The Collegetown Neighborhood Council held a COVID-19-themed virtual meeting May 26 that included community updates and details about planning for the return of students this fall.
The common theme from all who spoke: We’re in this together, and all engaged campus and community partners have a role to play in getting through the pandemic.
A dozen county, city and Cornell leaders gave updates and advice on safety, public health, law enforcement and economic concerns. About 40 people – a mix of students, non-student neighbors, campus colleagues and others – attended the meeting via Zoom and asked questions via chat.
Jason Molino, Tompkins County administrator, said conversations are ongoing with multiple community stakeholders about planning for the next phases of reopening the county, which ultimately will include higher education.
“From the county’s perspective, we continue to be proactive,” Molino said. “We continue to facilitate those conversations. Life off campus and student behavior off campus is part of those conversations. … but all life in the county has a similar approach – that is, maintaining distances, wearing masks, good personal hygiene.”
Cornell Police Chief David Honan said he is working collaboratively with the Ithaca Police Department on issues related to social distancing, and that his officers have received and responded to only a few complaints.
He reminded residents that students often live in groups of four or more – people with whom they are already sharing living spaces.
“Sometimes there can be four or six people all living in the same unit, just on their own front porch enjoying the weather, [or] on the front lawn, and that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re violating social distancing or [having] parties,” he said. “So I just ask everybody to please consider that.”
Ithaca Police Chief Dennis Naylor said that while officers try to respond to all complaints, his officers “are taking on an advisement and an educational role more than anything else.”
Lucas Smith ’22, local director of the Student Assembly’s Office of Student Government Relations, said his team is working on some of the concerns they have heard from local law enforcement about students and social distancing, “and we’re brainstorming how we can better educate students on our end.” He, as well as Kate Supron, campus-community liaison in Cornell’s Office of Community Relations, also spoke about their ongoing efforts to urge that students are accurately counted in the 2020 U.S. census.
At Cornell, three planning committees have been created and charged with assessing options for reactivating campus (the Research and Operations Reactivation committee has submitted its report). Pat Wynn, Cornell assistant vice president for student and campus life, spoke about the still-developing plans for how to bring students back safely in the fall for whatever form of in-person instruction ultimately is implemented. She said her office is working with Cornell Health, student leaders and others on stressing the ongoing importance that social distancing and testing will play.
“We’re trying to attack this from every angle, but the student behavior piece is one that is probably our biggest challenge,” she said. “I do believe that the most effective monitors of student behavior are going to be other students.”
Frank Kruppa, public health director for Tompkins County, stressed that the public health, testing and related issues being discussed all are community issues. “The students are a part of our community,” he said. “I don’t look at them as separate populations. Certainly they have different needs – and we’re trying to look at those holistically.”
Denise Thompson, off-campus living manager for Cornell, stressed that getting through the coronavirus crisis and recovery will need to be a communitywide effort. “It’s just going to take all of us to come together,” she said. “It can’t just be the police. It can’t just be Frank Kruppa’s office. It can’t just be Cornell. It has it has to be everybody to fix this.”
Tom Knipe, the city of Ithaca’s deputy director for economic development, spoke about economic recovery assistance for Collegetown businesses. The city continues to partner with economic development agencies and is helping business owners connect with resources.
“We want to help all of our business partners in Collegetown get access to the best information about how to reopen safely and confidently,” he said. “There’s a lot of good resources out there and a lot of people being really creative and thoughtful.”
The Collegetown Neighborhood Council is an informal group for campus-area residents, elected officials, business owners, and Cornell students and staff to discuss community-campus issues. The CNC, founded in 1972, currently is co-chaired by Collegetown resident Jim Hedlund and Susan Riley, deputy director in Cornell’s Office of Community Relations.
The CNC will continue to hold regular meetings and outreach sessions with other neighborhoods throughout Tompkins County in collaboration with campus and community colleagues. To receive notices about upcoming meetings, join the council’s email list by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.