Brian Johnson is the assistant vice president for Housing, Residence Life and Campus Recreation. Johnson and his campuswide volunteer team, along with Campus Health and the School of Medicine, have coordinated a new move-in experience for students that begins at the Tulane Arrival Center, located in the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown New Orleans. This year’s Arrival Center will open Jan. 9 – 16.
What is the purpose of the Arrival Center?
The primary purpose of the Arrival Center is to facilitate the safe transition of our students from their home environment back to campus. All on-campus students go through the Arrival Center and will be tested for COVID-19 prior to being allowed back on campus. The secondary purpose of the Arrival Center is to provide programming for new students and spring scholars. The Hyatt Regency is the largest conference center and hotel in New Orleans and provides us with large spaces to enable COVID-19 safety protocols and city guidelines while we engage our students.
How does it benefit the Tulane community as well as the Greater New Orleans community?
The Arrival Center really allows us to start the semester off clean. The advance testing protocol developed by the Tulane School of Medicine and Campus Health allows us to have confidence that students entering campus at the start do not have COVID-19. This is very important since the majority of our positive cases are not showing symptoms or are only exhibiting very minor symptoms. For students who are COVID-19 positive, we follow our protocols and provide isolation space until they are healthy and able to return to in-person living and learning. The benefit of frequently testing our students certainly impacts the Greater New Orleans community because it allows us to have a high degree of confidence in our ability to identify and safely remove COVID-19 positive individuals before they inadvertently risk spreading COVID-19 to the community.
What programming and/or sessions have changed (if any) at the Arrival Center?
New students and spring scholars are the primary focus of Arrival Center spring programming. There will be several sessions for them to attend as well as several sessions for any parents that are with them. Greek recruitment will also be a focus. We will have targeted programming for participants going through recruitment. We anticipate less parents accompanying students to the Arrival Center this spring so there will not be daily sessions for them like we conducted in the fall.
Was there something learned last semester during the Arrival Center process that is helpful for going into this semester?
There are a couple of big takeaways from the fall Arrival Center: First, the program was a tremendous collaboration between a lot of areas at Tulane. What I realized is how amazing, talented and dedicated our staff and faculty are — they stepped up in a big way. Second, the Arrival Center really cemented the importance of face-to-face, eye-to-eye interactions. It made a significant difference for our students and parents to safely interact with Tulane staff and faculty. That interaction also lifted the spirits and energized everyone involved with the Arrival Center. March to early August was very hard on a lot Tulanians! Planning and executing the Arrival Center sent a clear message that we believed we could safely and effectively support our students. It wasn’t easy but it was so worth it!
We also learned some new tricks for move-in and how to structure campus logistics in ways that protected our students and staff. In the past, move-in was organized chaos that we did very well. Students shipping their belongings and dropping them in their rooms created a much safer environment. It could be something we repeat in future years it went so well!
Can you describe the work and collaboration that goes into setting up the center?
The Arrival Center is a big undertaking. Several key elements that go into setting up the center include the logistics and protocols for testing the students as they come through the center. Campus Health and the Tulane School of Medicine team collaborated heavily in preparing the staffing, testing, education and process. Volunteer organization and leadership was another big piece. Luann Dozier, Michelle Mirpuri and Denise Breaux did an outstanding job creating a framework for the volunteer schedule, job tasks and coordination with a variety of moving pieces. University Communications and Marketing (Melinda Viles and Aryanna Gamble) turned the Hyatt into Tulane central with signage and school spirit and it was amazing. Volunteers across the university showed up in a big way and did an amazing job.
Do you think students have adapted well to this new process for coming back to campus?
I think our students adapted really well. The energy our students showed during the fall Arrival Center was amazing. Logistics went really well. The smooth process on campus really helped our students and families navigate moving into the residence halls safely.
What are you hopeful for going forward?
I am very hopeful for the spring semester for several reasons. Our students and their dedication in the fall were exceptional. I believe our students are going to return in the spring inspired to continue their studies while protecting themselves and others. I remain hopeful that by late spring we will be able to come together again as a community to reconnect in person as our community gains access to the vaccine. Finally, there are a lot of teachable moments and lessons that all of us can learn from 2020! I am hopeful that our students and all of us take the lessons learned through this COVID-19 experience to enhance our university, our community and our world.
Interview by Alicia Serrano