Housing, Dining Discussion Concludes Lehigh ‘Community Conversations’ Series

Lehigh leadership details housing and dining changes for first-year students moving on campus Aug. 18-20.

Story by

Stephen Gross

Lehigh wrapped up its “Community Conversations” series Tuesday evening with a discussion about housing, dining, health and safety issues as Lehigh prepares to welcome predominately first-year students back to campus.

In the fourth online discussion, Lehigh leadership answered questions submitted by students and parents and gave additional details regarding campus life this fall.

Brent Stringfellow, associate vice president for facilities and university architect, was joined on Tuesday’s online call by: Ozzie Breiner, director of Housing Services; Chris D’Aversa, associate director of Housing Services; David Joseph, executive director of Student Auxiliary Services; and Sarah Stevens, medical director of the Health & Wellness Center. The session was moderated by Chris Halladay, associate vice president for Human Resources.

Lehigh announced Friday that the campus will be open to first-year students who choose to return, along with sophomores, juniors and seniors who have extenuating circumstances and are approved to return. Breiner said all first-year students will have single bedrooms.

“Typically, that is not the preferred type of housing that first-year students like,” Breiner said. “Everybody wants to have a roommate. They want to have a wonderful experience … and meet their lifelong friends. That may still happen, but it's going to be in single bedrooms.”

The number of students sharing a bathroom will be limited to six. In order to properly distance students, suites, apartments and small houses typically reserved for non-first-year students will be used for first-year students. Stringfellow noted that the expectation is that students will still wear masks if they’re in a room that is not their own, even if it’s in their own hallway.

“What we're really looking to do is provide a smart start that gives us the flexibility to potentially loosen up,” Stringfellow said. “We'd much rather be in a situation where we can loosen up some of these restrictions rather than having to put more in place.”

Breiner said Lehigh anticipates having the capacity to host all first-year students who prefer to return to campus this fall, but encouraged all to consider the remote option if it’s feasible.

A fall housing survey was distributed to first-year students on Monday, Aug. 3, and D’Aversa said Lehigh expects to have housing assignments completed early the following week. Joseph added that Lehigh intends to group together the students who already had a designated roommate.

D’Aversa assured any first-year students electing to take classes fully remote in the fall that they are not giving up their ability to return to campus in the spring.

“What we’ve been dictating to any of the first-years as they've been letting us know that they're going to spend the fall remote is that we'll be back in touch in the fall semester—late October, early November—as we know more about what the spring semester looks like, so that we're able to work with them to find out if they plan to come to campus in the spring semester,” D’Aversa said. “And then we can prepare them for the housing options that they would have.”

She also said Lehigh will work with students if they change their decision after completing the fall housing survey.

“Obviously, your situation at home where you are right now can change,” D’Aversa said. “The situation in Pennsylvania can change. We understand that [Wednesday] night's decision isn't a black-and-white answer. We're asking for where you're at right now, and whether you prefer to come to campus or prefer to stay home. If your situation changes after that, we'll certainly work with you in regards to your housing and dining.”

D’Aversa said Lehigh also will work with students who elect to stay on campus but then decide to return home after a few weeks. In that case, she said, students would be refunded a prorated amount for housing and dining, but would not receive a tuition discount if the learning mode is changed after classes begin.

As far as students who are not first-years, Lehigh has implemented a petition process for those seeking to return to campus. Breiner cautioned that not everyone who applies will be allowed back on campus.

“The only people we expect on campus as second-, third- and fourth-years are folks with real extenuating circumstances who just cannot succeed by living remotely or taking classes remotely,” Breiner said.

Breiner acknowledged it’s too early to make predictions about the spring semester, but he said that if conditions allow for the university to open up further, housing would be offered to students who were not invited back for the fall.

First-year students will be assigned three-hour blocks during their move-in window from Aug. 18-20. Sophomores, juniors and seniors with permission to live on campus will move in Aug. 21-23. Breiner said only two guests per student will be allowed to assist with moving in to maintain social distancing and limit the number of people in and out of campus housing.

Stevens recommended students have a two-week supply of essential supplies, such as shampoo or medicine, on hand at all times in case they need to quarantine in their residence hall. But she encouraged students to limit what they bring outside of essential supplies in case housing needs to be shifted mid-semester or students become ill and need to return home.

If a student experiences any symptoms consistent with COVID-19, Stevens said they are being asked to stay in their room and call the Health Center. If a student tests positive for COVID-19, they will be relocated to isolation housing. The remaining students on the residence hall floor will quarantine in place and the Bethlehem Health Bureau will be in contact and monitor them for 14 days. Stevens said the university also will be conducting targeted contact testing. If students need to quarantine, meals will be delivered.

“People need to be aware that this is a possibility that they might be quarantined,” Stevens said. “They need to come prepared when they move into campus with thinking about ‘Gee, what might I need for two weeks?’”

While dining will be different, Joseph said the number of healthy and nutritious food options won’t change. A full-time on-campus dietician will continue to be available, as well as vegan, vegetarian and allergen options and all-you-care-to-eat dining.

Joseph said four student restaurants, retail operations and food trucks are currently planned. Multiple meal plans will be available. Masks will be mandatory inside dining halls, except for when students are eating, and there will be distancing requirements limiting the number of students gathered to eat. There also will be no self-service. Grab-and-go options will be increased, and Plexiglas barriers have been added between staff and students. Mobile ordering and takeout options will be encouraged.

“We're looking at a variety of things to make it safe, but still [allow you] to come in, get your food, eat in the dining hall if you want to—again, limited capacity—or take it out,” Joseph said.

Stringfellow acknowledged Lehigh’s plans will likely evolve as conditions change both on campus and outside of campus, but he’s confident in a positive outcome for the upcoming semester.

“We are continuing to work through these policies as processes and are mindful of the fact that we are looking to provide what will be a very unique Lehigh experience, but still undoubtedly a Lehigh experience, one with as much safety as possible, to ensure that we have a quality semester,” Stringfellow said. “I am very optimistic about it. I think we have a pretty good plan.”

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

Story by

Stephen Gross