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EXCLUSIVE | Dean Dolan and VP Izzo talk updated COVID-19 policies, returning to pre-pandemic ways, individual responsibility

The Daily Princetonian sat down with Dean Dolan and Assistant VP for Environmental Health and Safety Robin Izzo last Friday to discuss recent changes in University COVID-19 policies, reflections on the past months of the pandemic, and the importance of moving forward together. www.dailyprincetonian.com

Dean of the College Jill Dolan and Assistant Vice President for Environmental Health and Safety Robin Izzo spoke with The Daily Princetonian via Zoom on Friday, Feb. 4 about current and future COVID-19 policies on campus.

When asked about whether or not the University can ever go back to the way that things were pre-pandemic, Dean Dolan made clear that she “think[s] that things will go back to the way they were.”

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“I also think that the campus and probably the country and the rest of the world will only move forward by incorporating all the losses that we've incurred from COVID. And also everything that we've learned from COVID,” Dean Dolan said.

“I definitely think that we will return to many of our old rituals, some of which we did this year, some of which we'll do in a full way next year, like opening exercises and commencement and the pre-rade and everything else,” she continued. 

Although Dean Dolan expressed how she hopes that the University will move forward, she also explained how some remnants of COVID-19 will stay with the Princeton community.

“I think this is just going to stay with us in certain ways that will become part of the rituals of the campus,” Dean Dolan said. “But we'll become accustomed to them, and they'll become part of the fabric of our lives again.”

Dean Dolan explained how she hopes the University can move back to the way it once was, but not by moving backward.

“I am very hopeful about moving forward, not back to the old principle, but moving forward and incorporating everything we've learned to make Princeton continue the way I think we all want it to,” Dean Dolan said.

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Izzo expressed a similar sense of optimism to the ‘Prince.’

“I'm hopeful that we will have a much more vibrant experience on our campus,” Izzo added. “I'm really looking forward to seeing more alumni on our campus, bringing more people onto our campus, [and] having more of these in-person events that we haven't been able to have in such a long time.”

Though Izzo and Dean Dolan both expressed their excitement about the future of the University, they also explained the thought process behind the restrictions put in place during the move-in process for the spring 2022 semester, such as having a 20-person limit for personal events, prohibiting eating in dining halls, and initially not allowing travel outside of Mercer County.

“We wanted to be a bit more protective during that move-in period,” Izzo said. “In order to try to limit that spread, we wanted to limit a bit of movement, and especially limit the amount of time that people would be unmasked around other people.”

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“We wanted to get off to a good start to make sure that we could continue with in-person classes,” Izzo said.

Izzo explained that unless the University experiences a large spike in positive COVID-19 cases, University administrators intend to relax policies again. 

In terms of current policies, Dean Dolan said that although it’s been difficult to track and predict everything throughout the pandemic, now that students are back on campus, positivity rates and isolation trends have begun moving in a hopeful direction.

“We want the campus to be manageable for students and for faculty and for staff,” Dean Dolan added. “We all agree that all of these necessary restrictions that we've had to put in place have really compromised everyone's experience, including our own. But at the same time, I think we're also really proud of how healthy our population has stayed throughout this crisis.”

“I think it makes us … really hopeful about being able to lift some of these restrictions in a nearer future, rather than a farther-out future,” Dean Dolan noted.

Dean Dolan emphasized the importance of wearing masks throughout the University community to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

“People can protect their health with masks, and with a really vigilant level of individual care and community care,” Dean Dolan said. 

“I hope that outlook will really help people who are sick with other illnesses like the flu, or other viruses that are more dangerous for people who have immune-compromised systems know we're really trying as we think about the post-crisis moment to move into a perspective where it's individual responsibility over institutional responsibility that will help us guide these practices,” she continued.

Izzo also emphasized the importance of individual responsibility and personal risk.

“[S]ome of the things this is dependent upon is that our vaccines are continuing to be effective against serious disease and that we'll always have to keep an eye on the number of cases,” Izzo said. “We do want to be able to be a lot more flexible here with [COVID-19 policies] and we want us to get to that point as quickly as possible to reduce all of these mitigations and make it feel a little bit more by personal risk and risk assessment.”

Dolan continued to express the importance of in-person teaching and learning, despite students recently expressing their disappointment with classes lacking remote options for students who are sick or immunocompromised but do not have COVID-19.

“One of the hallmarks of Princeton is that we start from the presumption that everyone will be in class together, or if we're using online formats that everyone will be using online formats,” Dean Dolan said. “As we move now, hopefully, past COVID-19, we're returning to a policy that requires anyone who can't attend class in person for two consecutive weeks to take a leave of absence because that's the commitment we make to one another.”

Dean Dolan went on to explain that “as teachers and learners, you simply don't get the same experience if you haven't been present in class.”

Dean Dolan also emphasized that the health of everyone in the University community depends on thinking about the relationships each member has with one another.

“[This] means protecting ourselves with masks and whatever other strategies come to hand, but also being respectful and empathetic of people who need a special kind of care when they're in our classrooms or in our common spaces,” Dean Dolan said.

Dean Dolan also spoke about how the University handled the rise of positive COVID-19 cases during spring move-in, such as allowing some students that have singles to isolate themselves in their dorms.

“We have not gotten a lot of negative feedback about [in-dorm isolation],” Dean Dolan said.

“It's a little bit more comfortable for them to be in their own space in many cases,” Dean Dolan said. “[It’s] easier to do [classwork] when you have a room to yourself rather than having to, in some cases, share a room or share [a] space.”

Dean Dolan noted that University isolation housing is the primary option for students.

In addition to speaking about COVID-19 and physical health, Dean Dolan also spoke about the next steps for improving mental health at the University.

“Vice President for Campus Life Rochelle Calhoun and I met just this week with the Dean of the Graduate School Cole Crittenden and the Dean of the Faculty Gene Jarrett to talk about how faculty can be partners for students in improving mental health and just extending the awareness of the importance of paying attention to mental health, not just in the co-curricular space, but also in the classroom,” Dean Dolan said. 

“We're determined to make those connections for faculty and for students without compromising the necessary rigor of a Princeton education.”

Dolan mentioned the importance of recognizing and taking care of mental health before, throughout, and post-pandemic.

“I know that I speak for myself and my colleagues in the Office of the Dean of the College, and also for VP Calhoun and our office, when I say that we all take student mental health really, very seriously,” Dean Dolan said. “We've certainly taken it seriously during the pandemic, and we certainly will after the pandemic.”

You can watch the full interview with Dean Dolan and Izzo here.

Lia Opperman is an Assistant News Editor who often covers University affairs, student life, and local news. She can be reached at liaopperman@princeton.edu, on Instagram @liamariaaaa, or on Twitter @oppermanlia. 

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