SUU president addresses COVID-19 effects on commencement, students still on campus, business resources

CEDAR CITY — Southern Utah University President Scott Wyatt hosted a virtual community forum Tuesday evening.

2019 file photo of Southern Utah University, Cedar City, Utah, Sept. 4, 2019 | Photo by Ryann Richardson, St. George News

Wyatt started by explaining the current precautions and policies in place at the university relative to the new coronavirus, COVID-19, and said that per the governor’s requests, the university has instituted online instruction, test-taking and tutoring services and postponed the commencement ceremony.

Wyatt said for the university, the concern started with students studying abroad in Italy and the school was able to get ahead of any major problems by bringing students back from the program early. The students concerned did not have housing at the school, so they were returned to their homes throughout Utah.

“None of our American students who were studying Italy, except for the one who lives in Cedar City, returned to Cedar City,” Wyatt said.

He said the students and faculty who returned from Italy were encouraged to follow CDC guidelines to help reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

Regarding commencement, Wyatt said the university did not have a choice about the decision to postpone the ceremony.

“We can’t have groups that big gathering,” he said. “We’re going to have commencement probably later in the summer. We’re going to find another day so that we can have a great celebration.”

Wyatt said although many students have returned to their homes, student housing is still open, as some students don’t have anywhere else to go. As such, some food services remain open in order to serve those students. He acknowledged the different side of whether students should be allowed to remain on campus and in Cedar City.

“We’re doing our best to balance both sides of this,” Wyatt said. “In truth, most of the really big decisions are already made for us: teaching online, encouraging our students to go home and postponing commencement.”

He also addressed potential concerns about international students, saying nobody on campus has tested positive for COVID-19 and urging community members not to place blame on students.

“These students didn’t cause this problem, and they didn’t bring the virus here,” Wyatt said. “They’re a long, long, long ways from their mothers and from their fathers. This is sometimes a challenge for them during these times. … To the extent you can, find a way to be extra nice and supportive of those students, and even for students who are from other parts of the United States.”

Wyatt said although the university wants to ensure the safety of students and community members as best as possible, he also recognizes the role the university plays in the community.

“One of the ways that we support this community economically is through our students and our programs,” he said. “It’s a huge stimulus for all our small businesses. We’re doing everything we can to continue that support.”

He continued to say that resources available for small businesses and training programs are temporarily free through the Small Business Development Center. Advisors can help small business owners find federal resources available to help get through closures and cut backs, and trainings such as management skills and team building are available as well.

“We are disappointed. We miss our students, we miss that personal engagement,” Wyatt said. “Despite that, we are by nature opportunists, and by nature we are looking for opportunities that are coming our way or that we might be able to seize in this down time. Let us know how we can help you as you try to work through this.”

This 2018 file photo shows fireworks at the Larry H. Miller Utah Summer Games opening ceremonies, Cedar City, 2018 | Photo courtesy of Southern Utah University, St. George News

Wyatt also brought up the Utah Summer Games, saying he is hopeful that most of the events will continue as planned, but if events have to be canceled participants will receive refunds.

He also said the university is working with the Iron County Emergency Management Taskforce.

“We’re all working together as a community to be able to respond and do the best that we can through these kind of disruptions in our lives,” he said.

On a brighter note, Wyatt announced a new building that will be located on the east side of 800 West near the America First Event Center. The new 90,000-square-foot building will house several programs and classes, including art and design, mathematics, film studies, history, anthropology and social work. Wyatt added that a parking lot will be added next to the building as well.

“This is going to relieve some of the parking pressures that we have on the east side of campus,” he said. “This building is being planted on the west side of campus intentionally for parking.”

Wyatt added university administration is requesting no increases to fees or tuition from the Board of Regents and concluded by expressing gratitude for the community.

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