Student town hall regarding COVID-19

President Messitte addresses student concerns

By Deana Johnson

A screen-capture of President Messitte speaking during the student town hall. Image courtesy of Connor Renshaw.

On April 21 President Zach Messitte held a Student Town Hall event on Zoom. This event enabled Messitte and other members of the college’s administration to answer student questions. The Town Hall event covered student concerned topics such as what the college’s plan is for the 2020 fall semester, student finances, moving out, summer online courses and prospective students.

Many of the students’ questions focused on what Ripon plans to do for the fall semester. “The college will be paying close attention to the CDC’s recommendations as well as looking at what other colleges are doing in the future” Messitte said.

As of right now, Messitte explained the college is still unsure  of what actions it is going to take for the fall semester and said that it will make a decision once it  knows what will be best for students and faculty.

Messitte revealed that the college is looking at three potential options for how the fall semester will happen. Option one is that students will be allowed to return to campus and the campus will continue to hold in-person classes; everything will return to normal. Option two is that some students will return to campus, however some classes will be held in person while others will remain online. Option three is that students will remain at home and Ripon will continue online classes for all courses.

Messitte said that campus officials’ hope is to have everyone back and have life restored to the campus. However if it is not the best for students and staff, then classes must remain online. The administration is looking for ways to better students’ online learning education. He also stated that they are also working on developing a fall academic calendar and that some changes may be made.

Messitte also said that in the fall if the campus does remain online, that school administrators are considering options of allowing students to enroll in fewer than the recommended 12 credits. This would allow for the option to only be a part-time student to make more time for jobs.

As far as fall sports are concerned, Messitte announced that the college is still uncertain about if it will have fall sports and said that this decision will be based off of the CDC’s recommendations as well as the NCAA’s decisions closer to fall semester.

In the Town Hall event, Messitte also provided more information regarding finances and financial changes. These changes consisted of room and board reimbursement, financial aid packages for next year, and financial scholarships and assistance.

One change is the credit and reimbursement for room and board due to leaving campus because of COVID-19. Messitte announced that students who lived at campus and who are not seniors, will receive a room and board reimbursement in the form of credit that will transfer over to the fall semester. Graduating seniors who lived on campus will receive a check in the mail.

Messitte also announced that the administration is unsure what the financial packages for next school year will look like because of the uncertainty regarding thefall semester. He said that the financial aid department would be sending out individual student aid packages within the next few weeks so students are aware of how much they will owe.

Furthermore, Messitte said that because of the hardships of COVID-19 on families and financial struggles they are trying to be more flexible and lenient with payments.

Ripon was able to create an Emergency Fund related to COVID-19. The federal government awarded the college with $900,000, $450,000 of which was allocated for students who completed the CARES Act Application describing their personal needs for financial assistance because of COVID-19. This assistance is a one-time check that is dependent on the student’s determined financial needs and the particular circumstances.

Messitte also announced that amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the college has started an Emergency Student Assistance Fund. This fund, created with dollars provided by alumni and community members, will award students with scholarships to help their financial needs next school year, as the college understands that many students are facing financial difficulties. More details of this fund and how to apply will be available to students closer to the beginning of fall semester.

Because of the sudden departure of students from campus, many students left their belongings in their college dorm. Some students were able to come back on the previous set day to retrieve their belongings, but others could not. Dean Ogle had hoped that once Gov. Tony Evers had lifted the Stay at Home order that students would be able to return to retrieve their things. However because the Stay at Home order has been extended into May, it is likely students will not be able to return to gather their things until early June or later. More information is expected to be provided later on.

Given so many challenges, the administration has decided to offer a limited number of summer online class options. These classes will be on a first-come first-served basis as there are limited spots within each offered course. More information about this opportunity to come within the next few weeks.

The Town Hall event also discussed what is being done for prospective students. Incoming students have been offered many opportunities to meet classmates, teachers, coaches and the campus through virtual tours and events.

Because summer orientation typically happens in the beginning of the summer, whenCOVID-19 is still likely to be a problem, the administration is working to develop a virtual summer orientation for those students.

The Student Town Hall was able to cover many topics and address student concerns. Messitte stated that he would like to hold another one in another month to announce any new decisions or changes that the administration figures out.