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Presidential debate to halt in-person learning, restrict campus access

As move-in finalizes for residential students, Belmont’s attention is turning toward the presidential debate — which the university will host in only 37 days.

And as a result, Belmont’s campus will begin to look a lot different for on-campus students to ensure their health and safety, as well as to make way for the debate — including a return to fully online learning when the debate is underway.

“Our debate operational footprint will create isolation from the general campus population,” said university President Dr. Bob Fisher in an email to students.

“Nothing about the debates will be business as usual, starting with the number of people who will be allowed on debate sites.”

All debate-related activities will be held in marked buildings and spaces, which will be closed off to students during the debate week.

“There will be very few, if any, debate-related activities inside any academic buildings while students, faculty or staff are present,” said Fisher.

Despite this, students will still be going fully online while debate activities are in full swing, with campus practically shut down.

On both Wednesday, Oct. 21 and Thursday, Oct. 22, two of the busiest days for debate week, all classes will be fully online for all students, practically closing campus for off-campus students.

But students will see campus change before then, as the addition of barriers, fences and temporary sidewalk closures manifest around the university.

“You may also experience some temporary sidewalk closures within the area of the lawn and the Curb Event Center – alternate sidewalk routes will be available, as well as passage through the Maddox Grand Atrium.”

“We ask that you respect the signage and barriers when they are placed within these areas.”

Between now and the debate, students will also be unable to access the lawn in front of McWhorter Hall or the lawn between the Baskin and Johnson Center, as construction of the debate media tent and space for satellite truck parking begins.

And to further ensure the health and safety of students, the Cleveland Clinic and HCA Healthcare are creating protocols that will be put in place for all debate-related areas and enforced for all debate-related visitors.

“Policies for masks, social distancing, hand sanitation, health screenings and an in-development testing protocol will be in place and closely regulated,” said Fisher.

But even with these new policies, some Belmont students still have concerns.

Senior Erica Birmingham said the mere fact of having students on campus was a risk — one made more intense by the rush of activity coming with the debate.

“I am worried that the precautions they’re gonna take are not going to be enough,” said Birmingham. “They are still going to be exposed to people coming to Nashville.”

Birmingham also noted the tensions invited by such a large political event — and how that might jeopardize the potential for social distancing in the areas around campus.

“With the candidates coming in, there’s bound to be protests or rallies,” said Birmingham.

But despite any concerns, Fisher said he hopes students will look at the bigger picture.

“Take it all in,” said Fisher. “Be present and engaged in the moment. Seek every opportunity to understand different points of view as you form your own.”

“The world will be watching – let’s show them our very best!”

This article written by Madison Bowen. Contributory reporting by Ellie Burr.

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