President Mantella's message to faculty and staff (Fall 2020)

Thuesday, October 1

GVSU COVID Update

Dear Campus Community,
 
The number of positive test results of COVID-19 in our community has shown a steady decline for the last two weeks. This encouraging trend comes as the “Staying in Place” order issued by the Ottawa County Department of Public Health (OCDPH) is scheduled to expire at 11:59 p.m. tonight, October 1. To continue this trend, we have worked with OCDPH to seamlessly move from this order to a new “Staying Safe” order, which lightens county regulations on our students living and studying in Allendale Township.
 
Our students’ adherence to the public health advice and regulations is to be commended and recognized as we move into this new phase of keeping our campus safe. The new “Staying Safe” order acknowledges our progress and allows for some flexibility on campus.
 
Staying Safe Order
 
Beginning October 2, 2020 and continuing through October 16, 2020:

  • Up to four guests may visit student living units and residences, while observing strict preventive measures, including social distancing and wearing face coverings. Students living in on-campus housing also must abide by the Housing and Residence Life Guest Policy and Community Living Standards.
  • For all indoor common areas on the Allendale Campus, students may not gather in groups greater than four people. This does not include classes or university-organized academic activities.
  • All outdoor gatherings should not exceed 10 people. All should have face coverings except when eating or drinking. This 10-person-limit does not include gatherings organized by the university.
  • Face coverings continue to be required indoors and outdoors. Students who are alone outside may choose not to wear a face covering, but should be prepared to immediately use it when encountering another person.

The full order can be found here. Your cooperation on testing and contact tracing, along with following the requirements of the order, is critical in our goal to mitigate the spread of this very contagious virus.
 
The university has support systems in place to help students with a variety of circumstances, including technology, food, and mental health issues. Resources for employees are available through Human Resources on the Benefits and Wellness site. The university’s Call Center is available at (616) 331-INFO (4636). Personal health-related questions can be directed to the GVSU/Spectrum Health 24-hour call center at (833) 734-0020. You can also direct questions to virusactionteam@gvsu.edu.
 
I remain grateful for the way our community has committed to a journey that might be difficult, but is definitely worth it. Thank you for showing how Lakers join together in challenging times.
 
Sincerely,
Philomena V. Mantella

Allendale Campus in the Fall


Virtual town hall

Friday, September 25

Update to racial Zoom incident

Dear Campus Community,
 
I want to share with you that thanks to the great work by the Grand Valley Police Department and our IT department, it has been determined the reprehensible racial incident reported during a Zoom meeting of our Black Male Scholars group last night did not come from people within our university community. That fact in no way diminishes our resolve to fight racism at every turn. The values of Grand Valley State University call us to be a model of an inclusive and affirming community.
 
The seriousness of this incident, which included racist language and images, prompted our IT department to immediately and successfully be able to turn over suspect leads to GVPD, and the investigators are pursuing this as a criminal case. We are following up with those who attended the meeting to offer any support we can as a community.

During the evening, it was reported that three other GVSU student groups also experienced “Zoom bombings.” These disturbing events are also being investigated. Vice President for IT Milos Topic is already working on additional protocols and training to improve security.  

We will not tolerate any behavior of this nature. We are committed to each member of our community and their well-being. If people need additional support, please contact inclusion@gvsu.edu

Sincerely,
Philomena V. Mantella, President  


Thursday, September 24

Racist Acts within our Community

Dear Campus Community,
 
I write you tonight with a heavy heart. We have an amazing group called the “Black Male Scholars.” At the group’s kick-off meeting on Zoom, our peace was shattered when someone interfered with the meeting with racist language and images. It was both shocking and deplorable, and this will not be allowed to stand in the Grand Valley community. I assure everyone involved that this behavior is condemned, and a full investigation by the Grand Valley Police Department and our IT department is already underway.
 
Anyone with any information about this event, should call GVPD at (616) 331-3255 or contact Ottawa County Silent Observer, http://www.mosotips.com/.
 
I want to express my profound sorrow to the students and employees who witnessed these reprehensible acts. We must condemn hate and bigotry and end ignorant behaviors that impact our underrepresented communities in disproportionate ways. This is a time for us to come together and care for one another.
 
