On Wednesday, March 24, the University’s Student Government Association (SGA) held a Community First Town Hall webinar via Zoom at 6 p.m., inviting students to attend and ask any questions related to the handling of COVID-19 on campus. The event invited University administrators to be panelists and help answer student questions. These panelists included Dean of Students Tom DeMarco and Associate Vice President for Student Life Kathy Byrnes and Associate Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning Randy Weinstein.

The webinar was facilitated by Caroline Levine, the current Vice President and recently elected President of SGA for next year and Maggie Emamzadeh, a Liberal Arts Senator for SGA. Students had to register to attend the event, and on that form they were encouraged to include any questions that they wanted answered during the Town Hall. Levine and Emamzadeh took turns asking these questions to the panelists, while also allowing students to pose questions in the chat function of Zoom to be brought up later.

The meeting began with highlighting the work done by the Community First Committee over the summer of 2020 in order to allow students to come back to campus in the fall.

“The Community First Committee is a group of students, administrators and staff that meet weekly to discuss Community First initiatives and the Caritas Commitment,” Levine said. “The committee ensures that the student perspective remains at the center of all decisions being made regarding Villanova’s response to COVID-19, and also gives students the opportunity to provide valuable feedback about what life on campus is like.”

The Town Hall meeting provided yet another way for students to be placed at the forefront of the COVID-19 policies being enacted on campus.  Many of the questions that surfaced were related to mental health, especially in response to the working breaks.

“Many students are feeling incredibly burnt out after such a long semester without a break, despite the four days of working breaks we were offered,” Emamzadeh said. “As we have heard from many students, not everyone found the working breaks as effective as they were supposed to be, and we brought up this concern to the administrators at the Town Hall. Having the opportunity to directly voice these concerns was very helpful and we appreciated our panelists being receptive to our feedback, not only about the working breaks but other COVID policies as well.”

Other questions that were brought up involved the increase in surveillance testing, and the panelists explained that students can expect to be tested every one to two weeks to make sure the University catches any cases before they become a problem. There were also concerns over students getting charged for diagnostic tests at the Health Center, but these tests are covered by health insurance. The University has also been identified as a vaccination site, so as soon as PA rolls out more vaccines, the panelists assured us that the University will be ready to get vaccines underway.

Many students are eager to get back to normal, and the academic calendar released for Fall 2021 seems to bring us back there, though it is tentative. 

“Our panelists were able to share their thoughts on what our fall semester will look like, and while it might not be the most satisfying answer, the reality is that it’s too early to know exactly what the semester will look like,” Levine said. “We can get back to ‘normal’ in the same way that we’ve gotten this far, by making smart decisions and continuing to put each other first.”

Overall, the Town Hall meeting was a success. 

“We had a really good turnout and felt like a lot of students were pleased with the event as well,” Emamzadeh said. “We think that overall the event was a great way for students to hear from administrators about Community First initiatives and policies, and we hope that everyone in attendance found it insightful.”

Emamzadeh also mentioned that a way to improve this event would be to record it next time and share answers to questions that they could not get to on Instagram to ensure that even students who could not go had access to that information.

Make sure to follow SGA on Instagram @sgavillanova to find more opportunities like the Town Hall meeting. If you have any questions, be sure to email SGA or any of the panelists from the webinar. And, as Levine mentions, don’t forget to keep putting the Community First and following CARITAS Commitment guidelines.