With the end of the 2020-2021 school year approaching, the University of Dallas has made and anticipates further adjustments to COVID-19 protocols both at the Irving and Rome campuses. While reduced distancing requirements and removal of seating charts have helped the university regain a sense of normalcy, regulations remain for commencement and the Rome campus.
On April 27, President J. J. Sanford released a statement to the UD community regarding potential COVID-19 protocols for the upcoming Fall 2021 semester. Sanford hopes “to resume campus life fully and with very few, if any, of the current COVID protocols,” provided that COVID-19 cases do not rise.
While UD will not require current or incoming students to vaccinate, the EU’s proposed legislation may require students to vaccinate if they wish to travel.
“We wouldn’t absolutely require vaccination, but we don’t have control over the European Union,” President J. J. Sanford said in an interview.
In an April 19 letter to the students and families of the Summer 2021 semester, Dr. Peter Hatile, director of the Rome program, encouraged students to receive the coronavirus vaccine.
“The best way to avoid such sickness are vaccinations,” Hatlie wrote. “The only way to have a lockdown lifted is by ensuring that every last individual on campus is shielded from getting the virus to the greatest extent possible.”
Sanford reinforced the university’s consideration of the recommendations made by the COVID preparedness committee, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Diocese of Dallas and the National Catholic Bioethics Center.
In late April, the UD administration loosened distancing and seating chart regulations. Instead of observing the previous six foot distancing requirement, social distancing has been reduced to three feet when in class and during events. Further, faculty and students no longer have to observe seating charts in classes.
Similarly, the Church of Incarnation has also regained some of its’ pre-COVID features as a response to directives from the Dallas Dioceses’ Bishop, Edward Burns. Since pastors may now determine their own seating requirements, Fr. Thomas More Barba, O.P., has opened all seating to attendees, no longer restricting them to every other row. However, Barba has reserved a section in the church for those who would like to remain more socially distant.
While the Bishop has lifted the mask restriction in the diocese, masks are still required at the Church of the Incarnation due to university policies.
“I really appreciate Bishop Burns’ leadership in this regard,” said Fr. Barba in an interview on April 28. “I think he has taken a balanced approach that every Catholic in the diocese should be grateful for. On the one hand, he has tried to care for the safety of his flock, including his priests many of which are elderly. At the same time, he’s tried to steer a moderate course.”
At the start of the academic school year, COVID-19 regulations required masks indoors and six feet of social distancing. Students living on campus were required to receive a negative COVID-19 test to move onto campus and randomized testing of the student population continued.
As the semester continued, no large gatherings were allowed on campus. UD did hold its iconic Groundhog day celebration and the Spring Formal, but in a limited sphere as these events were only open to seniors.
Following Groundhog weekend a spike in cases resulted in a four day lockdown to curtail the spread. However, COVID-19 cases on UD’s Irving campus have remained low despite Sanford’s loosened restrictions allowing students to unmask in the dorms between 5 p.m. to 6 a.m. As of April 28, two student cases are present on the Irving campus.
While calls are being made to adjust COVID-19 regulations at the 2021 commencement on May 16, capacity may remain limited. Graduating students may bring three guests to the ceremony.
Due to the three foot distancing requirement, the Toyota Music Factory reaches capacity if each student brings three guests. The guest limit is “driven by the fact that every graduate brings 3 people, they’re at capacity,” said Clare Venegas, assistant vice president of marketing and communications. “It’s a capacity issue.”
Current seniors have started a petition to the university’s administration requesting an increase to the three person guest limit. Initially sent to 65 seniors, the petition began circulating on April 18.
“After four years of working hard and enjoying our time at the University of Dallas, we would like to share our joy in the presence of our beloved family members and friends,” the letter reads.
Clare Hernandez, a senior politics major, expressed her discontent with the limited number of guests.
“Three is so insignificant, that’s just your parents and one person. I definitely do not agree with the restriction at all, especially because the university has not given any real reason for it. We at least deserve to know why.”