Students across campus have expressed frustration that the Office of Admission will host in-person campus visits throughout the semester, despite current students being required to quarantine and follow a strict, phased reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic. While self-guided tours have already begun, in-person tours will begin in the coming weeks, requiring a multitude of new safety guidelines developed by the Office of Admission. These requirements include pre-registration, a health screening, face-coverings, physical distancing, adherence to the tour route and remaining outside of campus buildings, according to the University website. While on campus, all visitors are asked to adhere to the same Commitment to Community Health as all returning students, faculty and staff pledged to prior to their return for the semester. Any students coming from a state on the N.Y./N.J./C.T. restricted travel list are required to complete a mandatory 14 day quarantine before their visit.
Among the students concerned about Admission visits during the semester is junior Josephine Finney, who said she became worried after witnessing a prospective student touring campus without a mask on.
“I knew he was [a prospective student] because he was holding those [admissions] packets,” Finney said. “I feel like one of the highest risks is people coming from the outside, and I understand people wanting to see the campus but if you can’t be responsible, if we can’t enforce responsibility from people that haven’t signed the Commitment to Community Health, then it just puts everyone in danger.”
Finney said she feels allowing prospective families onto campus this semester holds students — who were required to quarantine upon arrival and are subject to Colgate’s Commitment to Community Health — to a double standard.
“It’s putting the visitors coming in at a higher level of respect than us,” Finney said. “It’s more harmful to us than to them, but it’s putting their value over ours.”
Senior Kelly McClymonds expressed similar concerns upon finding out that the Office of Admission would be offering in-person visits this fall.
“We have sacrificed our entire college experience this year and have been working so hard to do our best to hold one another accountable, and the decision to allow people from all over the country to visit campus and the village completely undermines all of our hard work [and] the millions of dollars the school has spent so far,” McClymonds said.
Deans of Admission Tara Bubble and Assistant Dean of Admission Keaton Hain addressed student concerns, emphasizing that visitors will come to campus regardless of if they are invited on a structured tour. However, Hain said he empathizes with student frustrations.
“I totally understand where the students are coming from and how they feel. I was their age once too and I can’t say I would disagree with their concerns. I will say, however, even before we started doing self-guided tours, and now student-led tours… people were still visiting,” Hain said.
Bubble further emphasized that campus visitors are inevitable as Colgate is an open campus.
“We know that even if tours were not offered, prospective students would still visit campus. That’s something we saw firsthand during the four months that the campus was closed. This is an open campus, and without closing down all of the roads, unannounced visitors are inevitable,” Bubble said.
McClymonds contacted the COVID-19 email and Admission Officer Erin Milin about her concerns, who she said both responded promptly and echoed Hain and Bubble’s sentiments. While she understands the decision, McClymonds expressed doubt that prospective students and their families will take the safety guidelines seriously.
“I do understand that visiting students are kind of inevitable and pretty much out of the control from Admission, so if there will already be students coming from all over the country then we might as well create safe protocols where they can manage the people who are visiting,” McClymonds said.
According to Hain, the structured tours this semester might mitigate safety concerns caused by the absence of a formal visit program in the spring.
“[Visitors] were driving around campus, parking and walking wherever they wished, not wearing face coverings, and trying to go into buildings. It was pretty chaotic and we received several notices of these things from folks around campus,” Hain said. “So we felt if we had visitors sign up and we passed on expectations for them when they visit campus that we would eliminate some of these instances.”
Bubble explained the multitude of changes the Office of Admission has made in the face of COVID-19, both physical and structural, to ensure the safety of the campus. Structurally, all tours, whether self-guided or led by a student, require face coverings, physical distancing and staying outside at all times. Additionally, all visitors will undergo a health screening, including a temperature check and questionnaire, and be made aware of the Commitment to Community Health prior to their visit. According to Bubble, all guests are asked to pre-register prior to their visit, and tours led by students include a maximum of two “households.”
Bubble also explained the physical changes to the office, including a decrease in furniture in the lobby, a health screening station, online information sessions and signage to inform visitors of Colgate’s health and safety guidelines.
Hain described the high-tech technology and personal effort that will go into hosting prospective students.
“I think Admissions is extremely prepared for in-person tours… We wipe down door handles and other surfaces multiple times an hour,” Hain said. “With the small size of tour groups, it’s also very easy to social distance on tour. We ran a test trial of this over the summer for two weeks and it worked extremely well.”
Junior Rob Israel, an Admission Ambassador through the office’s new paid position, said that even he was initially apprehensive about tours taking place on campus, but now feels confident the office’s procedures will ensure the safety of the community.
“The criticisms are extremely valid,” Israel said. “I even had some criticisms going into this. However, the behind the scenes look at what the Admissions Office is doing to ensure the safety of not only the tour guides and admissions staff, but the community as a whole has been reassuring… the masks and distancing make me feel confident that I can effectively give a good tour around campus, while being safe at the same time.”
Senior Admission Intern Ellie Kucera, who’s worked at the Office of Admission since her first semester on campus, spent the summer alongside the Office staff as a Summer Admission Fellow, working to coordinate and develop virtual programming when campus closed in mid-March. Kucera said while she too understands students’ frustrations, she echoed Bubble’s sentiment that prospective students and their families will visit campus regardless of Admission programming.
“Obviously it is a tricky situation. I do, however, feel that the Office has been very deliberate… and have concluded that it is actually safer for our community if formal tours are run this Fall. I think it should not be overlooked that all visitors will be asked to review our Commitment to Community Health before arriving [on] campus. If we did not offer tours this fall, they may not be aware of this strict contract that is in place,” Kucera said. “Unknown visitors may not wear masks, could potentially enter our academic buildings or libraries or act in other ways that put our community at risk.”
Senior Admission Intern Cole Grumbach emphasized that while Admission now offers in-person programming, they remain dedicated to offering virtual experiences.
“We’re still doing everything we can to offer as many virtual opportunities for prospective students and families as possible, including virtual tours, virtual informational interviews and virtual information sessions along with a host of webinars,” Grumbach said. “Everyone has been incredibly flexible and adaptive, and we’re always excited to talk about Colgate and our experiences here with prospective students.”
To mitigate apprehensions about prospective families visiting campus, Hain said he’s happy to talk with any student who has questions or concerns.
Along with a new tour structure, Hain explained that the office decided to make the tour guide position paid, which was previously held by student volunteers before the onset of COVID-19. According to Hain, the decision came after evaluating their campus visitation program, considering factors including the quality of personal tours, student accountability and how well the tour guides represented the entire campus population to prospective families. Prior to setting out on tours, the 15 Admission Ambassadors (selected out of 119 applicants) for the position will undergo multiple trainings.
“As of right now, I’ve had three separate virtual trainings with our new Admission Ambassadors. And there are more to come. We covered how to navigate our tour route without going into buildings, bystander intervention if guests are uncooperative with safety expectations and much more,” Hain said.
Bubble said that while some student employees across the University were unable to be rehired this semester, the introduction of this position caused a net gain in student employment opportunities through the office.
“Existing Admission student jobs transitioned to the Admission Ambassador role and additional Admission resources were allocated to increase the total number of students hired. Admission works closely with Student Employment when recruiting and hiring students for any job,” Bubble said.