How Virginia Tech hopes to convince returning students to respect social distancing

When students return for the new academic year at Virginia Tech facilities, including seven in Northern Virginia, everyone will be required to wear masks and respect social distancing, and the university president admits that’s going to be a challenge.

“Some people say that when you have a battle between social distancing and teenage hormones, hormones will usually prevail; so are you worried that students are not going to be socially distanced enough?”

That question was posed to Virginia Tech President Timothy Sands by David Rubenstein, president of the Economic Club of Washington D.C., during a Tuesday forum.

“I think it all depends on the culture and the messaging. I am worried about that,” Sands replied. “But, I think if 90% of our students are compliant 90% of the time, we can manage [the others].”

Sands said public health messaging will try to help students understand that their actions can impact the entire community, including people they have never met.

“It is true that students will be students; they’re 18 to 22 years old primarily, the undergraduates. But, I also know that we’ve been through a lot as an institution and when Hokies need to perform, when they need to come together as a community, they always do,” Sands said. “I’m fairly optimistic about that.”

Violations will be addressed by the student conduct process, but Sands emphasized that the goal will best be achieved through culture, not enforcement.

“We’re all going to have to exhibit quite a little bit of grace here,” Sands said. “There are all sorts of exceptions where masks are not easily used by some students who have health conditions or something similar. So we have to be aware that every individual is a little different.”

Students living on campus are required to sign a “Hokie Wellness Commitment” that includes details about wearing masks. Also, the capacity of classrooms has been limited to accommodate social distancing and multiple measures taken to minimize contact.

“We anticipate about 30%, maybe a third of the student experience will be in person — in small classes,” Sands said. Larger lectures will occur virtually.

Find details outlining Virginia Tech’s plans for the fall, including specifics pertaining to the seven facilities in Northern Virginia, on the university’s website.

Watch the discussion here.

The Economic Club of Washington promotes awareness of the role Washington plays in the national and world economies. It has more than 900 members.

More Coronavirus news

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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