Fordham Enacts Social Distancing Guidelines in Attempt to Curb COVID-19

In its return to some semblance of normalcy, Fordham University plans to enact multiple social distancing guidelines to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19.

In an interview with The Fordham Ram, Rose Hill Director of Public Safety Robert Fitzer said that the school is enacting several procedures to keep students safe.

Public Safety is counting on every community member to comply with the University’s Ram Pledge,” Fitzer said. “Public Safety has posted signs at every entrance, elevator bank, and bathroom regarding practicing social distancing, wearing a face covering, handwashing with soap and water for 20 seconds and using alcohol-based hand sanitizers to help reduce the spread of the virus and keep the community safe.”

The Ram Pledge states that each member of the Fordham community must wear a mask at all times, wash their hands frequently and thoroughly, maintain social distancing, follow the university officials’ direction regarding testing, screening and tracing and follow New York state’s isolation and quarantine protocols. 

To accommodate these, Fordham has taken several steps towards safety, including the erection of outdoor dining tents, changes to seating arrangements in classrooms, social distancing signage throughout campus and changes to elevator and bathroom capacities.

In addition to these guidelines, Fordham’s housing experience will look very different this fall. Students will not be allowed to visit other students in different dorm buildings, and gatherings will be limited to 10 or fewer people. 

To this end, Fitzer said that Public Safety will station guards in each on-campus residential building 24 hours a day to ensure that these rules will be obeyed. Fordham University did not immediately publicize these guidelines; instead, many of them went public in a post by @fordhamsimplified on Instagram. Some of the guidelines became public as part of an Orientation module that came out this week.

Fordham’s Resident Assistants (RAs) expressed concern about these guidelines in a letter sent to Dean of Students Christopher Rodgers and other Fordham administrators. Fordham’s RAs wrote of their concerns about students’ mental health and the inability to access support systems within their friend groups.

“While we understand the new rule aims to ensure the safety of our residents, we also believe it imperative that all members of the residential community receive an updated, accurate and timely list of all amendments to the housing policy in order to make an informed decision about their participation on campus this year,” the letter wrote. 

Additionally, RAs were not notified of the new visitation policy before students began arriving on-campus earlier in the month.

Another concern that students and faculty of the university share is the possibility of off-campus functions that could defy the very guidelines that have been put in place. In the past week, coronavirus outbreaks at the University of North Carolina, Oklahoma State and Notre Dame, among others, have been linked to off-campus events. In an email on Aug. 18, Jeff Gray, senior vice president for Student Affairs, said the university would be enforcing the same expectations on or off-campus.

“Students who leave campus housing for the greater freedom they perceive exists in non-Fordham housing and conduct themselves in ways counter to the expectations of the University and state guidelines, will be jeopardizing their health and safety, the health and safety of others in the community, the on-campus experience that they desire, and possibly their standing as students in this community,” Gray said. 

Additionally, any student who takes part in a gathering of more than 10 people off-campus will be subjected to Fordham’s Student Conduct Process.

While many students are concerned about others ruining the opportunity to have a college experience, some have voiced confidence that the Fordham community can keep its resolve and contain COVID-19.

“I’m glad to know that most students I’ve spoken to are taking things very seriously,” Annika Fagerstrom, FCRH ’21, said. “With the recent breakouts at so many other campuses, I’m very worried about any university’s ability to reopen successfully, but I have faith in this community.”

There have already been issues with social distancing before classes have even started. A large outdoor gathering held by orientation leaders on Thursday night attracted a crowd of roughly 100 students, drawing attention on social media.

“Our Orientation staff held one of a few carefully-managed socially-distanced events for a limited number of Orientation Leaders in a large outdoor area,” Christopher Rodgers, assistant vice president and dean of students at Rose Hill, said. “New York and Fordham policy allow for gatherings following social distancing requirements and the wearing of face coverings. Our staff were actively managing this event. Public Safety was called by someone who observed the gathering and, after arriving on the scene, observed that it was being conducted within the university guidelines.”

Rodgers said the university is planning all programs to closely follow the published guidelines regarding social distancing, occupancy limits and facial coverings. 

Some students have voiced concerns about Fordham’s ability to stay open.

“The outbreaks at other universities definitely have me worried, especially what happened at Notre Dame,” Lucy Skrebutenas, FCRH ’21, said. “While I think most students understand the risks with being back on campus, I have no doubt that some don’t believe ‘men and women for others’ apply to them.”

The need for social distancing guidelines while maintaining an engaged classroom environment has also led to some difficult decisions for professors. Some chose to teach in-person, while others decided to move their classes online for the whole semester. Jim Shearer, who teaches Performance for Broadcast Media at Fordham, explained his decision to teach in-person. 

“(I) still believe you can connect better with a student in-person,” he said. “Honestly, I have a feeling my class will go online at some point this semester. I do hope we can get at least get in a few weeks of live instruction. It will give me a good gauge of everyone’s personality.”

Some professors have already decided to move to fully online instruction without the university dictating that choice for them, citing equal participation within classes and safety concerns. 

One of those professors is Eli Bromberg, who teaches Race, Class and Gender in Media at Rose Hill. Earlier in the summer, he decided to move his class fully online. 

“My preference is always to be in a physical classroom interacting with students — the energy and excitement of that space is why I became a teacher in the first place,” he says. “But for me, weighing that preference against my own responsibility to keep my loved ones as safe as possible led me to this decision.”