Rivera Addresses Potential In-Person Athletic and Academic Opportunities in Campus Community Conversation


Protestors danced to a performance by the River Rats at a demonstration against Macalester’s investment in Enbridge Energy. Photo by Kori Suzuki ’21.

Talia Bank, Staff Writer

With the end of module 3, the arrival of spring and a consistently low prevalence of COVID-19 cases within the Macalester community, the college may see more opportunities for outdoor activities and gatherings, in-person learning and athletic competition. 

On Thursday, March 4, in a virtual Campus Community Conversation, President Suzanne Rivera and Athletic Director Donnie Brooks addressed questions and concerns regarding these potential changes and plans for Macalester into the next modules and the 2021-22 academic year. 

Beginning the Community Conversation, Rivera acknowledged that the Macalester community, as well as the broader world, is still facing extraordinary challenges. She mentioned the difficulty of isolation during the pandemic and the ongoing public health crisis, the uptick in violence against Asian-Americans, the recent disastrous power outages in Texas, the military coup in Myanmar and the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was charged in the killing of George Floyd last year. Amid these difficult events, Rivera urged people to lean into the community Macalester offers and find support in one another. 

To discuss Macalester’s possible opportunities for in-person activity in the near future, Rivera first shared the current state of COVID-19 on campus. 

“The fact that our COVID case counts at Mac are so low is a tribute to all of you,” Rivera said. “The sacrifices you’ve made have paid off in terms of what we’ve been able to do this academic year and through this tough winter.”

Macalester has only had four COVID-19 cases in the on-campus residence halls since August. This semester the school has administered over 3,500 COVID tests and seen eight positive cases.

“The way we’ve applied what we’ve learned has kept COVID at bay on campus so far and our testing protocols have helped us catch cases early on before they could spread widely.” Rivera said.

Rivera and Brooks announced the following plans — pending a continuation of current trends — for the next modules and into the next academic year: 

Spring Break

As The Mac Weekly reported, the decision to shorten spring break and redistribute two lost days as “wellness days” throughout modules 3 and 4 was not uniformly supported by the Macalester community. During the webinar, one attendee commented that “it seems like the administration is making this up as they go along” and asked why spring break was “cancelled.” 

“We are making this up as we go along,” Rivera responded. “Operating the college in this manner, due to the pandemic, is totally unprecedented. We have no models for how to do this. We are using the most current data we have, and we’re using our best judgement and we are making it up as we go. I know that might not feel satisfying, but that’s the truth.”

She did not mention particular reasons for shortening spring break, but generally emphasized flexibility and patience for ensuring the safety of the Macalester community in navigating the new reality.

Module 4

With warmer weather arriving in St. Paul and the Macalester community continuing to observe COVID guidelines, Rivera is cautiously optimistic for the coming module. 

“After the shorter, modified quiet period… while the amount of in-person instruction in the classroom remains at the discretion of individual faculty members, we anticipate with warmer weather we will see more in-person learning opportunities,” Rivera said. 

She added that if current low case counts continue, the school is excited about the potential to host winter and fall sports competitions, abbreviated spring sports seasons and outdoor recreation opportunities for the campus community. When the weather improves, the college plans to bring back the large tents used in fall semester for outdoor gatherings. 

Brooks echoed Rivera on the use of outdoor spaces, pointing out that students have transformed the baseball and softball field into a cross-country skiing course and that some teams have held outdoor practices. 

“With competition likely ahead of us, I do think we will be training in that facility [the Leonard Center] for some time,” Brooks said. “As these temperatures change, I do think that there will be more space for folks to go work out in the stadium facility.” 

Updates on Vice President (VP) of Administration and Finance Appointment and Searches for Provost, VP of Inclusion and VP for Student Affairs 

Along with weighing potential changes to on-campus operations, Macalester is also looking to fill several administrative positions: provost, vice president of inclusion, and vice president for student affairs. Rivera shared updates on those searches and congratulated Associate Vice President of Administration and Finance Patricia Langer on her appointment to the position of Interim Vice President of Administration and Finance, effective June 1 after David Wheaton retires at the end of the academic year. 

“The provost search is going great,” Rivera said “By now, virtually anyone who’s wanted to have input on that search has had an opportunity to participate in multiple listening searches [sessions]… I’m really looking forward to the review of candidates.”

Rivera has not yet started the search for VP of Inclusion and is rethinking the role of VP for student affairs. She hopes to make the approach to student development more holistic.

COVID-19 Vaccination On-Campus 

As of the last update from the Infectious Disease Task Force on February 23, the Laurie Hamre Center for Health and Wellness has not received any vaccines for distribution. 

“I’ve been pushing very hard [and] applying pressure, not only by sending a letter to the governor and to the leaders at MDH [Minnesota Department of Health] but also organizing within the group of Minnesota private colleges who have an association to try to persuade leadership in Minnesota to trust colleges and universities to serve as partners in vaccine distribution, because we are capable of doing that,” Rivera said. “I will alert the campus right away if we should be given access to any vaccines to distribute.”

Line 3 and Divestment from Enbridge Energy Partners

As reported in The Mac Weekly, students recently learned that Macalester is invested in Enbridge Energy Partners, a security of Enbridge, the company constructing the Line 3 pipeline 

across Indigenous land in violation of treaty rights in northern Minnesota. 

Rivera discussed the rechartering of the Social Responsibility Committee which will be chaired by environmental studies professor Roopali Phadke. The committee will make their decision on the proposal by May 1. Rivera added that she supports Macalester students’ right to peacefully protest.

“I’ve taken all sorts of heat for supporting the rights of our students to express themselves through peaceful protest and that is as true around Line 3 as it is around racial justice or any other issue our students feel passionately about.” Rivera said.

Fall 2021

As COVID-19 vaccines become more widely available, many members of the community are wondering whether Macalester will open for full-capacity, in-person operation at the start of the 2021-2022 academic year. Rivera indicated that this is the current plan, and that even if circumstances change, it is best at this time to plan for full capacity. However, these plans are not confirmed and depend on the state of COVID-19 locally, nationally and internationally. 

With current COVID-19 trends on campus leading the community in a positive direction, the opportunities for in-person activities are very possible and, if those trends continue, even probable. While students have been learning and faculty teaching remotely, module 4 may offer increased in-person learning for on-campus students. The biggest change may come in fall 2021, when the college plans to reopen in full capacity. 

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