The Linfield University campus doesn’t appear much different from what it did when classes started last year, except for the signs with the school’s name — it shed its “college” designation on July 1.
Flowers are blooming, cars fill every parking space, and students cross the campus, backpacks bulging, on their way to classes that started Monday, Aug. 24.
This year, though, students are wearing face coverings and waving or winking their greetings to each other as they stay at least 6 feet apart because of the coronavirus pandemic.
And they are heading to classes in large white tents, as well as traditional classrooms. In order to keep classes even smaller than usual, the college erected three of the big tents in the area near Pioneer Hall and dorms where students live.
The college measured every room on campus to ensure it complied with rules that require at least 35 square feet for each person, spaced 6 feet apart, indoors, said Susan Hopp, Linfield’s vice president of student affairs since 2010.
“We needed a few more spaces, so we put up the tents,” she said.
Classes also are being taught using a hybrid model, with some students in a classroom one day and online the next, while other students attend in person.
Additional tents hold dining stations where students can obtain “grab and go” meals. They can also stand in a well-spaced line to pick up food in Dillin Hall, the traditional cafeteria.
Dorms are open. Parents were allowed to visit rooms on move-in day, but campus visitors are now restricted.
Some other schools, including Oregon’s state universities, are using mostly online instruction this fall. Across the country, some schools that started in-person have already returned to a more structured version of the distance learning that took place in spring after the pandemic caused schools to close.
Linfield’s McMinnville campus opened in mid-August. Its Portland nursing program will start Monday, Aug. 31.
As students arrived, including about 400 freshmen and about 75 transfers, they underwent rapid response COVID-19 testing to ensure they weren’t bringing coronavirus with them. Portland campus students will be tested today and over the weekend, Hopp said.
Senior Mackenzie Hall of Salem said the test wasn’t bad: she just had to spit into a container. Her negative results arrived two days later.
Knowing everyone around her has been tested provides peace of mind, Hall said. Still, she and other students and staff members are taking the pandemic seriously, and are following social distancing and sanitation rules.
Hopp said everyone on campus signed the “Wildcats for Health” commitment, explaining the safety procedures.
“Everybody’s in it together,” she said.
Most of last year’s students returned this fall, joining the 475 newcomers — an incoming class about 50 fewer than the record-size group that entered last fall. Like last year’s class, this one includes “a robust number” of first-generation college students, for whom Linfield offers additional mentorship and support.
The university’s total enrollment, with both campuses and the pre-existing online and adult degree programs, is about 1,850. A few people deferred their arrivals until the fall of 2021, and some upperclassmen decided to wait until next year.
“Enrollment is strong, all things considered,” Hopp said.
Since overseas programs were canceled, some students who planned to go abroad decided to wait a year, she said. And others came to campus to take alternative classes, with hopes of doing their overseas programs later.
“It was really disappointing,” she said.
The cancellation of athletics also may have led some to stay home this fall. “But coaches have done a terrific job creating a sense of team, even though they’re not competing,” Hopp said.
She said instructors also are working to give students high-quality experiences in choir, marching band and other group programs.
Linfield’s official census won’t be tallied until the third week of the semester, in September, but Hopp said she is “anticipating a healthy return.”
Students will remain in McMinnville until Nov. 20, the Friday before Thanksgiving. They will continue their classes online after the holiday and take finals that way, as well.
Following public health guidelines, the university is asking them to refrain from travel until the Thanksgiving break. “We want to create an environment here that is safe,” Hopp said.
Hopp continued to work on campus after in-person classes closed abruptly in March, and she’s been there all summer. She said she’s thrilled to look out her window and see students again, even if they are wearing masks.
“It’s very invigorating, exciting, and they’re very happy to be here,” she said.
Hall, the senior from Salem, agreed, even though social distancing limits her opportunities to meet with friends who don’t live in her apartment block. “I love being back!” she said.
An exercise science major, she’s looking forward to being in the same room with her professors for classes such as Ecology of Ecosystems, Quantitative Method of Psychology and Drugs and Society, and said she learns better with face-to-face instruction.
She plans to apply for graduate school next year. But if the pandemic requires continued distance learning at most schools, she will take a year off to work, instead.
Another senior, Jessica Vice of North Plains, also said she’s pleased to be back on campus. Returning this time was different, though, with social distancing replacing the usual hugs from friends, and with all the welcome-back activities taking place outside.
The health education major, who works off-campus at Dutch Bros, plans to attend graduate school in social work. She is taking classes for her major and her minor in psychology.
One meets in a tent; another is totally online using Zoom. It’s harder to meet classmates and have group discussions online, so she said she’s grateful for having some in-person classes.
One of her courses this fall is Prevention and Control of Disease. “That’s going to be interesting, with what we’re going through these days,” she said.
Originally published Aug. 28, 2020 by the News-Register. Read more about Linfield in the News-Register archive.