Coming together as a community

Message sent July 20, 2020

President Iuliano informs students and parents of the importance of adhering to the College’s new health protocols as we return to campus.

Dear Students and Parents,

Since the global pandemic forced us to move to remote learning and teaching last spring, we have been regularly reminded about how much we value being together. I have talked with students who observed that being away from campus helped them more fully appreciate the special nature of this community—how much they missed being with friends, the close contact with faculty, and the power of this place. It is something equally felt by faculty and staff. This campus draws its strength from the thousands of interactions, formal and informal, that occur every day as we pursue our work and studies.

Being part of any community carries with it a set of important responsibilities. The vitality and durability of a community is not inherent but is earned—built by the daily actions of each of its members. As we look to the fall, when we will reconvene on a campus that has been necessarily transformed in response to the ongoing global pandemic, those responsibilities take on an even greater sense of weight and urgency. We will need to look out for one another. We will need to approach each day aware that our actions may affect the well-being of a friend, a colleague, the campus, or the surrounding community.

Since the conclusion of the 2019–2020 academic year, the College has worked closely with medical and public health experts to prepare for the fall semester. We have changed our approach to residential life, including by reimagining how we provide meals and by converting the Hotel Gettysburg to a residential hall as a means of reducing the density of student living spaces. We have reconfigured classrooms and labs. We have revised our courses and course offerings.

These structural changes are essential, but their effectiveness will depend on all of us accepting the responsibility that comes with adopting a set of behavioral changes designed to enhance community health. Later today, the College will describe many of the behavioral expectations being put in place in response to the continued presence of COVID-19 in society. For example, we currently anticipate being in a position to test every student for COVID-19 when they arrive on campus—a measure to help us begin the academic year as virus free as possible. As a precondition to being in residence, students will be required to agree to the tests and to self-quarantine until their results are received. We will engage in regular surveillance testing throughout the fall semester. We all will be required to use masks when in public spaces, to engage in physical distancing (we can be socially and educationally engaged while maintaining physical distance), to avoid large gatherings, and to clean our personal spaces. We will set out these other expectations in a pledge of personal responsibility that we will send to students shortly.

Our medical and public health experts reinforce what we have seen globally: engaging in careful public health protocols matters enormously. Absent a vaccine or broad immunity, there are no systems that will avoid the possibility of the virus appearing on campus. But respecting physical distancing, wearing masks, sanitizing spaces, and having proper testing protocols all materially affect the risk of transmission of the disease from individuals who have been infected to the rest of the community. As we see from the deeply concerning spikes of the disease in parts of the country, we also know what can happen if public health standards are ignored. In the context of higher education, hundreds of students at the University of Washington tested positive after attending parties reportedly with minimal regard to the use of masks or physical distancing. It is a lesson from which we all should—indeed, must—learn for us to return to and remain in residence.

As you know, we have organized our return to residence under the banner of “Better Together.” It is not just a slogan, but a statement of who we are as an institution. We believe in the transformational possibilities that derive from a residential liberal arts education. We believe that we learn best when together, when we are able to support one another and challenge one another in the shared pursuit of knowledge, understanding, and personal growth. We believe that learning occurs in all of our settings—in the classroom, to be sure, but also in the hallways, the library, and when encountering each other at the CUB or on Stine Lake.

In short, a residential experience is core to our educational mission and an important reason why students choose to come to Gettysburg to pursue their undergraduate education. The importance of being residential is a key reason for our return to campus in the fall. I understand that some of the public health measures will be inconvenient or may feel constraining, especially in comparison to a normal year on campus. But this is not a normal year, and it is on each of us to take the steps that will permit us to remain together in a healthy and mutually supportive environment.

As we conceptualize the return to campus, we have thought it essential to give students choice about the fall. We are accommodating students who would prefer to take a gap semester. We have been purposeful in having a meaningful number of courses available remotely for students who prefer to learn away from campus. We are doing this in recognition that some students will not be in a position to return to campus but will still want to progress academically. We also recognize that, for some students, the changes to campus life occasioned by the pandemic may be such that they prefer to await a return to a more regular environment before coming back in residence. We fully respect these judgments. There is an important corollary for those students who are returning to campus: we expect that you will do so ready to meet the public health requirements and to honor your responsibilities to each other, to the community, and to our educational mission. To be clear, our expectations are not merely aspirational; we will consistently support them through the College’s disciplinary infrastructure.

Let me end by again expressing how much the College is looking forward to welcoming you back to campus in what is now just a matter of weeks. It has been an unusual four months since students have last walked our grounds, and we miss the vibrancy and energy you bring to campus. At the same time, I must also underscore that we continue to monitor the situation, on campus and beyond, with particular attention to the experience in Adams County. As has been true since the spring, we will regularly evaluate whether a return to residence remains appropriate—or even possible, given constraints such as state law or the availability of testing or other supplies. We will continue to provide updates on our Better Together webpage, and you can ask any questions about the fall at

Last spring presented the College with a set of challenges unlike any we have experienced in our lifetimes. I was powerfully impressed—although not surprised—by how we rose to the occasion as a community. The coming academic year will present a different set of challenges. As Eleanor Roosevelt once observed, “[i]n the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves…. [T]he choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.” Let us again commit to the values that animate this College and to take responsibility over the shape of this community—and to model how to work and live together in these uncertain times.

With warm regards,

Bob Iuliano