COVID-19: Navigating the New Normal

The new normal on campus, students are required to wear masks in public.by Brooke Sutherland

The COVID-19 PANDEMIC has created a variety of challenges for nearly everyone on Earth, and Graceland’s Lamoni campus is no different.

The decision to move Spring 2019 classes to an online format during spring break was just the beginning of months of hard work and creative thinking combined with a caring, can-do attitude from Graceland’s faculty and staff, and the university has come a long way in adapting for this unprecedented time.

Toward Together

Over the summer, Graceland created nearly 20 task forces charged with developing procedures for everything from academics to athletics. Working under the guiding principles of health and safety, quality academics, student experience and sustainability for the future, the result was the “Toward Together” plan that has guided the entire campus community and dictated new behaviors. And while Graceland has not been immune to this virus, the plan allowed the university community to continue working together toward our mission, even as colleges across the nation were forced to move to full online instruction and asked students to go home.

For Graceland, the need to limit the movement of students to and from campus to minimize asymptomatic spread of the virus led to a change in the academic calendar. Classes began a week early, fall break was eliminated, and the fall semester ended ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday. Additionally, all students were offered the option of a single room this year in order to limit spread of the virus in the residence halls. Those who met particular FAFSA qualifications were even offered the opportunity to take advantage of this option without additional cost. So, students returned to Lamoni in August eager to begin a sort of normalcy amid the chaos.

While there have been many modifications, at a glance, the Fall 2020 Graceland experience may not look so different. Walking across campus today [as this is written], the reds and yellows of the changing fall leaves in contrast to the lingering green grass would still catch your eye, and you’d still see students wearing backpacks and a range of seasonal apparel you may or may not agree fits the chilly fall temperatures. But then, you’d realize that everyone is wearing a face covering; in fact, you’d be wearing one too.

You might notice “maximum capacity” signage posted at the entrance of all gathering spaces and see directional arrows in the commons and Swarm Inn. If you visited a class, you’d realize the instructor is delivering the day’s lesson to students in the classroom as well as those joining online through Zoom. At an athletic or music event, you’d be asked to show a digital ticket and would be scanned for your temperature. If you were asked to attend a meeting, the location listed on your digital calendar would likely be a URL for a video conferencing platform rather than a physical location. And while none of these adjustments have been especially simple, the Graceland community has pushed through together.

Students exit the Resch Science and Technology Hall wearing masks.

The New Normal

Perhaps one of the greater challenges of providing a college experience during a pandemic, however, has been creating a social experience while maintaining social distance. Events planned by academic divisions, houses, COSA (Campus Organization for Social Activities) and student clubs have also been guided by Graceland’s COVID-19 guidelines, and these groups have taken initiatives to maintain the health of the campus community while providing somewhat of a normal college experience in a year that is anything but normal.

COSA, for instance, has hosted some of the most beloved traditional events such as messy games, roller skating and karaoke, but the student government branch has also taken great precautions. Masks are always required, social distancing is enforced, hand sanitizing stations are provided and, in some cases, the organization has mandated separation of houses, even going so far as to host both Wednesday- and Thursday-night movies to accommodate such separation.

“Graceland is a wonderful place to come for an outstanding education, but it is also known for its strong community and its power of together. Because COSA is following Graceland’s guidelines, the spread of COVID-19 around the world has yet to stop Graceland students on the Lamoni campus from finding a way to stay together and keep the strong community we are known for.”
MENA RUNKLE ’23
COSA representative, Khiyah House

Efforts and sentiments like this have become not only a new reality but a history page being written before our eyes. The Graceland College Book of Knowledge, published in 1997, makes just small, indirect references to the 1918 flu pandemic and how it impacted the Graceland community. One can’t help but wonder what a future version of the Graceland Book of Knowledge will say about 2020.

*Before this issue went to print, the university made the decision to allow students to return home two weeks early amid rising case numbers across the country. Many students chose to complete their Fall 2020 studies and finals remotely.