Lander University’s orientation sessions look different during COVID-19

Incoming freshmen at Lander University practiced social distancing in Lander’s Abney Cultural Center Auditorium during the first of the university’s in-person first-year orientation sessions. Students and their families were seated every other row, with at least two empty seats between families.

Lander University proceeded with both excitement and caution as it opened its doors for First Year Orientation July 20, a move that makes Lander one of the first colleges in the country to have an in-person orientation option for freshmen students and their parents in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Lander feels that it is very important that we meet with incoming students and their families,” said Boyd Yarbrough, vice president for Student Affairs at Lander.

Yarbrough said he hopes Lander’s orientation setup will serve as a model for other schools in the region that are looking at ways to allow groups of students back on campus in the fall.

The July 20 orientation was just one of eight in-person sessions Lander had over a two-week period. The number of sessions was expanded to allow for a smaller number of participants in each group. According to Matthew Gilstrap, executive director for Student Life and Engagement, that number is capped at 80 incoming students.

In addition to smaller sessions, Lander University officials stressed the other safety measures put in place that made in-person orientation possible. Before participation on campus, all participants were required to go through confidential health screenings and temperature checks. Stations for these screenings were set up in several locations throughout Lander’s Abney Cultural Center.

Lander officials also pointed to the seating arrangements within the Abney Cultural Center Auditorium. Students and their families were seated every other row, with two empty seats between each family. Sonny Nodine, assistant director of Student Activities and Orientation, noted that masks were highly encouraged, and disposable masks were available to all participants. Pursuant to an ordinance adopted by the City of Greenwood, masks are required within Lander’s bookstore, the dining hall and all campus eateries and retail locations.

In-person orientation was optional, with students having the choice of participating in an online orientation session earlier this summer. However, officials think these smaller in-person orientation sessions give Lander a better idea about how the fall semester will work, revealing both the university’s strengths as well as issues that need to be addressed before the 2020-21 academic year begins.

Yarbrough concluded his remarks by calling on a community-wide effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on Lander University’s campus.

“We need you to do your part,” Yarbrough said. “We are confident that the Bearcat family will do their part to keep everyone safe.”

Submitted by Graham Duncan