President Judd on Sarah Lawrence's Response to COVID-19

Dear Members of the Sarah Lawrence Community,

In January 2019, I introduced From the President’s Desk as a way “to share reflections on issues facing the College and higher education, and to provide timely updates on items of interest from all parts of the College”—and to do so for our entire community: students, staff, faculty, families, alumni, and trustees.

We have been sharing, almost daily, messages with our campus community regarding our preparation for, and response to, the rapidly changing situation regarding COVID-19. (As a reminder, please monitor for the most up-to-date information regarding the campus.) Not surprisingly, given the evolving state of events, those communications have focused on immediate and future actions. I wanted to take the opportunity here to share with our entire community, both on-campus and beyond, a bit more about how we have been approaching our decision-making and the principles that have and will continue to inform Sarah Lawrence’s response.

This is not the start of spring break that I, nor any of us, planned. And I share the mixed emotions and uncertainty of all of our students as we enter this break, but of our seniors especially, as together we understand, adapt, plan, and prepare for the coming weeks. We have shared and celebrated so many positive accomplishments for Sarah Lawrence this year, as we began on August 31 with the opening of the Barbara Walters Campus Center and the momentum that has accompanied it. We must and we will continue that momentum and it is our hope that we will have everyone back on campus to complete the semester and that by mid-May we will be able to safely gather on Westlands lawn to celebrate our 92nd commencement.

We have to acknowledge as we begin break that we are uncertain of what the remainder of this semester will bring. We know that we will reconvene classes remotely at the end of break on March 23. On March 30 we will provide an update on when—and if—we are able to return to in-person classes and reconvene the campus community that we all know and value at Sarah Lawrence. Many of our peer institutions have already decided to suspend in-person classes for the remainder of the semester and instructed all of their students to fully move out of dorms and back to their homes with a few days’ notice. Precisely because of the value we place on our residential community, we have charted a slightly different course to leave options open for us as well as to meet particular needs of our community.

Health, Safety, and Wellness

Our first priority is and must be the health, safety, and wellness of our community of students, staff, and faculty, both on campus and around the world. We have acted on the best medical information we have available to understand those at risk and how to mitigate transmission of the virus.

These are unprecedented times and the state of play is constantly changing. We will continue to postpone/cancel functions, advocate for vigilant hygiene practices, and facilitate social distancing. Although Sarah Lawrence does not have any suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 in its community at this time, we do have a protocol in place should we need to isolate anyone in on-campus housing with symptoms of the virus.

At every step, SLC has been guided by our Director of Medical Services, Mary Hartnett, and her team in the Health and Wellness Center, who have maintained constant contact with local, state, and federal health officials. They are focused not only on the physical health and integrity of the campus community, but also recognize the toll these circumstances may take on our mental health. They have worked tirelessly to guide our on-campus community during this period of heightened awareness and will continue to remain laser-focused on the resilience and health of our community.

Continuing and Completing Academic Work

In addition to the health and safety of our community, we have focused on ensuring that our students are able to complete this semester in the best way possible in the face of this array of external challenges, including and especially the absolutely essential practice of social distancing as the most effective response to this pandemic. We know that one of the most treasured hallmarks of a Sarah Lawrence education is close work with faculty, not only in seminar-conference classes and “thirds,” but in a whole range of class experiences, fieldwork placements, and more. I am deeply grateful to our exceptional faculty for doing what the Sarah Lawrence faculty always does: stepping up to the challenge of how best to meet the needs of our students in the face of changing external situations as they work to continue instruction remotely after the break, and for our staff who support this work. This is being done with the creativity and dedication that we know animates all the work of everyone at Sarah Lawrence, past and present.

Small classes, focused engagement with classmates and faculty, and the conference work that are tenets of Sarah Lawrence will continue during this time. Our hope is that remote convenings will be a temporary measure and that we will be able to conclude our semester on campus and in person as soon as it is prudent to do so.

