On Friday, October 22, Southern Adventist University President Ken Shaw sent students an email stating that although the campus would retain its indoor mask mandate until further notice, senior administration had lifted restrictions on indoor and in-person events, including events with food.
However, he explained that every other row seating would be maintained for Vespers and convocation services in the Collegedale Church of Seventh-day Adventists, Lynn Wood Chapel and Thatcher Hall Chapel.
Furthermore, Shaw wrote the online enrichment credit option would be removed beginning Monday, October 25. Students received a nearly identical email from Lisa Hall, interim vice president for Student Development, on Sunday, October 24.
In an email to the Southern Accent, Hall explained that the online enrichment credit option was added last year and continued through October 25 because the university was not holding large, in-person, indoor gatherings due to COVID-19. Now, the university will hold those events again, as explained in Shaw’s and Hall’s emails to the student body.
“Our quarantine numbers have gone down, as well as the number of positive [COVID-19] cases. And with the mask mandate still in place, as well as some social distancing, we wanted to take the next step in returning to normal,” Hall wrote in her email to the Accent.
Hall said that this step will help campus return to normal and give students more opportunities to come together as a community.
Junior finance major Jordan Lemon agreed that the removal of online enrichment credits is a logical step in returning to normal.
“Before COVID, in-person attendance was required, so [the university’s decision] shouldn’t be a surprise,” Lemon said. “Also, the in-person experience at each of these events is more impactful than the online experience.”
Sophomore information technology major Esther Peden said that she agrees with the university removing online options for services like Vespers but not convocation.
“I personally prefer going to events in person,” Peden said. “… However, I don’t fully agree with taking the online option away … for convocation. The online option was incredibly convenient as I myself usually am supposed to be at work during that time, and it allows me to still get credit without having to ask for that time off.”
Other students expressed worry concerning the removal of online enrichment credits.
Junior theology major Caleb Raymond said the removal of online enrichment credits does not make sense while the mask mandate continues.
“If we don’t have the proper vaccination rates to dissolve the mask mandate, why are we forcing people to meet in person?” Raymond said.
Senior English major Elizabeth Hawthorne said she is regularly around family members with underlying health conditions that put them at high risk of getting sick from COVID-19. She explained that she does not want to take any unnecessary chances at exposing herself.
“I will gladly take probation or a fine if it means that my family is safe and not at such a risk,” Hawthorne said.
Junior film production major Jahsoulay Walton said she lives off-campus, and her family’s car and living situation often force her to walk two miles to and from campus. She said she feels unsafe walking home after Vespers.
In response, Hall said there are other events offering enrichment credits available during daytime hours.
Some students expressed concerns about seating arrangements. Junior accounting major Jake VanBeukering said he was turned away from a recital in Ackerman Auditorium on the evening of Wednesday, October 27, because there was not enough seating.
“As long as social distancing is going to be enforced at events, there should be an online option,” VanBeukering said. “Our classes do not enforce social distancing, and they still offer class recordings for those who are unable to attend. Why are required extracurricular events not following the same system?”
When asked about potential overflow issues, Joseph Khabbaz, vice president for Spiritual Life and chaplain, said the Office of Ministry and Mission’s plan is to accommodate every student who wishes to attend worship services.
“Although seating is limited, there will be adequate space based on student attendance numbers for October pre-pandemic,” Khabbaz wrote in an email to the Accent. “We see having more students than seating capacity as a wonderful ‘problem’ and will make the necessary adjustments needed should attendance drastically increase.”
Khabbaz said that as of right now, the university will continue to hold one Vespers service at 7:30 p.m. each Friday in the Collegedale Church of Seventh-day Adventists. When asked what would happen if quarantine and isolation numbers rose significantly, Hall said the university would “evaluate the options to determine what would best meet the needs of campus and go from there.”
She added that the university would not be opposed to using last year’s worship tent if it seemed like the best option.
Some students agree with the university’s decision to remove online enrichment credits because they have noticed that few students actually listen to services when joining online.
Sophomore business administration major Carlos Romero said he has noticed that the primary reason students wanted to use the online option was to take advantage of it by joining services online and not paying attention.
“I think it’s good on the school’s end just to uphold their standards for students to attentively listen,” Romero said.
Freshman business administration major Lilly Nunnaley said she attended a convocation a few weeks ago that featured a very good guest speaker; however, few students were there in person. She said the low in-person attendance could have been very discouraging for the speaker and those who arranged for him to come to Southern.
“I think it’s important for people to go in person to support the speakers and make it worth their time because I know that when people watch online, most people aren’t listening,” Nunnaley said. “… But Southern needs to be more understanding of those people who have other commitments, especially if they’re campus-related jobs or events.”According to Teri Reutebuch, administrative assistant for Student Development, students can apply for reductions in their required amount of enrichment credits if they meet the criteria listed on the enrichment credit webpage.