Responding to COVID-19: Spring 2022

Dear students, faculty, and staff:

This has been a summer like no other in recent memory, as televised pleas from public health authorities to help stop the spread of COVID-19 gave way to impassioned calls for social justice and police reform from activists around the country. In Philadelphia, as in cities everywhere, we’ve seen severe hardship along with incredible generosity, dedication and compassion. But that is not the whole story of our summer—just as the pandemic will not be the only story of 2020.

Weitzman Connections

All of us have had to make sacrifices great and small in recent months, and many of us have also endured personal losses. In the face of such challenges, the Weitzman School mobilized our faculty and staff to provide inspiration, and lay the foundation for the new academic year, by creating new opportunities for students to be engaged with their profession and connected with peers. We convened some of today’s greatest minds in design and education for dozens of virtual talks, most of which are available to watch on video. The Department of Architecture held a competition to design a mobile testing unit for COVID-19, and the Department of Landscape Architecture launched the From the Rooftops and Mind the Gap Virtual Lecture Series and LA+CREATURE, an international design ideas competition to encourage a more symbiotic existence between humans and other species. The Department of City and Regional Planning provided opportunities for students to interact with faculty, staff, and each other through regular meetings and town hall sessions, and the Department of Fine Arts has provided paid opportunities for students to participate in Monument Lab projects and consult with Fine Arts faculty about their individual art practices. The Graduate Program in Historic Preservation employed 17 students in projects for the National Park Service, Penn Medicine, Taliesin West, and other partners, and convened students and alumni for a series of virtual panel discussions on on the profession.

We also implemented or expanded two School-wide initiatives to help students advance their career and foster meaningful connections to the wider community. The Weitzman Alumni Career Ambassador program was established, forging connections across generations and multiple time zones. PennPraxis engaged 85 students and recent alumni to offer Weitzman expertise to an impressive array of clients around the country, from the Fresh Air Fund to the National Park Service.

One Weitzman

The murder of George Floyd, like that of all too many other Black Americans before him, brought into focus just how much work remains to be done to achieve racial equality in the United States—and the grave responsibility that rests with white Americans. Penn has not been immune to the systemic racism upon which our country was founded, and has committed significant new resources to amplifying Black voices at the University and beyond. Most recently, President Gutmann formed a new Campus Iconography Group, which I co-chair, to re-examine the statues and symbols displayed on our campus in light of the history of slave ownership among 18th century Penn faculty and trustees. This work builds on the invaluable efforts of the Penn and Slavery Project, launched in 2017, to educate our community about the deep roots of racism.

For our part, the Weitzman School is strengthening its commitment to eliminating white supremacy on multiple fronts:

  • Recruitment of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) Faculty, Staff, and Students
  • Creating a More Inclusive Community through Programming and Training
  • Knowledge Production/Advancing the Professions through Curricular Revisions and Public Events
  • Financial Support
  • Strengthened Infrastructure, Transparency, and Reporting Related to Our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives

Among the latest initiatives, we’ve established a new emergency fund to help students with financial need or who encounter unanticipated financial emergencies.

To guide us in these efforts, and help us measure our progress, we have released The Weitzman School of Design’s Commitment to Anti-Racism Work and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Action, which is available to read in its entirety on our website. I am grateful to the students involved in Inclusion in Design for a series of meaningful contributions to this process, as well as the members of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee. But I call on all Weitzman students, faculty, staff, and alumni – particularly those with privilege – to reflect on our own contributions to perpetuating racial inequality and how we can actively support the Black community as well as the other minority communities who make up our school.

Weitzman Renewed: A Hybrid Approach

As designers, planners, artists, and preservationists, we excel at problem solving and take pride in defining, and responding to, the conditions we find in the world. Those qualities have been put to the test by COVID-19.

To protect the health and safety of our community while upholding the highest educational standards, we have adopted a hybrid approach for the Fall 2020 semester. The vast majority of classes and seminars will be taught online, and a limited number of studios will be conducted on campus. In addition, all courses and studios can be taught or attended remotely. With the start of the fall semester, various departments and offices will be available for in-person consultation during designated hours, although most will offer virtual office hours. Their availability will be posted on campus and online.

The success of this approach depends on our collective adherence to a series of rigorous health and safety measures that are being implemented at all Weitzman facilities. Underpinning our approach are three new initiatives: PennOpen Pass, the Weitzman Campus Compact, and the Public Health Promotion Team.

PennOpen Pass is a web-based daily symptom checker designed to reduce the risk of COVID-19 to the Penn community. Starting Monday, August 24, a Green Pass will be required for Weitzman faculty, staff and students for entry into campus buildings. By now, you should have received information via email about how to register and add a shortcut to your smartphone. For more information, visit the PennMedicine website.

The Weitzman Campus Compact is a set of protocols governing on-campus activity beginning September 1. Students, faculty, and staff will undergo heath screening before being granted access to all Weitzman buildings. Access is granted based on three criteria: A (green) Day Pass from PennOpen Pass (see above); a Penn mask or other face covering; and a temperature less than 100.3 Fahrenheit or 37.8 Celsius.

To encourage adherence to the Weitzman Campus Compact and other health and safety measures instituted at our school, we have brought together a group of Weitzman faculty, staff, and students to serve on the Public Health Promotion Team (PHPT). You are free to raise concerns about your own safety or the safety of those around you, without recrimination or consequence, to any member of the PHPT. Alternatively, you may also contact PHPT Co-Chair Karl Wellman, Senior Director for Operations and Planning, Design and Construction, at kwellman@design.upenn.edu.

We are also taking unprecedented steps in modifying and operating our facilities to reduce the risk of transmission within Weitzman buildings. Housekeeping procedures at all Weitzman buildings will be implemented to hospital-grade standards. To facilitate overnight cleaning measures, Weitzman facilities will be closed to students, faculty and staff outside of study hours, which are 8:00am to 9:00pm, Monday through Friday. Some of the other changes you will notice:

  • Touchless faucets have been installed throughout Weitzman, as have hand sanitization stations.
  • Seating and workstations have been reconfigured to ensure appropriate social distancing; in some locations, Plexiglass barriers have been installed.
  • Course and studio schedules have been staggered or modified and spaces have been reprogrammed to minimize the number of occupants in our facilities at any given time.
  • Elevators will be limited to two occupants at any time, and maximum room occupancy will be posted throughout Weitzman buildings and strictly enforced.
  • New signage has been installed to organize traffic flow and eliminate bottlenecks.

With the many new policies and procedures for Academic Year 2020-2021, be sure to read through the Fall 2020 Guidelines on our website at www.design.upenn.edu/covid-19. We encourage you to check back regularly as information will be updated to reflect changes based on new public health directives.

As eager as I am to welcome many of you back to campus, I want to emphasize that all operations at Weitzman will be guided by public health directives, as they have been these past months. As conditions evolve, it may be necessary to modify our plan as the semester goes on.

While we continue to adapt to the new normal, we can be thankful for the opportunity to come together once again—whether virtually or in person—with common purpose. I hope you will join me, your classmates, and colleagues at New Student Orientation on Friday, August 28, at 9:00am (for New Students) and at Convocation on Monday, August 31 at 4:30pm (for All Students), when we begin the journey together.

Fritz