Amid falling COVID-19 infection numbers – and the availability of vaccines in the fight against the pandemic – officials from the University of Southern Mississippi are preparing to return to an in-person format for the fall 2021 semester.
The announcement, which was made on Feb. 26, comes after the university suspended in-person classes in the early days of the pandemic before welcoming students back on a limited basis.
“We feel like we can again offer the experience on campus in a safe way,” said Dee Dee Anderson, vice president for student affairs at Southern Miss. “We believe the numbers throughout the state will allow us to do that, along with the fact that anyone who wants access to the vaccine should be able to have it.
“We think it’s important that our students have that face-to-face contact with faculty, staff and their peers. We believe that helps them be more successful on our campus.”
In addition, campus officials are implementing a complete slate of student engagement opportunities and events for the fall semester. For those students who choose to continue to learn off-campus, the university will continue to offer a wide variety of online options.
“We always have online options, (because) people have different schedules,” Anderson said. “So, that will continue to be available as it has in the past.”
Southern Miss officials will continue to monitor the effects of the pandemic and will implement health and safety protocols through community standards that have been adhered to since last spring. More details about the semester will be released at a later date.
“I think the majority of our students will choose that (in-person option),” Anderson said. “The feedback that I’ve received from students so far is that they’re very thankful and excited.
“We’re all excited and ready to go back to a more traditional campus. I think the thing we’re most excited about is that going back to in-person will give us an opportunity to refocus on our student experience, our traditions and the experiences students have in the classroom, and we’re happy to get back.”
University President Rodney Bennett said the university plans to implement a week-long schedule of commencement ceremonies in May that will celebrate each of the school’s graduates from 2020 and spring 2021 who were forced to miss ceremonies because of the pandemic.
“We have every reason to believe we will be able to continue returning to a sense of normalcy through the remainder of this spring and summer,” Bennett said.