“We were not created to live in isolation, nor were you created to attend a residential college in separation,” ETBU President J. Blair Blackburn said during the semester’s first chapel service.
On-campus student life is in full swing as East Texas Baptist University begins the 2020-2021 academic school year. The year kicked off with almost 400 students enrolled in the August Mini-Terms, which allow completion of the equivalent semester-long courses in one-week and two-week class offerings. Fall semester classes began on Monday, August 17. This fall on-campus student experience was eagerly anticipated, as students attended classes online since mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We were not created to live in isolation, nor were you created to attend a residential college in separation,” ETBU President J. Blair Blackburn said during the semester’s first chapel service. “God designed us for His fellowship and for each other’s common bond for the glory of God and the good of others. Our unity in Christ and our presence together as a campus community is the essence of the Christ-centered college experience at ETBU. Our unification of purpose and spirit enables you to fulfill God’s mission for your life, for ETBU, for the Kingdom.”
In preparation for the Fall 2020 Semester, the ETBU Physical Operations Department conducted extensive cleaning of the entire campus, including, but not limited to, campus buildings, residence halls, restrooms, classrooms, offices, laboratories, and all public spaces at ETBU. University standard cleaning practices follow and exceed guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with the use of EPA-approved, hospital-grade disinfectants. During the day, ETBU’s Physical Operations staff continuously cleans and disinfects common surface areas and restrooms multiple times throughout the day and evening following guidance from the CDC and the custodial industry.
“The University Family has been outstanding in their support of the actions we are taking,” ETBU Director of Security, Compliance, and Accountability Larry Northcutt said. “All of these protective measures are big steps in continuing to keep our University a safe and secure place for the faculty, staff, and students.”
University leadership made the decision to conclude the Fall 2020 semester early, by canceling Fall Break in October and beginning final examinations before Thanksgiving. This University schedule will help keep students on campus and will limit travel back and forth to other locations where they may have a greater likelihood of contracting illnesses. Students will return home for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, and be ready and healthy to return to ETBU for the Spring 2021 semester in January. Additionally, due to the health and safety concerns arising from the impact of COVID-19 and the challenges in meeting the NCAA Resocialization of Collegiate Sport guidelines, the American Southwest Conference (ASC) Council of Presidents voted to move conference competition in ASC Fall 2020 sports to the Spring 2021 semester. ASC Fall Sports include football, men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s soccer, and women’s volleyball.
“Many things have happened in each of our lives since students left campus in March, and we have been working for many months to figure out a way to bring students back to campus safely so they can be engaged members of this campus community,” ETBU Provost and Vice President Thomas Sanders said. “Early on the morning of the first day of classes, I didn’t struggle to get out of bed because I knew I was coming to campus, and I was so excited that students would be here. We have been working very diligently to prepare for the start of this semester, and we believe each of our students is of value to God and belongs here on our campus.”
Each event hosted by the University will adhere to local, state, and federal guidelines. These include updates in food service at events, capacity limitations, social distancing, and face coverings. East Texas Baptist has a stock of hand sanitizer for campus community use, as well as masks for students, faculty, and staff as needed. The campus is stocked with sanitizing cleaners and wipes in public spaces and in all classrooms. Strict compliance of face coverings and masks are required in campus buildings. While many events will be different than in previous years, ETBU Student Activities is working to adapt the Tiger student experience.
“Our Student Activities team is working in overdrive this semester to ensure that our students are staying engaged with the ETBU Tiger Family, despite the challenges that COVID-19 is throwing our way,” Director of Student Activities Laura Coursey said. “With the absence of fall sports, we will be hosting more student events on campus to keep students actively involved with their peers. Student Activities is partnering with other departments to plan co-hosted events where more students can be reached.”
Incoming freshmen, of whom a large majority had to finish their senior year of high school online, transitioned into college life for the first time and prepared to shift back to in-person learning through participation in Tiger Camp. To help the new Tigers ease their way into college life and connect with other students, Tiger Camp welcomes incoming freshmen and transfer students into the ETBU family where they are given an opportunity to meet new classmates, campus leaders, staff, and professors.
“The baseball team is what brought me to ETBU, the coaches truly made me feel like part of the team and made me feel wanted,” freshman rehabilitative science major Gage Bosquez said during Tiger Camp. “You have to come here first and experience the people. I didn’t expect to become so close with my Tiger Camp group in just two or three days, but I guarantee I have lifelong friends now.”