President Judd Announces Plans for the Fall Semester

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Dear Members of the Sarah Lawrence Community,

I am writing today to outline plans for the fall semester, which I know you have been eagerly awaiting. I thank you for your patience and confidence as we worked to plan the best and safest fall semester possible. Guided by the twin priorities of safeguarding the health and wellness of our community and our fundamental commitment to provide an excellent and equitable education, we will return to campus this fall with a significantly reduced population of students, faculty, and staff, a mix of in-person and online instruction, and strict adherence to a set of safety protocols.

Fall 2020 Plan Summary
The primary action that makes being on campus possible—and best protects our community from COVID-19—is a de-densification of our campus population. As a result, our fall semester will look and feel unlike any semester before it. Not all students will be able to live in residence halls. Not all faculty and staff will be on campus. Gatherings will be limited, and safety protocols numerous. Many painful decisions have been made, and many sacrifices lie ahead. But so too lies ahead an opportunity to come together again in the best way possible in this moment.


  • Fall semester classes will begin as scheduled on Monday, September 7. Details regarding registration and move-in will be forthcoming.
  • To deliver the most equitable experience to all students regardless of location, classes (seminars and lectures) will convene online when meeting as a full class, with this primary exception:
    • First-Year Studies courses, and other first-year programming, will strive to meet in person when/if possible; such in-person interactions will also have an online option for students not on campus.
  • Some small groups (e.g., breakout sessions from seminars and lectures, independent studies, and group and individual conferences) may meet in person, observing physical distancing, with online options also available.
  • Graduate classes will convene both in-person and online; further information will follow from each individual program.
  • All instruction will be fully online after Thanksgiving break.
    • Any student who leaves campus for Thanksgiving will be required to remain off campus for the rest of the semester.

Faculty have spent the last few months thoughtfully planning our curriculum to ensure that our experience this fall will be much different than the last weeks of the spring semester, which allowed limited time for such planning in the midst of an emerging crisis. In addition, class schedules for the fall have been expanded to contain new blocks, including Saturdays, and greater flexibility to work across time zones, and our Information Technology department is actively expanding technological resources and support to aid in online instruction.

The 2020-21 course catalogue is now online, with courses continually added, and I encourage you to check it out.

We made some false starts this summer with our housing process and lottery, for which I apologize. As our plans for the fall semester evolved, it became clear that the availability of housing and our process for this year had to change.

After careful consideration, and a determination to significantly reduce our housing density on campus, housing for the fall semester will be as follows:

  • The following students will be provided with a single-occupancy room in an assigned residence hall, should they wish to live on campus:
    • First-year and incoming transfer students
    • Resident Advisors
    • Students with a demonstrated hardship (e.g., those who have home situations that make online learning nearly impossible or international students who were unable to return to their home countries)
  • Sophomores, juniors, and seniors may enter a lottery for fall housing should any rooms remain.
  • Students who choose to live off-campus in proximity to the College will have access to campus in accordance with strict safety protocols. Students may wish to consider off-campus housing as an option that will provide continuity across the entire academic year.
  • Students who elect to conduct their semester online fully away from campus will not be disadvantaged in terms of curricular opportunities. No student will be required to live on or near campus, nor will they be required to come to campus for any purpose.
Campus Life:
  • There will be no athletic competitions in the fall semester. Support will be provided for student athletes to continue to train within safety guidelines. We hope conditions will allow for the resumption of competition in the spring semester.
  • Dining halls on campus will adhere to physical distancing protocols, and our dining partner AVI is currently developing a thorough plan.
  • Cleaning protocols in public and shared spaces, common areas of residence halls, and faculty and staff offices will be enhanced, and cleaning supplies will be provided to students for their rooms.
  • We will follow current New York State recommendations that any student who will be on campus in the fall must have a negative PCR test within 14 days prior to arrival on campus; students will be retested on campus within two weeks of arrival.
  • All students, faculty, and staff on campus will be expected to take the steps necessary to protect themselves and others. As such, group gatherings will be limited; physical distancing will be practiced throughout campus; and masks or face coverings will be required in shared spaces.

The plans above apply only to the fall semester. We don’t know what the spring semester will look like yet, but are hopeful increased on-campus residential density will be possible. The class of 2021—our seniors—will be prioritized for housing in the spring semester if we are not able to house everyone who desires campus housing.

How Did We Make Our Plan?
Sarah Lawrence’s plan reflects a careful consideration of our location, our physical campus, and our educational mission. Our aim throughout the planning process has been to present, in a time of great uncertainty, as much information as possible. As we head into a fall semester unlike any other—not just at Sarah Lawrence, but at all colleges and universities—our focus has been on ensuring a continuity in the core elements of our education. At a time when large groups and dense gatherings are ill-advised, our pedagogical focus on one-on-one and small group work with faculty is the aspect of our education most readily continued. This is what we are working to ensure will be available to all students, whether they live on campus, are off campus and commuting to campus for some activities, or are physically distant but actively engaged.

A number of factors went into our decision-making for the fall, and I extend my sincere thanks to the numerous members of the administration, faculty, and staff who have spent countless hours devoted to this process.

Key factors in our decision-making were:

  • First and foremost, protecting the health and safety of the Sarah Lawrence community.
  • Adherence to New York State’s guidance and protocols.
  • A commitment to making the fall semester an equitable experience for all.
    • We must be ever mindful of the students, faculty, and staff who may be unable to physically be on campus due to a number of pandemic-related factors. The reality is that in our present situation, even if campus could safely support it, not every member of our community would be able to be with us in person.
  • College facilities, designed to foster intimate living and learning, simply cannot expand in the ways necessary to successfully practice physical distancing (for instance, a roundtable classroom for 15 would hold only 4-7 people when observing physical distancing, and an auditorium space such as Reisinger does not lend itself well to a seminar class).
  • An ability to test, trace, quarantine, and isolate to prevent or respond to an outbreak of COVID-19.

Given the unpredictable path of COVID-19, many uncertainties remain, and we will continue to respond accordingly. While today New York State is seeing its lowest numbers of COVID-related hospitalizations since March, those numbers are increasing in other parts of the country and world. Since I started drafting this letter, Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced mandatory quarantine for those traveling to New York from several states; if requirements like this are in place at the start of the fall semester, we will make appropriate arrangements for students coming to campus who will need to quarantine.

While there is much information to digest in this letter, additional details are available on our fall planning website. I know you will have many questions, some of which may not yet be answered, so this information comes with a promise to continue to communicate clearly and frequently as logistics around these plans come together. To that end, online Question & Answer Sessions have been set up for students and families, faculty, and staff over the coming week. Faculty and staff will receive invitations under separate cover. Students and families are invited to the following sessions:

First-Year and Incoming Transfer Students & Families
Wednesday, July 1
6-7 p.m. ET
Registration link sent via e-mail

Sophomores, Juniors, and Seniors & Families
Wednesday, July 1
8-9 p.m. ET
Registration link sent via e-mail

Graduate Students
Thursday, July 2
7-8 p.m. ET
Registration link sent via e-mail

Again, I thank you for your continued patience as our planning unfolds. I look forward to welcoming you in just over two months to the start of the 2020-21 academic year. While it will be unlike any that we have experienced, I am confident that together we will chart a course to continue the important work of this College. Our mission, in its simplest form, is to prepare students to thrive in a complex and rapidly evolving world. Never has a statement been more true, and never has the need for a Sarah Lawrence education been more urgent.


Cristle Collins Judd

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.