March 12 — Haskell Indian Nations University students received their first of many directives from the university regarding their COVID-19 pandemic response. This email set into motion many questions and further university policies to act on the changing climate of the pandemic.
The email extended spring break an additional week providing the University time to create the infrastructure to continue courses through distance learning. This email originally intended to have student safety reevaluated after several weeks, potentially resuming on-campus classes — this was later replaced with the message that distance learning would continue the remainder of the semester, that the summer semester would be online, and that fall semester may potentially be held on campus.
Further information was given through the Vice President of Student Services Tonia Salvini who addressed students who were on campus for spring break directly. In her addresses, Salvini presented a message of student safety as a priority. Salvini wanted students to know that actions were informed through a continued partnership with the Douglas County Emergency Response Team. This information provided a safety-window for student travel that later public statements identified as of March 17, where until then, students could return to campus to get their belongings. This safety-window was coupled with a strong message that students who were home during spring break should remain at home, and that students should work with the university to create exit plans.
These exit plans were created to make sure students had a safe environment to return to and to collect student’s financial and personal needs for HINU to assist in the students’ return. It is the Indian Leader’s current impression that HINU has been the only university to offer financial assistance in securing plane tickets, bus fares, lodging, and gas cards, among other travel aid for students. Salvini said, “The University is assisting financially with all the arrangements on all transpiration.”
During this time, Danielle McKinney, who was coordinating transportation arrangements, had collected roughly 30 requests for aid at that time — 9 flights and 21 ground transportation. That number quickly rose after the 3 o’clock mandatory student meeting later that day. Additional funds were given by the Haskell Foundation and the Student Government Association voted to donate their remaining ~$20,000 in student funds to help. HINU has not made itself available to comment on how student money was used, and how many students received travel aid. Students were able to request travel aid up-until Monday, March 16th.
Student “housekeeping” questions were addressed. Students’ belongings left on campus would be packed and recorded. Any illegal items would be turned over to authorities, and there would be no student write-ups with the exception of possession of weapons. Packed belongings would only be shipped to students graduating this semester and not returning in the fall.
Students were also instructed to update addresses and file electronic fund transfer requests with the student bank to assist with financial aid and student work payments. Students were also directed to update forwarding addresses with the post office and direct any additional questions to HINU’s new information line phone number, 785-830-2770, and email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Students were not evicted from the campus as many institutions had done. HINU noted that there would be a population of students on campus who had to make an informed decision on their safety and situation. Exit plans were a strategy to prioritize student safety, reduce the on-campus population, and reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.
Additional isolation policies were put into place for students remaining on campus. Campus facilities adapted to the challenge of self-isolation. Students were moved to single occupancy rooms in two dorms, Winona and Blalock, and a one-in-one-out rule went into effect for picking up to-go meals from Curtis. Students were also required to sign an updated Code of Student Conduct Form and sign medical releases in the event students are tested for COVID-19.
Throughout these policies, HINU has been criticized for its ability to communicate. Instructor Freda Gipp addressed her concerns to the administration, “We have students out in Indian Country hearing from their friends when they should be hearing from you all”. Faculty was blindsided by questions from students and parents after students on campus shared information from a dorm hall meeting over social media. This information was not shared with the faculty and did not go out through public statements. Off-campus students shared their own frustrations. One student commented on social media that the campus should “communicate with all students rather than relying on word of mouth.”
Acting university President Jim Rains, Ph.D. explained that the Bureau of Indian Education needed to approve of any documents before they are made public and said, “You can expect the information not to come out as quickly as you would like.” Public documents HINU released are available following this article.
Featured image of Tonia Salvini addressing students. Photo by Zachary Arquette.
Below are copies of documents released by Haskell Indian Nations University pertaining to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Note: HINU updated their responses to the pandemic as the threat increased meaning documents should be viewed as a collection with most recent information superseding previously released documents.
“Haskell is Extending Spring Break and Delaying Resumption of Classes Until March 23.”
“Haskell Communications on Ongoing Haskell Operations and Academic Functions”
“If you are returning to campus for the 1st time from spring break”
“A message to continuing students about the Fall semester from President Ronald Graham”