We are two months into the spring semester, and I am so pleased to see so much activity across our campus. Despite the starts and stops we’ve had along the way as COVID has flared and dissipated on campus and in the surrounding area, it makes me smile to see you all eating together in your college commons, cheering your peers at athletic events and cultural shows like Soul Night, and more and more being able to enjoy the atmosphere and events that are typical to life as a college student at Rice. The time you spend in college is unique and meaningful in so many ways, and as someone tasked with helping shape your undergraduate experience I feel a sense of relief and joy with the progress we’ve made and your ability to have increasingly normal activities and events this semester, both on and off-campus.
I also want to say how proud I am of you all. I know this hasn’t been the easiest of times. The pandemic knocked everyone and everything off its axis in so many ways over the last two years, and it will continue to impact our lives for some time to come. When I talk to students and then reflect back to my own undergraduate experience, I see clearly that you are collectively navigating challenges that I never faced at this time of life. My undergraduate years were filled with experiences that were fun, challenging, and sometimes overwhelming – but it all occurred without the pressure of COVID shaking up the very foundation of how I engaged with other people. As a sociologist and health demographer by training, I know as well as anyone how social ties and connections to others shape personal experiences and wellbeing. They matter. They matter as much for your health and happiness as the jobs you work, the neighborhoods you live in, and the behaviors you engage in.
Looking forward, it’s clear that continuing to rebuild our social ties will be important work for our community to undertake. By necessity, COVID caused us to retreat from social events and opportunities to engage with people we did not know (or did not know well). As much as we value the most intimate connections in our lives, reflected in our relationships with family, roommates and suitemates, “besties” and others inside our inner circle of life, it’s important to remember that all of us are members of various communities that operate best and provide the most positive impact when each of us steps up and actively affiliates with them. Embracing a culture of care at Rice means caring for each other, caring for spaces, and caring for the people who maintain and help you live in those spaces. Rice is so much more than a collection of individuals - we are a community, and as we move forward from COVID it is critically important that we remain community-minded, thinking more deliberately about how to come together, seeing and engaging with each other as we continue to build a richer and more meaningful Rice experience.
Updates on Events
I am pleased to note that the resumption of indoor dining and alcohol use has gone well on campus. These changes allowed much-needed social interactions to resume, and the change in masking policy shared last week has been welcomed across campus. Importantly, these changes have occurred without an increase in COVID cases at Rice.
Last Friday, the Crisis Management Advisory Committee met and reviewed feedback from a working group I assembled to explore and make recommendations regarding Beer Bike activities and the resumption of “public” parties. This working group included Associate Deans in my division as well as residential college Magisters, Presidents, Chief Justices, and Socials. Monday evening I met with the Magisters and Presidents to collectively review and discuss how these stipulations will impact planning moving forward, and today I am writing to share some key details of the decisions made.
Beer Bike I am pleased to announce officially that Beer Bike has been approved for a traditional race format, including single-heat races with 12 riders on the track (along with the traditional alumni race). Alumni are welcome to attend planned events at the residential colleges and on the track in the Alumni tent. The water balloon fight has been approved to operate as normal on Founder’s Court in front of Lovett Hall, followed by the float parade to the track.
I recognize that the timing of this announcement will lead to a tight planning and review timeline for events. Information on how to do that will be shared with Beer Bike coordinators and College Presidents before the end of day tomorrow.
I am also pleased to announce that a limited number of public parties can be planned in the weeks following Spring Break. Public parties can resume in an outdoor format, and College Presidents and Socials will be working on what this might look like for the campus. My expectation is that they will soon be sharing more specific details on the events planned with your college community.
Overall, these decisions regarding Beer Bike and public parties reflect important forward movement away from previous restrictions surrounding large public events and parties. Assuming that current COVID trajectories continue, my assumption is that by our fall semester start public parties will again be able to be held indoors.
Since these events haven’t happened in a while, it is important for everyone to recognize that all public parties and Beer Bike events must go through their traditional registration approval process managed by the Student Activities office. I recognize that many planners have not seen some of these events and may not have hosted an event yet as changeover for most colleges is so recent. Event training sessions are being scheduled to try to get planners up to speed quickly.
Please remember that with the continued expansion of events and restrictions comes increased responsibilities for us to plan carefully and to support health and safety for individuals and the Rice community. We must remember our culture of care and make sure that we are sharing safe practices related to event planning and management.
And, let me circle back to an earlier point in this message. Remember that our culture of care extends to all realms of student life, including mental health. As social restrictions continue to lessen, please invest in connecting with others. Have lunch in the commons, take the time to attend events and activities where you might meet someone new from inside or outside your residential college. Years from now, when you look back on your time at Rice, the people you engaged with and social groups and events you participated in will have a big impact on what you will take away from your experience as a Rice owl.
I’d also ask that you continue to place your mental health as a priority in all that you do. If you or anyone you know is struggling with their mental health, please say something and reach out to utilize our on campus resources. Appointments can be made at the Wellbeing Center and Rice Counseling Center by calling 713-348-3311 and walk-ins are available. If you are worried about your mental health safety or the safety of another student, please first call RUPD at 713-348-6000 (24/7) and then 713-348-3311(24 hours per day, 7 days a week).
In closing, I want to thank all of you for your resilience - and for reading this message! I am cautiously optimistic about where we are right now and where we are headed, and will continue to work with student leadership on plans to continue shifting us toward what “new normal” can be for our campus. For now, I hope that these announcements about Beer Bike and public parties are welcome news.
Please take care,
Bridget Gorman, Dean of Undergraduates