After months of planning and adapting to COVID-19 safety measures, Taylor University is marking the end of this remarkable semester next week. By God’s grace, Taylor was still able to remain “Taylor,” despite changes necessitated by the pandemic.
We thought it was worth a look back on the last few months as we praise God for this semester on campus.
With God’s Help, We’ll Do Whatever it Takes
Interim President Paige Comstock Cunningham set the tone at the first chapel service on August 21, when she laid out the plan for ensuring that Taylor classes would continue to meet on campus. She addressed a student body spread out across the football field, bleachers, baseball diamond, and surrounding areas, just like several days earlier at the outdoor all-campus communion service.
“This is the kind of race we must run together,” she told the students, sporting a purple Trojans jersey and perched high on the bleachers in Jim Wheeler stadium. “Either we all make it to the finish line, or none of us do. With God's help, we will do whatever it takes.”
By then, Taylor leaders and the Board of Trustees had spent hundreds of hours compiling the “Taylor, Together Again” reopening plan, guided by local health officials and Indiana state mandates. Cunningham shared with students that the Board had spent the previous two weeks praying and fasting for the Taylor community. Students had been given detailed instructions of how to interact with each other in class, chapel, residence halls, dining facilities, and outside. Classrooms and labs had been rearranged and plexiglass barriers were installed across campus.
“Our three main mandates to the student body at the beginning were to wear masks, stay socially distant from anyone who didn’t live on their wing or floor, and avoid going off campus unnecessarily,” said Cunningham. “And by God’s grace, we were able to keep our campus open.”
As of Friday, November 20, 93 students and 22 employees or on-campus service providers have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since August 16. Although these numbers are higher than what Taylor officials would have liked to see, infections on campus were able to be managed and did not necessitate shutting down campus and returning to virtual learning.
Community From Six Feet Apart
Creativity became the name of the game as everyone worked hard to figure out what Taylor’s unique community culture would look like in this pandemic. Throughout the semester, classes continued as usual, although some did adopt a hybrid in-person/virtual model. Chapel maintained its Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule, with rotating groups divided by residence hall alternating attending chapel in Rediger Auditorium, Odle Gymnasium, or watching online.
“My faculty colleagues are some of the most creative and intelligent people I have ever met,” shared Dr. Nancy Dayton, professor of English. “I am hearing of wonderful things happening in different classes—creative assignments and collaboration. People have shown care for one another on campus, despite all of the barriers to social interaction. Students, staff, and faculty all went out of their way to help each other.”
Junior Carter Losey, a double major in Marketing/Systems and Management/Systems, struggled with the mask mandate at times, especially in classes. However, he stayed focused on the goal of keeping campus open.“No one wants to go home and spend months there. We want to be with our friends working towards our goals and graduation!” he said.
Not only that, but he noticed that the majority of students and faculty intentionally made the best of a difficult situation. “Taylor professors are usually really good about understanding situations and working with students, but I have found that especially during this semester, they have been even more understanding and flexible with their teaching,” he said. “I feel that more than ever, professors are simply wanting students to thrive, and not just survive.”
Thanks to the unusually pleasant weather that Indiana was fortunate to have this fall, many events were able to be held outdoors. Taylor’s abundant green space played host to the Theatre program’s performances of Godspell in September.
In October, the Chorale, Gospel Choir, and others presented “I Gotta Sound,” a collection of Black music and stories, near the statues of Samuel Morris. Some professors even moved their classes outside at times. Outdoor meetings and gatherings became a common sight.
Life in residence halls was definitely different, with strict no-visitors rules and big changes to events. But Jessie Woodring, Olson Hall director, said she was inspired by the ways students rose to the challenge to create a new normal.
“We are creative people who are living out the image of our creative God. I feel deeply proud of the ways that my PAs [personal assistants, similar to RA] have reimagined traditional events, when people in our community wear masks out of respect for one another, and when I see the dining services functioning fluidly in its new patterns. I’m seeing the creativity and adaptability of our community reflect the character of Christ to each other in new ways,” she said.
Taylor plans to reopen campus on schedule on January 3, 2021, for the January term, where students generally take a single class for the whole month. The spring semester, which starts February 1, will have two long weekends, rather than a week-long spring break. The semester will end one week earlier than originally planned, with commencement on May 15.
As with other plans during the last eight months, it’s possible that schedules may change based on how the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect our lives. But there's no question that the Taylor community will embrace whatever challenges lie ahead.
“Almost everyone would say that the best part about Taylor is the people,” said Woodring. “Even in the face of all the changes and differences, Taylor has continued to build into and fight for what it knows is the most important part of this experience—the relationships that are built here.”
At that first chapel of the year, Cunningham quoted Hebrews 12:2: “Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.”
“The entire Taylor community is praising God for bringing us safely this far,” said Cunningham. “The race isn’t over yet, but He is guiding us every step of the way.”