A group of students sit socially distanced around a table while chowing down on free Chick-fil-A in Mullin Town Square on Feb. 24. The University announced the day prior that Malibu campus’ outdoor spaces and Payson Library will be open to registered students, faculty and staff.
Photos by Ali Levens
For the first time in almost a year, students gathered at Pepperdine’s Mullin Town Square, laughing, chatting and eating — a rare sign of the physical Pepperdine community.
Pepperdine reopened for limited in-person activities Wednesday, Feb. 24, following a Public Relations email Tuesday, Feb. 23, announcing new LA County allowances for colleges and universities. Payson Library and Malibu campus’ outdoor spaces are now open to registered students, faculty and staff for the first time since campus closure in March 2020.
“For me, it’s like a sense of hope,” said Connie Horton, vice president for Student Affairs. “To actually be here, it’s just even better, it’s just so great. It’s finally moving in the right direction.”
Pepperdine handed out free Chick-fil-A and burritos to students, faculty and staff on campus as a celebration and also as a sign that they are prepared for COVID-19 regulations and precautions, Horton said.
“Even though this isn’t the big celebration yet, we wanted to say ‘welcome back students’ to the ones who are able to come,” Horton said.
President Jim Gash installed a lamp on campus next to the statue of George Pepperdine last spring as a beacon of hope for students’ return to campus and Gash promised the lamp would stay lit until students came back. The lamp remained on today, because while students are allowed to come back for some activities, “we’re only kind of back,” Gash said.
“Not everybody’s back and we’re not fully here on campus yet,” Gash said. “It continues to be our priority — ensuring that every student who wants to come back on campus, and those who want to live on campus, are able to do so.”
Junior Sydney Gates came on campus to study in Payson Library and said she felt safe coming back with the safety precautions in place.
“I think it’s a really good time to open up because I know that a lot of people need a space to go right now,” Gates said. “Especially because Zoom is just so hard on students and creating an environment where they can learn and be back on campus and started to feel a little bit more normal, I think is a really good idea.”
Library employees estimated around 45 students were studying in Payson at noon on Wednesday, with a student arriving about every minute. Students filled out an online reservation check-in form and could only sit in their reserved areas of the library. The library provided hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes for students to wipe down their spots before and after their reservations, and students checked out upon departure.
Junior Andrew Fest started working for the library Wednesday and served as a greeter and helped students check-in and orient themselves with the new library procedures. Fest shared hopes for a larger reopening later, with more student groups and activities happening on campus.
“I’m just really looking forward to it all, opening up more and more and more for sure,” Fest said.
Gash said the University is going to continue to abide by national, state and county guidelines for reopening including social distancing and masking policies, but as COVID-19 case numbers continue to drop across California, administration remains hopeful for larger allowances on campus.
“I couldn’t be happier today,” Gash said. “I’m sure I will be happier when they fully release all of the restrictions, and I can take this [mask] off. But for right now, I want to just appreciate the joy that comes with seeing students back together on campus.”
Seaver Dean Michael Feltner affirmed this partial reopening is a step in the right direction, but the University is hoping to stop stepping and start running, Feltner said.
“You have to start somewhere and today we’re taking our first step toward what we all hope for and longed for and that’s to have everyone back in the fullness of Seaver college and Pepperdine University,” Feltner said.
Miles Campbell contributed to this reporting
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