BETHANY, W.Va. – The look and feel of Bethany College’s new semester is different than in years past, but even in a COVID-19 world there’s a familiar sense of excitement and community among students and faculty.
“Being back with all the social guidelines is strange, for sure, but honestly, I am just happy to be back,” said Paisley Travis, a sophomore history major from Washington, Pa. “It will be a learning curve for a while, but, as we enter the rest of the semester, it is going to be so important for us to continue to respect each other and follow all the rules set forth by the school and the state.”
Upperclassmen returned to Bethany on Aug. 14 for the first time since March, when the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the college to shift to remote learning after its spring break. Incoming freshmen arrived Aug. 13.
For the fall term, Bethany adopted a HyFlex delivery model, which gives students the option of courses in person, online or a combination of the two.
Pre-med senior Lena Grogan, for example, has mostly in-person classes, but she also has one entirely online and another that is blended.
“The professors did a nice job informing students on exactly how the classes were going to be run as well as very open to answering questions and clarifying anything I was confused about,” she said.
With the focus on campus safety, the key undertaking for faculty and staff this summer was to ensure that classrooms were rearranged to follow social distancing guidelines and were stocked with disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer.
In some cases, the new guidelines sparked creativity. For example, the Old Main Breezeway was transformed into an outdoor classroom space.
Holly Hillgardner, Perry and Aleece Gresham chair of humanities and an associate professor of religious studies, used the classroom for her First-Year Experience class, “Living Your Best Life at Bethany.”
“The first week of classes gave us glorious weather to teach outside on the Old Main Breezeway,” she said. “I was so happy to be able to see the students safely and get started on our work together.”
She said her students have reported the same sentiment.
While returning students have developed a community at Bethany, incoming students are adapting to new surroundings while also confronting a pandemic world.
With that in mind, Bethany continued with its Camp Bell program, an orientation that familiarizes freshmen with the campus and gives them opportunities to meet their classmates.
Typically, Camp Bell is a three-day event that includes field trips to Oglebay Park and other nearby attractions and attending a Bison soccer game, said organizer Scott Brothers, assistant professor of chemistry.
This year, the Camp Bell was shortened as Bethany shifted its move-in dates to allow for on-campus COVID-19 testing.
“Despite the pandemic, social distancing, a shortened experience, and spotty weather, the campus still felt vibrant and alive during this year’s Camp Bell, with the sounds of Japanese drumming ringing out throughout the hills, students doing their best balancing experience in the hallowed spaces of the Old Main Breezeway, or trying their hands at art and design with book art in the library, tie-dye in lab spaces, and poetry in Wailes Theater,” Brothers said.
When the rain cleared, the students hiked the recently renovated Bethany Trail System. Camp Bell ended with an activities fair sponsored by Student Life, where each participant was given a grab bag of Bethany-branded items.
“The campus really came together to give students a positive welcoming experience and view of Bethany College and all it has to offer, and both the faculty and staff volunteers and students alike had many positive things to say about this orientation event, even if it was a little bit different than other past years,” Brothers said.
Likewise, the Student Activities Council, for which Travis is the vice president of traditions, continued its efforts to provide entertainment and community at Bethany, particularly important as Bethany is encouraging students to remain on campus as much as possible.
This year, Travis and SAC planned Welcome Week activities such as a scavenger hunt, a corn-hole tournament and bingo. An outdoor movie night was planned for Friday night.
With the Presidents’ Athletic Council canceling most of its fall sports, the Bethany athletic department will launch an intramural tournament Sunday with kickball.
“The turnout has been good for all my events,” Travis said. “Some people are still wary of coming to events, but we enforce all the social distancing guidelines to Protect the Herd.”
Protect the Herd refers to an agreement that students signed up arrival that acknowledges they will follow college policies, monitor themselves for COVID-19 symptoms and report to the Wellness Center, wash or sanitize hands frequently, get a flu vaccine, maintain social distancing, wear a proper face covering, and keep personal belongings and spaces clean.
Grogan, of Pittsburgh, said many of Bethany’s policies are in line with what she was already doing at home.
“It was nice coming back to Bethany, because here we have the same strict guidelines in PA,” she said. “So that added a level of comfort and ease.”
Grogan said most students are adapting and she expects that those who aren’t following the policies will be corrected by faculty and fellow students.
“Anytime I have been out on campus I have seen people respecting the rules,” Travis said.
ABOUT BETHANY COLLEGE
Bethany College, founded in 1840, is the oldest private college in West Virginia. The Bethany experience focuses on academic excellence in the area of liberal arts and prepares students for a lifetime of work and a life of significance.