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BREAKING: AU to offer limited campus housing, some in-person classes in modified online model for Spring 2021

BY: Aqsa Rashid, Isis Amusa 

This is a developing story that will be updated as more information becomes available.

American University will continue to conduct most classes online for the Spring 2021 semester, with some opportunities for in-person classes and on-campus housing, as per a mass email sent out by President Sylvia Burwell today. 

Burwell stated that American University is "committed to a robust spring experience across our community." The plan, titled "AU Forward" will expand in-person classes in the sciences, visual and performing arts and studio courses while the majority will still be offered online.  

Classes are planned to start Jan. 19, one week later than originally planned, with spring break and abroad opportunities prior to Feb. 6 canceled in an effort to support the health and safety of the AU community. 

The Spring 2021 plan also includes increased "in-person co-curricular activity and virtual engagements, including student-faculty meetings, wellness activities and exploring local DC spaces and interests." Activity fees will remain the same as fall semester, meanwhile, AU Community and Care tuition discounts will continue. 

Residential opportunities will be increased in limited capacity for students with specific requirements to be on-campus and/or acute housing needs. The idea of a "mini-mester" is also in current exploration for first-year students to live on campus for the latter half of the semester, with preparation for even more residential opportunities in the summer. 

While most faculty and staff will continue to telework through the spring semester, some physical presence in select areas will increase in order to support heightened on-campus activity.

With these additions, however, Burwell cautioned the AU community to follow their newly ramped up COVID-19 protocols, including increased and regular testing, mandated face coverings, social distancing at all times and complying with public and D.C. health protocols.

"As flu season begins and we enter the winter months, it is likely that cases will continue to rise (remember to get your flu shot!) and caution will be needed," she said. "The health and safety of our community will always be our first priority. We will closely monitor conditions and utilize the flexibility of our spring plan to adapt as needed." 

The plan comes in response to months of work of planning and coordination with faculty, students, families and more on what a safe return to campus could look like for the Spring. 

In an email sent out on October 12, Burwell stated that many of the key factors driving their decision-making remain the same, referring to the "overall case count and trajectory of the pandemic, the availability of widespread testing capacity and contact tracing, the impact of local requirements including the 14-day quarantine for people coming to Washington, DC, from identified hot spots, and the status of local public schools." 

The AU community previously reacted strongly to AU's initial online announcement in July, with 436 students, parents and alumni voicing concerns via Instagram comments

As per the sentiment in the Instagram post, AUSG President Eric Brock and the Senate responded to students and families' by offering them a platform to voice their opinions on the Spring decision with Bill 20-21-11: Spring 2021 Collaborative Planning Initiative

Eric Brock clarified in his post that while his role in AUSG "can't dictate what the University will actually do," his "job is to ultimately ensure that students' voices are heard in the process. That doesn't mean the process stops there." 

The initiative hosted a listening session on Oct. 14 to hear "thoughts, reservations and ideas regarding the Spring." 

The conversation largely featured first-year students, who advocated for an in-person experience, citing other universities that have safely implemented a hybrid model. Many expressed their difficulties finding friends, clubs and a sense of community in the virtual learning environment. 

Several students additionally highlighted the need to protect international students, especially if the Department of Homeland Security's Student and Exchange Visitor Program attempted to withdraw visas again. Some students also expressed interest in desiring more formal leniency for international students regarding time differences. 

The decision comes weeks after George Washington University, the other neighboring D.C. college, announced plans to be fully online with limited on-campus housing for students. Georgetown, Howard, and Catholic universities have not announced a decision thus far.

Discussions are in progress about the U∙PASS® program and further information will be provided when it becomes available.

In the email, Burwell states "we heard your requests for spring information as soon as possible and we worked to get this announcement to you as quickly as we could. In doing so, there are decisions and implementation steps still in progress. This initial information is designed to help members of our community plan for the spring. We will be providing additional details in the coming weeks." 


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