On the first Tuesday of every semester, thousands of students typically gather in the BYU-Idaho Center to hear the university president. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic though, this fall semester, President Henry J. Eyring stood before an empty auditorium to kick off the tradition by sharing how the university would care for its students throughout these unprecedented times.
President Eyring assured the campus community that they could get through these challenging times because BYU-Idaho is a “prophetically guided and student-focused university.”
“The most important thing is that this university is guided by prophets, seers, and revelators, as well as other Church officers,” Eyring stated. “Every significant decision, from the hiring of an employee to the renovation of a building, is approved by the members of the Church Board of Education, which is chaired by President Russell M. Nelson.”
Because of BYU-Idaho’s preparation, the university was able to make decisions to help keep campus safe and allow students to have a choice for what type of learning environment they would prefer. President Eyring thanked BYU-Idaho employees for their efforts in making these preparations and options possible.
“We are indebted to continuous improvement by our gifted and dedicated faculty and curriculum designers during spring semester and summer session,” Eyring remarked. “Many online and remote courses are now in their third or fourth generation of development. And the newly created hybrids are also facilitating good learning experiences.”
He also shared how the university is grateful for its relationship with Idaho health officials. Students were encouraged to follow the Eastern Idaho Public Health guidelines.
“We trust and follow the guidance of these well-trained and wise state employees, and they show gratifying trust in us.... These representatives of the state are firm but reasonable in their standards. We are learning much from them, and they are interested in our experiences with COVID-19 management,” Eyring said.
President Eyring cautioned that when combatting COVID-19, students should follow the guidelines set by the university, including wearing protective face coverings inside buildings, following directional signs in hallways, and calling the Student Health Center if symptoms arise. He assured students that they can feel comforted knowing that classrooms and hallways are being disinfected often during breaks and while classes are in session.
The importance of reporting to the Student Health Center or public health officials when symptoms arise was also emphasized in Eyring’s address. He acknowledged the feelings students may have for potential consequences of reporting their symptoms and reassured them that the university is ready to help affected students.
“Free services from the university will include in-room meals and cleaning assistance. Likewise, extra academic support will be given. That support may include help with real-time access to video of classroom discussions, remote counseling with professors, and access to tutoring. No wounded academic warrior will be left on the pandemic battlefield,” Eyring stated.
President Eyring used an analogy of checking the score of basketball games or checking grades to see where one stands. He suggested that students and employees all become familiar with the COVID-19 Dashboard found at www.byui.edu/covid-19-updates to keep up to date with the current status of COVID-19 cases in our area.
“If we want to win this important health battle, we need to know whether our efforts to stay healthy are working or not,” Eyring said.
President Eyring recalled the early pioneers who made sacrifices and endured hardships to make the trek to the Salt Lake Valley. Likewise, Eyring stated that this semester is a “spiritual trek” for BYU-Idaho. He issued a campus-wide invitation to participate in a special fast to help students and employees endure the challenges and setbacks that have come their way.
As part of this invitation to fast, President Eyring also announced that the university would provide dinners for students to break their fast. Food Services worked for three weeks to prepare enough lasagna, tossed salad, rolls, and cookies to feed 17,000 students. President Eyring asked that as part of the provided meal, students discuss with their roommates or family members how they can plan for the semester to keep each other protected from sickness.
“We have never done a meal of that size before. It was something we needed to experience for the first time,” said BYU-Idaho Food Services Executive Chef Fred Free. “We were grateful as the university Food Services to be able to participate and serve campus and the needs of the students as well as fulfill the wishes of President Eyring and the President’s Executive Group.”
Students were encouraged to go to campus often (with a protective face covering) to feel connected and have face-to-face interaction with others on campus.
“You have the power to not only make someone’s day but to touch their soul. In fact, reaching out in this and similar ways, such as Zoom conversations, will be a blessing both to others and to you,” Eyring remarked.
President Eyring shared the historical event of the Teton Dam flood and how it affected the people in Rexburg. He explained how even though there aren’t many who remember this incident in particular, “every one of us has faced metaphorical floods that strained us physically, emotionally, and spiritually.”
“We are blessed to believe in the power of the Savior’s Atonement and eternal life. We know that our apparent tragedies can become our greatest triumphs. That can be true of this pandemic,” Eyring added.
To conclude his address, President Eyring advised students to turn to their grandparents and elderly friends to learn lessons from them during this unique time. He also testified of the blessings that can come from this pandemic.
“I hope and pray that we will qualify to keep the campus open throughout this semester. Yet I’m certain that, as we unitedly give our best efforts, Heavenly Father will reward us with the blessings he has in store for us,” Eyring stated.