With precautions in place, campus life at Yale starts to look familiar
When the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to disrupt his senior year at Yale, Jack Devlin decided to take a gap year.
Now, after his return to campus for the first time in 18 months, he is eager to resume on-campus life — and all that comes with it — as fully as possible.
He plans to soak up every moment.
“The past year has made me appreciate — so much more than I did before — what this campus is,” said Devlin, a Pierson College resident who is from Northern California. “I’m obviously excited about getting back into school mode. But I’m just as excited about things like walking up Hillhouse Avenue, riding my bike on campus, and going to the dining hall.”
For the first time since March 2020, when the pandemic sent much of the world into a protracted period of lockdown and remote work and learning, all Yale students are welcome to study on campus this fall. Classes began Sept. 1 for undergraduates. And while public health protocols remain in place due to the ongoing pandemic, aspects of life at Yale are beginning to resemble something more like their pre-pandemic form amid high rates of vaccination within the university population and the continuation of key public health protocols.
Much of the spring semester of 2020 was remote only. Most students were on campus for part of the 2020-21 academic year but many studied remotely for a portion of it, and strict health measures halted most of the activities that normally mark the rhythms of the school year.
But now, with the 2021-22 academic year underway, students are again hitting the books in Yale’s libraries, returning to the Yale Bowl for football Saturdays, hiking East Rock, and strolling the museums and galleries. They’re dining in a reopened Commons. They’re calling out to friends they see on the way to class.
“Much as I have come to appreciate what online platforms enabled us to accomplish these last 18 months, I am excited about what we will achieve when faculty and students return to the classroom and when staff members phase back to in-person work,” President Peter Salovey said in a message to the Yale community shortly before students returned in force.
“As I prepare for the fall semester, I am reminded of the palpable energy and catalytic potential we create when we study and work in person,” he added. “I cherish how our campus comes alive when we — a vibrant, creative community of people from all parts of the world and so many varied backgrounds — can together experience all that our university offers.”
Because the pandemic is ongoing, a variety of public health measures remain in effect. Vaccination is the community’s strongest protection against outbreaks, and all students, staff, and faculty must either be vaccinated or have an approved exemption. Those who are exempt are required to test for COVID-19 twice a week. For now, students, faculty, and staff are also required to wear masks for most indoor activities, including all classes, which are being held in person. Additional health and safety measures are in place, and students are required to review, sign, and follow the Yale Community Compact, which describes public health expectations for the year.
Vaccination rates in Connecticut are high compared with the nation, and significantly higher still at Yale: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 78.6% of Connecticut residents ages 18 and older are fully vaccinated, compared with 65% for the nation as a whole. Vaccination rates at Yale are 99% for undergraduates, 98% for graduate and professional students, 93% for faculty, and 92% for staff.
Updated vaccination rates for staff, faculty, and students are available on Yale’s COVID-19 data webpage.
As students have been making their way to classrooms, they’ve seen improvements across campus. There is the new Schwarzman Center, which formally opened this month, the thoroughly renovated Humanities Quadrangle, and Tsai CITY, which opened last fall, for example. And they’re strolling the outdoor landscapes of Sachem’s Wood and Alexander Walk.
Yale’s athletic teams have begun their fall schedules and students, faculty, staff, and fans are welcome to attend games and matches for all outdoor sports. Unvaccinated spectators are required to wear masks at outdoor sports events. Fully vaccinated Yale students, faculty, and staff are allowed to attend volleyball games, Yale’s lone fall indoor event.
“It is wonderful to see our student-athletes back on the fields of play,” said Mike Gambardella, associate athletic director. “Our focus will continue to be on the student-athlete experience and making sure their health and safety comes first.”
Yale University Library locations are open to students, staff, and faculty who are authorized to be on campus. Masks are required in library public spaces, including reading rooms and study rooms, regardless of vaccination status.
The Yale University Art Gallery and the Yale Center for British Art are already open to the public on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoons. The art gallery is welcoming Yale students, faculty, and staff —anyone with a valid Yale ID — during the week, except on Mondays. All guests must reserve free tickets and follow masking and social distancing guidelines.
And the communities within the 14 residential colleges — which the college heads, staff, and students maintained over the last 18 months — are again united, with some new rules to safeguard public health. The colleges hosted welcome dinners for sophomores and first-year students soon after their arrival. Dining halls have also resumed normal service, though visitors are not allowed for now.
On Aug. 28, President Salovey and Yale College Dean Marvin Chun welcomed new students at an outdoor Opening Assembly on Cross Campus. The Yale College Class of 2025 has a record 1,789 new students, including 355 students who accepted Yale’s admission offer in 2020 but opted to postpone matriculation until this fall.
“A good part of what you will learn here will come from the faculty who will teach you in the classes you take, while much will come from your peers and colleagues,” Chun told students. “Taken together, these teachers of yours will give you the liberal education that is Yale's hallmark. By the time you graduate, you will have furnished your mind in the broadest possible sense, not by pursuing narrow, specialized study but instead by searching for new knowledge, new perspectives, new ways of looking at the world, and by adding your own. If you make good use of this place, you will discover fields of knowledge that are completely new to you, that you haven't even heard of, and you will open yourselves to them and learn from them.”
Necessarily, public health will remain at the forefront of all decisions regarding student and campus life. Rules regarding on-campus activities and health-related protocols are likely to evolve based on trends in COVID-19 cases and the latest advice from experts.
For the foreseeable future, in-person events and large gatherings on campus must be limited in size and in accordance with public health recommendations. Most talks, lectures, and performances outside the classroom will be held remotely. And the robust testing and contact tracing program that was critical to Yale’s success last academic year remains in place. All unvaccinated faculty, staff, and students must test twice a week. All vaccinated undergraduates and many vaccinated graduate and professional students must test once a week.
A detailed description of the safeguards is available on the university’s COVID-19 information site.
“While the levels of COVID-19 infections in our state and across the country are concerning, it is important to remember that the Yale community has layers of public health protections in place — including a robust testing and contact tracing program, which was critical in supporting on-campus activities during the last academic year — and a high vaccination rate,” said Stephanie Spangler, vice provost for health affairs and academic integrity, clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences, and university COVID-19 coordinator.
Although certain aspects of Yale life will remain in flux this semester, many other things will resume as they were before the pandemic — from classroom discussions to evening walks on campus.
Perhaps best of all, many Yale students are reconnecting — in person — with treasured friends.
Yale College senior Devlin, for example, will finish out his undergraduate career with a number of his best friends who also took a gap year.
“This is going to be a special year for student life on campus,” he said.
Mike Cummings contributed to this report.