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Dickinson College updates on Spring 2021

Week of November 2, 2020

Update on Spring Semester

To the Dickinson Community: 

As our fall semester enters its final weeks, I want to thank every member of our community for the endless hours of work, creativity and sacrifices you have all made—not just in this current academic cycle, but every day since this global pandemic started last spring.

Our planning for next semester continues nonstop, and we have carefully watched and learned from other colleges’ experiences this fall—both from their successes and their challenges. I am pleased to announce that we will begin classes on Jan. 25 as previously scheduled. We plan to invite all our students back to campus in the spring, though student returns will be staggered. Two class years—first years and sophomores—are invited to join us in January, and juniors and seniors will return in March. We will shift the student population during spring break. That shift means that those who have previously been remote (juniors and seniors) will return to campus, and those who have been in-person on campus (first years and sophomores) will return to their homes to finish the semester remotely. Students will be able to petition to stay on campus if they have extenuating circumstances. Details on that process will be forthcoming.

Any student who does not wish to return to campus can continue to take classes remotely.

As we have said since the onset of this pandemic, the health and safety of our community will guide all our decisions. Thankfully, the elements needed for a relatively safe return have now been put in place. Here on campus we have access to twice weekly testing for students through the Broad Institute and we have contact tracing in place in Cumberland County. Employees working on campus in regular contact with students will be tested weekly. If a residential student is symptomatic or contracts COVID, we have rooms set aside for quarantine and isolation, and designated staff members who will follow up with the student. While we cannot prevent all cases, we are confident that we can manage them.

The success of our in-person plan depends on everyone in our community strictly following health and safety guidelines. We have developed a new, temporary Student Campus Compact and Addendum to the Community Standards to see us through to the end of this pandemic. The compact stipulates simple rules that everyone will need to follow to protect one another. Everyone must agree to wear face coverings in any place where another person could be encountered. Everyone must adhere to simple physical distancing guidelines, wash their hands thoroughly and frequently, and avoid large gatherings in accordance with state and college guidelines. While the compact is for students, faculty and staff also will be expected to follow safety procedures.

Please understand that Dickinson will be different next semester. Many classes will continue to be offered remotely, and those that are in person will take place with physical distancing, masking and possibly even partitions in place. We will not be able to gather with large groups of friends.

We all wish that COVID-19 did not make these changes necessary, and certainly following these rules will mean a very different experience than what you have come to expect at Dickinson. But we are all responsible community members, and we expect responsible behavior of one another in this challenging situation. Any violation of this compact will be handled swiftly and decisively. Together we will get through this.

The return of students does not mean we will have pre-pandemic working arrangements. Employees will be contacted by their supervisors as decisions about on-campus staffing are made. Not all employees will return to campus.

By working to keep the spread of the virus down in our community, we are contributing to an environment that allows for our safe return. That is why Dickinson is leading a Carlisle community masking campaign, and we are partnering with the Carlisle Action Network (CAN) to make sure that local businesses require masks.

Spring Plan Details

To safely manage the spring semester, the following decisions have been made:

  • Classes will begin as planned on January 25.
  • First-year students and sophomores will return in January. Room assignments will be required to change from those communicated this summer. Residence Life is finalizing plans for reassigning students and will be prepared to share details of the process later this month.
  • Residential students will be required to have a negative COVID test before they may return to campus. More details will follow, but that testing will be through home tests or through testing sites at students’ local pharmacies. Students will also be tested upon arrival to campus before they are permitted to move in to their residence. A period of restricted movement on campus will also be required. All on-campus students will be tested for COVID twice weekly. Anyone testing positive will be moved into an isolation space and close contacts will be quarantined.
  • Students will be required to have the 2020-2021 Seasonal Flu vaccine prior to the start of the semester.
  • All employees and on-campus students should be completing the Daily Symptoms Tracker. We will continue to use the tracker in the spring.
  • Students living in their permanent residence within 50 miles of Dickinson will be permitted to commute to campus for in-person classes and opportunities if they so choose. However, they must be approved as commuters and participate in testing protocols.
  • Classes for next semester will be announced no later than Nov. 10. Faculty will have designated whether they plan to teach the course in-person, remotely or as a combination of both. The course request period will run from Nov. 20 through Nov. 24.
  • Given global travel restrictions, health concerns and the compromised ability to provide an immersive experience up to Dickinson’s distinctive standards, study abroad programs have regrettably been canceled for the spring semester. This is a difficult decision because we believe strongly that a global experience is vital to preparing students for the future. With the suspension of regular spring study abroad programs, Dickinson is offering students the opportunity to participate in a global learning, cohort experience. Students will take a globally integrated course connected to a Dickinson program abroad during their spring semester, participate in globally themed workshops throughout the semester and, COVID-19 conditions permitting, travel to the Dickinson program site linked to their globally integrated course for three weeks after the end of the spring semester. More details will follow from the Center for Global Study & Engagement. Please visit the Globally Integrated Semester webpage for more information.
  • Students who choose not to return to campus will be able to join most classes remotely. When the class schedule is posted, it will indicate mode of instruction: in-person, remote or a combination of both. We will make sure that all students have access to any courses needed this spring to graduate.
  • We will have rooms set aside for quarantine and isolation throughout the semester.


The Centennial Conference has not yet decided about athletics for the winter or spring. I know this is deeply disappointing to our students who compete because they have not been able to practice or play with their teammates since March. For our seniors, I know this is particularly heartbreaking, since you are finishing up your college career and may not be able to play the sport you love. Please know that all conference decisions are made with the health and safety of our students in mind. Student-athletes on campus this spring will be able to participate in workouts and team practices.


I am sure you will have questions, and we will be updating you throughout the next several weeks with detailed plans. In the meantime, please submit your questions here, and we will share the answers on our website.

Dickinson is an innovative and flexible community, and our response to this pandemic has highlighted our collective commitment to one another. The well-being of our community remains our central value. More details will be coming in the next two weeks, and there will be virtual opportunities for parents and students to ask questions of campus leadership. Thank you all for your patience and creativity during these challenging times. Stay safe and stay Dickinson strong.


Margee M. Ensign