August 21, 2020
Welcome to campus and the start of another year at Rice University.
With the pandemic this year, being on campus comes with new responsibilities, whether you are residing in a residential college or living off campus and coming to campus for classes and activities. As much as we hope and expect that you have accepted and prepared for these responsibilities, there will undoubtedly be an adjustment period as you acclimate to new ways of doing things, both inside and outside the classroom. Wherever you reside, spending time in person with others in our community carries with it obligations toward public safety that are new and will feel unfamiliar when you first arrive on campus. As the fall semester has approached, we have been communicating a variety of safety measures that apply to all members of our community and it is important to recognize that whether you live on or off campus, everyone must fully comply with the new rules and procedures designed to protect the health and safety of all of us.
Today marks the conclusion of Orientation Week, and we want to say how pleased with are with the caring, responsible and conscientious behavior of undergraduate students currently on campus. As we announced two days ago, since Aug. 1 our on-campus testing program has identified nine students as positive for coronavirus. Three who tested positive on arrival were sent into isolation in Sid Richardson college or to off campus housing with families, and three others tested positive after move in and similarly either moved into Sid Richardson or chose to isolate off campus.
We could not be prouder of the students who have been on campus for O-Week, and we want to give a special shout out to the upperclassmen who have worked tirelessly to provide an outstanding experience for new students. Thank you for your hard work, and especially the caring attention you have shown toward our newest class of Owls. We have witnessed the kind and caring concern that students have shown for not only their peers who tested positive, but also the quick and decisive ways that you have worked together with college leaders to enforce and even enhance the safety measures in place. We are impressed and, frankly, not at all surprised to see this demonstration of concern for others. Over the year students at Rice have always taken ownership of the student experience and worked to make the campus a better place for everyone, and this is yet another example of that.
Our ability to identify and quickly isolate members of our community who test positive is a key component of our healthy campus plan for fall, but it alone will not be enough. When we mingle with other members of the Rice community we must consistently practice excellent health behaviors and embrace a range of safety precautions designed to minimize the chances for the virus to spread. You all read and signed the Culture of Care Agreement and watched the accompanying video, and we want to reiterate the critical importance of some of the key provisions. Some of these reflect general preventive health behaviors, including and especially:
- Get tested each week. Our testing program is well under way, and getting tested each week is a requirement of all undergraduates who will be on campus, in any capacity, this fall semester. Please be responsible for signing up for testing each week, and arrive on time for your appointment. This is a critical component of our safety plan, and consistent and timely participation is required in order to be on campus this fall. You may not reside on or come to the campus if you are not in compliance with testing protocols.
- Wear a face mask. If you are on campus, you must wear a mask – whether you are inside or outside. The only exception is when you are in your own room or suite within your residential college.
- Maintain six feet of distance from others. Our natural inclination is to stand close to others, so please take care to continually stay at least six feet apart.
- Wash your hands thoroughly and repeatedly every day.
- Engage in a daily health check, self-monitor for symptoms of COVID-19, and immediately contact Student Health Services if you feel ill.
Other aspects of the Culture of Care Agreement will alter how you socialize with your peers. These measures are intended to help limit the spread of the disease and are critically important if we are to maintain our current status with students living on campus, especially:
- Access to the residential floors of each college are limited to only the residents of those floors. Visitors are not allowed on the residential floors in any college.
- When students who live on the same floor of a residential college gather together on that floor, they must wear a face covering and follow rules for physical distancing. For this reason, students may not eat or drink beverages when in another student’s room.
- Social gatherings may not exceed 50 people, regardless of the size of the space. When inside buildings on campus, all gatherings may not exceed the COVID occupancy listed for that space.
- Large public parties are not permitted on campus this fall semester.
- All students should refrain from organizing, hosting or attending events, parties or other social gatherings off campus that may cause safety risks to themselves or others in our community. If you engage in behavior off campus that endangers the health and safety of our campus community, you may be indefinitely removed from campus. Those living off campus and planning to come to campus should adopt practices and restrict their activities and interactions similar to those for students living on campus.
As was stated in the Culture of Care video, we see adherence with the rules and principles detailed in the Culture of Care Agreement as critically important for the success of our fall semester. For this reason, we will respond swiftly and strongly in response to any student who fails to abide by the rules.
We know that these rules will change how you interact with your peers, and we regret that they are necessary. We encourage everyone to embrace other options for fellowship this semester. Remember that OwlNest is a great way to explore events and opportunities happening on our campus each week and, as is typical in any semester, if you look around you will find an array of events being organized by clubs, organizations and departments. For example, for movie buffs, here are two upcoming opportunities for you: Rice Cinema’s popular Low-Fi film series is now online and happening every Thursday at 7 p.m., and our Visual and Dramatic Arts Department is hosting a BYOChair “drive-in” series all semester, starting with “Hairspray” on Aug. 29 at 8 p.m.
Overall, we aim to provide the best educational and collegiate experience we can for students who come to our campus, under the safest conditions possible. This is why we urge everyone to take seriously the content of the Culture of Care Agreement and embrace the critical role you will play in ensuring that this semester at Rice will be safe and healthy. All of us – students, faculty and staff – are in this together. We are excited to begin the new school year and to see many of you on campus this fall.
David Leebron, President
Reginald DesRoches, Provost
Bridget Gorman, Dean of Undergraduates