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Introduction and Values Statement

This planning and guidance is subject to change in response to local public health conditions and local, state, and federal guidelines.

Vassar invites students to return to campus for the Fall 2020 semester. Developed by the VassarTogether committee (a broad campus-wide group of faculty, administrators, staff, and students), this report describes practices and protocols to safely return to campus, while ensuring that students and faculty who do not return to campus can continue to learn and teach. Central components of this plan involve face masks, physical distance, and sanitation; testing, contact tracing, and protocols for isolation; and self-quarantine. In addition, we identify community standards that will support a safe learning community.

Key Values

We start by identifying key values that are the foundation of our planning for a safe resumption of in-person classes in Fall 2020:

  • We are committed to creating and sustaining an ethical learning community;
  • We will prioritize the health of our community, paying explicit attention to the inequalities that contribute to vulnerabilities during this pandemic;
  • The Vassar community is global and we are enriched by the multiplicity of experience and culture that constitute our global campus;
  • Our living and learning practices must emphasize and create modes of cooperation, mutual care, and interdependence.

Teaching, learning, and living together under our current conditions means embracing a spirit of experimentation, which is to say a willingness to try, revise, and try again. This will be a collaborative effort between faculty, students, administrators and staff. We encourage the entire Vassar community to embrace a spirit of collaboration, openness, curiosity, and inquiry as a way of helping us understand what it means to collectively create a learning community in this historical moment. No student or faculty members will be required to return to in-person teaching or learning as a condition of enrollment, financial aid, or employment.  Human Resources will extend Vassar’s temporary Telework program, so that employees whose roles and responsibilities allow may continue working from off campus.

In recognizing that we cannot all share the same physical learning spaces in ways we are accustomed, we affirm these commitments to the Vassar community: We will learn where we are and with what we have. We will teach where we are and with what we have. We will work where we are and with what we have. We will offer our support and compassion to each other in these endeavors.

Four Phases of the Fall 2020 Campus Experience

To maximize community health and safety, we are planning a four-phase campus experience in Fall 2020, with target dates for each phase. The specific implementation dates for the different phases will be responsive to public health conditions on campus and in Dutchess County, as well as New York State guidelines. These phases are subject to change at any time and we will only advance to the next phase if campus and local health conditions permit.

Phase 1: Return to Campus (August 8–31)

Students will return to campus gradually during the three week period beginning August 8, although some students may be approved to return earlier. Estimated return dates for each student are provided. Each student will have a specific window to move into their campus housing. Please pack light for the Fall 2020 semester. This will facilitate an easy move-in process and swift move-out, if public health conditions require students to leave campus prematurely. Within the first three days of arrival, all students will be required to take a COVID-19 test provided and administered by the College.

Regarding Vulnerable Populations

All students who may not feel comfortable returning will be invited to participate in academic and co-curricular activities remotely. When needed, we will provide internet connection capability to their home to ensure they have access to remote learning. Furthermore, students who are residing on campus but need accommodations to feel safe will be guided by the Office of Accessibility and Educational Opportunities (AEO) on campus. Services for accommodation include, but are not limited to, note takers, extra time on assignments and tests, and academic coaches.

Phase 2: Confirming Community Standards (August 31–September 25)

Phase 2 is a period to establish routines that affirm safe community standards. We will all need to support each other in practicing social distancing, wearing masks (and appreciating reminders to wear masks), and navigating campus in a way that promotes lower density. Students living in campus housing will be expected to remain on campus during the academic semester. With very limited exceptions, such as medical care, off-campus student travel is not permitted. In addition, all meetings beyond formal classroom, lab, or research sessions should be held outdoors or via videoconference technology (Zoom) until September 7. After September 7, pending an assessment of health conditions on campus, student organizations may register to use specific meeting rooms for low-density activities; any gatherings must be pre-scheduled and will require social distancing, masks, and adherence to occupancy limits based on room size and New York State guidelines.

Phase 3: Structured Group Student Off-Campus Travel Permitted (September 26–November 20)

In Phase 3, structured student travel will be permitted according to specific guidelines to promote community safety. Examples of such structured group student off-campus travel include: athletics contests, class-based research or site visit activities, and College-sponsored performances.

Phase 4: Students Depart Campus (November 20–22)

The last day of in-person classes is Friday, November 20. Classes will be in recess the week of November 23, resuming online only on Monday, November 30 through Wednesday, December 9 (the final day of classes). Please see the revised academic calendar for the Fall 2020 Semester at Students will be expected to depart campus housing for the semester by 10:00pm on Sunday, November 22. We expect that campus housing will reopen for the Spring Semester in January 2021.

