Park University aims to return to a normalish student life this fall

The dorms at Park University are back to operating at full capacity. During the last school year, there was only one resident per room, as a rule. This year, it is back to two residents per room in most cases.

While the guidelines may seem more relaxed, there are still protocols and rules students and residents must follow. In some ways, things feel more normal but there are still questions and concerns about the current situation as well as future changes that may come.

One precaution fall for residents was that before moving on campus all students, whether fully vaccinated or not, were required to take a COVID-19 test free of charge at the McCoy Meetin’ House. This semester, as opposed to the 2020-21 school year, COVID testing is done once every semester. Residents can request additional testing if they have health concerns or believe they have COVID.

“If they do have health concerns that they express, they can go through student life… based on the protocol of potential exposure, they would be tested,” said Tonya Wessel, director of residence life. “So much of that is situational depending on if they have symptoms or if they (are) vaccinated. Student life would work through the details to figure out the testing times.”

At the beginning of each semester, testing is made possible through a partnership with North Kansas City Hospital. A rapid nose swab is conducted, and it takes about 20 minutes to get results. If it’s an individual student on campus who needs to be tested for COVID, Park University has designated professors, such as nursing professors, that are certified to conduct COVID testing.

In cases of possible exposure or a positive COVID test, Park University has put in place a quarantine protocol. Park University follows the CDC guidelines for quarantine and isolation. If a resident, student or employee is exposed and are not vaccinated, they do have to go into quarantine for seven days or until they get a negative test result. If they have been exposed and are vaccinated, they do not have to go into quarantine; their only requirement is to wear a mask until they test negative.

If a resident has tested positive for COVID, they will have to self-isolate. If the resident is an out-of-state student, international student or is unable to isolate at home, Park has 12 rooms at Chesnut Hall designated for quarantine.

Park University is a private institution, meaning it could require a vaccine mandate for students to live in the dorms. Currently, vaccination status does not affect on-campus student housing.

“I don’t think it is desired to have a vaccine mandate,” said Jayme Uden, Ed.D., associate vice president and dean of students. “Under the current situation, I don’t think we’ll have one. I can’t say we won’t.”

University President Shane Smeed has significant authority over whether a vaccine mandate is put in place. But there are other factors, such as external mandates from agencies or the government. The Biden administration proposed a new federal safety regulation that will soon require any federal agency and businesses with more than 100 employees to have a vaccine mandate.

“If the vaccine mandate is something that comes down and we have to abide by it, then the University would respond and do that,” Uden said. “I don’t know if that would ever happen.”

Although vaccinations are not a requirement to be on campus or live on campus, Park has partnered with North Kansas City Hospital to provide the Pfizer vaccine to students, faculty and staff on its Parkville campus. Throughout this semester Park University has conducted vaccination clinics at the McCoy Meetin’ House. Students are encouraged to sign up for the clinics, and the university offered prize drawings for every 15 students that signed up for the clinic. Prizes included iPad minis, Google Chromebooks and Apple AirPods Pro.

The university has tried to provide normalcy on campus by organizing more student activities. It has also worked to provide a safe environment by sanitizing, cleaning and misting high traffic areas, as well as implementing social distancing and mask practices indoors.

Despite that, some students believe that more could be done to relieve the anxiety that comes with living on campus amid the pandemic.

“Last year I felt like things were better. We had separate rooms. Fewer people. And testing available. This year more people and more people are interacting,” said Taylor Shelby, a senior exercise science major and Copley-Quad resident. “This year I feel like it’s not a priority. Things I wish Park would do is have testing weekly for students in the dorms. It would make me feel more at ease living here.”