Five Colleges plan for more robust on-campus experience in fall

  • A solitary person walks past the Old Chapel at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/KEVING GUTTING

  • Smith College students cross the central campus in Northampton. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Students walk to and from the Mount Holyoke College Blanchard Campus Center. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Hampshire College GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Signs like this one posted at Noah Webster Circle near College Street (Rt. 9) announce that the Amherst College campus is closed to the public. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 4/14/2021 7:47:51 PM

Come fall, college campuses in the area are expected to look much like they did prior to the shutdowns that began at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, though mask-wearing and social distancing protocols could remain necessary, and vaccines may be required.

As the largest campus in the region, the University of Massachusetts already has a “Get Ready for Fall 2021” web page announcing that 13,000 students will be living on campus, more than double the 5,600 students who have been in dormitories this spring, and that, after 16 months of adjustments aimed at reducing the spread of coronavirus infection, normal operations will resume.

“That means an emphasis on face-to-face instruction, full residence halls and a complement of student events and activities,” according to the site. “When our community returns to campus in September, we plan to offer students a full college experience.”

Students who have been on campus this spring are mostly freshmen, but still represent a significant increase from the 1,100 or so who lived on campus back in the fall.

“Additional details are being developed but are not finalized,” said UMass spokesman Ed Blaguszewski.

All incoming first-year students are guaranteed university housing and those spaces will be filled to design capacity, with the exception of a handful of rooms for potential isolation and quarantine. The room selection process for new students begins on June 1.

In-person fall semesters appear likely at Smith, Amherst, Mount Holyoke and Hampshire colleges, as well.

Smith College

At Smith, classes will be taught in person, student housing will return to traditional capacity and staff will work in person on campus. Pandemic precautions will still be in place in some ways, even as COVID-19 vaccines will be encouraged for everyone.

President Kathleen McCartney wrote an email to the community explaining that the reopening decision was informed by Smith’s spring semester experience, the increased availability of vaccines and current public health guidance.

“I look forward to meeting our new students and to celebrating the joys of living, learning and working together in this remarkable community,” McCartney wrote. “I hope you are as encouraged and energized as I am by what awaits us this fall.”

Classes will begin on Thursday, Sept. 2.

Smith spokeswoman Stacey Schmeidel said this spring 1,200 students are on campus, all living in single rooms, and another 300 enrolled students live locally off campus.

Next fall, all Smith students, about 2,400 undergraduates, will have an opportunity to live on a campus that returns to traditional density, with double-occupancy rooms.

Most classes will also go back to in-person after this spring, where half are remote only and another half are “enhanced” remote classes, meaning students have some in-person meetings, labs and projects at the Smith College Museum of Art, Botanic Garden or other locations.

Smith College has not yet determined whether it will require the vaccine for the fall, subject to medical and religious exemptions.

Amherst College

Students, faculty, staff and families were notified earlier this month by President Biddy Martin that the campus will be back in full operation by late summer.

“As many of you know, classes will start on August 30, and we are planning a return to fully in-person teaching and learning for the 2021-2022 academic year,” Martin wrote. “I look forward to this return and know that you do as well.”

That means that the 1,100 students on campus this spring will be scaled up to the 1,900 or so enrollment.

Martin adds that some health and safety measures may continue to be necessary for the fall: “We hope these measures will be mild in comparison to this year’s protocols, but this will depend upon positive developments in the nature of the pandemic over the coming months.”

Testing, limits on gathering types and sizes, and a mask requirement, at least in certain situations, could still be imposed, and the college is evaluating whether to make vaccination mandatory for students.

Mount Holyoke College

Mount Holyoke College will return to a full residential experience this fall, with in-person instruction and a 15-week semester format, including semester-long courses, according to a memo that was sent to students.

While faculty and students are expected to be together in the campus learning environment, some changes may be necessary to protect health and safety, according to college spokeswoman Christian Feuerstein.

This spring, about 60% of the 2,190 undergraduates are on campus following a fall semester in which students were entirely remote.

Improved public access to vaccines, declining infection rates in many states, and the college’s success in resuming residential operations without major outbreaks of illness make this possible.

More information about the semester dates, fall registration and summer advising are still to come.

Hampshire College

Due to its already small enrollment, Hampshire College has had all of its nearly 600 students on campus throughout both semesters of the 2020-2021 academic year.

Like the other area colleges, a student experience that looks much like pre-pandemic times is anticipated this fall.

“While remaining vigilant about the safety needs of our community and aligned with public health guidance and practices, we are confident that Hampshire will be able to provide fully in-person courses, residential living, campus amenities, co-curricular activities and services in the coming academic year,” wrote Christoph Cox, dean of the faculty and vice president for academic affairs, and Zauyah Waite, vice president for student affairs and dean of students, in a March letter.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at

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