Sincerely,
Philomena V. Mantella, President

Mother and daughter hug during move-in


Cook Carillon Tower, Pew Campus

Wednesday, September 23

Update on Racial Equity Commitment

Dear Grand Valley Community,

I want to update you on our action plan and progress toward racial equity. You will recall that in June I announced a framework for action and a Network of Advisors to guide our commitment to racial equity and social justice, following the killing of George Floyd. I make this update today, acknowledging the weight that so many of us carry, in particular our Black students, faculty and staff as the decisions are released by a Kentucky grand jury on charges for the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor.

I am grateful to and excited by the progress of the Network of 36 faculty, staff, students, and alumni which has been building our 15-point plan for racial equity. They have been working continuously since June having defined five strategic pillars that serve as waypoints guiding us on efforts:

  • We must elevate the voices and experiences of our Black faculty, staff, and students.

  • We must listen carefully, valuing each member of our community.

  • We must fulfill our goals for inclusion and equity.

  • We must all deepen our understanding and knowledge through education.

  • We must then use this knowledge as the basis for understanding and addressing institutional and systemic racism and oppression to make meaningful change.

A list of network members, our 15-point plan, and updates on each of the charges are posted at www.gvsu.edu/inclusion/action. It’s important to also emphasize that this work joins the long history of efforts at Grand Valley to create an environment where barriers are eliminated, all members of our community can be their full authentic selves, and everyone is provided the support and care needed to thrive. Come back often to the website for regular updates as progress continues and as new efforts emerge that advance equity and inclusion for all members of our community.

Caring for our community is especially important during this time. I ask each of you to consider how to peacefully add your voice to the call for social justice and to model the care we seek for all. I ask each of you to look for opportunities to empower our plan of action and engage with our Network colleagues to fuel and enrich the plan. I ask each of you to care for yourselves. The  University Counseling Center offers students support virtually or face to face. The Encompass Employee Assistance Program provides a number of resources for employees. Any member of the Grand Valley family who needs support or information on resources can also contact the Division of Inclusion and Equity at inclusion@gvsu.edu.

We will continue to learn, lead, and, most importantly, act, as we know more than words are expected of us.

With gratitude and hope,

Philomena V. Mantella
President


Wednesday, September 16

COVID Update

To the Campus Community:
 
The nation continues to grapple with the complication of the COVID-19 pandemic. Positive diagnoses across the country, in Michigan, and at Grand Valley State University continue to increase. When GVSU made plans for the resumption of campus learning and residency, I said we would make adjustments to ensure the continued health and safety of our Laker community. That time has come, and I ask for your understanding and support.
 
Today, the Ottawa County Department of Public Health (OCDPH), in cooperation with the university, will issue a ‘Staying in Place’ order impacting GVSU students living and studying in Allendale Township. It is important to note, students are expected to attend in-person classes on their schedules, campus operations will continue, and offices will be open. The order directs students in Allendale Township to remain in their on-campus or off-campus housing except to attend class, utilize food services, obtain groceries or medicine and medical care, for worship and religious practices, intercollegiate medically supervised athletic practices, or for employment. 
 
This order – which is issued under the law and is enforceable – begins tomorrow, September 17, and lasts until October 1. You can view the order here.
 
In addition, we must all understand and accept the highly contagious nature of the virus. Strict adherence to preventive measures is required, so take careful note of the new requirements for face coverings to be worn outdoors, distancing, and contract tracing. Fully disclosing contacts is strictly for the purpose of keeping our community healthy. Please comply to keep friends and colleagues out of harm’s way.
 
I know you will have questions about how the order affects you, your academic journey, and daily life. We have additional FAQs related to the order on the Lakers Together website, so please check it regularly for the latest information.  
 
The university’s Virus Action Team has recommended to the university’s senior leadership that a step to Alert Level 3 is warranted, and I concur. This means extra vigilance is required of us all. Face coverings, social distancing, good hygiene, avoidance of crowds, and until October 1, remaining in your residence except under the circumstances identified in the order. Your adherence to the order will help us reduce the positive diagnoses, especially in off-campus housing areas, and make sure the order is lifted in 14 days.
 
The university has support systems in place to help students with a variety of circumstances, including technology, food, and mental health issues. Resources for employees are available through Human Resources on the Benefits and Wellness site. The university’s Call Center is available at (616) 331-INFO (4636). Personal health-related questions can be directed to the GVSU/Spectrum 24-hour call center at (833) 734-0020. You can also direct questions to virusactionteam@gvsu.edu.
 
