By: Elisheva Kohn  | 

Undergraduate Students Return to Campus After Eight-Month Hiatus, Over 550 Expected to Live On Campus

Yeshiva University campuses reopened for undergraduate students on Wednesday, Oct. 21, after an eight-month hiatus prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The move-in process for on-campus housing will run through Nov. 1. 550 students are expected to return to university residence halls with “many more” commuting or living near campus, Vice Provost for Student Affairs Chaim Nissel told The Commentator. University facilities and services such as libraries, athletic centers, minyanim and campus dining are operating in a limited capacity and with strict adherence to health policies. According to Nissel, the university still has availability for more students to dorm on campus.

YU outlined all health-related policies in a “COVID-19 Code of Behavior” guide; students, faculty members and staff who violate the code will be required to leave campus and subject to disciplinary actions under YU’s policies, including expulsion or termination of employment.

On a twice-weekly basis, all students on campus — whether they live in university housing or off-campus — will “participate in a saliva COVID-19 testing program,” which is being administered in partnership with Cayuga Health Systems. “We also expect to have once-a-week testing of a statistical sample of faculty and staff who are on campus regularly,” Nissel wrote in an email to the undergraduate student body on Oct.16. These tests, which are non-invasive and self-obtained, will serve as additional precautions to the mandatory PCR swab test results that students must submit prior to arriving on campus. 

Students are not allowed on campus “without proof of a negative result from that [PCR] test,” wrote President Ari Berman in an email to the undergraduate student body on Oct. 1. Students who test positive must obtain a negative test and a letter of clearance from their physician before returning to campus. According to Nissel, campus test monitoring will begin Oct. 26, and results will be released on the New York School Report COVID-19 Tracker

As of time of publication, the tracker indicates that one person has tested positive for coronavirus, though the test was administered off-campus. According to a YU spokesperson, the person who tested positive is a YU employee. “We conducted contact tracing and informed those who were in direct contact with the employee about next steps re quarantine and testing,” the spokesperson told The Commentator. “Per applicable laws, we cannot disclose any more information about this case.”

According to the tracker, YU has 129 quarantine rooms available; currently, 48 students from out-of-state or abroad — who plan on residing in university housing this semester — are quarantining in a hotel near the Beren Campus. 

“Although being stuck in a room alone for two weeks is far from fun YU has really tried to make the experience as pleasant as possible,” remarked Miriam Fried (SCW ‘22), a student currently quarantining in the hotel. “From the awesome welcome packet and Shabbat bags to the meals and reading materials, everything shows that YU really cares and wants to make sure we’re doing well.”

On Oct. 16, just days before move-in day, Beren Housing announced that Schottenstein Residence Hall would not reopen for the fall semester, citing a “number of cancellations for housing for the fall semester,” which resulted in a “significant drop in number of residents” who wished to reside there this semester. Beren students who were planning on moving into Schottenstein this week were offered to reside in Brookdale Residence Hall or 36th Street. Beren Housing told The Commentator that the university hopes “to reopen the Schottenstein Residence Hall for the spring semester.”

Both Beren and Wilf batei midrash are open for chavruta learning, and various spaces on the Wilf Campus, such as the Heights Lounge, were converted into batei midrash  to follow social-distancing guidelines.  

Some classes and shiurim are conducting in-person sessions. As previously reported by The Commentator, the vast majority of classes will continue online. Some in-person classes are live-streamed over Zoom, in classrooms equipped with video cameras, to students who are not able to personally attend. Zoom rooms are projected onto a screen in the classroom to allow the instructor and students who are attending class in-person and virtually to see each other. 

"While it's jarring to be in a classroom transformed by masks and social distancing, it's great to return to the familiarity of in-person learning after such an extended hiatus,” said Naftali Shavelson (YC '22), who is attending his Architectural Design Process class on campus. 

Numerous minyanim are organized on the Wilf Campus, and students are required to sign up in advance. The regular Shabbat minyan on the Beren Campus — which brought 10 male students from the uptown campus — will not continue this semester, but women’s tefilah (prayer) will be held in the Koch auditorium. Director of Office of Student Life Rabbi Josh Weisberg expressed in a recent email to Beren students that YU plans to “resume the [Shabbat] minyan as soon as possible.” 

Dining services will be available every day of the week, and only students purchasing meals through one of YU’s meal plans or a credit card may sit in the cafeterias. Pizza is back on the menu, despite initial reports that that dining services would only offer takeout meals on weekdays and that pizza would not be served to maximize safety. Food items in the cafeteria are pre-packaged, and tables have been spread out to seat a maximum of two students at a time. 

In his email to the undergraduate student body, Nissel announced that all cafeteria payments would be “cashless” and requested students to bring their credit card or YU ID card — which allows students registered for the meal plan to pay for meals — to the cafeteria; however, students have reported to The Commentator that their credit card was not accepted in the cafeteria on the Wilf Campus. 

Libraries on Wilf and Beren Campuses — The Mendel Gottesman Library and the Hedi Steinberg Library, respectively — are limited to current YU students, faculty and staff. Compared to last year, when the library opened at 9 a.m. and closed at 1 a.m. on weekdays, opening hours have shifted significantly; libraries now close at 10 p.m. on weekdays and 12:30 p.m. on Fridays.  

Students may frequent the athletic centers during limited opening hours, provided they sign up for a slot in advance. The Brookdale and Wilf Campus fitness center, as well as the Max Stern Athletic Center Basketball Court, are available for student use at 33% capacity, as per New York State regulations. The reopening of the 35th Street fitness center has been delayed until Oct. 27.

Yeshiva University High School for Boys (MTA), located on the Wilf Campus, also returned to in-person instruction on Oct. 21, after temporarily shifting to remote learning on Sept. 24. 

Prior to students’ arrival on campus, YU released numerous promotional videos, outlining YU’s “COVID Code of Conduct,” welcoming first-year students and broadcasting a welcome message from President Berman.

“Yeshiva University remains always in session,” President Berman said in the video, “even if we do not return to campus in the conventional sense.”

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to clarify the status of the person who tested positive, as well as which students will be participating in the self-obtained saliva COVID-19 testing program. 


Photo Credit: Yeshiva University
Photo Caption: Marked spots indicate where students should stand in order to adhere to social distancing rules.