August 19, 2020
Dear Staff and Faculty Colleagues,
Tomorrow, we will welcome our very first student leaders to campus to support a fall semester unlike any we have known. To arrive at this moment has been an undertaking of enormous magnitude and I want to begin by expressing my admiration and thanks to each of you who has made it possible. In your collective efforts, I have seen again and again the creativity, passion, and commitment to hard work that drives the Connecticut College community. To witness all this at a time when the effects of a pandemic continue to disrupt our lives has been nothing short of astounding. I am profoundly grateful.
Some of you have asked to hear about how we will ensure safety with students in residence. Others have wondered why we are inviting students back at all, rather than resuming the remote teaching we adopted last March. To answer the first question, the College has taken a comprehensive series of steps over the past four months, working with state and local officials and public health professionals to protect the health of this community. I outline a range of these efforts toward the end of this letter, and I’m happy that Keith Grant, the senior director of infection prevention at Hartford HealthCare, and Martha O’Brien, director of HHC’s Campus Care program, were present at today’s staff/faculty meeting to discuss them with us.
To put those plans in greater context, though, I want to spend a moment thinking through the second question, the why. I have pondered that question with a number of you in the past months and especially in recent days. In our conversations, we have returned to three basic answers—related to our mission, to our community, and to the future of the College. I want to take each one in turn.
The mission of Connecticut College is to teach students to put their education into action in order to become thoughtful, compassionate citizens and leaders. That means educating the whole person. In a residential environment informed by an honor code, students learn from each other, from staff who care for them, and from faculty across the disciplines. Reopening the campus allows us to fulfill our mission.
In May, when we asked our students about their shift to remote learning, we learned that the experience had not been equally effective for everyone. Those who lacked good internet, or access to a library or a quiet workspace, or the ability to connect easily with peers and mentors, reported higher rates of anxiety, depression, and disillusionment. These conditions disproportionately affected students of color. We do not want to repeat this outcome by requiring everyone to complete their fall term remotely.
Likewise, we do not want to require all students to live on campus. Flexibility has been the watchword throughout our planning. A highly supple course schedule with a mix of 7.5-week, 15-week, in-person, remote, and hybrid courses, along with a part-time option, has given students choice, and our faculty has spent their summer redesigning their courses to support that. Adding to that choice is the permission for students to live on campus, off campus, at home, or to defer admission or take a leave of absence. As a result, we will have as many as 500 fewer students in residence in the fall. That reduction reflects what is best not only for individual students but also for the campus as a whole, where lower occupancy in the residence halls opens more space for isolation and quarantine.
Second, it is important for our community.
Last March, when the coronavirus was spreading rapidly in the northeast, Governor Lamont ordered schools and businesses in Connecticut to close. The sudden departure of most students meant that the College no longer had the same amount of work for our devoted staff who provide direct services to students and care for the campus, and many were placed on reserve or had their hours reduced. This circumstance was a loss for our community and for our region. Again, we do not want to repeat this outcome by requiring all students to complete their fall term remotely.
Nor should that be necessary. Today, the virus has diminished in the Northeast, with Connecticut maintaining one of the lowest prevalence rates in the country, and New London County one of the lowest in the state. As we prepare to welcome our students back to campus, we are implementing extensive plans to ensure that the virus prevalence remains low. Students will be subject to mandatory quarantine on arrival. This week we opened our own testing center, where everyone on campus will be tested once or twice per week at no cost. We will be operating additional dining halls to reduce density and following intensive cleaning protocols in dormitories and classrooms to enhance safety. For that, we need our full complement of custodial and dining staff. I personally look forward to welcoming them back to campus and to having our community reunited.
Third, it is important for the future of the College.
What is good for our community is good for the College. Stewarding Connecticut College into the future means working to ensure that our residential mission and purpose continue to be realized. But that will require at least partially repopulating our grounds and dining and residence halls and classrooms and labs and athletics and performance spaces. We have clearly learned a great deal as an institution from months of remote operations, and I have no doubt that we will be incorporating those lessons into our regular practices. But to leave the College unoccupied for another six months will have significant consequences for admissions, for our finances, and, by extension, for our long-term sustainability. Reopening this fall will not just support our students and our community; it will also allow the College to persist through the crisis in order to be able to serve future generations.
No situation is free of risk. What matters is how well we anticipate and mitigate that risk. With the guidance of the state and the input of our three working groups, we have worked to do exactly that. Already so much has happened: our staff has purchased personal protective equipment and supplies, installed plexiglass dividers, reorganized classrooms and critical offices, and created new signage to manage physical distancing. We have partnered with the Broad Institute to create a testing center that will enable an aggressive testing protocol that far exceeds state requirements. Everyone on campus will sign a pledge to abide by all new expectations in order to protect each other. Yes, it will require diligence, forbearance, commitment, and accountability on the part of all of us, but I am confident that we will rise to the occasion because when it comes to this community, we always do.
Even so, I do know how difficult this time has been, how much anxiety the pandemic has already caused, and how the ongoing questions it raises will continue to weigh on all of us. Please know that we will do all we can to support you, drawing on our collective strength to find solutions to the new situations that will inevitably arise. And even more than that, please know how proud I am to be working alongside you.