I want to thank everyone who has been following the guidelines and doing their best to stay healthy and prevent others from becoming exposed. This is a journey of a thousand steps. Walking together – but separately – will serve the common good.  Please keep doing your part. 
 
Sincerely,
 
Philomena V. Mantella, President

Kevin Ricco, director of the MI Hub addresses a crowd outdoors while wearing a mask


Allendale Campus at sunrise

Friday, August 28

Statement from President Mantella: The Road to Justice is Ahead

Dear Grand Valley Community,

As many work to safely return to campus, we must also be mindful of the social unrest that continues to impact our nation as it grapples with a painful history of systemic racism and oppression. The shooting of Jacob Blake and continued demonstrations in Wisconsin and across the country in reaction are reminders of how much work we have ahead of us. It reminds us to stay true to the commitments we made in June to learn, understand, act, and lead as partners in action against racism. The progress we have made is encouraging, but our work must continue vigorously as much of the road to justice is ahead.

While we must press forward with urgency, we know the anxiety and emotions of many are heightened. In particular, we acknowledge the continued hurt and fear felt by many of our Black community members.The well-being of each of you and all in our community is our top priority. The University Counseling Center offers support for students experiencing overwhelming emotions following a tragic event, and the Encompass Employee Assistance Program provides a number of resources for employees. Any member of the Grand Valley family who needs support or information on resources can also contact the Division of Inclusion and Equity at inclusion@gvsu.edu.

We must continue to work peacefully and vigilantly against bigotry and oppression in all of its forms. As Lakers, we must exercise great care of each other against both the virus of COVID and racism.  

Sincerely,

Philomena V. Mantella
President


Friday, August 21

Lakers Together Weekly Update

 

Dear Grand Valley Community,

Move-in for our students living on campus begins Sunday. All our preparations for the Fall semester have brought us to this moment – a moment that is full of excitement for students and their families. This week’s Lakers Together update is a reminder about critical information for the campus move-in process, which is different this year. President Mantella and Director of Housing and Residence Life Kyle Boone focus on key points for students to think about as they come back onto campus.


President Mantella works in her office while wearing a face mask

Thursday, August 20

Important Information from President Mantella

Dear Colleagues,
 
Please accept my thanks for all you have done to get the university and campus ready for the start of this unprecedented Fall semester. I am grateful for your dedication to our students and our mission. Each day, the Senior Leadership and the Virus Action teams work to keep our community safe by examining the conditions in the state and region with our local county health authorities, state officials and Spectrum Health. Spectrum Health leaders continue to express confidence in our operating plans. Provost Cimitile, Vice President Sanial, and I are in regular contact with faculty governance, the AP Committee and representatives from the bargaining units. In addition, we can now add the experiences at other institutions that have resumed operations as well as those that suspended or decreased their face-to-face activity. We have listened carefully to our community and although there is no guaranteed way to approach the challenges we face, we have and will continue to adjust our operations as necessary. 
 
As of today, working together, campus density this fall is significantly reduced. Based on student interest and demand, nearly 90 percent of courses are fully online or hybrid, students living on campus have been reduced by nearly a quarter compared to last fall and living centers have fully shifted to small living groups or singles. Co-curricular and other campus activities will be mostly virtual. While ensuring continuation of a high level of service and student-centered support, our workforce is either fully remote or using rotation and limited staffing schedules. Only essential visitors, vendors and contractors are allowed on campus. We have also instituted prevention and containment structures physically, through policy and modes of instruction. With all of these measures, campus overall density has been reduced by at least 50 percent.
 
I am announcing the following additional adjustments as we make every effort to keep our community safe:
 
Student Responsibility and Accountability 
It will take all of us caring for each other and following the guidance to keep our campus safe. Being on our campus is a privilege that comes with compliance with all public health guidelines. I have sent a letter to students and their parents and other supporters further underscoring their responsibility in keeping all of us safe. I will ask the students to join with me in pledging their commitment to the health and safety of Grand Valley and we will hold them accountable to that promise. Committing to being a Laker means more now than ever before. The Student Code has been updated to include language specific to the health and safety of our community, with specific measures regarding off-campus events and activities. Just like faculty and staff members, students are required to wear face coverings, practice social distancing, and fill out the health assessment every day. Student Affairs has been and will continue to maintain regular communication with off-campus landlords to inform them of our protocols and policies and seek their assistance in restricting group and social gatherings. We will add peer community ambassadors to encourage compliance at off-campus activities. The success of our in-person Fall semester is dependent on shared responsibility and compliance with the university’s health and safety rules.
 
