COVID-19 Update to Campus: Oct. 23, 2020

To the Eastern Michigan University community:

I am pleased to begin this week’s message with a positive note about Eastern Michigan University’s multi-layered efforts to safeguard the health, safety and well-being of our students, faculty and staff. These efforts remain robust and ongoing, and so far have resulted in a relatively low number of positive cases, as illustrated from the data on the University’s COVID-19 dashboard

In the seven days ending Oct. 20, the University administered 840 tests that resulted in zero positive tests. We identified a total of 12 positive cases from all sources over the same time period. Of that total, four were students who live off-campus and had no contact with campus prior to the time they tested positive; six were on-campus students – defined as a student who was living on campus or had visited campus during the applicable time period prior to the time they tested positive. Two cases were reported among University employees.

Since August 12, the University has administered a total of 5,676 tests that resulted in 46 positive results for a positivity rate of 0.81 percent.

We greatly appreciate the engagement and support from our students, faculty and staff to the University’s #EMUSafe efforts. We continue to see strong compliance with our mandatory requirement for wearing face coverings throughout campus, inside buildings or outdoors. (Face coverings may be removed when working alone in an office with the door closed or in a residence hall room.)

As a reminder, students who believe that they have a medical condition that prohibits them from wearing a face covering while on campus should contact the Disability Resource Center at Employees (including student employees) who believe that they have a medical condition that prohibits them from wearing a face covering while working should contact University Human Resources at Without an approved accommodation, face coverings are required. Thank you for continuing this critical practice.

I have several items to cover in this week’s update:

  • Winter Academic Calendar Changes: Later Start Date, Elimination of Winter Recess
  • Quirk Building and Quirk Theatre Naming Committee
  • Virtual Speaker Series: Race, Policing and Social Justice in 2020
  • Swoop’s Food Pantry Update/Thanksgiving Baskets
  • Celebrating Eastern Michigan University Excellence

Winter Academic Calendar Changes: Extended Semester Break, Continuous Winter Semester (No Winter Recess)

As part of our ongoing efforts to safeguard the health and safety of its students, faculty and staff, yesterday The Board of Regents approved revisions to the Winter 2021 academic calendar.

The changes were recommended in response to public health factors arising from the COVID-19 pandemic and are similar to those being enacted at many universities across the state and nation. The changes are as follows:

  • The first day of class meetings will occur one week later than originally planned, on January 13. This move extends for students the holiday break between semesters, which begins on Dec. 24. Employees will return to work on Monday, January 4, as scheduled.

  • There will be no mid-semester/winter break in 2021; the University will hold classes that week. Data indicate that minimizing community members’ travel to different locations and limiting exposures due to larger social gatherings can help minimize the spread of the disease. Our hope is to return to regular break schedules once the virus is under better control.

The semester will end as originally scheduled, on April 27, 2021, with the final day of classes on April 20. Commencement is tentatively scheduled for April 25.

The changes to the winter calendar mirror the efforts established this semester, which, as noted above, have so far resulted in a relatively low number of COVID-19 cases. Student Affairs staff members will be coordinating efforts to provide increased attention to student and employee mental health and well-being over the course of the academic year.

Quirk Building and Quirk Theatre Naming Committee

I announced to the University community on Sept. 10 that I had appointed a Committee to gather information and to provide guidance to me around the names currently given to the Quirk Building and Quirk Theatre.

I am pleased to report that Committee members have made substantial progress on my request and I am highly supportive of their efforts. They have fully reviewed information uncovered by an Eastern Michigan University alumnus and local historian that suggests the building and theater’s namesake promoted Blackface Theater, including local performances. EMU Historian Mary-Elizabeth Murphy also was invited to share her deep expertise and insights as well.

The Committee members, and I, have stood in strong agreement from the start of this process that our actions in this matter must be grounded and guided by our University’s statement of core values, one of which is inclusiveness. That statement asserts: “We create an environment that supports, represents, embraces and engages members of diverse groups and identities.” In order to achieve that, our institutional choices about each and every aspect of our work must convey that commitment to our students, faculty, staff and community. Our values infuse all we do here at Eastern Michigan University.

Our next step will be for the Committee to engage our campus community, including the issuance of a call for suggestions about naming. This process will occur over the next several weeks. The Committee’s work will be finalized at the conclusion of that process and a formal recommendation regarding a name change will be brought to the Board of Regents at the Dec.10, 2020 meeting.

