The annual move-in day at the University of West Florida looked a lot different this year.
“I was thankful that they kept campus open for us and I can’t wait for the school year to start,” said Lindsey Casey, a returning sophomore at UWF. She was just one of the students getting ready for the Fall semester on Tuesday morning. She said she had no doubts about coming back to campus. “They said that they had some protocols that they were going to put in place, but coming back to campus wasn’t ever a second thought for me. I know that they were going to put the safety and health of the students first.”
Move-In Day is usually a festive occasion on the UWF campus, with student organizations serving drinks and snacks, and volunteers helping arriving students move furniture and baggage into their dorm rooms. This year things are very different. To avoid unnecessary contact and to let families stay together longer, there will be no volunteers to help with the move. Move-In Day has become Move-In Week, with students getting assigned times to come on campus and check in.
“We actually started (planning) this probably at the beginning of the summer, I’d say back in May,” said Dr. Kim LeDuff, Vice President for Academic Engagement and Student Affairs and Chief Diversity Officer at UWF. She says planning for the semester was difficult because back then, they could not be sure where the region would be in terms of the pandemic. “We are at a point now where we are requiring students to wear masks in the classroom and in any public spaces. We have put guidelines in place for their interactions in housing, that they shouldn’t be congregating in large groups, and we have signage everyplace reminding them of that. So we really do hope that students will take heed and really listen and cooperate with us. And so far, so good. We’ve been really pleased to see our students coming in with their families. When I drove in this morning I saw an entire family walking across campus with masks on, and that’s an accomplishment in this heat.”
Brice Griffen is a volunteer handing out welcome bags to the arriving students.
“So, in our bag we have a four-ounce thing of hand sanitizer, a thermometer, a no-touch tool to help them open up doors or locks, and then three different types of face masks. So hopefully they’ll find at least one in here that they like and is comfortable for them during the year.” To check in, new arrivals drove through a series of tents and check points so they could complete the process without getting out of their vehicle.
“This is the first stop," said Rachael Hendricks, a volunteer at the first tent. "They come up and we make sure that they are here for their assigned check-in time. We make sure that they have a parking pass so they can go on through and park at the appropriate residence hall. And if they have any visitors we’re giving them visitor’s passes as well.”
After that they drive up to the second check point where they may encounter Jennifer Nagim.
“Here we officially check them into our system that they have arrived, and we record their key number and deliver their key to them.”
The last stop is where they get their goody bags and then drive off to their dorms.
“It’s actually pretty orderly, I like it,” said UWF President Dr. Martha Saunders who was on hand to help greet the new and returning students. She says that even though many students will be living on campus, classes this year will be different. “More than half of our courses are completely online. And then we have a small percentage of in-person (classes), and then the rest are what we call a hybrid (or) a mix. I’m teaching a course (this semester). I will spend the first three weeks on Zoom. We’ll get to know the students, we’ll do some foundational work, and then we’ll figure it out.”
The University of West Florida previously announced that all classes will transition to distance learning after the Thanksgiving break this semester. As for next semester, Dr. Kim LeDuff says it’s a work in progress.
“At this point we have a task force that (meets weekly) and we are accessing where we are in the state, where we are in the country and how that impacts us as a campus. We haven’t made final decisions about (the Spring semester) yet, but I would think that we’ll probably have some decisions in place (by) the middle of this semester.”
Students will continue to move in for the rest of the week. The university says dorms for the semester are at about 78% of capacity.