July 10, 2020: COVID Update

Dear Members of the RISD Community,

This week I was pleased to read about Rhode Island’s progress in battling the prevalence and impact of COVID-19 under the leadership of Governor Raimondo. As noted in the article, “Rhode Island is leading the nation in testing, with nearly a quarter of its population tested so far, and its rate of positive tests has dropped from over 18 percent to under 2 percent.” As we continue to see surges in southern and western parts of the country and new information about the role of airborne droplets in transmission of COVID-19, I am encouraged by the data that shows Rhode Island’s drop in cases and deaths.

New Information Regarding Airborne Transmission

Please know that we continue to consult our team of experts daily and have particularly inquired about any new health and safety protocol that we should follow given this new information about airborne transmission. Their guidance continues to place heavy emphasis on mask wearing and physical distancing, as well as close inspection of our ventilation systems. RISD will not only be giving all faculty, staff and students who will be on campus free cloth masks, but we have also hired external consultants, consisting of an industrial hygienist and HVAC engineer, to review all heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems on campus and provide recommendations to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. As ever, we will continue to monitor and be guided by the evolving scientific facts and will keep the community informed of new developments.

Changes to Student and Exchange Visitor Program

I know many of you have also reached out this week in support of our international students in light of the recent ICE changes to the student and exchange visitor program requiring students who will be taking all of their courses online to leave the country. In my email yesterday to the Student Alliance and student body I outlined the ways that we are working to protect our international population, but I want to reiterate that information here as well.

Since the announcement on Monday, we have actively worked to both advocate for and communicate with RISD’s international community. As you know our courses will utilize varied teaching modalities, with the majority of courses being offered in the hybrid model. We are consulting with immigration attorneys, NAFSA (Association of International Educators) and colleagues from other institutions. OISS has been working directly with new and continuing students, as well as faculty and staff, to determine the most appropriate actions in coordination with SEVP guidelines and in conjunction with the Admissions Department. Shortly, OISS will provide more detailed information on what the next steps are for each of the different scenarios – working closely with the institution and the departments and with each individual student – and we believe RISD will be able to navigate this new policy successfully on behalf of our students even if it remains in place.

We expect that over the coming days and weeks we will continue our efforts to address ICE’s poorly defined and unfair position. As part of that effort, we are working with Rhode Island institutions, uniting together to create common language about how we publicly oppose this new direction from ICE; have have sought assistance from our Rhode Island federal representatives; and have joined efforts by the American Council on Education (ACE) to seek revisions by ICE or Congressional intervention immediately. In addition, RISD, along with a number of other colleges and universities, has signed on to an “amicus brief” supporting the lawsuit that Harvard and MIT filed to block implementation of this new policy. (We are also part of the AICAD group’s (Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design) organizational sign-on to the amicus brief as a collective.) A hearing on the request for injunctive relief in that lawsuit is scheduled for July 15th, and we will inform you as we know the outcomes. Even though we believe that RISD can successfully navigate these obstacles without consequence to our students even without an injunction, we believe, as a matter of principle, that we must stand up in support of international student communities.

As we live through a time marked by so many challenges, it is often hard to bear the resulting anxiety and weight of so much change and uncertainty. Please know that we are here to offer support, and I remind you that we have added additional paths that are outlined below.

Rosanne Somerson

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