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Dartmouth parents, students push for return to campus

  • Prospective Dartmouth College students are given a campus tour in Hanover, N.H., on October 7, 2016. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Geoff Hansen

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/24/2020 8:09:35 PM
Modified: 8/24/2020 9:55:36 PM

HANOVER — More than 1,000 Dartmouth College students and scores of parents have signed separate letters backing the school’s decision to return to in-person classes next month, countering a letter signed by nearly 180 professors last week who urged that students not come back yet to Hanover.

“Even if classes are not held in lecture halls, students need a safe place to spend the Fall. Even a restricted on-campus experience will benefit students, their education, and our community,” reads an open letter drafted by the Dartmouth College Student Assembly, dated Friday.

The letter, which was addressed to Dartmouth College President Phil Hanlon and Provost Joseph Helble, had been signed by more than 1,000 undergraduates as of Monday afternoon.

The students’ letter stressed the importance of reopening campus, saying the decision is beneficial for students’ mental health and for their studies as well as for the local Hanover economy, which they say would benefit from an increase in population.

A letter signed by nearly 350 parents of current Dartmouth students and dated Saturday echoed students’ thoughts and added that COVID-19 is likely to be around “for the foreseeable future.”

“The idea of being ‘completely open’ or ‘completely closed’ is a false choice for Dartmouth and our entire society,” the Aug. 22 parents’ letter read. “Is Dartmouth to stay closed unless or until a vaccine is developed, it has been proven to be completely effective, and the threat of COVID-19 has been entirely eradicated?”

Both letters also promised that students would follow safety guidelines the school puts in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which include wearing a mask and not hosting large parties.

The letters come days after the school postponed announcing a return date and room assignments, saying Dartmouth officials want to monitor COVID infection rates at other schools. The school expects to release further details this week, Helble said in a virtual forum last Wednesday.

Other schools, including the University of Pennsylvania and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, have moved all classes online after seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases in and around their campuses.

A group of Dartmouth professors wrote the first open letter in opposition to the reopening in the days after Helble’s announcement, saying that to resume in-person classes puts professors, staff, students and the larger Upper Valley community at risk. In the letter, professors questioned whether returning students would follow the school’s safety guidelines, and referenced rising COVID rates at other colleges and universities around the country.

“We appreciate hearing from faculty members regarding their position on bringing undergraduate students back to campus in September,” Dartmouth spokeswoman Diana Lawrence said in an email to the Valley News on Friday. “Dartmouth will continue to be in touch with stakeholders, and focused on all available data, as we finalize a decision about the fall.”

Maria Kozloski, who works as a finance executive with a philanthropic foundation in Washington, D.C., and is the mother of an incoming junior at Dartmouth, said she doesn’t think Dartmouth will see a similar spike when students return, largely because the school has intensive testing protocols in place.

Students will be tested for the virus before they arrive to campus, and then three more times within their first two weeks at Dartmouth, according to plans laid out this summer.

“(Dartmouth) has put a lot of effort into a pretty detailed plan,” Kozloski, who signed the parents’ letter, said in an interview. She added that the limited number of students planning to return to campus this fall — 2,300 out of a total student body of 4,400 — means the risk of infection is further reduced.

She added that several other institutions, which are comparable in size and location to Dartmouth, have been successful in their reopenings so far. Universities like Cornell, which has reported six positive cases among graduate and undergraduate students since it began testing in July, and Bucknell, which has also reported six cases, are among the schools with relatively low infection rates.

David Millman, an incoming sophomore at Dartmouth, who also serves on the Student Assembly and signed the students’ letter, said in an interview that the stringent rules regarding safety precautions on campus will also ensure a low infection rate when students return. All students must sign a contract before returning to campus in which they agree to follow several rules, including avoiding large gatherings, wearing face masks and not hosting visitors. Breaking the contract could result in suspension.

“It’s extremely important (for students) to be on campus,” Millman said. “It’s hard when you take a student out of their community. ... Having other students as a support network and being able to engage with other students is so important.”

Responding to concerns from some faculty and Hanover officials about students living off-campus and throwing parties over the summer, Millman said the student contract will ensure even off-campus students follow the rules when classes resume.

“(Dartmouth) is definitely not messing around in trying to set an example,” he said.

For Kozloski, the need for students to return to campus is clear; she said her son has been taking virtual classes from his home as part of the school’s sophomore summer program and that remote learning has limitations.

“So much of your college experience is your peers … discussing issues and talking about what you’re studying,” she said, adding that Dartmouth parents want their children to have the full college experience. “These kids have invested a lot of their life to get into Dartmouth, and families have put a ton of resources behind it.”

Helble is expected to make an announcement about when the college will reopen within the coming days.

Anna Merriman can be reached at or 603-727-3216.

Continue reading after the letters from Dartmouth parents and students.

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