Civil War Back to School: Prologue

(Part one in a series)

What does the “back-to-school” season look like for the Civil War world? By now, we’ve all seen the headlines of pandemic-related mishaps at a number of colleges across the country following unexpected COVID-19 outbreaks. Schools continue to try and adapt, many driven by a need to retain room-and-board revenue they would otherwise lose if students have to go home this semester like they did last spring.

I reached out to a few of my ECW colleagues who work in the world of academia to ask how things looked on their end. Are there any special precautions your school is taking, I asked them. Any special precautions that you’re taking? Are folks confident/nervous/following social distancing protocols okay or not? How have you had to adapt your teaching?

Even as I began to pull together their responses, my own university, St. Bonaventure, announced the suspension of 28 students for COVID-19 conduct violations.

When students first returned to campus, they had to sign the code of conduct, attesting that they understood the university’s anti-pandemic precautions and protocols. According to my colleagues, things on campus seemed to generally be going pretty smoothly so far. Then a group of students decided to have a Saturday night party—and got busted.

“I was hoping we could avoid the missteps other colleges have made,” said university President Dr. Dennis DePerro. “I want to be clear that I still believe the vast majority of our students have been doing and continue to do what’s necessary to give us the best chance to stay in session until Thanksgiving.”

Feedback from my colleagues since suggests widespread support for the university among the student body. “[T]o a student[,] they felt that the university did the right thing,” one colleague wrote in an email to the entire faculty. “Their responses were that they were glad that the university held students responsible for their actions[,] and felt that if the university had simply given the students a slap on the wrists that it would have encouraged more reckless behavior. They disliked that the violating students put others at risk of having to leave the university early and be forced to return home to their parents.”

I’m teaching exclusively online this semester. Normally, I structure my classes in a hybrid format that puts me on campus to teach in person one class out of four. I drive to western New York from Fredericksburg, Virginia, on a Monday, teach on a Tuesday, and then drive home; then I teach online for the next three classes. Because New York has stringent quarantine laws, and Virginia was still on the “hot list” at the start of the semester, I adapted by delivery to be completely online—not a huge leap for me. (Over the summer, I did a couple workshops for the American Battlefield Trust about online teaching, one of which you can see by clicking here.)

Over the next few days, I’ll share with you the results of my informal survey, which are totally anecdotal in nature. However, they’ll give you a good representative look at how the Civil War world is trying to get back into the classroom this fall.

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