Dear Howard University Community,
I pray this letter reaches you in good health and spirits! I know that the last few months have been draining on many of us, but the wise Zulu concept of Ubuntu is instructive in this moment: I am, because you are. Our common humanity requires us to pull together in support of one another, endure the dark night of the moment, and reach the break of dawn. While we don’t know how long this pandemic will last, I’m confident that patience will be a virtue in creating space for sound decisions and actions to take place.
On June 25, we provided you with a link to the Fall Re-opening Plan. I hope reading through the document helped to convey the amount of detail that the committee is taking to carefully and thoroughly prepare to re-open the campus. Our goal is to provide Howard’s same excellent level of academic training in a delivery method that allows our students to continue their matriculation to their degrees as safely as possible. Although we are confident this could be accomplished entirely online, the campus will be open for small subset of students who need to be on campus due to extenuating circumstances such as food and housing insecurity.
The Re-opening Plan is Under Review by the City; Travel Restrictions Issued
We continue to work with the DC Office of Planning and the Department of Health to ensure that our plan rigorously adheres to all District guidelines. On July 24, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser issued an update regarding a 14-Day Mandatory Quarantine for Travelers from hot spot areas. This means students traveling from the 27 identified hot spot states must be quarantined on campus in appropriate housing, or in their off-campus housing, for 14 days upon return to town. The isolation of quarantining in a campus room will be an added hardship that I want to make sure you consider carefully if your state is on the list.
Additionally, the District has required that all academic institutions provide a mechanism to identify and track students who travel to hot spot states during the academic year. As such, once students arrive on campus, we are discouraging non-essential travel outside of the DMV (District, Maryland and Virginia) region, domestic and international. We will also have students report, through an online travel registry portal, if they are traveling outside of the DMV region during the academic year. Students traveling to an identified high risk state or area, at that time, will also be subject to the 14 day quarantine rule upon return. The high risk states will be updated every two weeks by the District, and are listed at this link: https://coronavirus.dc.gov/phasetwo
Despite these circumstances, we will move forward with our hybrid re-opening plan, keeping in mind that the we are still awaiting plan approval from the City and their response could change things drastically. I want to be transparent with you about that salient point as you make preparations for the Fall. We are moving forward with preparations on our end, including our plans to test students regularly, add enhanced campus cleaning measures, increase PPE purchases and other previously named preparedness measures. However, please note the pandemic conditions in DC will be an evolving and challenging time for students to be on campus. If your classes are fully online and you don’t have an urgent need to be here, please consider staying home so we can accommodate those students dealing with true instances of housing and food insecurity. All undergraduate students have the option to take their classes completely online and stay at home.
De-Densifying Campus; Prioritizing Community Safety
As of July 15, the Office of the Registrar updated the Fall 2020 course offerings and over 80% of undergraduate courses will be offered fully online. In keeping with CDC and local social distancing guidelines, we have reduced the number of students living in our residence halls as well. To date 2,807 students are signed up for on-campus housing, but we need to continue to reduce that footprint.
If you are planning to return to campus, please understand that we are counting on you to help us maintain Howard as a safe learning environment by adhering to the necessary social distancing rules, frequent hand-washing and wearing masks protocols— not just while you’re on campus, but in your everyday living. That means when you’re in the residence halls or on the yard or off site walking around DC, please use precaution. We’ve all seen how the coronavirus is disproportionately impacting the African American community. People of color are testing positive for COVID-19 at higher rates, seeking medical attention at lower rates, and dying at higher rates. That cycle must end now. We must collectively do our part to protect Howard’s most precious treasures: you, your professors and each member of our beautiful, diverse community. We have a moral obligation to one another to make this so.
Enhanced COVID-19 Safety/Testing Measures
Our on-site CLIA certified testing laboratory will ensure our ability to return results within 24 hours. A robust testing plan is a key element to ensure detection, prevention, and mitigation.All students, faculty and staff will be tested upon return to campus. In compliance with the DC Department of Health guidelines, all students returning from DC designated hot spots will be quarantined for 14 days.
Each day we will administer temperature checks and a questionnaire to all students, faculty and staff on campus. On a seven-day rolling schedule, PCR testing for COVID-19 will be administered to cohorts of students, e.g. students who live on the same hallway or take face to face classes together. All positive test results will be reported to DC Department of Health who will then handle the appropriate contact tracing to ensure all contacts are appropriately notified, screened, and tested. Self-isolation will be expected of everyone testing positive.
All campus positive rates will be posted to keep the community informed.
Reduction of Student Fees
In addition to modifying classes and preparing the campus to meet health and safety guidelines, the University’s leadership team has also been exploring ways to help reduce the financial burden that many of our students are experiencing during this pandemic. As such, we are reducing and/or eliminating several fees for the Fall semester, which will be reflected on your bill. These fee adjustments will vary depending on the school or college you are enrolled in and reflect changes to campus services and operations under the re-opening plan. Also, if you are an undergraduate student who will take your Fall classes fully online AND will be living at the home of your parents and/or primary caregivers during the Fall 2020 semester, you are eligible for a one-time Fall 2020 student health insurance waiver.
Based on a student’s registration data in Bison Web, students who fall within the criteria mentioned above have already received an email prompting them to opt out of the insurance plan if they are fully remote, and do not need insurance coverage. It is important to note that many of our students do not have insurance coverage, or do not have comprehensive coverage, and Howard University’s plan remains their most secure option. As students opt to remain at home and take courses online, their bills will be adjusted. As such, we will work with our insurance provider to extend the deadline to opt out of the plan. Once a student is residing on campus, the student is automatically enrolled in the University’s insurance plan.
HEART Grants For Students with the Most Need
I am happy to announce we are offering assistance to our students with the greatest financial need in order for them to enroll in the Fall semester. The Howard Easement and Assistance Relief Trust (HEART) Grant will provide up to $500 to students whose expected family contribution is less than their cost of attendance, and up to $1,250 to students whose expected family contribution is less than the Pell maximum of $5,711. The grants will be awarded to all eligible full-time students, who are registered by August 7, irrespective of on- or off-campus residence status. The grant will be applied to those student accounts after the Fall 2020 census date.
Fall 2020 Student Engagement
In spite of the coronavirus pandemic, we are planning a robust offering of events and activities to engage our students both virtually and/or face-to-face. The Office of Student Activities, Residence Life and Events and Protocol are working diligently to revise their normal roster of events designed to engage, educate and entertain students in a format that will give our student body a memorable semester. Additionally, our schools and colleges continue to host informative panels and symposia in their areas of expertise.
I’d like to thank the incredible Howard faculty and staff who are working diligently to make the necessary adjustments as we prepare for the Fall. There are numerous steps taking place to incorporate additional safety measures and learning modalities into the new campus protocols and offerings. I truly appreciate how everyone is rallying together to keep Howard Bison Strong. Finally, to the Mecca-made students of Howard University, knowing that these efforts get you one step closer to your goal of a degree and a promising future makes it all worth it.
The times we live in constantly remind us that change is constant and flexibility is necessary. The uniqueness of our institution, its mission, and the communities we serve require us to lead with creativity and thoughtfulness. For some students, Howard University is not only a place where their basic human needs of food and shelter can be met. It may be the only place where their intellect will be sharpened even as the fullness of their humanity is respected and affirmed. The light of opportunity cast forth from the Hilltop for 153 years must shine brightest in this storm.
While many unknowns remain, we ask that you stay the course while we prepare the course. We will get through these challenges together.
Excellence In Truth and Service,
Wayne A. I. Frederick, M.D., MBA