Limited campus tours resume for admitted students

By Ideal Dowling

Abigail Chang
Each tour will only be offered to one family at a time, with a maximum of six tours offered per day.

Update — Thursday, May 6

As of today, students may seek in-person employment at Middlebury businesses if they are fully vaccinated and have uploaded proof of vaccination to the student health portal, according to an email update from Dean of Students Derek Doucet this afternoon. Students can now also eat outdoors at restaurants in town.

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Middlebury began offering campus tours for admitted students and their families beginning on April 27. Previously, no visitors — including prospective students — were permitted to enter college buildings and grounds. 

Dean of Admissions Nicole Curvin addressed an email to faculty, staff and students on April 26 notifying them that the college was resuming tours. But due to an error in communications, most current students did not receive the message until a second email was sent the following day. College Director of Media Relations Sarah Ray clarified that the announcement was posted on the college’s website on April 26. 

The college decided to reopen tours following an update in the Vermont Department of Health guidelines. Revisions to the state’s Safe and Healthy Return to Campus plan permitted a limited number of visits to campus. 

“We have been monitoring the guidelines pretty closely and have a group that meets daily to discuss how Vermont guidelines are changing and what that means for us as a community,” Curvin said. “It became clear that one of the new possibilities was bringing campus tours back.”

There will be a maximum of six tours per day, each limited to one family and not exceeding four persons in total. Visitors are expected to adhere to Vermont state health guidelines, which require full vaccination (14 days past the final dose), a negative test result from within three days prior to entering the state or having recovered from Covid-19 within the past three months with no current symptoms. 

Additionally, tours have been adjusted to maximize safety precautions, including shortening tours from their typical length of upwards of an hour and a half to a maximum of one hour, requiring face masks and physical distancing throughout, running tours exclusively outdoors and restricting families from interacting with community members other than their tour guide and other admissions representatives.   

According to Curvin, the Admissions Office felt that allowing even a small number of families to visit campus was extremely important given how challenging college enrollment decisions can be for students. 

Until now, in lieu of in-person tours, the Admissions Office increased its virtual initiatives to introduce prospective students to the college with events such as an Instagram Live campus tour, short TikTok segments showing the campus and webinars during which admittees could engage with faculty and staff.

“We feel really good about the connections we have made virtually and are grateful to expand access through the virtual programming,” Curvin said. 

Nevertheless, these programs are not the same as seeing the campus in person.

“We are very cognizant that a big part of figuring out a college search is walking around the place you might call home for the next four years,” Senior Admissions Fellow Abbott LaPrade ’21 said. 

The college’s decision to reopen tours serves, at least in part, as an effort to curb illicit visits. Students reported sightings of people who appeared to be families of prospective students walking around campus, sometimes without masks, and taking photos. Some even entered the college bookstore, according to reports that Director of Parton Health Services Mark Peluso received from current students.

“The plan [to reopen tours] would… actually provide a safer campus environment for students by eliminating unsupervised visits,” Peluso said in an email to The Campus.  

Curvin also expressed optimism that the announcement would compel families to visit through the Admissions Office instead of visiting independently. She speculated that other Vermont colleges and universities opening their campuses to visitors — including the University of Vermont, St. Michael’s and Champlain College — may have contributed to the increase in unauthorized visits to Middlebury.

“Being surrounded by other institutions that are [opening up to visitors], other families might not really think about it and say, ‘We’ll just drive through.’” she said.

Most other NESCACs, with the exceptions of Trinity and Hamilton Colleges, have not yet opened their campuses for tours. Connecticut College allows 30-minute driving tours, during which families are not allowed out of their vehicles. Tufts University and Wesleyan, Bates, Amherst, Williams, Colby and Bowdoin Colleges remain closed to the public for the entirety of the 2020-21 academic year.

According to the Admissions Office, health and safety precautions have been a major centerpiece of the administration’s decision-making process on reopening tours and in determining the guidelines for doing so. 

“We are deeply appreciative of Middlebury students, faculty and staff for the things they have done this academic year to make us successful,” Curvin said. “We recognize too that this is challenging and that we are still under these limitations. We are really, really sensitive to ensure students can finish their semesters and feel comfortable doing so.” 

The opportunity to tour campus is currently only available to admitted students who are still interested in Middlebury, which shrank the potential pool of visitors from the 1,871 admittees to a list including several hundred prospective students. The deposit to commit to Middlebury is due May 7, giving undecided admitted students a week and a half to travel to campus. The Admissions Office expects the number of visitors to be constrained by geography and time and that most families will come from within driving distance, according to Curvin.

LaPrade, who had already given three tours as of April 30, said the safety measures required of families — in addition to the fact that he is fully vaccinated — made him feel unconcerned about contracting Covid-19 while giving tours to families.

Both Curvin and LaPrade noted that the Admissions Office is very clear about safety expectations in advance of and during tours, especially considering that families coming from different states or geographic regions may be accustomed to more relaxed approaches to Covid-19 safety. So far, families have been conscientious and respectful of all requirements, according to Curvin and LaPrade.

The decision to reopen tours to prospective students and their families from around the country has led some students to question the logic and consistency of the administration’s Covid-19 restrictions.

LaPrade empathized with his peers’ frustrations over the apparent inconsistency in the college’s policies. “The bigger issue is not that tours are unsafe but that other things are not allowed, like dining outdoors [at restaurants]. We should also enable students to camp overnight or dine outside,” he said.

In response to these concerns, Curvin noted that all decisions are made “as much as possible in consultation with planning groups on campus that have been monitoring the situation and Vermont guidelines as well as with health professionals.” 

“It’s about assessing risk, including outdoor versus indoor activities,” she said.