Campus Access

VassarTogether, the planning team that developed these protocols, focused on reimagining a return to on-campus learning that prioritizes campus community members and the larger Poughkeepsie/Arlington community’s health and wellness during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. We concentrated on establishing basic physical health and wellness safety measures that will ensure compliance with both the New York State Governor's executive orders, the New York State Higher Education Guidelines, and The Commission on Independent Colleges & Universities in New York guidelines for Creating Safe and Resilient Campuses. This Community Care Approach emphasizes making Vassar a safe campus community that provides a robust on-campus educational experience.

In order for this community care approach to succeed, students must remain on campus at all times in order to help minimize any potential spread of COVID-19. This restriction will be in place when students arrive on campus and will be reassessed as we make progress and head into Phase 3. All campus buildings will be closed to outside visitors (local vendors will need to participate in health screening like employees, and other restrictions will apply).

Employees who can perform their jobs off-site will continue to do so, and those who travel to campus will comply with new testing, health screening, and PPE requirements. We know these measures err on the side of caution, but they provide some access to our campus to the broader community, help protect employees, and give our students the on-campus college experience they long for and deserve.

Campus Boundary and Community Responsibility

VassarTogether discussed in detail the need to weigh the safety needs of our campus with our institutional values and commitments to the broader Poughkeepsie community. The community care approach described below strikes a balanced and measured approach for the Fall 2020 semester. The campus grounds, including the Ecological Preserve, will be closed to visitors from August 8 through at least September 7, pending consultation with county health officials. Signage will remind everyone to follow the campus mask-wearing policy and other health and safety protocols. Access to college buildings will be limited by card swipe to students and employees only.

This approach, emphasizing the health and safety of both the campus community and the broader Poughkeepsie community, requires that students not travel off campus, including short trips into town. As we limit access to our campus for the Fall semester please be aware of the following guidelines:

Campus Entry Guidelines


Touchless deliveries will be allowed on Main Campus through 11:00 pm. Delivery guidelines (masks, no entry into buildings, etc.,) and campus entrance/exit instructions will be distributed to local businesses. Vendors will be expected to utilize touchless delivery methods, wear protective masks, and not enter campus buildings.

Supply deliveries will be directed to purchasing. Special arrangements will be made for science and food deliveries.


  • Vendors must pre-register through Procurement, which will include signing a community contract and providing a main person of contact for the College.
  • Appointments are required seven days in advance of coming to campus.
  • The College will keep a daily log of any vendors on campus should they be required for contact tracing.
  • Vendors should limit the number of their personnel on campus to no more than 2.

Vendors will follow all safety requirements of the College, including but not limited to wearing PPE and following appropriate social- distancing guidelines.

Contractors Working on Campus

Contractors will be expected to follow NYS health guidelines and will be expected to follow all Vassar safety requirements, including wearing PPE. They will be provided with contractor IDs or escorted by an employee at all times.

Vassar Farm and Ecological Preserve

The Poughkeepsie Farm Project and Community Gardens will remain open as usual, but cordoned off from the rest of campus, while the Ecological Preserve will be closed to non-essential visitors. The Field Station and Barn will remain locked and off-limits to all but Vassar community members. Masks must be worn by all visitors, except when stationary and six feet from other individuals; or when performing grounds maintenance while social distancing from all other workers. All visitors and employees must have a mask close at hand to don when coming into close proximity with others. We have formulated this plan in consultation with county health officials, who believe it is best for the safety of both the community and the students. Signage will reinforce these new restrictions.

Health and Safety

Campus Mask Policy

Everyone on campus—students, employees, and visitors—is required to wear a mask or face covering, except: when in private/unshared rooms or offices; when stationary outdoors and able to maintain a 6-foot social distance from others; or if running or biking for exercise, and able to maintain a 6-foot social distance from others. Masks are required while in transit (walking from place to place indoors or outdoors). The College will provide masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) as needed for employees to safely conduct their job activities on campus.

Community Care Standards

Rather than establishing a set of specific behavioral guidelines, VassarTogether has developed community care standards around an ethos of looking out for one another—of bringing meaning to the phrase “we precedes me.” This ethos calls for all students and employees not only to be in community but also to act in community. Community care means that we think both about the individual and the communal impacts of the things we do and how they contribute to minimizing the potential for the spread of COVID-19.

While these norms are written to the attention of students, we expect these standards to be followed by every member of our campus community, including but not limited to faculty, administrators, and staff. In particular, we look to employees as models for this behavior. Finally, we’d like to note that these standards are constructed to prioritize readability and accessibility: We envision these standards as living, breathing practices that both reflect and guide the heart of the community at Vassar.

