Over a year since students abruptly left campus, they are finally going back to the Hilltop. A March 25 email from President DeGioia announced that the university expects a full return of the student-body to Georgetown’s campuses for the fall 2021 semester. That return, however, will begin gradually over the summer months and see a far different campus than the one students left last March.
Guidelines for student’s return to campus will follow D.C. public health guidelines and are subject to change. Students are required to be COVID-19 vaccinated, study abroad remains suspended for the fall semester, and classroom set-up will change to accommodate a safe shift back to on-campus learning.
While a limited number of students currently reside on-campus, including some athletes, international students, and those who applied for housing due to unstable living conditions, this number will increase over the summer. A five-week Summer Hilltop Immersion Program (SHIP) is being offered to members of the Class of 2024 and transfer students between June 7 and July 8, with approximately 600 students enrolled as of March 23.
Undergraduate and graduate students on the Main and Medical campuses and Law Center will also be required to be COVID-19 vaccinated, according to an announcement to the student body on April 14. The decision to establish a vaccine requirement came after university consultation with Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Ranit Mishori, Georgetown’s Public Health Advisory group, faculty, staff, and students. The vaccine requirement does not extend to faculty and staff at this time. Religious and medical exemptions will be granted in line with federal and local guidelines.
The university will provide direction for students unable to get a vaccine in their home state, territory, or country to receive a vaccination upon their arrival to campus. “We will be providing additional information in the coming weeks—recognizing that there are different vaccines and differing levels of access to vaccines for those living outside the United States,” DeGioia’s email read.
Once on campus, classroom planning will be altered to ensure three feet of separation between student desks. Some classes might be taught in bigger spaces, and large class sizes will likely include virtual elements according to an April 15 email by Executive Vice President for Health Sciences Edward Healton.
Due to continued global health risks, the university is maintaining its moratorium on all university-related domestic and international travel. Study abroad and non-credit travel are currently suspended through August 15. Some exceptions to the ban may be granted in accordance with the university’s COVID-19 Spring and Summer Travel Policy, which defines travel deemed essential or low-risk.
“The University is constantly monitoring the public health situation domestically and globally, with the hope that conditions will improve enough to safely permit additional University-related travel in the future, including expanded opportunities for faculty travel for purposes of field, archival, laboratory, or other research,” Provost Groves wrote in a March 18 email to the student body.
While university rulings on all elements of campus life will change alongside federal and D.C. public health guidelines, the most uncertain policy concerns the approaching graduation of the Class of 2021. A March 23 message from DeGioia initially announced a virtual graduation ceremony, with limited in-person gatherings. At the time, D.C. public health guidelines only allowed outdoor gatherings of 50 people or less.
A change in D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s policies, however, prompted the university to reconsider. D.C. government plans released on April 7 announced that university commencement ceremonies for Spring 2021 are contingent on approval from the City and the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency. Although virtual events are still encouraged and masks are mandatory, Bowser’s new guidelines specify that outdoor commencement ceremonies must be 25 percent of the space occupancy, or a maximum of 2,000 people, whichever number is smaller. After May 1, indoor ceremonies are limited to 25 percent of the space occupancy, or 500 people.
An April 12 update from DeGioia explained that Georgetown’s commencement plans are being altered in light of the new guidelines. “The Mayor’s guidelines direct colleges to share plans for approval by the D.C. Government. We are currently working to finalize specific plans for approval and will update our community in the coming days,” the email stated.
“The importance of this day in the lives of our students is at the forefront of our planning, as we work to adjust to this new health guidance,” DeGioia wrote.