Selkirk College students living in on-campus housing may not be able to go to class, but they won’t be kicked out of their residences.
The college’s president says they have no plans to order students out in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s where people live, it’s their home,” says Angus Graeme. “So we just feel we have to honour that. It’s housing for folks.”
Colleges and universities across the country have been asking or telling students to vacate their dorms in response to the spread of COVID-19. That’s forced many to search for housing or move between cities at a time when Canadians have been advised to stay home. Others have been asked to leave voluntarily.
Selkirk College also suspended in-person classes last week and instructed staff to figure out alternate delivery methods for lessons.
But Graeme says its 200 students in two buildings — one in Nelson, and one in Castlegar — can stay put.
“We won’t be evicting people or telling them to leave the campus residences,” he says. “That’s where they live.”
Student plans in limbo
Graeme says the pandemic has thrown many students’ plans into chaos as well.
He notes many students, both domestic and international, have had to “recreate” their summer plans. Practicums, summer jobs and co-op placements have all been affected by the pandemic.
“For some of the students they have to re-think their own plans, about travelling home or staying for the summer,” he says. “Their employment situation may be changing, because the business community of course has been affected.
“So I think we are giving them some time to organize their options as well, and take away the angst that would be created if we said ‘we need you to be out by the end of the month.’
“We’re just not going to do that.”
Graeme says students staying in campus housing are having to make adjustments to help avoid the virus spreading.
“Maybe it’s minimizing groups getting together in the TV room, or the shared kitchen,” he says. “Staff are looking after that and doing a really good job of making sure students take this seriously, and we have to take it seriously as well.”
Cafeterias have also adjusted their practices somewhat. The teaching kitchen at Mary Hall has been closed with the end of in-place instruction at the college, but the other two remain open.
“We’ll manage the traffic internally, to make sure small groups only, keep your distance, lots of hand-washing as you prepare your food. Maybe no movie nights for a while, that kind of thing,” he says. “We’re not just trying to prevent infection, but minimize transmission as well, flatten that curve as we all have been told.”
The computer labs have also remained open, as some students need to use the college-provided machines. However, precautions have been put in place, says Graeme.
“We’ve reduced the seating in each of our labs, but we want to make sure those facilities are available,” he says. “We’ll clean them properly and keep people at a distance and so forth.”
The issue may take care of itself as students complete their courses and move out as scheduled, over the course of the next two or three weeks.
Some students may also choose to leave early if they wish, he says, as alternate testing methods may allow them to finish their courses remotely.
After students leave, Graeme says each unit will be receiving a deep clean to help fight the virus’ spread.
Spring/summer session in limbo
What’s not clear is what will happen when the next cohort of international and domestic students is due to arrive in May, says Graeme.
“We’re still trying to figure out current Global Affairs policy on student visa holders who are intending on coming in for May,” he says. “There was a recent announcement yesterday (March 19) from Minister Blair on the federal level on honouring those student visas, as long as students were able to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival.”
Meanwhile, classes are set to resume Monday using alternative delivery methods.
Graeme says he’s been inspired by how faculty, staff and students have all collaborated and helped the College pivot to the new reality.
“We’re a very different college,” he says. “It’s just astonishing.”