University leaders discuss the ways Stanford is supporting students during the pandemic, and provide updates on racial justice initiatives

President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell were joined by Mona Hicks, senior associate vice provost and dean of students, and Shirley Everett, senior associate vice provost for Residential & Dining Enterprises, to talk about racial justice initiatives and residential life during an online conversation and Q&A with the Stanford community.

In remarks to the Stanford community on Wednesday, Shirley Everett, senior associate vice provost for Residential & Dining Enterprises (R&DE), offered a glimpse of what life is like for the about 6,000 graduate and undergraduate students, postdoctoral scholars and residential staff Stanford is housing this quarter.

Speaking in conversation with the campus community at the start of fall quarter were (clockwise from top left) President Marc Tessier-Lavigne; Mona Hicks, senior associate vice provost and dean of students; Provost Persis Drell; and Shirley Everett, senior associate vice provost for Residential & Dining Enterprises. (Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

“To prevent the spread of the virus, face coverings, handwashing, temperature checks and physical distancing – to protect students and staff – are required at all R&DE locations,” Everett said, speaking during the first Campus Conversation of the new academic year.

Everett said the undergraduate students housed on campus are living together in one building in the new Escondido Village Graduate Residences – to ensure physical distancing and to help students create a robust and connected community.

The Campus Conversation, which focused on how Stanford is supporting student life during the pandemic, also featured talks by President Marc Tessier-Lavigne, Provost Persis Drell and Mona Hicks, senior associate vice provost and dean of students.

Stanford’s focus on student well-being includes both those living on campus and those learning remotely, Hicks said. The Office of Student Affairs is devoted to centering and co-creating connections and spaces to ensure that all students have equitable access to opportunity and to fostering experiences in an environment that ensures everyone feels a firm and inviting sense of belonging, she said.

Other  topics the four university leaders discussed during the hour-long event included new programs to advance racial justice initiatives, the student population living on campus, fall quarter enrollment, current plans for winter quarter and new health guidelines.

The conversation was moderated by Matthew Tiews, associate vice president for campus engagement.

At the beginning of the conversation, President Tessier-Lavigne said he was reminded of the value of the university’s work as he reflected on the challenges of this year.

“Stanford’s researchers are making new scientific discoveries that are helping us navigate the health crisis and are enhancing our understanding of its societal effects,” he said.

“Our educators are providing future leaders with the skills to navigate the uncertainty of this moment – especially critical in this era of competing information and sharp differences in perspective. Although we are facing many challenges, the work of the university, in my view, has never been more important.”

Tessier-Lavigne said Stanford plans to increase the frequency of Campus Conversations during fall quarter – to at least once a month. He said upcoming conversations will feature a variety of faculty and staff leaders speaking on topics of interest to the community.

IDEAL and racial justice initiatives

In her prepared remarks, Provost Persis Drell said systemic injustice, and especially anti-Black racism, are essential issues for the nation and for Stanford.

“I believe that through our research and teaching, we must help make significant improvements toward creating a more just society,” she said. “We also want to make sure that our university is a place where all members of our community are supported and thrive.”

Drell noted that she had sent a letter this morning to the entire community with updates on the university’s s IDEAL – Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access in a Learning Environment – and racial justice initiatives.

The letter is available on the provost’s website.

Drell called attention to some of the subjects in the letter, including the launch of the IDEAL Fellows Program, which is recruiting the first cohort of the most outstanding young scholars in the country on race and ethnicity, and the university’s search for 10 eminent scholars and researchers who are leaders in the study of the impact of race in America.

She also highlighted a partnership between Student Affairs and the Steve Fund, which works with universities to develop programs and strategies to support the mental health and well-being of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) students.

In addition, Drell cited the university’s anti-bias training and education programs. In her letter, she noted that University Human Resources has curated resources and developed guides for talking about and standing up against racism.

