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HBCU Cheyney University Is Sticking to Its COVID Plan

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University president Aaron A. Walton weighs in on how the institution is keeping its students, faculty and staff safe.

By Aaron A. Walton

As educators, elected officials, parents and students prepare to reopen our schools, COVID-19 is still hanging over our heads. Like every other institution around the country, Cheyney University of Pennsylvania remains focused on keeping its students, faculty and staff safe at all times.

This past spring, virtually every university across the nation switched to remote instruction, closing their campuses and requiring all but a small number of students to vacate their dormitories. Our administration took a different approach: We gave our residential students the choice to remain on campus or return home for the rest of the spring semester. We felt it was important for us to provide our students—especially those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds—with access to the resources necessary to continue their education.

Compared to other regional universities, we have a smaller student and staff population. It’s allowed us to manage and mitigate health-and-safety risks. Since March, we’ve been screening for COVID-19 infection, distributing and requiring personal protective equipment, and practicing social distancing. We’ve also modified campus services and provided additional sanitization in high-use areas. This summer, we were able to move forward with our five-week residential program designed to assist participants in making the transition from high school to college.

The primary objective over the last five months has been to support our students. But we’ve also gained first-hand experience in creating a safe campus environment in the midst of a pandemic. As a result, Cheyney University hasn’t had a single coronavirus case on campus so far.

Meanwhile, enrollment continues to increase. This fall, we’re welcoming our largest group of new students since 2013, and our on-campus corporate partnerships continue to thrive.

In addition to the COVID-19 crisis, we’ve faced a series of tragic events in this country. The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery were unconscionable and unnecessary. Many of us realize that this can and should be the moment to move America forward into an era of social and economic justice, equity and stability. As a nation, we can—and we must—do better.

We’ve called on our students to focus their energy on bringing constructive change to our society, asking them to use technology and resources as a means to adapt, overcome inequities and change our communities for the better. However they choose to make their voices heard, we want our students to stay safe at all times.

As the first historically Black university in our nation, Cheyney has always stood against racial injustice. America’s HBCUs are in a unique position to be at the forefront of this effort. Our institutions exist because there was a time when universities didn’t accept African Americans into the ranks of their student populations—so we created our own. Now more than ever, our vision and our voices must be heard.

Aaron A. Walton is president of Cheyney University of Pennsylvania.

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