ORLANDO, Fla. – On the first day of the University of Central Florida’s fall semester, both Sabrina La Rosa and her classmate, Sabrina Blanco, said it felt surreal to be back on campus -- a day they had been waiting for with excitement.
“It’s such a warm feeling to see students back on campus especially knowing after seeing surveys and data how excited they are, how much we’ve been longing for this moment,” said La Rosa, who is UCF’s student body president.
For Blanco, the student vice president, walking around campus again gave her a sense of joy.
“It definitely feels really good to be back. I love seeing students around campus and just, you know, taking it all in,” Blanco said.
Both students in their senior year said they are taking it all in even amid a pandemic that has caused major changes and new health guidelines across campus.
Less than a quarter of UCF’s fall classes will be in-person. Typically, the busiest class hours on campus have around 18,500 students in classrooms. This fall, that number will be around 3,100.
Face coverings are also mandatory and handwashing stations will be located throughout campus during the first two weeks of school.
“I think it kind of just reminds you of every step that you’re kind of reminded about something with safety,” La Rosa said. “From our signage to our sanitizing stations to our hand washing stations, safety is really being pushed in every aspect of our campus.”
It’s a push by UCF to help in the fight against the deadly virus, which includes a voluntary Armor Pledge set up by the university.
“Our students are communicating with each other. I feel very good about the fact that students are gonna hold each other responsible,” Dr. Maribeth Ehasz, vice president for Student Development and Enrollment Services at UCF said. “That’s the basis of who we are as Knights. We don’t look the other way. We pay attention and we continue to do the right thing.”
Ehasz said they continue to work with organization and student government leaders -- including members of the Greek life -- to make sure they all comply with UCF’s new health guidelines.
"We're adjusting to make sure that students have the opportunity to learn and engage in their community," Ehasz said.
According to UCF, most student events will be done virtually and if there is a violation of their health guidelines, there could be consequences.
“If there are egregious and repeated actions potentially it could be a suspension but that’s not where we’re starting. We’re starting with what’s going on and let’s pay attention,” Ehasz said.
Students, faculty and staff are also being asked to call UCF’s COVID number to report any positive cases. Since the start of the pandemic through Aug. 15, UCF’s coronavirus dashboard reported more than 630 UCF members positive for COVID-19.
In terms of what sports will look like this fall semester, UCF said their athletic departments will be using the guidelines set up by the American Athletic Conference for UCF athletes.
“They’re quite aware that, you know, we have distancing and hand washing and everybody is under the same expectation,” Ehasz said.
UCF provided some further details about on-campus activities:
“University-sponsored events and programs will be done virtually whenever possible. Registered student organizations, including fraternities and sororities, will be required to submit safety plans for their requested in-person activities.
“The Office of Student Involvement and the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life must approve of these plans before an in-person event can take place. These events must use an RSVP system to limit capacity and adhere to physical distancing and facial coverings must be worn by all attendees.
“At this time, social events with alcohol are not permitted. Student organizations, including fraternities and sororities, that do not comply can be held accountable through the Code of Conduct, with possible sanctions as severe as removal from campus or housing.”