Institutional News

Update on Fall 2020 Term to Students and Families

Today, the following message was sent to Bennington students and families regarding Fall 2020 plans.

Dear Students and Families, 

With summer fully underway and the Fall 2020 term fast approaching, we write with important updates. As announced in May, Bennington will welcome students to campus in the fall for those who can safely return, and will offer a robust remote option for those who cannot. This blended model will enable us to provide the strongest educational experience possible while protecting the health and safety of our community under extraordinary circumstances.

The State of Vermont has done exceptional work in responding to and containing the spread of COVID-19 and today it has one of the lowest rates in the country. With expanded testing and tracing capacity, Vermont’s phased reopening continues and restrictions are being cautiously lifted. We are in regular contact with state and local officials and have worked collaboratively with Vermont colleges on the State’s restart plan, including the Safe and Healthy Return to Campus guide.

This message outlines the robust and comprehensive plan Bennington College has in place for maintaining a safe environment in the fall. We have made significant changes to campus operations and are working hard to support international students who are facing new challenges, but the success of this plan will also rely on a solemn commitment from every member of this community to adhere to best health practices. As such, we are requiring every student, faculty, and staff member to sign a Commitment of Shared Responsibility before returning.  

The most critical point to understand today is that things are going to look different at Bennington this fall. Whether you are on campus or off, the academic calendar, residential life, and classroom experience will be significantly modified. Nevertheless, the defining characteristics of a Bennington education will remain the same amidst these changes, and--importantly--have informed them. The academic rigor, collaborative spirit, and potential for discovery that you know and expect will continue. With a shared commitment to one another and our values as our guide, we anticipate fall 2020 to be an exciting and inspiring term, even as we work through what is perhaps one of the most challenging times in higher education in this country. If any group of students, faculty, and staff can succeed in this moment, it is ours.

The following is an overview of what the student experience will look like on campus in the fall. Additional information and answers to frequently asked questions can be found on our COVID-19 Response page. And next week, we will host two Zoom sessions--on Wednesday, July 15, at 5 pm ET and Friday, July 17 at 12 pm ET--which will be opportunities for students and their families to ask questions directly. Click through the dates above to sign up. You may also submit questions ahead of time.

Academic Calendar and Travel

As outlined in our May message, the Fall semester will be split into two seven-week terms, allowing for more flexibility for both students and faculty without compromising the quality of learning or our advising and mentorship model. Each seven-week term will be delivered in a blended format that allows for remote learning in concert with in-person learning. Students who can be on campus will attend classes in person, and any domestic students who cannot be on campus may engage remotely. 

Where possible, international students who cannot return to campus will also learn remotely. We are working to advocate for international students today as they face increasing uncertainty under new federal rules, and we are meeting regularly and seeking legal counsel to discuss various contingencies in case these rules shift again. As we stated earlier this week, we will do everything we can to protect Bennington’s international students from harmful policies that threaten their education and their security in our academic community. More information for international students is available in the What International Students Need to Know section of the FAQ. 

To keep community members safe and reduce the risk of infection, students, faculty, and staff are asked to limit personal travel and commuting to local and approved areas throughout the terms. All students are required to stay on campus for the Long Weekend break between the two terms (October 16-19). We understand that some domestic students may want to leave campus for Thanksgiving, and may do so, but they will then need to complete the remainder of the term remotely.

Domestic students may not study remotely for the first seven-week term and then come to campus for the second seven-week term because all quarantining and testing will be implemented before the start of the first fall term. The only exceptions will be for international students who cannot arrive in August due to travel restrictions and delayed visa processing as a result of closed embassies. 

What to Expect When You Arrive

Student arrival to campus will begin August 21 and will be staggered to allow for COVID-19 testing capacity and physical distancing during move-in. Later this month, students will be contacted to choose a preferred day and time for arrival. In accordance with the State of Vermont’s travel restriction guidelines, students are permitted to bring two people to campus to assist with campus move-in.   

Every Bennington student on campus will be tested for COVID-19. Students who reside outside of Vermont in places with high caseloads (>400 per million residents) will have a test within 48 hours of arrival and a second test after the seventh day of their quarantine. Students from Vermont and those who are not required to quarantine will be tested seven days after their arrival to campus.  

