Fall semester 2020 has been full of unexpected events - from returning to college during a global pandemic to getting a new president (of Eckerd and of the United States.) These are some big events and changes that happened this semester:
Class of 2024 welcomed in a phased return
First-years arrived on campus on Aug. 24, before all the upperclassmen. This Class of 2024 experienced the Ceremony of Lights socially distant around Fox Pond on Aug. 28. They took their Autumn Term class during Block 1 from Aug. 31 until Sept. 23, and sophomores began to return on Sept. 24 and juniors and seniors began to return on Oct. 22. Upperclassmen took their classes online until they returned to campus, and some students opted to finish the whole semester virtually.
Instead of Eckerd’s traditional 14-week semester with four classes offered simultaneously, students and professors followed a block schedule, which consisted of two blocks and a module. Most students took one class during Block 1 (Aug. 31 - Sept. 23) and Block 2 (Sept. 28 - Oct. 21), and two classes during the module (Oct. 26 - Dec. 13.)
14 cases of COVID-19
While Florida’s cases have been steadily rising since September, Eckerd College has been able to stay open with 14 cases of COVID-19 on campus this year. Comparatively, as of Dec. 4, the University of Florida has had 5,476 cases this year, University of Southern Florida has had 743 cases, University of Central Florida has had 2,240 cases, and University of Tampa has had 812 cases.
On Oct. 19, Eckerd began surveillance testing in which a randomly selected pool of students, faculty and staff submit a saliva sample weekly on Mondays and receive their results on Wednesday.
Eckerd welcomed fifth president of the college
Damian Fernandez assumed his role as the fifth president of Eckerd College on July 1, 2020. He was chosen from over 170 applicants, and played an essential role in keeping the campus open this semester, according to senior Katie Willgohs, a member of the Presidential Search Committee. ECOS President Will Shedden said Fernandez has been working to implement policies that will keep Eckerd open during the pandemic, increase diversity on campus and work with Advocacy Services and the Title IX Office to promote safety and gender equality and more.
Fernandez has also prioritized students’ comfort and engagement during a time when many students are feeling disconnected from campus with the cancellation of many in-person activities and events. Shedden said during his frequent meetings with the student executive board for ECOS, Fernandez listens to students’ concerns and helps formulate solutions to address them.
Year without athletics
Eckerd’s fall sports were postponed due to health and safety concerns in accordance with the Sunshine State Conference’s guidelines. The return date for athletics has not yet been announced.
On Aug. 14, the Athletic Diversity Action Committee (ADAC) was introduced in an athletic department town hall. The committee aims to create an anti-racist environment within Eckerd Athletics. It consists of 14 student-athletes, six staff and faculty members and two alumni. Some of their goals include providing counseling support services for black student-athletes and improving microaggression training for all coaches, staff and other student-athletes.
With large gatherings prohibited, Eckerd students were unable to participate in usual traditions such as Halloween Ball, the annual Thanksgiving dinner in Fox Hall or in-person club meetings. Many events and meetings took place virtually through Zoom, causing students to spend much of their time inside on laptops and tablets in order to follow social distancing guidelines. Dining services were also completely grab-and-go with no indoor seating allowed.
ECOS hosted some new, pandemic-appropriate events such as Fall Fest, Ecktoberfest and a Holiday Craft Bazaar to get students more involved in campus life while following the Eckerd Together Promise and CDC guidelines. Clubs such as the Save Our Seabirds (SOS) and Ancient Studies Club continued to meet online throughout the semester according to club presidents Fairl Thomas and Cat Harper, respectively.
Pinellas goes blue for president
In the 2020 Presidential Election, former vice president Joe Biden won Pinellas County with 49.6% of the votes, marking a significant change from 2016 in which Pinellas County voted Donald Trump by a slight margin of 6,000 votes. However, Florida remained a red state, giving Donald Trump its 29 Electoral College votes. Joe Biden is the 2020 president-elect and his inauguration date is set for Jan. 20, 2021.
Donald Trump’s refusal to concede has shown no sign of derailing Biden’s presidency or inauguration date.
Eckerd’s PIRG organization’s New Voter’s campaign worked to get Eckerd students to vote by providing voting registration forms to students on campus, promoting voting information on the Instagram account @flopirg_students, providing a free shuttle to St. Petersburg voting booths and reminding students about voting deadlines
Tropical Storm/Hurricane Eta
On Nov. 10, NOAA announced that areas on Florida’s west coast were under a tropical storm watch. That week, Eckerd’s campus saw heavy wind and rain. On Wednesday Nov. 11, Eckerd remained under a Tornado Watch and students were advised to stay inside their residence halls after 6 p.m. until the Tornado Watch was lifted and employees were advised to leave campus by 2 p.m. Classes did not meet in person from the 1:20 p.m. course block on Nov. 11 until 8 a.m. on Nov. 12.
The Main Cafeteria and CEC provided grab-and-go service to students until 6 p.m. and non-perishable breakfast items for students to take for the morning of Thursday Nov. 12. Campus was cleared of the Tornado Watch and Tropical Storm warning on Nov. 12.
To kick off the semester, an approximately eleven-foot alligator was spotted in Zeta Pond in August when the first years and student leaders first moved back to campus. Students took to fondly calling the alligator by nicknames such as Zeta Gator, Rona and Gerald.
Due to safety concerns, Director of Campus Safety and Security Tonya Womack called the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Statewide Nuisance Alligator Program. To keep the Eckerd community, students and pets safe, the alligator was moved to Fort Meade, a city in Polk County, Florida on Sept. 11.