(As printed in the Jewish Link)
This is part one of a three-part series outlining what four different college campuses and Jewish life organizations are implementing to accommodate students this fall.
It’s been months since most college students have seen the inside of a classroom. As the fall semester approaches, many undergraduates, and their respective universities, are struggling to find the balance between maximizing their education and staying COVID-safe.
Many schools in the New York and New Jersey area are limiting in-person instruction and continuing classes online.
Not only has remote learning taken a toll on students’ academic lives, but young undergraduates involved in Jewish life on their college campuses have seen their social lives change drastically.
Rutgers-New Brunswick is one such school adapting a blended academic curriculum, although the majority of instruction will be held remotely. In a letter released on July 6, Rutgers University President Jonathan Halloway outlined the school’s decision to conduct a mostly virtual semester. Lectures will be held in real time but will be pre-recorded. Courses that necessitate in-person interaction, such as a very limited number of science labs and fine arts classes, will be held on campus, but within appropriate health guidelines. Those on campus are required to wear face coverings.
According to the Rutgers website, tuition rates will not increase this academic year, and full-time undergraduate students should see a $300 reduction for this year’s student fees. In terms of student life, there will be no in-person meetings or social events on campus (recreation centers will be closed) and on-campus housing will be prioritized for international, out-of-state and graduate students, as well as athletes and those facing food insecurities.
What will this mean for Chabad housing at Rutgers? Right now, room and board rates for Chabad housing have not changed, except for an additional COVID preparedness surcharge of $250. This sum is meant to cover the cost of sanitizing the space.
According to Rabbi Mendy Carlebach, the administrator of Rutgers Chabad, right now the dorms are almost at 100% capacity, which would mean there would be a total of 90 students (45 girls and 45 boys) living there for the fall. The rooms are set up as doubles, and will remain that way this semester. Students are required to wear masks in common areas, but not in their rooms. There are no communal bathrooms or showers.
Move-in day will be stretched into two days (August 30 and 31) to avoid crowding, and students will need to provide documentation of a negative COVID test, taken within a week of move-in, in order to be accepted into the building.
Throughout the semester, students will be required to take temperature tests before entering the building, and Rabbi Carlebach has the equipment handy to begin that process. Hand-sanitizing stations, which students can operate via a foot pump, are placed throughout the house. The Chabad House, which is now being used for Camp Gan Israel, is also sanitized daily with an electrostatic spray that can clean a large room in minimal time.
The Chabad House will be tweaking the Shabbat experience to ensure student safety. With the help of student leaders, Chabad will be spreading out tables and chairs to ensure students are seated six feet away from each other. The room where Shabbat dinner is held is 7,700 square feet, and even on a normal Shabbat, the room is not filled to capacity, so spreading out will be feasible, according to Rabbi Carlebach.
On a normal Friday night, as many as 300 students come to enjoy a Shabbat meal, but Rabbi Carlebach knows that since many students have opted to learn remotely in the fall, the attendance will likely be lower. Students will receive individual food servings, instead of taking from a self-serve buffet.
The Chabad House also runs programming during the week, some of which will be held in person with social-distancing protocols in place. JCafé, a popular educational and social program run every Tuesday night, will happen in person in the fall. So will Sushi and Soul on Wednesdays, and challah baking on Thursdays. Students and staff involved will be wearing gloves and masks as required.
Chabad will also continue to hold shiurim on Zoom in an effort to include students who will be spending the semester at home.
“We’re not interested in cutting corners,” Rabbi Carlebach said of reinforcing safety precautions in the fall. “We’re doing things the right way. If that means we’re going to have to put tape on the floor and map out where tables and chairs should be, then that’s what we’re going to do.”
Rutgers-New Brunswick Hillel also has a schedule posted of events for the fall including hospital visits, baking nights, Shabbat dinners, ice cream socials and more. Hillel@Home is currently offering virtual programming for students to tune into. More information can be found online at https://rutgershillel.org/rutgershillelhome-2/. A representative from Hillel could not be reached for comment.