NINA COSDON, Editor-in-Chief—As Denison works to minimize the risk of COVID-19, students have been asked to restrict their travel to avoid any exposure off-campus. However, the college is continuing to offer guided tours to prospective students and their guardians. 

Denison Admissions maintains that these tours comply with safety protocol. Director of Admission Drew Riley stated, “Our touring process is designed to be in line with the community care agreement, the visitor policy, and the face mask requirements.”

Riley said that after consulting with public health officials, in-person campus tours resumed in May. He explained that part of the reasoning in doing so was that prospective students and families were continuing to visit campus regardless of whether formal tours were offered. Riley believes that having families visit “through a controlled process—where we know who they are, how to contact them, and can ensure they adhere to our safety protocols—mitigates the risk of families coming to Denison unannounced without understanding our policies…we feel that maintaining control over their presence on campus is better under the circumstances than having them arrive unannounced.”

This past year, Denison’s tour guides rebranded as the Denison docents, combining the tour guide and senior interviewer jobs. Tour guides who were previously employed by Admissions had to reapply and reinterview if they wanted to keep their job, and some were cut, despite working as a tour guide for a few years.

Of course, the touring process has been affected by COVID-19. There is now only one family allowed on each tour, and masks should be worn when indoors or if social distancing guidelines cannot be maintained.

Docents and Admissions staff reported that tour routes have been changed and are now primarily outdoors. The only indoor locations toured are Swasey Chapel, Slayter Union, the library, and Ebaugh Laboratories. Previous destinations like dining and residence halls have been cut from the tour route.

Max Curtin ‘21, an economics and global commerce double major, reported that his message to prospective students and their families has changed as well. “A point of focus for me has always been relationships. Denison is a place with so many incredible people to form life-long relationships…But, things look a lot different when you’re taking a family through Slayter at 3:00 p.m. and it’s almost completely empty. I’m taking the extra time to explain how spaces like the Slayter Pit function during a normal semester to explain how social and inviting places really are all around campus.”

Most docents interviewed said that they felt the Admissions Department was keeping them safe. Benny Mandelbrot ‘21, a history and education double major from Wellesley, MA, said, “The admissions staff has done a really good job of keeping tour guides and families safe and I’m really happy I can continue working to represent Denison.” 

From the Admissions standpoint, Riley emphasized that docents can stop giving a tour if they feel unsafe for any reason, and will still be paid the usual rate. Curtin added that docents “have the leeway to opt out of touring at any time if we don’t feel safe doing so.” 

However, one docent, who requested to remain anonymous to ensure their job safety, did not feel that Admissions was doing enough to protect its docents from COVID. This student cited the stress that came with touring prospective students and families from all over the country, including those from high-risk states. Though Admissions ask families to symptom-monitor, the anonymous docent said that “there is minimal to no screening process to assess the health of the people we tour.”

While some docents said that the families they toured kept their masks on the whole time, even while outside, the docent who asked to remain anonymous said that not all of their visitors had done so. They continued, “For the most part, people have been respectful and worn their masks for the entirety of the tour, but there are always those people who wear their masks under their noses, have to be continuously reminded to put their mask on, or just simply did not bring an effective mask for their tour.”

The docent continued, “We are expected to do our job like we would in a normal semester. The onus of our own safety and the safety of those we tour is placed on our shoulders.”

A few senior docents started a petition to implore Admissions to improve their shared office space. Concerns addressed by the petition included the limited office space shared by docents, which the anonymous source described in detail: “They have us working in a tiny four-by-six alcove where it is nearly impossible to socially distance with two guides in there, let alone the four or five guides that will be on a shift at any given time.”

The anonymous docent linked this small shared space to COVID spreading among the student tour guides: “Many tour guides are currently being quarantined because of exposure to someone who tested positive in that tiny space and Denison Admissions has not only ignored their responsibility in placing several students in danger, not even offering an apology to those quarantined, but they CONTINUE to use that alcove space during shifts.”

According to this docent, “We have complained about how unsafe these conditions are since day one of this semester. While admissions have heard our complaints and really ‘listened,’ nothing has changed.”

Notably, in response to the concerns expressed by several docents, Admissions updated their safety procedures last Saturday, 8/28. When asked to comment, Riley said that he was not aware of any docents who tested positive for COVID. 

Riley added, “We encourage anyone in the community with concerns to reach out to us directly (I can be reached at [email protected]). We are ready and willing to alter our practices as new information becomes available, and we will continue to think about additional layers we can add to protect the community.”