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Virtual town hall offers more winter quarter details for undergrads and families

Town Hall panelists from Student Affairs, Residential & Dining Enterprises, the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education and others elaborated on the university's plans for winter quarter and answered questions from undergraduate students and their families.

Cheryl Brown in front of a virtual background of Memorial Court

Cheryl Brown, assistant vice provost for residential education and a resident fellow in Meier Hall, moderated the Dec. 11 virtual town hall.

At a virtual town hall on Friday, Dec. 11, University leaders elaborated on planning for the winter quarter and answered questions from undergraduate students and families. The town hall followed up on a communication from Provost Persis Drell that had laid out plans for the winter quarter in light of current public health guidance by the county and state.

Topics covered at the town hall included move-in plans for first-years and sophomores considering returning to campus for winter quarter, protocols around the travel quarantine for students’ first two weeks back on campus, academic and course planning, COVID testing, and opportunities for social experiences during winter quarter.

Town Hall panelists included Dean of Students Mona Hicks; Dean of Academic Advising Louis Newman; Executive Director of Vaden Health Services James Jacobs, Senior Associate Vice Provost of Residential and Dining Enterprises Shirley Everett, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Sarah Church, and Vice Provost for Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole. The event was moderated by Assistant Vice Provost for Residential Education Cheryl Brown.

Vice Provost Church led off her remarks underscoring that she wanted students to know that while first-years and sophomores were being welcomed to return to campus in winter quarter under the new protocols put in place for the term, that they could continue to successfully navigate their quarter academically if they felt it was better for them to remain in their home location. She pointed out that there are plenty of courses to keep students on track and no one should be in the position of academic disruption due to our current circumstances and that the university would support students whatever choice they believed was best for them.

“We continue to work under the premise that whether our students are on campus or off, nearly all instruction will continue to take place virtually. We do understand that for some students, pursuing their coursework on campus is appealing, whether it provides some additional quiet for studying, or an opportunity to eventually get to spend time in closer proximity to your peers, even socially distanced,” Church said.

Vice Provost Brubaker-Cole followed with remarks around the ways in which Stanford has made safety a top priority including staggering move-ins so that students could arrive under less crowded and congested circumstances. Vice Provost Cole pointed out that Stanford is:

  • Expanding its testing program for faculty, staff and students
  • Providing private sleeping spaces for undergraduates
  • Preparing isolation and quarantine space on campus
  • Requiring a two-week period of restricted activity for all students
  • Implementing a multimedia public health campaign to underscore the ongoing value of the use of face coverings, frequent hand washing, and social distancing
  • Requiring students report their health status daily via a web tool called Health Check
  • And continuing with our Campus Compact, which summarizes all relevant laws and signifies our collective commitment to protecting our own health and the health of our fellow students, faculty, and staff.

She reported that the university consulted with Stanford physician scientists and researchers, and drew lessons from peer institutions. The prevalence of COVID at Stanford during fall quarter, when approximately 6,000 mostly graduate students lived on campus, was low, as reported on the university’s dashboard.

“The campus experience will not be the same as in previous years but it will be a valuable experience,” Brubaker-Cole said. “There is absolutely no pressure or expectation that students come back to campus. We are here to support you whatever you choose to do. Stanford is here for you, wherever you are.”

Other questions from students and families addressed during the town hall included:

Two-week period of restricted activity, county travel quarantine

Is everyone subject to the two-week period of restricted activity?

Everyone is subject to two weeks of restricted activity, whether you are new to campus, returning to campus, never left campus, or quarantined off campus for two weeks.

What is the difference between the two-week period of restricted activity and the county travel quarantine?

The two-week period of restricted activity is a university requirement. The travel quarantine is a Santa Clara County public health mandatory directive. The directive is more restrictive and expires Dec. 21. If the quarantine is extended, it means students will not be able to do such things as shop for necessities in Palo Alto and go outdoors for exercise during the quarantine period. They will be able to leave their rooms for take-out dining hall meals, COVID testing and medical care, according to our understanding of the county directive.

Testing, quarantine and isolation

Will there be enough testing capacity?

We are substantially increasing our testing capacity for students in the winter quarter. For fall, we had a testing site at McCaw Hall. For winter, we will add Tresidder Memorial Union. This is a convenient location for many undergraduates, although each student will be able to choose either site when they make their testing appointments.

How does Stanford care for students in quarantine or isolation because they or a close contact have tested positive for COVID-19?

