Like many educational institutions, Bethel University moved all classes online for the rest of the spring semester. The March 20 announcement came nine days after the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that COVID-19 is a pandemic.
“This coronavirus really has thrown our nation for a loop,” Bethel President Gregg Chenoweth announced in a video posted on March 20. “When have you ever seen things shut down so rapidly and of course for Bethel, we can only forecast what this means for us, sometimes daily or weekly, but now, of course, thinking ahead for a couple of months.”
Bethel’s decision to cancel face-to-face classes came from a culmination of two to three weeks of monitoring the situation. Vice President of Student Development Shawn Holtgren said he was invited to a meeting with other local universities and health institutions. The health officials included Beacon Health System, St. Joseph Health System and the South Bend Clinic.
Holtgren said the meeting took place about a week and a half before March 22. Health officials advised the education representatives on how to prepare for the COVID-19 virus.
“At that point, we began to really consider the options that were in front of us and one of those was obviously moving things online,” Holtgren said.
After listening to updates given by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local officials, Bethel took action. The institution established the Emergency Management Team (EMT) and Chenoweth appointed Holtgren as the commander. The role of the EMT is to oversee the immediate changes taking place on campus and to ensure their success.
In addition, Holtgren will continue in his leadership role in student life, oversee athletics and supervise international students and the campus activities events happening in the next few weeks.
“Believe it or not – I know we use the word campus activities – but we’re going to continue that,” Holtgren said. “And be looking at your email and different communications because we hope to continue to create ways for students to connect.”
Student Engagement Coordinator Annelotte Letens will be planning the social gatherings happening online. Details regarding upcoming events can be found on the Bethel Campus Activities Instagram and Facebook accounts.
In a March 22 interview, Holtgren said students would have to move out of their dorms by March 28. But the day after the interview, Student Life sent out an email encouraging students to leave by March 24. Bethel made the sudden change after Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb issued a state-wide Stay-At-Home Order.
International students who are unable to return home due to airport shutdowns are currently staying in Sailor Hall. Sailor Resident Directors Annie and Johnny Bennett are remaining in their posts. Bethel is still providing three meals a day for the students remaining.
All students from Semester Abroad trips overseas returned to the United States. The U.S. government recommends that anyone returning from an overseas trip be quarantined for 14 days.
Holtgren said Bethel is leaving it up to the students to decide where they want to self-quarantine. Most students chose to self-quarantine at home. Some students who lived with high-risk residents were placed in a quarantined area off-campus.
For students back at home or living off-campus somewhere, Holtgren said RDs and RAs are still meeting weekly with their hallmates virtually. Student Life drew up a two-page document of expectations for RAs and RDs to stay connected.
“What we don’t want to do is allow this virus and the separation from campus to break up community,” Holtgren said. “Our goal is to try to continue that as best as we can in the next month.”
While student life releases chapel videos via email, there are other ways students can remain spiritually connected. Holtgren said students should get connected with their local church and stay connected with friends and family.