Housing and Dining

We are deeply cognizant of our obligations as a residential community to our students who not only live in, but in many cases depend upon, college housing and dining. While the College is on break, and then during the two-week period of remote learning, the campus will remain open and operational unless we receive governmental directives to the contrary. This was a foremost consideration in the way we have proceeded in our response. For a number of our students, moving off campus at this time is simply not an option, for reasons that include:

  • International students and students from countries with travel bans and/or State Department/CDC travel advisories or visa issues for travel
  • Students whose legal residence is Sarah Lawrence College
  • Students whose households include members who are confirmed or presumptive positive with COVID-19 or with high risk for exposure to COVID-19
  • Students with home circumstances that make it impossible for them to be home
  • Students whose homes do not have internet access necessary for remote learning

Dining services and the Health and Wellness Center will continue to be open and available to students who need to remain in campus residences.

It remains incumbent on students who are able to leave campus for break to do so and to remain off campus to the maximum extent possible until we resume in-person classes.This is the only way that we will accomplish the social distancing critical to mitigating virus transmission while supporting those students who must remain on campus for the reasons outlined above. We are grateful to students and families for working with us through this challenging period and for your patience and understanding as we all confront some of the ambiguities that may arise from the fact that SLC is doing everything possible to allow students to complete the semester on campus.

Supporting Our Employees

We recognize that the devastating effects of this public health crisis will take the hardest toll on those least able to withstand its physical and financial impacts. The College’s Office of Human Resources has developed policies that provide for the continuation of pay for faculty, staff, and student workers in the case of exposure to or infection with COVID-19, and is working closely with employees who have pre-existing health conditions that put them at greater risk of complications from COVID-19. In addition, we are making preparations should prolonged or increased social distancing be required for employees. We are working closely with all of our daily on-campus partners, including our bookstore, post office, custodial, landscaping, and food service providers, all of whom serve critical roles in the delivery of the Sarah Lawrence educational experience. At this time, though we expect a significant reduction in the number of students on campus following spring break, we are maintaining our contractual obligations to minimize the financial impact to our partners’ employees, just as if they were our own.

Our Global Community

COVID-19 is a global threat—one that highlights the global nature and connection of the Sarah Lawrence community. In addition to our students, faculty, and staff, I am keenly aware that parents, families, alumni, and friends of the College are confronting this virus and are directly impacted by its spread. We are also aware and grateful that many of you are working to address its effects as part of your professional responsibilities. We will continue to share updates regarding activities on campus on a regular and ongoing basis, and will convey information as soon as possible as this fluid situation changes, sometimes from hour to hour.

I am deeply grateful to the members of our parent and alumni community who have reached out to offer support to students who may need emergency financial assistance, or to offer temporary lodging to students who may need it. The College is setting up an emergency fund to which your donations will be gratefully received. To participate, please visit our giving page and note “COVID-19 emergency fund” in the comment section.

Above all, I want to share with you my heartfelt thanks for the way the Sarah Lawrence Community is responding to the disruptive and decentering times in which we are living. As we all come together to meet this challenge and respond in ways that represent our fundamental values, I have been gratified at the depth of understanding and concern for all members of our community and the many supportive messages I have received. As I checked in with students at Bates and the BWCC over the last couple of days, I have been so deeply impressed with the ways in which they are individually and collectively dealing with the overwhelming emotions of anxiety, frustration, disappointment, sadness, and uncertainty; the care they exhibit for each other; their recognition that while they are not the “at risk” population that their individual and collective actions will either reduce or increase risk for those who are; their expressions of deep affection for Sarah Lawrence; and their expressions of support for me. I am always in equal measures proud and humbled to be the president of Sarah Lawrence College, but these responses in these difficult times make me especially so.


Cristle Collins Judd
Instagram: @slcprez

About Sarah Lawrence College

Founded in 1926, Sarah Lawrence is a prestigious, coeducational liberal arts college that consistently ranks among the leading liberal arts colleges in the country. Sarah Lawrence is known for its pioneering approach to education, rich history of impassioned intellectual and civic engagement, and vibrant, successful alumni. In close proximity to the unparalleled offerings of New York City, the historic campus is home to an intellectually curious and diverse community.