Dear Returning and Incoming Gillings Students

June 19, 2020

To Returning Gillings Students – we have missed you and so look forward to your return!  We extended spring break for a week last semester, and then moved to all remote instruction – it was a very abrupt pivot, but everyone pulled together and finished the semester. Many found new practica or jobs, returned home or changed your place of residence, but all of you did a wonderful job completing a difficult semester. Thanks for making the most of a really difficult situation as the COVID-19 pandemic forced us into new ways of operating in all aspects of teaching, research, and life!

To Incoming Gillings Students – we are so looking forward to you joining the Gillings family! You braved an unusual recruitment period but found a way to get all your application materials in and come to our virtual open houses, get your questions answered and are now taking the brave step of starting graduate studies (or a public health undergraduate major) during this pandemic.  Thanks for taking the time to make this important decision and placing your trust in the fact that we remain committed to the highest quality public health training program, whether in person or face to face.

To All Students – Juneteeth commemorates June 19, 1865, the day that slaves in Galveston, Texas, learned of their emancipation; two years after the Emancipation Proclamation officially ended slavery in the United States. Today, many African Americans celebrate Juneteeth much like the Fourth of July, with food, fellowship and family gatherings. However, Juneteeth 2020, the year racial health inequities were fully exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with racial unrest sparked by continued police killings of unarmed Black people, feels less celebratory, more sombre. America still grapples with a history marked by 400 plus years of state-sanctioned oppression and violence against Black people, which is why Racism is a public health crisis. As future public health professionals, we hope you will join us in the fight against this crisis, and work to disrupt and dismantle racist institutional systems whenever you encounter them.

Keeping you informed  –  As we come together – either virtually or in person at Gillings – let’s truly “be the change we want to see in the world.”  To do that, we know you need information about how to plan to maintain your safety, health and well-being as you return to campus and continue your public health journey. To assist you in making those plans, we are sharing a list of Frequently Asked Questions (and responses) that we will add to as new decisions are made (attached).  We have been working diligently to put data-driven guidance in place even though the data has changed on a daily basis!  We have used University guidance (Carolina Together) where available and encourage you to refer to the helpful documents that have been produced for the larger campus community.  But we also have some general guidance for the Gillings Community now, and, will continue to communicate with you as the next several weeks unfold, so please watch for updates with the subject line: Fall 2020 at Gillings.  We know you get a lot of emails, but we want to be sure you have the information you need as quickly as it is available to share.

Returning to Chapel Hill This Fall – We are On It! – The campus is open now and some individuals, particularly essential workers and staff in research labs, have already returned to campus. Many of our Gillings community are linked to the UNC Hospital System, and they are fully operational and have implemented best practices for everyone who works or seeks care there.  We have some of the best, most informed researchers on infectious disease, and COVID-19 specifically, who work here at Gillings. Browse through our Coronavirus Information Portal to find out more about their work.  We are benefiting from their expertise in making decisions about returning safely to campus.  We are creating a Gillings version of the Roadmap that will apply to students, staff and faculty.

Many new measures are being put in place to keep people safe. As a leading School of Public Health, we take our responsibility very seriously for creating a safe and healthy environment.   For example, at Gillings, there will be new one-way entrances and exits to the various Gillings School buildings, classrooms and labs, more signage, cleaning supplies and strategies for physical distancing in classrooms, meeting rooms and other spaces, and, changes in practices for how and when we gather for meetings, and events.  We will be phasing in our return to campus.  We recognize that some staff, faculty and students may not be able to return to campus due to health or other concerns. We will work with you. You can start by reaching out to your academic coordinator to inquire about getting an accommodation.  We are practicing “flexibility, adaptability and kindness” as we work with individuals who are making decisions about returning to campus.

Class Schedules for Fall 2020 – We are targeting July 1 to release the Gillings School Fall 2020 schedule of classes.  We have followed a careful process of deciding which classes will be available residentially (aka mask to mask), which will be available in a hybrid mode (some residential and some online), and, which will be remote (online) only.  The good news is that we expect that nearly all classes will have an option to accommodate students who are unable to attend class in person.  All of our classrooms are being fitted with Zoom capacity.  Some classes will have options for students to Zoom into class in real-time (synchronously), while other students will be able to view the classes using a recorded session (asynchronously) at a different time.  This will be particularly important for our international students who are unable to return to campus for the start of the semester, but it has advantages for other students as well.  Each course instructor is working to develop a course that best fits for the learning objectives and competencies we expect to achieve.  They will also be prepared to pivot to an online format like we did last semester if required to do so.  We are confident that our faculty and staff are ready for a successful Fall semester.

Stay Tuned – We know you have more questions, so please check the FAQs.  Also, please be aware that we expect to launch the “Virtual Student Engagement” webpage as a “one-stop shop” for training opportunities, health and fitness information and much more that will be dedicated to Gillings students on or about July 8.  We will continue to update the FAQs  and encourage you to watch for updates on our Coronavirus Information Portal.  Thanks for your commitment to your training in public health – there is no better time to be getting a world-class public health education than during this COVID pandemic.  We need you, your energy and your vision for a better world.  You are the future of public health and we are eager to work with you to have a successful Fall semester. Do not hesitate to contact your Academic Coordinator, Faculty Mentor or others in Academic or Student Affairs – we are here to help!  More to come soon!

Stay healthy!

Laura A. Linnan, ScD
Sr. Associate Dean, Academic and Student Affairs

Charletta Sims-Evans, MSEd
Associate Dean, Student Affairs