In the Suburbs: Cautious optimism as a new Fairfield University semester begins

In my work as an associate at the Fairfield University Bookstore, I have been very fortunate to have access to our boss, Jim Fitzpatrick, who has played an integral role in navigating the university and its students through the initial phases of this COVID-19 pandemic from March 2020.

Now, as we enter the second year of our so-called “new normal,” I wanted to get Jim’s perspective about how things are looking on campus. He is the assistant vice president for auxiliary services at Fairfield University.

As always, he was honest and gracious as he offered his candid perspective about the coming semester. While he said he was cautiously optimistic, I certainly detected his level of concern.

“We’re in a horrendous situation right now, but there is definitely reason to be cautiously optimistic,” Jim told me. “And the cooperation among faculty and students here at Fairfield University is like nothing I have seen in my five decades at this university.”

As this column goes to press, two waves of 1,500 students each have moved back into dormitories and town houses. We saw many of those students over the past two weekends as they came in to pick up textbooks and online orders for textbooks.

According to Jim Fitzpatrick, “Before students even returned to campus, they received test kits at home and those tests had to be completed and verified before students were allowed to move in. During move in days, all students were tested again by our staff, which included some of our nursing students. I cannot say enough about how great the students were about this testing and retesting process. So far, it could not have gone any more smoothly.”

Commuting students will all be tested on campus next week before classes begin.

“Of course, all faculty, students and support people are required to wear masks.” he said. “We have followed this requirement since the beginning of this pandemic last March. In addition, no one other than our students and faculty is allowed on campus at this time.

“All meals will be ‘grab and go’ for now and I am not certain when or whether that practice will change back to any kind of a dining-in policy. That will depend on how this initial return to campus goes and whether we see any positive tests going forward.”

When I asked Jim about when in-class learning will resume, he again chose his words wisely.

“Right now,” he said, “we are planning to resume classes with proper distancing on Feb. 10. As far as I’m concerned, there is nothing as great as the in-class experience.

“While each of our professors had to adapt to the total move to remote learning this past year, I have seen some incredible creativity in teaching techniques and, in particular, in their level of enthusiasm toward students and classes. Here at Fairfield University we are spoiled in the quality of our professors. And our educators have gradually accepted that this kind of learning requires both faculty and students to be consistently prepared.”

More than the policies and procedures that will be dictating the behavior of Fairfield University students in the coming semester, Jim touched on probably his most important goal — for students, faculty and everyone “to slow down and appreciate each other more.”

“This pandemic has forced us to be more isolated than we ever imagined,” he said. “We’ve lost the contact with family and friends and here at the university our forced remote education has resulted in the loss of day-to-day contact with friends and classmates and especially with professors.

“My hope is that as things improve with this illness, we’ll gradually become less isolated and more optimistic about the future. After all, we’re only a few months from graduation. With these new practices the semester will probably go much more smoothly for our Fairfield University family.”

Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at stevengaynes44@gmail.com.