Dear Members of the Trinity Community:
Since 1851 the mission of Trinity College has been to provide outstanding education, support and a home away from home for students of unique talent. We have been steadfast in this commitment for nearly 170 years, through depressions, upheavals and world wars. And we are continuing that tradition as the world grapples with COVID-19. We know our students need us more than ever—they need us to be innovative in the classroom and responsive in guiding them through unprecedented changes. Many of them need a safe and supportive place to live in uncertain times. And because above all we must ensure our community’s safety and well-being, fulfilling our mission is more challenging than ever. That is why, over the past several months, the whole college has been hard at work to ensure that we can continue to offer our students the outstanding education and supports they deserve while at the same time safeguarding the community. Now, as we prepare to welcome more students back to campus for the fall term, I wanted to share a snapshot of our plans for September and give you a sense of what ‘Back to School’ will look like in this most unusual of falls.
Our first and most critical priority is safeguarding the health and well-being of our whole community. As outlined in my earlier message, we are fortunate to work with university-wide preparedness planning networks at the University of Toronto that have extensive public health expertise and that are in regular contact with public health officials at all levels and with other institutions. And as Trinity also has distinctive needs, early on we established our own Re-Start Steering Committee and Working Groups (Academic Services, Residential Services, Food Services, and Operations/Administration). They liaise with relevant groups from across the University of Toronto and the other federated universities and seek additional professional advice where necessary. Of course, the past five months have shown us that we must be adaptable to changing circumstances and so planning for a range of different scenarios and contingencies is central to everything we do.
Health and Safety Measures
This fall, our buildings will remain closed to the public and visitors and will only be accessible to members of the university community who need to be on campus. Sadly, all in-person events on campus have been cancelled or postponed until further notice. We have even had to curtail things like our wonderful choral activities. While we do of course plan to resume all of these wonderful traditions when it is possible to do so, at the moment we are working to transition as much as possible to online formats. Please stay tuned for updates on those virtual offerings—we are excited about our engagement activities for this fall.
Across the whole college, we have implemented extensive physical distancing measures based on public health expertise and guidance. So, for example, signs will indicate maximum space occupancies, classrooms have been reconfigured, and furniture in all spaces has been adjusted for physical distancing and room capacity. Dedicated entrances, exits and signs encourage a one-way flow of traffic. There are new sanitizing stations across campus and supplies will be made available in public and private spaces so that individuals can wipe down their own workstations and seating area.
There is new signage on physical distancing, proper hand hygiene and masks, which are required in common-use spaces. We have also increased cleaning and disinfecting protocols in high-traffic and public areas and upgraded heating and ventilation systems where necessary. In high-traffic areas where it is difficult to maintain physical distancing, there are physical barriers. This includes our Welcome Desk, reception area for the Student Services Centre, Graham Library circulation desk, food service serveries and point of sale terminals, among other locations.
Student Services and Academic Programs
Essential workers, including the Welcome Desk, members of the Office of the Dean of Students and Facility Services staff, have been on campus throughout the summer. Although many staff and faculty will continue to work remotely, we want to be able to offer our students the option of in-person services where it is safe to do so and so September will see an expansion of our in-person offerings. In the reconfigured Student Services Centre, staff from both the Office of the Dean of Students and the Registrar’s Office will provide in-person services including academic, personal, career and financial advising. The John W. Graham Library will continue to provide access to library materials including curbside pickup options, with strict protocols for the quarantining of returned materials. Our wide range of academic services, including our Academic Dons, Learning Strategist, Writing Centre, Math Aid Centre, and Personal Librarian Program will be available to students virtually. We will also continue to offer other services and supports online as much as possible and are working to ensure that our services are as responsive and interconnected as possible.
Over the summer, we have been engaging in Orientation activities with our incoming class through newly-developed online materials. They are designed to help students with their transition and orientation to university through videos and interaction with upper-year student mentors and each other. In addition, our September orientation programming will also host live online social events, academic and student life orientation sessions, and even a newly envisioned version of our traditional Matriculation ceremony. For students who will be in residence, we are supplementing this programming with some specially designed socially distanced in-person activities.
In terms of our teaching programs, while the majority of classes both at the University of Toronto and at Trinity will be online, a considerable number of courses will offer an in-person component. Approximately 20% of Trinity’s courses will have an in-person option. As noted above, classrooms have been reconfigured for physical distancing and technology upgrades have been put in place to enable remote learning. Faculty are working hard to reimagine their courses and to find ways to engage students virtually through the use of online tools to facilitate seminar conversations and connect students learning online and in-person. Faculty will provide individualized student support through office hours, either online or in person where physical distancing permits. To create the best possible learning environment, we have upgraded technology and offered additional training and enhanced IT support. Faculty and staff are also planning virtual co-curricular events, including speaker events and online discussions, to help further foster a sense of academic community.