Fall quarter enrollment, winter quarter planning

Turning to the student population on campus, Drell cited preliminary numbers showing that at Stanford enrolled 1,676 first-year and transfer students during fall quarter, compared with 1,701 last year at the same point in time. Among the undergraduates admitted to Stanford in 2020-21, she said that 378 first-year students and 14 transfer students have chosen to take a gap year.

Drell said that while enrollment data won’t be final until later in October, currently at the undergraduate level, Stanford has about 82 percent of last fall’s number of students enrolled full time, while another 9 percent are taking a “flex term” – a quarter, in addition to a student’s three quarters of full-time enrollment, when a student can take up to 5 units with no tuition charge.

At the graduate level, Stanford has about 90 percent of the number of full-time graduate students who were enrolled at the same point in time last year.

Looking ahead to winter quarter, Drell said the university’s preferred plan continues to be to invite frosh and sophomores back to campus for the quarter, if public health conditions permit. More information will be shared by the end of the fall quarter, she said, with a final decision probably in mid-December, so that Stanford can factor in the latest information about the public health situation and the latest requirements from county and state health authorities.

New health guidance and “social pods”

Drell noted that the Santa Clara County Public Health Department recently issued new recommendations to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 at universities. Under the new guidance, students may form “households,” also called “social pods,” within each housing facility, and classes that are currently being held outdoors will be able to move indoors. Detailed information on the new guidance is available here on Stanford Health Alerts.

“We have worked closely with the county on this guidance and on ways to keep the Stanford community as safe as possible while allowing some degree of flexibility,” Drell said. “We’ve made great strides in Santa Clara County in recent weeks in reducing the prevalence of COVID-19, largely through adherence to existing state and local guidance. Let’s keep it up!”

During the Q&A, Drell provided more detail on “pods,” noting that guidance would allow a group of eight students – who live close or adjacent to each other in a residence – to form a household that could get together – to cook together, for instance. Drell said the guidance needs to be turned into a plan before it is implemented on campus. The offices of Graduate Life and of Residential Education are taking the lead on the project, assisted by others, including those with expertise in public health, she said.

Supporting student life

In her prepared remarks, Hicks talked about how Stanford is caring for students, both those on campus and those learning remotely.

Hicks said one of the primary ways Student Affairs is caring for students is “by centering the reality that we are in a pandemic. It is not the determinant of who we are, but it is the catalyst for what is most important – our students, their well-being and their access to their incredible education at Stanford.”

“We also do that by centering our marginalized and minoritized students who may have compounding challenges due to COVID-19,” Hicks said.

Among the opportunities for students Hicks highlighted is a new mentoring program.

“We have incredible student leaders who have stepped up, reflected on their own experience to be a friend and support during this first quarter,” she said. “I want to honor all the work that was done to create this new program, as well as our partners who also bolstered Frosh 101 and to a reconstituted New Student Orientation.”

Hicks said Student Affairs has also transformed the Acts of Intolerance protocol, including changing the way that students report incidents and clarifying all of the resources that are available to students.

“We’ll continue to develop that, but it’s such a good example of our partnership with students and how we want to integrate trauma-informed care,” she said.

During the Q&A, Hicks answered a question about how Stanford is ensuring access to mental health care for students who are on leaves of absence, taking flex terms or attending classes from out of state. She said that even though the campus clinics may not be able to treat students outside California, their staff are open to consulting and to helping students find the care they need wherever they are.

“If you are struggling, please do not hesitate to reach out to CAPS – Counseling and Psychological Services – for support, and we will help you in all the ways that are possible,” she said.

Another audience member asked how R&DE is working to address food insecurity in the campus community.

Everett said Stanford Dining has worked with Second Harvest and many student groups throughout the campus to create a monthly food pantry pop-up to help students, who are able to select items from the pantry to take back to their residence hall or apartment.

“We’ve heard from students that this has been very successful,” Everett said. “It’s been mostly graduate students who have been participating in the program. I’m really pleased, but I hope one day we do not have to depend on this food pantry pop-up.”