Calendar Adjustments 
The Provost, in consultation with the Deans and the Chair of the Faculty Senate, has determined that we will cancel fall break. Classes will instead continue during fall break (October 26 and 27). In addition, we will ask that after Thanksgiving break, any class that can be delivered remotely do so. The reason for this is to minimize student travel. We realize that some classes will need to continue with face-to-face delivery after Thanksgiving break because of experiential learning activities. Our housing staff will be prepared to help students move off-campus at this time. Final examinations will be conducted remotely.
 
Flexibility 
Students are aware that remote learning, in-person classes, and hybrid models are available, and those who have all remote classes need not come to campus. Students currently in our housing who decide to go fully remote and leave our housing can do so without financial penalty. Faculty and staff who have concerns about face-to-face engagement are encouraged to speak with their unit head, dean, supervisor or appointing officer to discuss options. We are fully committed to working with you.
 
I know that people are concerned and I understand the apprehension we are all feeling. No one likes what the pandemic has done to the educational experience. I am taking into consideration all of these perspectives. We will continue to monitor daily and do what is best for our community. I can assure you there will be no hesitation on my part to make further adjustments as necessary. We are all in this journey together and I am proud to be at your side.
 
Sincerely,
 
Philomena V. Mantella, President
 


Friday, August 14

Lakers Together Weekly Update

Dear Grand Valley Community,

Here's your Lakers Together weekly update with critical information regarding our preparation for the Fall semester. We know we have shared so much information with you regarding recommendations and requirements for this unprecedented year. In this edition, President Mantella and Associate Vice Provost for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Loren Rullman focus on the key points for students to remember as we get closer to the opening of the academic year.


Sok Kean Khoo wearing a face mask

Monday, August 10

Fall Planning COVID Update

Dear Grand Valley community,

We are fast-approaching the start of the new academic year, with all the positive energy that ignites. We have safely brought back many of our faculty, staff and student employees over the last month, and we are excited to bring many more of you safely back to campus this month. The global pandemic has required all of us to exercise more care and compassion for one another. This national crisis has required enormous effort, vigilance and more detailed campus planning than ever before. I am grateful for the hundreds in our university community who have joined me in this journey. I can assure you that health and safety are paramount in our minds, and that through all the challenges, we remain true to our mission to educate students and provide them with rich experiences.

The world has moved from reacting to a sudden incident to living with the presence of the virus, and so we are making changes in our response. These changes will enable us to continue to effectively manage campus life, while doing our best to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 and care for our community members.

 

Virus Action Team

A newly named Virus Action Team (VAT) will be replacing the daily work done to date by the Incident Management Team (IMT). The IMT began its work with COVID-19 management in late January and since the first of March has met almost daily planning the ramp-down and ramp-up of campus operations. I want to extend my sincere thanks to this team and announce members of the VAT who will lead us through the health and safety monitoring phase we have entered.

Vice President for Finance and Administration Greg Sanial will direct the team that includes project manager Lisa Haynes; faculty liaisons: professor of biomedical sciences Doug Graham, associate professor of physics Ben Holder, and program director and associate professor of occupational safety and health Dave Huizen; tracking and tracing leads: Jean Nagelkerk and Tina Barnikow; academic affairs lead, Ed Aboufadel; student affairs and experience leads: Lynn (Chick) Blue, Nykia Gaines and Kate Harmon. Three members will devote all their energies to this team, while the remaining members will dedicate significant time working daily with the team. The VAT will be monitoring the health and safety in the Grand Valley community as well as the surrounding region, and will report to the Senior Leadership Team.

Any health monitoring questions or concerns should be sent to: virusactionteam@gvsu.edu

 

Partnership with Spectrum Health

I am pleased to announce our partnership with Spectrum Health to assist us in monitoring and managing the virus. This development is significant as we repopulate our campuses.

  • Infectiousdisease specialist Habiba Hassouna, M.D. will serve as our consultant.

  • BeginningAugust 17, Spectrum Health will operate a 24/7 COVID call center for GVSU.The phone number will be available on that date.