Since March, we have been housing a small group of students in residence who were unable to return home. In addition to those students who have remained with us, we will also be welcoming students who need housing for the new academic year. Our population will be much reduced—approximately 200 new and returning students, which is around 40% of normal capacity. To ensure that our students are housed in an appropriate and safe manner, we have based our planning on public health and professional advice and the guidance of Environmental Health and Safety at U of T. Students will only be in single occupancy rooms, and the population has been distributed across Trinity and St. Hilda’s buildings based on a number of elements, including available washrooms, common spaces and other public health and safety factors. While guests will not be permitted indoors, we are setting up outdoor social spaces where students can visit with family and friends. And though the College will be sparsely populated, we have also planned to be sure that students will not be isolated in an area by themselves. To facilitate community, additional common rooms, with occupancy limits and public health restrictions, have been created out of empty larger rooms.
Residence move-in will also look very different this year. It will be extended over a week to control traffic and there will be pre-scheduled specific move-in times. Only two family members/friends will be able to help each resident, they will have to wear masks and to provide contact information and a COVID-19 screening assessment prior to arrival. All students will be provided with two reusable face masks along with a detailed protocol regarding what to do if they feel ill, are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or believe they have been exposed to someone with COVID-19. Students will be assisted and supported with testing. Single rooms with private washroom facilities have been reserved in our residences to act as isolation spaces for students who are awaiting test results. In conjunction with the University, we have also secured additional isolation spaces with meal delivery for any students who may test positive but cannot to go home. We have also worked with the University on a quarantine program for students who are arriving from outside of Canada. All students who are arriving from outside of Canada must quarantine for 14 days prior to moving into residence. More information about the university’s quarantine program is available here.
While the residence experience may not be the same this year, we know how important it is especially now to ensure that our students have a sense of community and are not feeling isolated. Our Academic Dons and Community Advisors (CAs) are just returning to campus to begin their two-week training program, including new training on COVID-19 procedures and protocols as well as on building community in these challenging circumstances. For example, our Dons and CAs will be working to offer small, masked, physically distant, in-person activities such as neighbourhood tours, field-trips to local outdoor coffee shops, take-out food tours, virtual trivia nights between the residence houses, outdoor fitness classes and mindfulness workshops and so much more. Our Community Wellness programming will include virtual office hours, online social hangouts with student wellness assistants, and many wellness workshops (plant potting etc.) in an online format with kits delivered to residence rooms so that students can participate virtually.
All summer, we have also been working with Chartwells to redesign our food services to ensure we meet the highest standard of safety and honour our commitment to excellent, sustainable, and nutritious food. Rigorous safety measures will be implemented. For example, food services staff will have daily temperature screening, food preparation work stations will be redistributed to ensure social distancing, staff will wear masks and gloves, and checkouts or food service stations will be behind plexiglass barriers. Strict isolation and return-to-work protocols have been implemented with regard to suspected or confirmed illness, and all staff are receiving specialized training relating to COVID.
When our food operations open this fall, students will be required to wear masks in common areas such as the servery, and social distancing will be in place in both the serveries and the dining halls—both of which have significantly reduced capacity, floor decals and signage. Among other initiatives, we are setting up outdoor seating to accommodate up to 50% of residents, have developed other locations where students can dine together in an appropriately distanced manner, and will launch a reusable “sustainer container” program. We have redesigned our food program for the new reality and expanded the dining options we offer. All food service and common areas will be subject to extremely rigorous cleaning protocols and oversight, with dedicated staff performing these functions. You can learn more about the changes to our food services program, including meal plans, here.
As September fast approaches, all of us at the college are continuing to work with the University and other experts on preparedness planning and the safe return to campus. Of course, what I have shared here is just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ to give you a sense of what Trinity life will be like this fall. If you wish to learn more, please visit our website for updates about fall 2020. It has been an incredible whole-college effort to get us to where we are and I want to thank our wonderful staff and faculty who have worked ceaselessly through the summer to ensure we are prepared for fall. We are united in our commitment to the health and well-being of our community, to academic excellence, and to offering an outstanding student experience, just as we have through thick and thin, since our doors opened in 1851.
I do hope that you have found this update helpful and that all of you are as well as possible in this complicated world. I look forward to a time when we can all meet again. Until then, I wish you and your loved ones the very best.
Provost and Vice-Chancellor