All arriving students will be checked for high temperatures and other COVID-19 symptoms. No student with a temperature above 100 degrees or COVID-19 symptoms will be allowed to move into campus housing. All out-of-state students who reside in high prevalence areas and all students arriving from outside of the United States must quarantine as described below until they receive a COVID-19 test result showing they do not have the virus.  

Upon arrival, students needing to quarantine will do so in their houses for a minimum of seven days, in accordance with the State of Vermont’s “residence hall quarantine model” outlined in the Safe & Healthy Return to Campus guidance. If they remain symptom-free during that time, they will then be tested for COVID-19. If test results are negative, students will then be permitted to move about campus and interact with others outside of their house following all guidelines noted in the Commitment of Shared Responsibility (see below). If a student develops symptoms and/or tests positive for COVID-19, the student will be moved to an isolation house and members of the house community will need to continue to quarantine for an additional 7-14 days.

What to Expect If You’re Studying Remotely

With the shift to seven-week courses, the terms will feel very different, and faculty are working together to restructure courses in ways that will engage students in a variety of situations. Students who cannot be on campus in the fall (or who might need to quarantine during the semester) will be able to maintain a high level of engagement with not only each of their courses and respective instructors, but their classmates as well. Nearly all of our classes have been designed to accommodate remote students, and our faculty and staff are committed to a compelling education experience regardless of location. Remote students will be also assigned to residential house communities and be given ample opportunities to participate in social and cultural activities along with their peers. 

Students can expect faculty advisors to reach out as fall approaches with details on how remote learning will work for them and ways to engage with the Bennington community beyond coursework. And we will continue to be in regular contact with international students through the rest of the summer as we have updates and further clarity regarding the legality of taking a full course of study, online, from outside of the United States.

Residential & Dining Experience

For students who can safely return to campus, we envision a residential experience that creates space for continuing the many beloved traditions and sources of connection that are integral to a Bennington education while adhering to the critical health and safety needs of the moment.  House life and socializing will be preserved, but reimagined in accordance with these needs.

In order to support guidance related to decreasing density of residential communities, we plan to house as many students as possible in single rooms. We also know that some students, for a variety of reasons, will prefer to have a roommate and we will honor those preferences whenever possible. 

House common areas are being reconfigured to accommodate social distancing guidelines, including signage that indicates the maximum occupancy of the space and removal of some furniture in house living rooms. Traditional house events such as parties and coffee hours will need to take new forms due to the limitations on size of gatherings and space occupancy. Many houses already have single-use bathrooms, but in those houses with shared bathroom configurations, students will be assigned a specific bathroom to use. House kitchens will remain open, but due to occupancy limitations, one student at a time will be able to use the kitchen and coordinate their use through a sign up process. Students will be asked to wipe down all common spaces after use and facial coverings should be worn in common areas within the house communities.  

We know how important those first few days of college are to community-building, and dining is critical to those relationships. While the main Commons Dining Hall will be closed during the initial arrival quarantine period, Dining Services is planning for community meals that will be delivered “family-style” to each house. Students will have the opportunity to dine with others in their assigned house community. We encourage students to use all mitigation factors during the quarantine period while taking advantage of this time to learn all they can about each other.  

Once the quarantine period has been completed, the Commons Dining Room will re-open in a to-go model during all three dining periods. Students will self-swipe in, and food will be plated and served by our dining staff at each student’s request. Seating capacity will be reduced, so not all students will eat all meals in-house but rather, there will be a schedule for students to know when they are able to dine-in. Roz’s Cafe will also be an option for coffee drinks and to-go snacks. 

Classes and Advising

At Bennington, close interaction between faculty and students is central to the academic experience, in both courses and advising. While we adapt to the realities of physical distancing as we must, we will not sacrifice the spirit of inquiry, dialogue, and creativity that infuse all academic work at the college. To ensure everyone’s safety, students must wear a cloth face covering and maintain a minimum of six feet physical distance from other people while in the classroom; some spaces may use assigned seating in order to maintain appropriate distancing between students.

