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College Responds to COVID-19

Campus unites (virtually) as learning moves online

THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC presented Swarthmore with an incredible challenge: continue its educational mission through an unprecedented shift to remote learning in order to drastically reduce the number of students, faculty, and staff members on campus.

“We take these extraordinary steps with a single purpose in mind: to do all that we can for the health and safety of our community — on campus and beyond — by limiting the spread of COVID-19,” President Valerie Smith wrote to the community on March 17.

Through swift action, collaboration, and creative thinking, the campus community rose to the occasion. The Provost’s Office worked with the Dean of Students Division, Information Technology Services (ITS), Human Resources, and the libraries to support students, faculty, and staff in transitioning to remote working and learning, said Lynne Steuerle Schofield ’99, associate dean of faculty for diversity, recruitment, and retention.

“Faculty and sta are incredibly imaginative and remarkably resourceful,” said Schofield. “We worked together to consider how to best meet the needs of all of our students.”

The Office of Student Engagement, meanwhile, worked around the clock to find safe alternatives to on-campus housing for hundreds of students, while also accommodating those who had no such option.

“We are helping people work out very complicated international flights, often with lots of connections,” said Rachel Head, associate dean and director of student engagement. “We made more than 200 transactions in the first three days. We staed a 24/7 hotline and fielded questions from students who were stuck in airports and needed help.”

The unprecedented disruption has led to financial hardship for many students. In response, the College helped students pay for food, utilities, rent, transportation, laptops, home internet access, and other expenses.

ITS worked with the Dean’s Office to ease students’ transition to remote learning.

“Some students live in rural areas of the country with no cell or internet service, or overseas with spotty internet. We are working with all of them,” said Joel Cooper, chief

information technology officer. Vice President of Finance and Administration Gregory Brown also announced two initiatives intended to help provide additional relief for students and their families. The first is a plan to reimburse students and families for room and board charges for the remainder of the semester, including for aided students who paid no fees to the College. The second is a commitment to all work-aided students that they will receive a base pay regardless of whether they can continue to work remotely.

“While both initiatives come at a considerable cost to the College,” Brown wrote when he shared the details of the plan with students, “we are committed to you as our students and hope these investments will help ease the financial pressures that many of you are facing amid this global public health crisis.”

Though the challenges brought on by COVID-19 are daunting and grave — and not yet fully known or understood, as President Smith reminded the community, a liberal arts education is a powerful resource in the face of such circumstances.

“We are creative thinkers; we are problem solvers; we are nimble minds adept at confronting even the most unpredictable and complex challenges,” Smith wrote in a note to the campus community. “Perhaps

above all, we are compassionate and empathetic members of a global society. In short, as we proceed through the remainder of the semester, I know we will exemplify all that Swarthmore stands for.”