We do our best to keep each student connected with the university community. There are multiple touch points daily. Vaden Medical Services provides health care, and Residential & Dining Enterprises delivers three meals daily. We encourage students to keep pace with their classes if they are able to do so, and to keep in touch with friends and family. Our resident assistants stay connected with all of their students, wherever they are, and our community centers have been very active with virtual events open to everyone.


For those of us arriving in mid-January, will housing fees be prorated?

If I come and feel unsafe, can I leave? For students arriving beginning the weekend of Jan. 21, room and board rates will be reduced by an appropriate, prorated amount. If you change your mind about living on campus, after you move in, you may cancel your winter quarter housing assignment, without penalty. If you cancel your contract in Axess, remove your belongings and return your key(s), you will receive a refund for the days you were not living in housing and the unused portion of your meal plan.

How are we keeping students safe in their residences and dining halls?

In the residences, we have reduced the density by only assigning one student to a room, even if that room is designed for two or more students. In some residences, students will share common restrooms, but the reduced density will limit the number of students that might need to use each restroom.

Inside the restrooms, we have installed barriers between wash basins. We ask that you wear face coverings — except when you are in the shower, brushing your teeth, etc. — and that you maintain physical distancing by staggering restroom use when possible. The restrooms, and all common areas in residences receive enhanced cleaning and disinfecting twice daily, seven days a week.

In the dining halls, we offer meals for takeout only. Students who enter the dining hall must wear face masks, wash their hands, have their temperature taken, and maintain physical distancing. There is more information on the R&DE website about our safety measures, including the CleanDining program.

Will frosh, sophomores and first-year transfers be invited to live on campus during the spring quarter? And what are the summer quarter plans?

De-densification is key to keeping campus safe. For this reason, frosh, sophomores and transfers cannot opt to come in the spring rather than in the winter; the university’s plan has been to invite juniors and seniors to reside on campus in the spring quarter, if they wish and if public health conditions allow. Summer quarter plans are still being shaped and could be impacted by our ability to enact winter quarter planning, as envisioned.

Campus life

How will the university enforce the rules?

We are asking students to recognize that we are all in this together, and the safety and health of each of us is linked to the safety and health of all of us. This is the conceptual basis for the Campus Compact, which summarizes all state, county and university guidance relevant to students. We ask that students discuss their concerns with one another, and if that is not possible, that they share their concerns with us. We seek to act swiftly and fairly, leading with an educational approach.

What are student households and how will they help?

Student households are similar in concept to a family sharing a residence and navigating COVID-19 together. Student households can have up to eight members, and are registered using an app. Households provide students with a way to socialize safely with friends, and registering households helps the university with COVID-19 exposure notifications as needed.

Will there be more opportunities to socialize later in the quarter?

As COVID-19 conditions improve, and we hope they will, we expect to gradually offer additional opportunities for safely designed gatherings, in-person interactions, and other features that begin to approach the “normal” campus experience, in accordance with state, county and university guidance.


What are the pros and cons of “flexing” during winter quarter given that things are still in a space of uncertainty?

And what other advice do you have on academic planning for winter quarter? Participating in a research or service experience is only available following two quarters of full-time enrollment. These experiences are only then available in spring and summer quarters. If students took a Flex Term in fall quarter, or are considering taking a Flex Term in winter quarter, these opportunities will not be available. Note however that any student who decides to “flex” in any quarter can still take up to five free units during their Flex Term. Please reach out to your academic advisor if you need more guidance on academic planning for winter quarter.

Will there be any academic accommodations given to students during the move-in period two weeks into the quarter since frosh and sophomores can’t move in until late January?

We have held two town halls with instructors in the past week, and also sent a letter outlining the staggered move-in process and the impact that it will have on students who are taking classes while traveling. We have urged instructors to be accommodating and in particular to not conduct assessments during the move-in period, and to ensure that material is available for students who have to miss a class. In addition, we have asked instructors to let students know how they will be accommodated at the beginning of the quarter, and we encourage students to ask instructors for that information.

Questions during the university’s winter closure

Where can I find answers to my questions over break?

Re-Approaching Stanford consolidates information for undergraduates regarding 2020-21. Additionally, students living on campus during winter quarter can expect to receive more information via email from the university over the next two weeks. This will include a step-by-step guide to the student testing protocol and an update, if needed, on the Santa Clara County travel quarantine.

Students can reach Stanford staff here with general suggestions, comments and concerns about this unique year. If undergraduates have a personal question from now until Dec. 11, please submit a ServiceNow ticket. During the university’s winter closure from Dec. 14 to Jan. 3, residence deans will be available for emergencies that may arise. Here’s how to contact the RD on call.