Extra Curricular

The New (Ab)Normal

How are schools reacting?

School is back, baby! You’ve got your binders. Your planner. Your mask! Yes, it’s a strange year. Heck, strange years at this point. And while we all wish we could put this pandemic behind us, it’s still present in so many aspects of our lives. That includes schools. And while we do hope (and BELIEVE) we’ll be back to normal before the end of this school year, we think seeing how colleges and universities are handling this moment could be useful. The future is always uncertain and–while we can pray we won’t see something like COVID-19 again for a loooong time–there’s always the chance a different event will require similar reactions from government and school officials. So let’s take a look at just a few examples of how schools are reacting to the “new normal.”

The measures taken by schools around the country reflect the variation we’ve seen state-by-state throughout the pandemic. Take Juilliard, for example. Considering New York City has been actively establishing mandates, it shouldn’t be too surprising that Juilliard is requiring vaccination for its community. As is the case with most vaccination requirements, there are allowances for exemptions and secondary protocol for regular testing. If we jump all the way over to CalArts in California we’ll see similar measures. Like Juilliard, CalArts is requiring vaccination for all of its community. Both are also mandating masks in all campus buildings, with some exceptions for special circumstances. Again, not surprising when you consider the manner in which California leaders, and officials in Los Angeles county specifically (where CalArts is located), have dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now let’s scoot on over to Texas State University. TSU may fly somewhat under the radar for many of us, but their Musical Theatre BFA program has seen some strong success in recent years. Texas’ state government has outlawed vaccine and mask mandates altogether. No organization or institution is allowed to require proof of vaccination, or to mandate mask wearing. TSU is doing what it can by saying, in their official releases, that they “strongly urge” students, faculty, and staff to get the vaccine and wear masks. Texas is a bit of a special case in this regard: No other state has actually legislated against protective measures. 

Let’s stay south but head back to the east. Considering applying to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro? UNCG is a school with a very respectable BA program and a growing BFA track as well. UNCG, like TSU, exists outside of a major metropolitan area in a fairly conservative state. But UNCG requires vaccination or at least periodic testing. Auburn University (which also has BA and BFA tracks) is another school in a mid-sized area within a conservative state. Auburn has gone for the middle route: they are encouraging vaccination while not requiring it. But they are requiring masks for anyone inside a campus building.

And last, but certainly not least let’s hop across the pond and look at schools abroad in the UK. In Glasgow, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland isn’t mandating vaccines, but they are requiring masks in all RCS buildings. Early strict guidelines have been somewhat relaxed–they no longer officially require social-distancing–but they still have several measures in place to protect students’ safety, such as suggestions for ventilation in classrooms and restrictions that allow only RCS faculty, staff, and students at performances. If you look at larger schools with drama programs you’re likely to see more strict guidelines. Edinburgh College has stated that it plans on transitioning to in-person classes after starting virtual, but there’s not a lot of information beyond that. Things look slightly less cautious in two schools further south. Both the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and King’s College London are back to in person learning. Neither school is requiring vaccination but differ in their mask requirements. RADA is mandating masks on all of their grounds while King’s College only “recommends” masks in their buildings if the individual is not “exempt” (because of vaccination or other immunity). The UK might differ in overall approach compared to the US, but the internal differences are just as varied.

This is just a quick look at a few overall approaches. We encourage you to do some research on your own. You want to feel safe at the school you choose, and only you know what that means. Again, you can hope this will all be over by the time you’re entering college, but you can’t be sure. And how schools and states react this time around are fairly good predictors for how they’ll handle similar crises in the future. So be informed. If you have questions or just want to talk through your concerns, consider checking out our Wellness Wednesday on the Events page. This is a free weekly session (for Pro members) with our Mental Health Mentor, Magen Huntley.

Tim Giles

Tim Giles is a theatre artist who likes to make work capitalizing on risk, coming together, and a little chaos. He also makes music, bakes a mean loaf of bread, and runs around outside a lot. As a Southerner, he thinks everyone needs to recognize the beauty of one of the best words ever invented: y’all. It’s gender neutral! If y’all start to incorporate “y’all” into y’all’s everyday vocabulary, y’all’ll quickly understand its usefulness.

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