Fall Semester Start: Students in Residence, Classes Online

Faculty participate in socially distanced training on new classroom equipment.
Faculty participate in socially distanced training on new classroom equipment.

By the Rev. Kyle Oliver

If the autumn rites and rhythms of the academic year are like an old familiar song, then in 2020 the CDSP community has been singing them in an unfamiliar key. 

In the weeks leading up to today’s semester start, thirty new and returning students and two new faculty members have made their way to Berkeley to enter the residential community. They join twenty-two new online and low-res students who have begun their studies since June.  

The entering and re-entering students wore masks, skipped the customary hugs and handshakes, and mostly moved into rooms that have been repurposed from their usual use. They have also had to quarantine and present the results of COVID tests. 

“This has been a challenging move-in process for everyone involved,” said the Rev. Andrew Hybl ’12, dean of students. “But everyone is looking forward to sharing a renewed sense of community in the ways that are available to us.” 

With all in-person conference and retreat activity cancelled, CDSP transformed Easton Hall and portions of Gibbs Hall into a makeshift dormitory. Unlike rooms in Parsons Hall, which with their shared bathrooms and lounges had to be vacated in March, student rooms in Easton and Gibbs now meet the requirements of safe communal living amid the pandemic.  

Photo of sign announcing campus closure to all but CDSP community
“We look forward to welcoming you again”: A sign at the new single point of entry announces campus temporarily closed to the public.

These and other changes to CDSP operations have been reviewed by Dr. David Shulkin, former US Secretary of Veterans Affairs. CDSP’s partners at Trinity Church Wall Street have engaged Secretary Shulkin as a health and safety advisor as reopening activities continue. 

The administration had hoped to begin the semester in a flexible hybrid mode, with in-person courses held in socially distanced classrooms. However, the uptick in Bay Area cases this summer has forced courses back into online-only mode.  

“One of the documents we’re using to track reopening plans is currently in its eleventh revision,” said the Rev. John Dwyer, vice president and chief operating officer. He stressed that safety will continue to be the community’s highest priority as the situation develops. 

With more time to prepare—as well as robust student feedback and support from Dr. Diandra Erickson, GTU director of digital learning—faculty have tailored “pandemic pedagogy” to match their preferred teaching modes and the needs of residential students facing Zoom fatigue but still hungry for community. 

“Some faculty will teach from an assigned classroom, others from their CDSP offices, and others from home,” said the Rev. Ruth Meyers, PhD, dean of academic affairs. “We’ve asked a lot from our instructors these past six months, and they have responded in thoughtful and creative ways.” 

Those teaching from classrooms will have access to significantly more powerful tools than in the past. Last week each instructor received training on newly upgraded educational technology, which will transmit sound and video over a vastly upgraded broadband connection and allow for robust remote participation even when in-person learning reconvenes.  

CDSP will announce sometime in October academic plans for the January intersession and spring semester. 

Nevertheless, the songs of fall remain largely the same. Today Meyers will lead the community in worship via Zoom, with a sermon by the Rev. W. Mark Richardson, PhD, president and dean.  

“As I said in the spring, the unprecedented time we are in—now pandemic, economic vulnerability, and facing into systemic racism—calls us to deeper commitment to discipleship and clarity about mission,” Richardson reflected as the semester began.  

“I am so impressed with the attitude of our student as they, with eyes open, express passion for being a community and preparing for ministry. We will continue following the Spirit’s lead into an uncertain future, trusting in God’s healing and abiding presence.”