Fall semester from returning to pre-COVID normality would be a dramatic and unexpected turn in the pandemic, although Dean Terhune is confident that that will not be the case. 

Swatties rejoice over the news that they will be returning to campus and in-person classes next semester. Satchel Tsai ’23, a sophomore who has been away from Swarthmore’s campus since March 2020, is particularly happy about the announcement that everyone will be on campus this fall. 

“I’m very excited to return to campus this fall!” she said in an email to the Phoenix. “I miss Swarthmore a lot!”

Student athletes are also excited to get back on campus to participate in their sports again. 

“I’m really excited to be social with my peers again, but I am especially excited to play lacrosse again,” said Katee Kemether ’23, goalie for Swarthmore women’s lacrosse team. 

Dean Terhune said that the college is planning for the full returns of sports games, live music, and theater performances. 

While students are generally thrilled by the anticipated return to a normal year, there are still some lingering anxieties about arriving on campus this fall. 

“I definitely think it will be weird to be a junior on campus when I’ve only been on campus for a little over a semester,” Tsai said.. “I think it will be a bit of an adjustment since I’ve only seen such a limited number of people in person throughout the pandemic, so it will be different to be in contact with so many different people on campus.”

Kemether echoed Tsai’s sentiments and added that she is nervous about the specifics of on-campus life. 

“I’m both excited and nervous for what an on campus semester means these days. I wonder what classes are going to look like since I have been doing remote for over a year now,” she said. “I worry that the school will limit social interactions in a way that isn’t supportive to students.”

According to Dean Terhune, classes will be back to in-person, students will be assigned roommates again, and Swarthmore will adhere to the regularly scheduled breaks the Fall semester typically has. Terhune also addressed the status of social gatherings in the Fall. 

“We absolutely expect that gatherings will be allowed. Students and other community members being able to come together in a variety of settings — social, academic, recreational, etc. — is a core element of a Swarthmore education so we think it is essential to allow people to gather in lots of ways,” he said.

Terhune also added that it is still too early for the school to make final decisions regarding health safety policies. 

The school plans to follow CDC guidelines this Fall semester, but what those guidelines will specifically be is still subject to change depending on the course of the pandemic. This may mean a new Garnet Pledge, mandated masks, or some form of social distancing.

“We will follow the guidance of the CDC and medical experts we are working with and adopt the best practices to ensure the health and safety of community members,” said Terhune. 

As announced in a college-wide email and in a piece in The Phoenix on vaccinations, the college will be mandating vaccinations for the upcoming school year. Administrators are still unsure, however, if mandatory testing will take place on campus. 

“Our hope is that because everyone will be vaccinated we will be able to move away from the kind of required surveillance testing of all students that was necessary this year,” said Terhune. “But ultimately we will be guided by the best advice from medical experts based on the circumstances we face at the time.”

Terhune also added that Swarthmore will have a process to provide vaccinations for any students who were unable to get vaccinated prior to coming back to campus. Additionally, any students unable to be vaccinated due to religious or medical reasons will be able to waive the requirements. 

Casey Anderson, Director of Student Health and Wellness, seconded the existence of a plan through the Student Health and Wellness Center to get all students vaccinated, but she did not have any other specifics at this time.

“More details specific to vaccinations will be provided later this summer,” she said in an email to The Phoenix. 

Soon, all Swarthmore students will have the opportunity to be back on campus; current first years who have been off campus for the entire year will finally be able to see the campus in person, and everyone else will be able to get reacquainted with familiar places and familiar faces. It remains unclear whether or not there will be an orientation for students who have studied at Swarthmore remotely, but never in person. All that really remains to be seen is what guidelines the CDC will issue this fall. 

“I’m just really looking forward to what will happen next semester with all of us on campus together,” said Tsai. “I can’t wait to get back to Swarthmore.”

Photo courtesy of Laurence Kesterson.

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