By Grace Ferguson
On Tuesday, BU will hold its first virtual community office hours. Once a month for the rest of the semester, BU’s community affairs staff will hold a Zoom meeting to talk with residents of the neighborhoods surrounding the university.
BU set up these meetings after city officials asked universities to hold them—the purpose was to allow locals to raise concerns about students following COVID-19 protocols off campus.
But Elizabeth Leary, director of BU Government and Community Affairs, said the city’s request wasn’t the only reason.
“You know, we certainly have thought about doing it, and then were encouraged to actually do so by the city, and we were happy to do so,” Leary said. “I think it makes sense for all of us to look at new ways to use Zoom and use the technology that’s out there to meet folks.”
The meetings will give residents the opportunity to better understand BU’s response to the pandemic, including its testing program and the expectations it has set for students. Leary said that matters because BU has an urban campus that isn’t separate from the rest of the city.
“We want people to feel comfortable interacting with our students and our faculty and staff, and so that was why it was really important to explain the protocols we would be taking on campus, and how we would be keeping our campus community as safe as possible given the current virus conditions,” Leary said
Leary said her office works with a lot of community groups and nonprofits, and they’ve continued those partnerships during the pandemic. But it’s a lot harder now to interact with individual residents. Leary hopes these office hours can help replace those informal, in-person interactions.
“I think one of the things that’s great about doing something like this is you’re able to outreach to folks who may not be part of a large organization, or part of a community group,” Leary said. “They can just, sort of, have a question about BU, and maybe they don’t exactly feel like it’s something worth setting up a real meeting for. And so this is just an easy way for them to pop in and ask a question.”
Anthony D’Isidoro, the president of the Allston Civic Association, said his organization had been pushing for several of the protocols BU put in place this semester.
“We requested—in addition to the testing, and the contact tracing, and all of that—we wanted to make sure that students were well aware of the fact that congregating in large groups and not following the protocols and everything could have a very detrimental effect on our community,” he said.
BU did take a hard stance on compliance, and D’Isidoro appreciated when the university said students could face suspension for breaking the rules.
Another important development for him was BU’s announcement this month that off-campus students could isolate on-campus if they tested positive for COVID-19.
“We were concerned about positive cases coming into the community, and recovering and isolating in our community,” D’Isidoro said. “And it probably would not have been done in a very responsible way, and that just increases the possibility of community spread, and we just simply wanted to avoid that.”
D’Isidoro expects COVID-19 to be a major topic in the upcoming virtual office hours.
“I’ll certainly be tuned in and raise a few things that I’ve got on my plate, and hopefully more residents will see and speak up as well,” he said.
To see dates for this semester’s office hours, and to get the Zoom link, residents can go to the BU Government and Community Affairs website. But Leary emphasized that these meetings aren’t the only opportunity to talk with staff from her office.
“I think it’s a great tool, but I also want people to feel–and I think people do feel—pretty comfortable reaching out to us and asking questions about our coronavirus testing, our dashboard, or any other community concerns in the in-between.”