By L. Kincaid Holmes and Sophie Hills

Principia plans to reopen for face-to-face learning, a decision made all the more imperative by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy that would subject international students to deportation if they take online only classes, said Interim President John Williams.

Colleges and universities across the country are rallying around their international students. Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology filed a lawsuit on July 8 challenging ICE’s rule, and the state of California quickly followed suit.

Principia is doing the same, meeting with lawyers to determine how best to remain within the law and ensure international students’ place on campus. “We want to take care of all of our international students,” said Williams in a July 10 virtual Town Hall. “We are going to fight for you.”

Although the Principia administration is considering pivoting to online learning for the few weeks of the semester after Thanksgiving break, international students shouldn’t be concerned, said Williams. That plan would qualify as hybrid-learning, which is permitted under the ICE policy.

Since Illinois shifted into phase four of the reopening plan—which allows for colleges and universities to plan for face-to-face learning—on June 25, Principians have been waiting to hear if the fall semester will resume in-person. In a Watercooler announcement on July 8, Williams confirmed that it will reopen, barring an escalation of virus cases.

“Principia College fully expects to open for fall semester 2020 with in-person instruction—carefully structured to meet established safety guidelines,” wrote Williams. 

Students who would prefer to remain at home for the semester have the ability to choose from 100 online classes. And students who choose to return to campus can take all classes in person, or opt for a mix of in-person and online, said Williams in the Town Hall. Students who are not on campus will not be charged room and board, although tuition will remain the same regardless of enrollment in online or in-person classes.

Throughout the question and answer portion of the Town Hall, Williams, Dean of Students Maya Dietz, and Dean of Academics Meggan Madden fielded questions about everything from meal protocols to athletics.

Athletics will resume full-swing in the fall, and SLIAC has approved conference play.

Policies for the fall haven’t yet been determined, but Dining Services will work within health rules and guidelines, said Director of Dining Services Lance Thornton.

Those on campus will be required to wear masks inside any building other than their own dorms, and when outside, if within six feet of someone else. That includes classes, said Madden. “We are currently looking at the COVID capacity of all of our classrooms” to ensure proper social distancing.

Faculty members will be responsible for wiping down hard surfaces after every class, says Madden.

Social distancing rules for dorms will be determined by the policy in Illinois, and by how many students come back to campus, says Dietz. “Those are policies that are just going to continue to evolve.”

“One of the things that we are metaphysically supporting is the understanding that Principia is way more beyond the brick and mortar,” said Madden. “As an alumna…the love that I have and I’ve experienced with my friendships and my faculty have continued throughout my life.”

That doesn’t stop at being on campus together, she says. “It’s the Christ idea in education that we are experiencing, and that is not dependent on brick and mortar.”

The administration is thinking about how to maintain community with students potentially spread out next semester, she says.

Principia will be calling on its community to band together this fall, says Williams. Health systems are being tested and shared by schools around the country, but only Principia can develop its own community, he says. “That’s where you all have a greater impact on this,” he said to the attendees, underscoring the importance of taking precautions seriously in order to protect all community members.

“The restrictions we will have at the college will be greater than what the state requires,” says Williams. “That is the nature of being a good community.”

Featured image at top is a screenshot. Clockwise from top left, Dean of Students Maya Dietz, Interim President John Williams, and Dean of Academics Meggan Madden hosted a virtual Town Hall on July 10, 2020.