SENSE OF PURPOSE. First-year student Armaan Sood ’24 stands in the Quad. Masks and social distancing are some of the measures Reed has taken in order to hold in-person classes. 
SENSE OF PURPOSE. First-year student Armaan Sood ’24 stands in the Quad. Masks and social distancing are some of the measures Reed has taken in order to hold in-person classes. 

Rethinking Reed in the Era of COVID-19

Showing resilience in the face of the pandemic, Reed reimagined campus so that students could return for classes in person.

By Chris Lydgate ’90 | September 18, 2020

In the months since the coronavirus pandemic engulfed the globe, Reed has worked tirelessly to transform campus without sacrificing the things that make our education unique. It hasn’t been easy. But thanks to a laserlike focus on the academic mission, combined with the ingenuity and dedication of its faculty and staff, the college was able to invite students to campus this fall for face-to-face classes.

Students returned to a campus that has been transformed in many ways to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Humanities lectures have moved online, as have many smaller classes. No more roommates—only one student per room, even if it would hold two or three in normal times. Kitchens and common rooms have been taped off. The basketball gym has been converted into a testing station. Social distance is the watchword of the day, and masks are required practically everywhere. Despite these restrictions, some 1,430 students enrolled for classes this semester, a remarkable show of confidence. 

Here are seven initiatives that made the semester possible.

Think Outside the Box.

In light of data suggesting that outdoor settings, combined with social distancing, could drastically reduce COVID-19 transmission, Reed professors led the charge to hold classes in tents. (In the planning stages, they were known as “yurts,” but this terminology was later superseded.) Staff worked feverishly over the summer to set up three outdoor classrooms, with a combined capacity of 72 students, on the north side of Eliot Hall. Nicknamed Earth, Wind, and Fire, the tents have proven popular with faculty and students alike (at least, they were until the advent of wildfire smoke—at which point classes temporarily moved online.) The tents feature removable walls that can be reconfigured to adjust air flow or visibility. Another key feature: the tents are floored with gravel, rather than sod, so that they wouldn’t smell like a hog farm by December. Here, Prof. Troy Cross leads a class on metaphysics, upholding a tradition that goes back to Socrates.

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Ace the Test.

You can’t track what you don’t measure. In order to keep tabs on the spread of the virus, Reed adopted a rigorous schedule of COVID-19 tests for students, faculty, and staff, starting in August. All students and staff who live on campus are being tested twice a week. Students who test positive for the virus are required to quarantine themselves in MacNaughton residence hall. Students who test negative but who fall into certain categories (i.e., recent travel, had contact with someone who tested positive, etc.) are required to quarantine themselves in their own dorm room. When this article was posted, Reed had so far identified a total of nine cases.

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Atmosphere of Learning.

One of the most effective weapons in the fight against COVID-19 is also one of the simplest: fresh air. Over the summer, facilities staff spent long hours beefing up ventilation systems on campus. Their goals: maximize the introduction of outdoor air; improve ventilation in bathrooms; and install high-grade MERV 13 filters. Systems in newer buildings were set to boost airflow around the clock. Some of Reed’s buildings don’t have mechanical ventilation systems; in those cases, the best approach is what engineers refer to as “strategic use of operable windows.” Here Steve Yeadon, our intrepid director of facilities operations, inspects a filter inside an air handler deep inside the catacombs of the Performing Arts Building. The HVAC upgrades proved invaluable in September, when Portland lay blanketed in a thick cloud of smoke from wildfires that raged through Oregon.

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Food For Thought.

The coronavirus pandemic also poses challenges for another fundamental human activity—dining. Reed and Bon Appétit reorganized Commons to minimize unnecessary contact. Students can now order meals online and pick them up in a paper bag. But what about the time-honored tradition of sitting down with a classmate and engaging in heated discussion about demand elasticity over a turkey sandwich? Staff in facilities services set up a dining tent in the Quad and built scores of plexiglass dividers to allow pairs of students to eat together with less risk of breathing each other’s germs.

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Hold That Thought.

Many of the most popular holdings in the Hauser Library are available online. But the majority of its intellectual wealth remains in the hundreds of thousands of books on its shelves. Rather than let students wander through the stacks, where social distancing is difficult, the library now offers a new service known as “contactless pickup.” Students order their books online and pick them up from a holdshelf in the lobby the next day. Many of the library’s peaceful nooks and crannies, so perfect for studying, remain available to students so long as they wear masks, maintain six feet of distance, and follow the college’s other protocols.

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Close the Door and Open the Mind.

Reed has radically cut down the number of comings and goings on its grounds. The campus is closed to visitors—that means no dog-walkers, no aunts and uncles, no guests, and even (gasp) no alumni. Hundreds of events that usually take place in the fall—readings, concerts, workshops, you name it—have moved online or been rescheduled for the spring, and many staff are working from home, all in an effort to reduce the number of campus contacts. 

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Well Scrubbed.

The dedicated workers who keep Reed clean have stepped up in a big way. They’re sanitizing classrooms twice a day, followed by a deep cleaning at night of tables, chairs, and other surfaces. The registrar’s office worked closely with facilities services to build a schedule that allows custodians time to step in between classes. Custodians are also roving campus disinfecting restrooms, lounges, common areas, and high-touch points throughout the day. Here the indefatigable Adrian of Bon Appétit wipes down a dining table in (outdoor) Commons.

Tags: Campus Life, Covid-19, Institutional