Even more, community care asks us to think deeply about the ways we talk with and help each other uphold these norms and standards. Curiosity, education, and empathy should be at the center of these encounters as we continue to build a community that values and protects the health of all members, including those on campus and throughout the greater Poughkeepsie area.

Depending on the continued evolution of COVID-19 and the science of it, we may need to update these norms. In some instances, this might mean that some expectations can be loosened. In other cases, this could mean that we will have to enhance the norms and standards listed below. VassarTogether will communicate updates to the community as they become available.

Individual and Community Norms

  • All community members will follow guidelines set by the Health Service regarding PPE, social distancing, and the like—recognizing that such benefit the community by keeping everyone safe.
  • All community members will assume best intent: When someone is not following safety precautions, assume first that there may be a valid reason or unintentional oversight. Offer to assist others in following the standard (ask if they need help acquiring/making a face covering, finding an optimal space for their gathering, etc.), and when reminded yourself, respond with “thank you for reminding me.”
  • If you have COVID-19 symptoms, do not come to work that day.
  • Use the Daily COVID-19 Symptoms Pre-Screen Tool prior to entry on campus.
  • Sign in to the VC Safe Zone App to support contact tracing, should it become necessary.
  • You are required to have your Vassar College ID at all times when on campus in order to access buildings.
  • Because it will be difficult to determine when you might not be able to maintain six feet of distance from someone, masks/face coverings are required at all times while in shared public spaces and while you are in transit across campus. Masks/face coverings may be removed when you are in your dorm room or office, when dining, or when you have arrived at an outdoor location where you can reasonably maintain six feet of social distance.
  • Everyone is expected to abide by the following community care rules:
    • Always maintain at least six feet between yourself and others when possible.
    • Adhere to posted room-capacity limits at all times.
    • Follow directional signage in all buildings.
    • Use hand sanitizer before and after entry through doors with knobs, restrooms, stairs, and elevators.
  • Students are required to self-attest to their health through the mobile app every Monday. Some students may be required to self-attest more regularly (athletes, VSA orgs, students living within walking distance of campus, etc.). Students are encouraged to continue to self-monitor for symptoms every morning before they begin their day.
  • Classroom spaces have been furnished to accommodate social distancing; no new furniture should be brought into classrooms.
  • Employees will have access to the academic buildings during the workday (offices, classrooms, labs, etc.). Card access in the evenings/weekends to academic buildings will be restricted to those who apply for that access because of specific needs/requirements.
  • Through September 7, 2020, small group meetings (fewer than 10) may occur outdoors with appropriate distance norms and masks; larger meetings, other than classes, must take place remotely via Zoom or another remote tool.
  • Avoid having multiple individuals in narrow halls or rooms where a six-foot distance is not possible. Please look for and respect the traffic/directional and distancing markings for entry, exit, and movement down hallways.
  • Use sanitizing wipes to clean all chairs, tables, and surfaces upon entry into a classroom or shared space. If possible, wipe again before leaving.
  • Avoid sharing office water coolers and coffee machines across offices.
  • Please leave doors open and, if possible, open windows to maximize air circulation in classrooms and other meeting spaces.
  • Use hand sanitizer before entering and upon exiting elevators. There should be no more than one person in small elevators and no more than two people in freight-sized elevators. Limit touching buttons with bare hands when possible.
  • In stairwells, use hand sanitizer prior to entry and avoid touching handrails. Use sanitizer upon exit, after opening crash bar doors.
  • Faculty and other employees should refrain from having students in their homes.
  • All buildings will be card-access only. In order to limit density in buildings, people should keep their entry into buildings on campus to a minimum. 
  • Bathrooms in academic and administrative buildings are limited to one occupant at a time. Before leaving the bathroom, please be sure to clean up any mess and wash your hands . Individuals waiting to use the restroom should stand at least six feet from the door so that others can safely exit. 
  • Remain up to date on standards. These standards will be updated and changed over time. It is expected that all community members will stay educated in order to follow all norms.

Teaching and Learning

Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center

The Lehman Loeb galleries will be open to students and accompanying faculty on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 10:00am to 5:00pm, as well as Thursday evenings from 5:00pm to 8:00pm. Accommodations may be made for occasional curricular access on Mondays and Tuesdays.

The Lehman Loeb will open to the public only on Saturdays (10:00am to 5:00pm) and Sundays (1:00pm to 5:00pm). Access will be only via Raymond Avenue and the sculpture court; admission will be limited to no more than 25 percent of full capacity, a maximum of 75 visitors at a time.