Fall Reopening Planning Update: Message for Students and Families

June 23, 2020

Dear Students and Families,

I hope this finds you well. We have missed seeing you on campus and look forward this fall to welcoming you as a new student or your return as a continuing student. With summer now underway, I want to update you on our planning for resuming in-person classes and operations, the health and safety commitments guiding our decisions and the shared responsibility we have in adapting to the temporary changes that will be in place during the fall term.

These are unprecedented and challenging times as together we move through both a global pandemic and a defining moment for racial justice and equality. For a Jesuit institution such as ours, we are called in a particular way to respond with concrete actions to help dismantle unjust structures, end institutionalized racism and bring about systemic change. Our work to live out our mission and actively engage on the central issues of the day has never been more critical.

We have been carefully planning and preparing for reopening over the past few months. There are complex issues involved in our decision-making during this time of increased risk and uncertainty. The health and safety of our campus community has been and continues to be our top priority across all planning areas.

Seattle University’s current planning is based on the reasonable assumption that Seattle and King County will be in Phase 3 of the state of Washington’s Safe Start reopening plan prior to your arrival. The state approach is driven by data and science and modeled on recommendations of public health officials. Our decisions are being made in alignment with the state’s plan, consistent with federal, state and local public health directives and within the parameters of the higher education guidelines developed in partnership with by state officials. Additionally, all university plans are being reviewed by a highly respected team of physicians, including a board-certified infectious disease specialist, to ensure appropriate safety measures and protocols are in place.

It is important that we all take seriously the ongoing risk and threat of COVID-19. We must do our part as a university community to help effectively manage and contain its spread by closely adhering to public health guidelines, especially physical distancing, the wearing of face coverings and staying home if sick or symptomatic. Caring for one another, attending to the unique needs and risks of individual members of our campus community and reducing the disparate impacts the virus has on underserved communities, communities of color and the marginalized is a shared responsibility that goes to the heart of our values.

Two essential components of our planning are the need to integrate flexibility across all aspects and the need to maintain readiness for a quick return to an all-virtual environment should it be necessary. Faculty demonstrated that we can do the latter quite effectively based on the high levels of satisfaction students expressed in their end-of-year survey. Regardless of the mode, care for the individual student and excellence in teaching are hallmarks of our Jesuit education. The flexibility we are building into our plans is for both university operations and supporting the needs of individual community members in making decisions based on their unique health and safety needs.

As part of our plan is to frequently update you over the course of the summer, we will host virtual reopening forums for specific audiences, including parents, beginning in July. Dates and times will be shared soon. The forums will be an opportunity to share the latest information on our plans and answer the questions we know you are anxious to have answered as decisions and plans are finalized. Additionally, our reopening planning will be incorporated into our COVID-19 response website by the end of the month and updated over the course of the summer with more information, details and frequently asked questions.

What follows below is an overview of our planning at this time.

Health and Safety Practices

Physical distancing

Prevention remains the best defense against the spread of COVID-19 with physical distancing of at least six feet between you and others being a primary component. Physical distancing policies and practices will be in place across campus. Classrooms, offices, dining areas and event and gathering spaces are being reconfigured to implement capacity limits and enforce distancing.

Hand hygiene

Thorough handwashing remains a primary method to prevent the spread of illness. Soap and water remain the best method to clean hands. We will also make hand sanitizer more widely available throughout campus, including additional hand sanitizing stations.

Face coverings

Students, faculty and staff will be required to wear face coverings when indoors and when unable to maintain physical distance of six feet from others outdoors. A process for requesting an exemption will be available for those individuals who may be unable to wear face coverings. The face covering is not a substitute for physical distancing and frequent handwashing.

Daily self-screening and symptom monitoring

Each day before coming on to campus, students, faculty and staff will be required to complete the university’s short online health screening to certify you are not symptomatic, have no fever and have not had contact with any individual who has tested positive for COVID-19. You will be expected to stay home if you are unable to answer in the affirmative to these questions.

In addition to completing the university’s daily health screening, students, faculty and staff must continuously monitor for symptoms of illness throughout the day and take appropriate steps to isolate yourself from others should you become symptomatic.

COVID-19 testing and contact tracing

A comprehensive testing plan is being developed with an emphasis on quick access to testing. More details will be shared when it is ready. 

Contact tracing and case investigation are very important tools in limiting the spread of COVID-19. Students, faculty and staff will be required to report to Campus Public Safety if they develop symptoms consistent with COVID-19, have tested positive or have had close contact to a confirmed case or travel from an area with a travel warning.

Isolation and quarantine

Faculty and staff who are symptomatic or meet criteria for contact with someone who has COVID-19 should stay home while awaiting testing and results. Additional rooms have been identified and set aside for students unable to isolate or quarantine in their residence hall. For students in isolation or quarantine on campus, the university will have a monitoring plan in place to evaluate students daily, in addition to providing them with ongoing support services as needed.

