JMU News

Welcoming back students


 

Dear JMU Community,

Campus is coming back to life and first-year students begin moving into their on-campus housing today. While I am excited to welcome our students back, I want to take a moment to comment on the collective challenge that lies ahead of us and reiterate what will be required from each of us to maintain an in-person experience this fall.

Like many of you, I have observed what is happening at some colleges and universities across the country that unsuccessfully attempted in-person reopenings. I assure you that we are carefully monitoring those situations and adapting our plans based on any learnings or insights gleaned. What is immediately clear, and what these examples have affirmed for us, is that students’ behavior will be a key determinant in whether or not JMU experiences an outbreak of COVID-19.

As a university, we have worked towards ensuring that we have ample testing capacity at the University Health Center, and that we have adequate isolation and quarantine space. Additionally, we are closely monitoring the prevalence of COVID-19 in the local community and our local healthcare providers have the capacity to treat those needing care. On campus, we have increased sanitation efforts, mandated mask wearing and physical distancing, and reduced capacity in dining halls, classrooms and other public spaces.

All this is to say to our students, that we are in this with you, and we are taking every possible precaution to help keep you safe. However, we need the same level of commitment from you, especially as it relates to not hosting or attending any social gatherings of more than 10 people. We have personally witnessed large parties in the last few days as well as seen a number of pictures and videos of events where individuals are gathered together and are not wearing masks. We know, according to all the available science and data, that those events are prime opportunities for this virus to spread at JMU, and send us back to all-virtual learning. Mask-wearing is critical to our collective efforts.

While we expect you to hold yourselves and each other accountable, I want to remind you of the accountability measures that the university and City of Harrisonburg have put in place to help with this effort.

  • JMU Student Agreement: All students have been required to sign an agreement between themselves and JMU that mandates that they will wear a mask and not host or attend gatherings of more than 10 people among other expectations. By agreeing to these commitments, students agreed to be held accountable for their actions, which have consequences. The Office of Student Accountability and Restorative Practices (OSARP) will be receiving both on-campus and off-campus reports related to students not following these commitments. OSARP is ready to respond quickly to these reports, as breaking this agreement is in direct violation of the mission of our university by unnecessarily putting others at risk. Therefore, if you choose to host or attend social gatherings larger than 10 people, to not use the LiveSafe App, to not wear a face covering, or to not practice physical distancing, you are choosing to accept consequences for those actions, which may include suspension or expulsion from JMU.

  • LiveSafe App: In addition to using the LiveSafe app each day to self-screen for symptoms of COVID-19, users can also use the LiveSafe app to anonymously report a tip to the JMU Police Department if they are noticing individuals violating JMU’s Stop the Spread guidelines. It is not enough to post about large parties or other flagrant violations on social media. Reporting these incidents through LiveSafe or calling law enforcement directly is the best way to ensure that the appropriate authorities are made aware. JMU PD will handle each tip on a case-by-case basis.

  • Harrisonburg City Ordinance: A city ordinance is now in effect that caps social gatherings in the city at 50 people. Not only could a student be found in violation of the JMU Student Agreement for participating in a gathering of more than 10 people, they could also now be charged with a misdemeanor for hosting or attending a gathering larger than 50 people within city limits—as well as subject to immediate suspension under University policy.

I also recognize that we are returning to campus not just during a pandemic, but also as we continue to face issues of systemic racism and inequity on campus and across our nation, and we need your help with this effort. We are bringing the same level of passion, energy and commitment to fighting racism on campus and in society as we are to reopening safely. In addition to removing the names of Confederate leaders from three buildings on campus earlier this year, we have established a new Task Force on Racial Equity. This group will include faculty, staff, students, community members and alumni and will be charged with advising the university’s leadership team on issues of racial equity and generating recommendations for change. Nominations for task force members can be found here. Please consider nominating yourself or others; the deadline for nominations is Monday, September 14. On a related note, we are pleased to welcome Brent Lewis, who will serve as JMU’s first Associate Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion within the Division of Student Affairs with oversight over the Office of Disability Services; Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE); and the Center for Multicultural Student Services.

We also recognize that this pandemic is having a crippling impact on the Harrisonburg and Rockingham County economy. As part of our commitment to community engagement, the university has convened a group of thought leaders to form an Economic Development Council to identify ways to better coordinate and utilize the resources of the university to support economic growth activities and initiatives. This Council will be responsible for economic development strategic planning, and will be critical to ensuring that JMU serves the broader community as an anchor institution in recovery from the devastation wrought by the pandemic.

Related to the university’s leadership, as we continue to confront increasingly complex issues as an institution, I have reconfigured and expanded the university’s leadership team, which will now be known as the President’s Cabinet. This group of 20 leaders from across campus is diverse and inclusive, with each member bringing their own background and expertise to university governance. The full composition of the cabinet can be found here, and this group’s guidance will be critical as the university flexes and adapts in these unprecedented times. 

Finally, maintaining a safe in-person experience this fall is going to take every single one of us, working as one, to look out for each other’s health and safety. For those students taking this pandemic seriously and adhering to guidance, thank you, and please continue to model the JMU way of looking out for one another. Thank you to our JMU parents and families for entrusting us with your students, and to our faculty and staff who are the heartbeat and lifeblood of this institution.

Safe travels for those of you returning this weekend. Be well and take care of each other.

Sincerely,

Jonathan Alger

President

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Published: Friday, August 21, 2020

Last Updated: Friday, August 21, 2020

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