Focusing on Health and Safety, St. John’s Students Begin Return to Campus

Father and Son posing for photo in parking lot with bags
August 3, 2020

Eager to start the Fall 2020 semester at St. John’s University, students from across the nation and around the globe traveled to the University’s Queens, NY, campus on Saturday, August 1, to move into their residences—a pivotal step in the University’s Return to Campus plan.  

“This fall semester is shaping up to be unlike anything we have experienced before,” explained Kathryn T. Hutchinson, Ph.D., Vice President for the Division of Student Affairs. “We are excited to celebrate the 150th anniversary of our great University’s commitment to providing students with an excellent education and remaining faithful to our mission.”

Move-In Day has always been one of the hallmark events of a resident student’s St. John’s experience. This year, those who reside in states included in New York’s COVID-19 travel advisory moved into the Residence Village far in advance of students not impacted by the travel advisory, so they could safely undergo a two-week quarantine.

“The students who arrived on campus to begin the New York State-required quarantine are excited to be back on campus,” Dr. Hutchinson said. “Their commitment to doing what is necessary to keep themselves and our community safe is on full display.”

Paulette Gonzalez, Executive Director of University Career Services, shared in Dr. Hutchinson’s excitement. “Today, we welcomed the most amazing group of students to St. John’s,” said Ms. Gonzalez, who was on campus assisting students. “I met students from as far away as California, Texas, and Florida, as well as two from Japan. From incoming first-year students to continuing graduate students, each embody the St. John’s spirit.”

One such student was Leah Minerve, a journalism major from Laurel, MD, who made the trip to New York with her parents. “I am so excited to be here,” she said. “From the moment we arrived on Saturday, everyone on campus was incredibly helpful. It was very well organized, too. The toughest part of the day was saying goodbye to my parents on Saturday night.”

Immediately upon arrival, Leah and other students were given on-site COVID-19 tests, which were administered by representatives from NewYork-Presbyterian Queens. Test results were made available within three hours.

Quarantined students are required to stay in their rooms for 14 days. While they are not allowed any visitors, food is delivered to their doorstep each day by their Resident Director.

Healthcare workers standing at table with NYP logo ready to check students temperatures as they return to campus

A unique social program being offered is the Johnnies Care Buddy program, which directly connects members of the St. John’s community to quarantined students—many of whom are away from home for an extended period of time for the first time in their lives.

“Nearly 80 of these students are beginning their first year at St. John’s University—and unfortunately are alone for 14 days to complete the required New York State quarantine mandate,” said Dr. Hutchinson, explaining the impetus behind Johnnies Care. “We have coordinated virtual events and programming for them, but also believe that our students, both new and continuing, will benefit from the personal care and connection of members of the University community.”

Each day during the quarantine period, these “buddies” connect with their assigned students by phone or through video calls and serve as a friendly voice, an empathetic listener, or a source of information for students.

Students also received a full calendar of activities that take place virtually during the 14-day quarantine period and were encouraged to engage in a wide range of virtual social and wellness programs, including the St. John’s Student Wellness channel on YouTube. The channel includes Zumba and body-sculpting classes, meditation exercises, student health services information, and more.

The remaining resident students return to campus the week of August 17, and Leah is anxious to meet her roommate, who is from Long Island, NY. “We’ve spoken over the phone and texted each other a number of times,” she said. “However, there’s nothing like meeting someone in person.”

St. John’s classes are scheduled to begin Monday, August 24, and continue through November 20. Students will return to their homes during the weeklong Thanksgiving break with remaining course work taking place remotely through December 8.