Enhanced cleaning and disinfecting

Enhanced cleaning and disinfection protocols will continue to be in place for all campus spaces, as well as response procedures for cleaning and disinfection in case of a positive COVID-19 event. The protocols include frequent cleaning and disinfecting of high touch surfaces and common spaces.

Ventilation modifications

Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems in our campus buildings are being modified where possible to align with guidance from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) developed specific to COVID-19. 


New signage is being designed for campus to inform the community regarding guidelines and practices as they enter the campus, buildings and individual spaces. Signs will also be used to indicate physical distancing where appropriate. Classrooms will have floor indicators to show the proper furniture placement for physical distancing. In addition, signage will be used to indicate “traffic” flow into and inside buildings to minimize congestion.

Academic and Student Life Policies


Our goal is to maximize in-person instruction and experiences to the extent safely possible through a combination of in-person, blended/hybrid (mix of in-person and virtual) and virtual courses. As previously announced in my May 27 update, the fall quarter will begin earlier than usual on Wednesday, September 9 and end on Tuesday, November 24. The School of Law, which is on a semester system, will start as scheduled on August 24 and in-person instruction will end November 25, with online exams beginning in December.

Classroom capacities are being reduced to comply with physical distancing requirements. In some instances, plexiglass shields may need to be installed on podiums. We are installing plexiglass screens at open/front desk areas in academic support services.

The instructional working group is addressing a number of complicated issues as they finalize plans. We expect those plans will be ready soon to share with campus. Faculty will also receive a report specific to their needs in the near future. Some key considerations for determining specific course delivery modes include:

  • Maximizing choice and autonomy for faculty and students to honor and align with our aspirations around equity and inclusion at this difficult moment of public health and social crisis.
  • Accommodating faculty members who fall into high-risk categories, or have household members who do, to teach their courses virtually.
  • Accommodating students who have a need to access their education virtually (e.g., health risk, international student temporarily unable to travel to campus).
  • Strategically identifying courses for in-person instruction across colleges and schools, while factoring in limits on space in a physical distancing environment.
  • Prioritizing labs and clinical and experiential courses that require in-person instruction.
  • Clarifying expectations and requirements for off-campus internship and service-learning sites. 

Housing and Residence Life

The university’s residence halls will be open for single and double occupancy with an assigned bed capacity of 1,732 students (about 90 percent normal capacity). Residents will be assigned specific day/time appointments for check-in/move-in activities to better insure a safe, timely and controlled process. The move-in period will occur from August 31 to September 4 and, if necessary, extended forward a few days. The number of persons assisting a student to move in will be two adults plus the student.

Residence hall floor lounges, study rooms, computer labs and game/TV rooms will be closed until Phase 4 status is achieved. Service desks will be retrofitted to create physical distancing between workers and students (i.e., plexiglass barriers, signage).

The Yobi Apartments, which includes 45 beds in single occupancy rooms, will be set aside for isolation and quarantine cases.

Dining Services

We are working with Redhawk Dining to provide a safe environment for students to eat on campus. There will be a significant emphasis on physical distancing and cleaning protocols. Capacity in dining areas will be limited and measures will be in place to control the flow of students in and out of dining areas. Many of the same features and offerings students have come to expect will still be available, although health guidelines will result in minimal made-to-order or self-serve meals. Grab-and-go options are being significantly expanded to help ensure plenty of variety on a daily basis.

Other student life policies

A few additional updates:

  • University Recreation is planning to reopen facilities, programs and services based on Phase 3 guidelines and consistent with physical distancing, cleaning and other safety protocols.
  • We plan to employ as many student workers as possible on campus or remotely while maintaining a safe and healthy workplace consistent with public health guidelines and the university’s Return to the Campus Workplace plan.
  • The International Student Center intends to apply for and expects to be granted an extension for international students who have a need to access their education virtually until they are able to attend in person.
  • We plan to host student-led and student-focused events on campus consistent with the state’s Phase 3 guidelines that allow gatherings of up to 50 people, with capacity limits and distancing requirements. Students can reasonably expect a balance of both in-person and virtual events and meetings in accordance with institutional expectations and external directives and guidelines.
  • Students will receive more detailed information in the coming weeks from the Division of Student Development on the full range of student life, care and engagement issues.


The NCAA and Western Athletic Conference continue to plan for the resumption of sports this fall. A phased return to campus for conditioning and training activities will begin with basketball, soccer, volleyball and cross country student-athletes prior to the start of the fall term. Either Phase 2 or Phase 3 guidance will be applied as those sports begin activity depending on King County’s status. All athletic-related activities, including conditioning, training and home competition, will be conducted in coordination with state, local and university guidelines. COVID-19 surveillance and testing protocols for student-athletes will be in place as and where needed.

While campus will look and feel different in this temporary environment from what you have come to expect or have anticipated, we are very excited to welcome you this fall as you begin or continue your Seattle University education. As we move forward together, I remain grateful for and inspired by the many ways our university community is supporting one another and others during this time of challenge, uncertainty and difficulty. We will keep you informed as our plans progress. Please know that you have my continued prayers and well wishes.


Stephen V. Sundborg, S.J.