Oral Roberts University said teachers and staff are excited as they prepare to welcome students back to campus.
ORU President William Wilson said this generation just ‘gets it’ and he is impressed with how willing they are to adapt.
Freshmen will arrive at Oral Roberts University for orientation this weekend, ahead of the start of classes which begin August 13, 2020. Gracie Palmer is one of those freshmen packing up her bags and making the big move.
"It'll definitely be finding a balance between being wise and being cautious, but also not living in fear and not being timid,” Palmer said.
She said that she’s already facing a lot of unknowns. Now, Palmer said, a lot of what sold her on coming to ORU is compromised by COVID-19.
“It was such a welcoming environment. Everyone was so close and tight knit, and that's what you're expecting coming into campus, but now it's like 'no, stay away from each other,'” said Palmer. “A part of the campus that I really enjoyed and really clicked with is going to be the part that's kind of really affected with social distancing and with the masks.”
Palmer said she is maintaining a positive outlook and is excited to begin this new season of life. Meanwhile, some students are stuck overseas, and won’t be able to come to campus until further notice.
Mogau Mathe is a senior international student from South Africa and hasn't been allowed home since winter break but believes ORU is doing a great job of providing international students with the proper accommodations.
"I stay with my host family, and I just feel super supported, super loved, and even during this whole COVID time, you know, you really actually just really want to be with your family in a time like this, but during this whole season it's definitely been, ORU has definitely just been very supportive,” Mathe said.
She said ORU is a school of faith, and they are praying a lot, trying to stand in the gap.
“Just also be praying for, you know, our students and even for Tulsa and the country and the world,” said Mathe. “You know, so, that's definitely something that's going to be a big prayer point for us this whole semester."
Mathe and Palmer both said that the university has done a great job of keeping its students safe and informed, even if the plans are ever evolving.
“We have a stated goal with ORU during this semester. To be the safest place in Oklahoma this fall,” said William Wilson, president of Oral Roberts University. “So, when you come on campus, we're going to take your temperature. You have to go through a rigorous number of questions as sort of a safety check, and we're working very hard to keep things safe. Masks will be required.”
He described ORU's precautions as “layers of safety.” He said students living on campus are required to get tested for COVID-19 before they check into their dorm this weekend, so that they’ll have a baseline as they start the semester.
“If you're positive you can't check in until you're cleared by a physician, and then from there, of course we're working hard to keep things safe,” Wilson said.
Everyone who sets foot on campus must wear a mask and socially distance. Hand sanitizer will be available throughout the university. ORU also implemented facially recognized temperature-taking machines all over the property, so if a student has a temperature, they can quickly get to some kind of an isolation. ORU said it also has isolation rooms that will allow them, if the student tests positive for COVID-19, to get that student isolated quickly and then get them medical care. There will be an increased medical presence on campus offering free telemedicine appointments.
Dining halls have been reduced to half capacity, and students have the option of getting takeout at any of the food services across campus. There won't be buffets, but instead employees will be serving students.
Wilson said communal bathrooms and showers will be industrially cleansed several times a day.
“Obviously, the dorms are perhaps the riskiest place on campus, and we're still working hard to keep things safe there,” Wilson said.
Wilson said ORU is committed to offering both face-to-face and virtual instruction in every class this semester. Students can attend in person, face-to-face with a professor, or they can join by zoom technology or other technology virtually from anywhere in the world.
“A student could be in class on a Monday or a Tuesday if they needed to isolate for a while, miss a couple of classes,” said Wilson. “They could tune in by virtual and then get right back in the classroom without ever missing any content, so we're allowing the student that flexibility.”
ORU said there's a red line in every classroom and students will not be able to cross the red line to get to a faculty member, which allows them to keep social distance.
“We know that this is an unusual environment, and it has some dangers. We're aware of that. There are dangers to go into a restaurant in Tulsa. There are dangers to go to the grocery store,” said Wilson.” So, we're going to be aware of that the entire semester and be very vigilant, especially with our staff and our faculty to protect them all we possibly can.”
They’ve also shortened the semester, completing it the Friday before Thanksgiving. ORU said there will be no fall break to keep everybody on campus. Wilson said he recognizes that collegiate life is already challenging, and students are learning at an accelerated rate, but he said instructors have amended their lectures to will make sure no student is left behind.
“There are multiple contingency plans as we look at the semester. […] We don't think it'll be the abrupt change that we had in March,” said Wilson. “We plan to get through the semester. We plan to test, we plan to trace, we plan to be safe, we place to isolate when necessary and help our students be as safe as possible.”
Wilson said that the student population has exhibited real consciousness.
“Mom and dad may struggle, but this generation gets it,” said Wilson. “We're really, really pleased with what we're seeing in our summer school population with compliance and not really any negatives at all from the student body.”
The university said the Praying Hands were designed as healing hands, representing the best of medicine and the best of prayer to bring healing.
“We're sort of facing the COVID-19 pandemic the same way,” said Wilson. “The best of science we can understand how to keep people safe and then praying and trusting God to keep us well through it all."
Wilson said true leaders are developed not in the best of circumstances many times, but often in trying times.
“We see this journey with COVID-19 as an opportunity really to help young men and women understand what it means to lead in circumstances that are not optimal, and we believe that will serve them well in the world in which they're going to live in and the days ahead of the 21 century,” Wilson said.
Wilson said he anticipates students will need mental support, but ORU has 5 full time counselors who are ready to support students.
For more information about ORU’s upcoming semester, click here.