  • SpectrumHealth staff will follow-up on self-assessment flags, including testingfor individuals with symptoms or exposure.

  • Thepartnership will increase our testing capacity with results in 24-48hours.

  • SpectrumHealth will provide daily check-ins following positive tests.

 

Campus Repopulation Plan – pre-arrival requirements

Critical to the success of our 2020 plans is our behavior. As we return to campus, it is the responsibility of every member of our community to always follow the best practices outlined by public health professionals and part of our “Lakers Together Protecting Each Other” campaign.

We need to do our part in safeguarding others and ourselves. 

 

Self-assessment
Beginning August 17, 2020, all students, faculty and staff are required to complete the daily COVID-19 risk self-assessment. This is required seven days a week whether you are coming to campus or not to more completely track the virus, and your compliance will be monitored. The self-assessment should be completed each day before noon. Just as with face coverings, we will start with care and reminders, move to educate, then look for a remedy, which could include a failure to comply report to Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution or Human Resources. Not completing the self-assessment would be considered a violation of university policy and would be actionable.

 

Test prior to coming to campus
The university is encouraging everyone to be tested for COVID-19 before returning to campus. While these test results will be a snapshot in time, any positive results will be caught before arriving on campus. Testing can be arranged through your health care provider or you can consult the State of Michigan testing site finder with a “no cost” filter.

Details on a new protocol for expanded on-campus testing will be announced prior to move-in August 23. Currently, students who have symptoms or who have been exposed to someone who tests positive can be tested at two university sites:

Allendale:  GVSU Campus Health Center, 42nd & Pierce  
Grand Rapids:  GVSU Family Health Center 

 

Lakers Together on campus

Ongoing testing 
We have the agreement with Spectrum Health in place, and we are finalizing an agreement with another lab for additional testing capabilities. We will be able to facilitate thousands of tests with quick turnarounds to help track the virus. Expect that announcement soon.

We will be conducting regular testing on high-risk groups such as athletes, resident assistants and critical personnel.

 

Randomized testing
Randomized testing of 1,500 people on campus will begin two weeks after the start of classes and continue throughout the semester. Students, faculty and staff will be selected at random to be tested. This will give us a sense of the presence of the virus within our community and the data will be used to identify any “hot spots” and to make decisions regarding campus operations.

Cost for testing facilitated through Spectrum Health as part of the university’s self-assessment process will be billed first to insurance with any balance billed to the university. Cost for the randomized testing will be covered by the university.

 

Tracking and Tracing
All positive tests are reported to county health departments. Grand Valley has a close working relationship with Ottawa and Kent county health departments and will work with them to support their tracking and tracing efforts within our community. Spectrum Health will assist in providing follow-up with all students who are in quarantine (been exposed to someone positive) or in isolation following a positive test. Nearly 20 of our students will be hired to work as contact tracers with the county health departments through the GVSU Student Employment + program.

We are also investigating the possibility of using technology to assist with tracking and tracing, and hope to enter a pilot with two companies offering this service in the coming weeks.

We do have plans to care for students who are quarantined or in isolation, and they will receive more detailed information from Housing and Residence Life and the Dean of Students Office by August 17.                                                                        

Faculty and staff who need to be quarantined or isolated should work with their appointing officer to determine the best course of action, as each case will need individual attention.

The best source for up-to-date information on the Fall Semester is Lakers Together Fall 2020.

 

Ability to switch to all remote education

This virus has underscored the need for flexibility. Just as we are planning to welcome everyone back safely to campus, the truth is, the virus is unpredictable, and we must be able to react to any significant spread within our community. We are planning under the current Phase 4 designation by the State of Michigan, meaning we can be on-campus with heavy restrictions. We will continue to follow state and federal regulations.

Our faculty have been making plans for resilient teaching to be able to shift courses quickly to remote if the need arises. Our health experts are devising a dashboard to monitor data and to identify triggers that would indicate we should move to remote education. The dashboard will be vital in our decision making and will be made public when it is operational. It will track testing of faculty, staff and students at Grand Valley and the rate of positive results. It will also monitor Kent and Ottawa counties as well as students’ home counties.

 

Fall 2020

We all understand this year will be different, but what makes the Laker community special will never change. We are committed to caring for each other, and we are committed to intellectual growth and endless opportunities.

 

Sincerely,

Philomena V. Mantella, President