As there are some students and faculty who will choose—for health or safety reasons—to engage in the Bennington experience from afar, most classes will be a blend of on-campus and remote instruction. In some cases, or on certain days, faculty and students will be together in a classroom or studio on campus; at other times, learning may happen entirely remotely. For most classes, it will be a mix of the two. In all cases, the faculty have chosen an approach to teaching and learning that will best deliver on the promise of a Bennington education, adapting their specific content and teaching style to the new realities of social distancing outlined above. In the coming weeks, we will share more specific information about how the various classes in the fall curriculum will be conducted.  

COVID-19 Prevention and Response

Daily health screening: All students, faculty, and staff will be required to self-screen and certify the results by completing a daily health screening to confirm that their temperature does not exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit and that they are free of respiratory illness.

Isolation and quarantine: Students who develop a fever above 100 degrees and/or become symptomatic will need to contact Health Services for testing and further instruction. Students who are symptomatic and are tested will need to self-isolate in a designated campus facility while awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test (24-48 hours). Health Services will arrange for students who are symptomatic to be tested at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center (SVMC). Students who test positive will need to remain in a designated isolation campus facility until they are cleared to return to their house community by health officials. Meals will be delivered to isolated students. We will work closely with each student to ensure any dietary restrictions are accommodated. They will continue their coursework remotely during this time.

All contact tracing for positive cases on campus will be conducted by the Vermont Department of Health, and students are asked to respond promptly and to comply with the directives of State officials. Students who are identified through contact tracing of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 and who are asymptomatic will be asked to quarantine in their assigned room within their house community. Students will be assigned a specific bathroom to use and will need to designate a friend or acquaintance to assist them in daily tasks such as picking up mail, food, and other materials. Students will be monitored daily for temperature and symptoms by state health officials. Quarantine will last between 7-14 days, depending on testing criteria, and students must remain in quarantine until released by health officials.  

Masks: All staff, faculty, and students must wear cloth face coverings in any public and shared space on campus, including any outside spaces or private spaces where 6 feet / 2 meters of social distance is impossible. (More details in the FAQ.) 

Sanitized surfaces and hands: Shared spaces and facilities will be cleaned daily, using  CDC-recommended practices, in which all Buildings and Grounds cleaning staff have been trained. However, due to the impossibility of continuous cleaning, we will also rely upon community members to participate in cleaning high-touch surfaces and shared tools after use to ensure the safest environment for all. Cleaning and disinfecting supplies will be available in all shared spaces and individuals are asked to wipe down spaces after usage. In addition to handwashing available in all campus restrooms, we will be distributing hand sanitizer stations throughout campus to promote frequent hand sanitization.   

Commitment of Shared Responsibility

The success of these efforts will rely heavily on our shared commitment to one another, on following current best practices, and on taking action when you feel unwell. That is why we are asking each student, faculty, and staff member who will be joining us in the fall to sign this Commitment of Shared Responsibility (CSR). The CSR is an agreement among everyone learning, working, and living together on campus to observe a set of health and safety protocols during this public health emergency that will help ensure our collective health. It is a requirement for all students, faculty, and staff returning to campus, and it is essential to our success as individuals and an institution.

All students who plan to be on campus in the fall must sign the Commitment of Shared Responsibility by August 15.  Students will receive an email in early August with instructions on signing the Commitment.

In addition to the upcoming Question and Answer sessions, you can find more on how we will maintain a safe environment for students, faculty, and staff on our FAQ page. Please read the materials and feel free to submit questions

The most important thing you can do right now is review all of this information with those closest to you and determine what is best for you for the fall terms. In the coming days, you’ll receive a very brief survey asking about your plans for fall—whether you plan to return to campus or study remotely, which we ask you to complete by July 20. Circumstances can—and will—change, and if you decide at a later date to modify your plans, that is of course okay; but providing this information now will help us proceed with the planning that is essential for a successful fall.

With thanks,

Isabel Roche, Interim President

John Bullock, Acting Provost and Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs

Oceana Wilson, Acting Dean of the College and Dean of the Library