‘Community Conversations’ Series Continues as Lehigh Leadership Discuss Safety, Health and Wellness

Provost Nathan Urban stressed the importance of mask wearing and social distancing, saying campus health and safety hinges on the behavior of all members of the campus community.

Story by

Stephen Gross

Photography by

Ryan Hulvat

As Lehigh continues to prepare for the fall semester, the university on Thursday evening held its second hour-long online discussion with the campus community about the university’s planning for the academic year to come. 

The second in a series of four planned ‘Community Conversations’ focused on community safety, health and wellness, with discussion ranging from the changes that will be seen on campus this fall to the protocols that will be in place for students, faculty and staff. More than 400 questions were submitted prior to the discussion.

Lehigh Provost Nathan Urban was joined on Thursday’s call by David Rubenstein, executive director of Health & Wellness Center; Sarah L. Stevens, medical director of the Health & Wellness Center; and Brent Stringfellow, associate vice president for facilities and university architect. The meeting was moderated by Chris Halladay, associate vice president for Human Resources.

After being introduced by Halladay, Urban began the discussion by explaining decisions around health and safety at the university are being guided by recommendations from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the CDC and other health experts. He said leadership is also closely monitoring case trends, not only across the country, but also locally, as the number of positive COVID-19 cases in Northampton County have been rising.

“This is something that we are working in partnership with healthcare providers on, to make sure that we have an understanding of what it is that's happening in the community around Lehigh and so that we can be responsive and do the right thing with respect to the health and safety of our friends and family here in the region,” Urban said.

Urban also said that the success of the semester to come hinges on the behavior of all members of the campus community. Rubenstein noted, for example, that the expectation is that students, faculty and staff will be wearing masks whenever they are on campus.

“At the end of the day, it's social distancing and face coverings—that is the most important thing that is going to mitigate risk in terms of the spread of the virus,” Rubenstein said.

Rubenstein said “the best practices in terms of mitigating risk” have been central to planning for all aspects of campus life this fall.

“The priority has been about health and wellness and safety,” Rubenstein said. “My job as executive director for the Health and Wellness Center is really aimed at always putting the health and safety of the students as the priority, at every pass.”

Stevens noted that university leadership has been working on fall planning for months, and has been working through the many complexities and challenges posed by COVID-19 in a university setting. 

“It's going to look different,” Stevens said of the fall. “And as everybody is saying, this fall is not going to be—for any campus, it's not going to be for anybody—the same thing. We really have been working to put in processes and look at our space, and how we manage students' concerns, to really be as safe as we possibly can.”

Stringfellow spoke more specifically about the changes and updates those returning to campus will notice. Signage with reminders about the importance of following protocols has been installed throughout campus. Furniture in some public areas has been rearranged, and restrictions will be in place to limit how many students can be certain spaces. 

He added that Lehigh is adding outdoor tented areas to provide additional spaces for students to study and dine, as current research shows outdoor spaces are safer.

Stringfellow also listed steps the university is taking that may not be as visible as others, such as the implementation of more stringent cleaning protocols and new infrastructure in terms of ventilation systems. 

Additionally, Lehigh has created training programs that will need to be completed before students, faculty or staff can return to campus. The training includes information about new rules and regulations for the fall semester, as well as guidance on what to do if individuals begin experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. Everyone taking the training must also acknowledge and agree to comply with the rules.

“We are certainly prepared to send people home, making sure that they leave the dorms,” Urban said. “We're prepared to, through our Student Code of Conduct process, to suspend students if they do not abide by the rules that they've agreed to. These are the things that are necessary for keeping campus safe. And if we identify students who are not abiding by these rules, we will not hesitate to send people home.”

Importantly, Urban added that regardless if students are living on campus or off campus, they will all have access to the recently expanded Health & Wellness Center.

“That is a clear commitment,” Urban said. “If a student has symptoms, and they need to come in and get a test, we will do what's necessary to get them a test.”

The importance of mental health being a part of the students’ well-being during a time of pandemic was also discussed. Rubenstien mentioned Lehigh’s Counseling and Psychological Services, which operates 24 hours a day, seven days per week, remained open throughout the spring semester and will continue to remain open in the months to come.

“I would say to parents that you know your kids better than anybody else,” Rubenstein said. “You know the areas that they thrive in, you know where they flourish, you know where their real strengths are and perhaps you know in some areas where it might be more challenging for whatever reason. And so, talk with your kids now about where their strengths are, where the challenges are, where the resources are on our campus at Lehigh, because we have so many resources that are available for students.” 

Each session in the four-part ‘’Community Conversation’ series will be recorded for those who are not able to attend live. Recordings will be available following each event on the 'Community Conversations' page or on Lehigh’s YouTube channel. The first session of the ‘Community Conversations’ series focused specifically on academics, and how Lehigh faculty are working to make their fall courses as impactful and engaging as possible, despite the challenges posed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

Learn more about this series and find helpful information and resources on Lehigh’s COVID-19 Information website

Story by

Stephen Gross

Photography by

Ryan Hulvat