University’s decision to bring back on-campus tours causes controversy

Jess Kaplan, Print Managing Co-Editor

The University admissions team is once again welcoming prospective students and families to tour campus. It had previously stopped campus tours for nearly three months due to COVID-19, but resumed tours in late July. 

Like many other aspects of university life, campus tours are starkly different than in years past: Admissions is now only offering two information sessions and tours per day, each capped at 20 individuals per information session with a campus tour immediately afterward. Moreover, the admissions team used visitor data from previous years to determine the most popular days to tour, and planned in accordance. In September, tours occurred on Mondays and Fridays; and in October, tours will be held on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays.

Visiting families are checked in outside for a health screening and temperature check. They are also required to wear a face-covering while they are on campus, regardless if they are indoors or outdoors. “This ensures our ambassadors have groups that are less than 10 individuals. We decided that our ambassadors will not come inside the admissions office so that their interactions with visitors takes place almost entirely outside,” said Dean of Admissions Kevin Mathes.

Information sessions take place inside Freas Hall where families sit six feet apart from each other and the presenter. After this introduction, families are escorted outside in groups of two or three to meet their admissions ambassador. “We decided that our ambassadors will not come inside the admissions office so that their interactions with visitors takes place almost entirely outside,” Mathes explained. 

New tour routes were also designed in consultation with facilities. Families are only taken into the Elaine Langone Center, Academic West and Bertrand Library; these areas receive more frequent cleaning than other locations on campus. 

The admissions team also created virtual programming that can be accessed at any time; this includes virtual information sessions with an admission counselor and ambassador, as well as a live tour where our ambassadors use a pre-recorded video that walks our tour route. The team also added weekly themed chats where ambassadors all comment on one aspect of life at the University. Mathes credits his colleagues in the Office of Communications with helping the Admissions team digitize all their publications in a Virtual Welcome Center.

Moreover, the admissions team is launching “Build Your Bucknell” in early October, which will replace our traditional in-person large-scale open houses. “Students will be able to explore Bucknell in the ways that most interest them — information sessions (in-person or virtual), tours (in-person or virtual), ambassador chats, office hours with faculty from our academic departments and college overviews conducted by the deans/associate deans,” Mathes said. 

Despite the new precautions, many students still feel uncomfortable with the influx of visitors to campus. In fact, one group of students created a Change.org petition — amassing 147 signatures at time of writing — which calls for campus to halt its reopening for in-person tours. The petition’s mission questions the viability of Bucknell’s planning, noting that, “[b]ringing guests into the community for purposes of profit puts ALL members of Bucknell’s campus at risk, especially students leading the tours.”

“I participated and chose to sign the petition because having outside visitors on campus puts the entire campus at risk for COVID-19, and is a sign that Bucknell cares more about its reputation to the outside world than about their own students,” said Yuki Komura ’21. “Students whose work as tour guides is their only source of income on campus are now faced with the choice of not having money or having to risk themselves getting sick just to make a living, as many of our virtual visit options have decreased since we’ve restarted in-person tours.” 

Others acknowledge that tours are often instrumental in a prospective student’s decision on which schools to apply to, however they are still wary of off-campus visitors. “I definitely sympathize a lot with prospective students who are struggling to make a decision on college. Also, given that this is an open campus, prospective students have been coming every day on their own,” said tour guide Tara Lahey ’22. “However, I do feel uncomfortable with prospective students coming to campus and it being encouraged. I understand that they are taking social distancing precautions, yet it seems unfair we are not allowed to leave while welcoming strangers to campus.”

“Giving tours on campus is a rewarding experience because you can really have an impact on whether or not a student decides to apply or attend Bucknell,” echoed tour guide Renee Shanhazarian ’22. “ I do think it was too soon to open up campus to the public. Even though tours are smaller, it still puts Bucknell students at risk on campus.”

Even with the concerns among students, admissions officers maintain that the campus is still seeing less visitors than in a regular admissions cycle. “We’ve seen a drop in in-person visitors this year, but that is due to the limits we’ve placed on registration rather than interest,” said Matthes.

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