I am thankful for the Committee’s ongoing work in this effort. The members are:

  • Dana Heller, CAS Dean, co-chair
  • Kathy Stacey, CMTA Director, co-chair
  • Pirooz Aghssa, CMTA Faculty
  • Pam Cardell, CMTA Staff
  • Doris Fields, CMTA Faculty
  • Jill Hunsberger, EMU Foundation
  • Sally McCracken, CMTA Emeritus Faculty
  • KC Quirk, family member
  • Ken Stevens, CMTA Emeritus Faculty
  • Rand Stewart, CMTA Alumnus

Please look for further information about campus engagement opportunities in the weeks ahead.

Virtual Speaker Series: Race, Policing and Social Justice in 2020

More than 170 people attended last evening’s third and final session of the College of Arts and Sciences virtual speaker series: Race, Policing and Social Justice in 2020. It is wonderful to see the great support the program received, given the relevant and important discussions that took place over the three sessions.

The event website includes details of each of the sessions as well as a video recording for those who were unable to view it at the time. The recording of last night’s session will be added as soon as the editing is completed. Please join me in acknowledging the event coordinators of the series for their expertise, commitment and creativity in assembling an outstanding program:

Swoop’s Food Pantry Update/Thanksgiving Baskets

The fall hours for the John and Angie Sabo Swoop’s Food Pantry Room are Mondays and Thursdays from 12 - 5 p.m., and Wednesdays from 12 - 6:30 p.m.

Shoppers are requested to complete an Online Shopping Request Form before arriving. Items will be bagged by staff and brought out to clients when they arrive. Visitors to Swoop’s can enter through the main entrance on the north side of Pierce Hall near the elevator. Swoop’s requires any student who has not used the pantry this year to complete the new 2020-21 Swoop's Food Pantry Intake Form.

If you wish to donate items – those most needed are instant mashed potatoes, large bags/boxes of snacks, cereal, hand soap and tofu.

Please email in advance to make sure someone is present to handle your delivery.

Please maintain physical distancing guidance when picking up or delivering items to the Pantry.

Swoop's has had a great initial response to its sixth annual Thanksgiving Basket drive! The goal is to provide 50 Thanksgiving Baskets to students. Individuals who wish to donate items can visit Swoop’s Food Pantry Thanksgiving Baskets 2020.

Celebrating Eastern Michigan University excellence

I am proud to share several items reflecting University excellence in this week’s message:

  • Biology Professor Cara Shillington moved some of her introduction to biology class sessions outdoors this fall to give students a new experience. The students could be seen collecting samples from some of the marsh areas on campus, such as near the bridge going to the Student Center. The outdoor adventures were scheduled by Professor Shillington and her grad assistants to reduce some of the time spent in the classroom, while still engaging with the concepts traditionally covered in the class. Dr. Shillington told EMU Today, “I think it was a success all round, with both students and the lab instructors, so we will likely try and incorporate some of these activities into future semesters.”

  • Two Eastern Michigan professors have completed noteworthy research regarding area COVID-19 data. Dr. Grigoris Argeros, associate professor of sociology, and Dr. Natalie Dove, associate professor of psychology, found that more than one-third of Washtenaw County’s 3,412 COVID-19 cases as of Oct. 1 came from two ZIP codes — 48197 and 48198 — which cover Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township and portions of Superior, Augusta, York and Pittsfield townships.

    Professors Argeros and Dove note that those two ZIP codes vary by race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status relative to the rest of Washtenaw County. They now plan to move forward with a second round of the project, to collect data from residents in order to assess some of the demographic, structural, and psychological variables that might make a difference in responses to COVID-19. These activities are supported by the College of Arts and Sciences Faculty Professional Development Award, funded by the GameAbove Faculty First funds.

  • Interior design students won the top three places in the Student Rendering category in a nationwide CET Designer contest sponsored by Configura, a major Swedish software company. The three students are Olivia Grant, Alondra Chavez and Raina Hammitte. Their impressive sweep came at the 13th annual CET Designer Awards. CET Designer is a space-planning software used around the world. Last year, Eastern took the top three spots and repeated the feat this year. The winning students were enrolled in Interior Design Studio V, taught by Dr. Diane Guevara, an NCIDQ (National Council for Interior Design) licensed interior designer in the School of Visual and Built Environments in the College of Engineering and Technology.

Congratulations to all of the faculty members and students highlighted above. They are yet another example of the excellence of Eastern Michigan University.

Health and safety reminder

As I do each week, I will conclude with an important health and safety reminder. Please continue to:

  • Practice effective hand washing and the use of hand sanitizers;
  • Wear face coverings; and,
  • Observe physical distancing.

These three actions, when taken together, dramatically reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19.

Please continue to follow the University’s COVID-19 Planning and Preparedness website for ongoing updates.

James Smith, Ph.D.