From the President's Desk: September 2020

Filed under:
Sign that says You Are HereI am grateful for the ways in which all of the members of the Sarah Lawrence community are finding our way amidst constantly changing circumstances.

When I began sending this “From the President’s Desk” newsletter a couple of years ago, I created it as a way to keep our community updated and especially as an opportunity to connect those of us on campus with the greater SLC community that extends beyond Westlands Gate around the world. I couldn’t have imagined then just how that balance of “on” and “off” campus would shift as it has for this academic year. So as we conclude the third week of classes of the fall semester—yes, in these tumultuous times we measure milestones in weeks!—I’m writing to update you on how our collective wayfinding is going: where we are, how we got here, and how we’ll keep moving forward, together.

At the beginning of this week we entered Phase II of the College’s reopening plan, which includes limited in-person instruction: predominantly conferences and other student-faculty meetings, some graduate courses, and some First Year Studies classes. Simultaneously, online instruction, in which all our students are participating whether on or off campus, continues under the guidance of our exceptional faculty.

Photo of students engaged in stage combat above a photo of Damani BakerOn Monday morning as I walked across campus, I couldn’t help but see that Stage Combat, an easily identifiable course, was underway on Westlands lawn—masked up and outside to allow for social distancing and ample ventilation. And then, Monday night, I joined many others at a virtual event that featured alumnus and faculty member Damani Baker ‘96 for a discussion of his filmThe House on Coco Road. (Please check the events calendar for the remainder of the semester—it’s rapidly filling up with opportunities to gather.)

Presently on campus we have just over 400 students in residence, mostly first year students, all living in single-occupancy rooms and moving about campus in “pods” comprising those they live with in suites/apartments or hallways. Several hundred students are living off-campus but near enough to to avail themselves of campus resources regularly or from time to time. And, roughly half of our students are connecting with campus fully online from around the world. Limited indoor seating is now available at the Barbara Walters Campus Center, the Campbell Sports Center has re-opened, and hours of operation across campus have expanded. As this very measured and highly structured expansion of life on campus unfolds, both academic and social, we are also focused on creating a full complement of virtual programming to bring—and keep—our community together and moving forward.

That we are able to take these steps toward greater in-person interaction is a first measure of success of the very conservative approach that we have taken to re-opening our campus, and of our community’s continued commitment to mitigating the spread of the virus. We have been extraordinarily fortunate to begin our semester with a baseline of no positive cases in our residential community. (The College maintains a COVID-19 dashboard if you would like to stay up to date on our ongoing testing results.) And while that certainly reflects an element of luck, it was not solely luck. Credit belongs to the vigilance and sacrifices of our community and the commitment to care for one another.

Faculty and staff thought deeply about the fall semester; indeed we started thinking about it before summer even started. In reflecting on how we got to where we are in this moment—being in residence at all, having classes in person at all—it’s not an exaggeration to say there were times when this moment seemed like an impossibility. And we know that for many, where we are right now still doesn’t feel right; it doesn’t feel like enough, or it may feel like entirely too much. Certainly, this fall semester isn’t anything like any fall semester past; it simply can’t be. And as we all must process the differences of this semester daily, I hope we are also able to take a moment to acknowledge that it is a fall semester that is true to Sarah Lawrence’s values, which have served as the principles guiding our decision-making every step of the way, as we developed (and continue to develop) a fact-based plan of action tempered with empathy and compassion.

Students in a circle wearing shirts that say Team LemonadeOn opening weekend, our student Resident Advisors called themselves Team Lemonade, an attitude they enacted throughout one of the most complicated, challenging, and simultaneously seamless move-ins we have ever undertaken, making lemonade from lemons, turning challenges into opportunities. There are a lot of ways in which all of us can take a cue from the RAs and be part of Team Lemonade right now, wherever we are, as our work to navigate our present situation continues on a daily (oftentimes hourly) basis, and as we simultaneously plan for the near- and longer-term future. That is who we are as #SarahLawrenceTogether. Every day on campus—as you experience in your daily lives from wherever you are reading this—there are compromises and sacrifices, but also discoveries and opportunities. Our positive progress thus far is thanks to—and remains dependent upon—our continued commitment to each other. We are all finding our way, but none of us is doing it alone. As we continue the day-to-day logistical work necessary to navigate the pandemic we are also actively engaged in near-term planning to map out what our spring semester might look like, and I look forward to having a spring plan to share with you toward the middle of this semester.

***

In writing this letter, I have focused on a very Sarah Lawrence centered issue—how we are continuing our education in the midst of a pandemic, some of the manifold challenges associated with that, and also some of the triumphs. It is an update that you as a community rightly should expect from your president. But I also want to acknowledge the urgency to address so much else that we are collectively facing. As a community we are, and we must be, consumed by promoting justice in the face of a long overdue racial reckoning in our country, by confronting the very real climate crisis that members of our community are experiencing in the wildfires on the west coast and the hurricanes that have wreaked havoc in the east, and by addressing the economic devastation experienced by so many. The work we are undertaking this semester to continue providing a Sarah Lawrence education is not disconnected from these issues. Indeed, the role of our education is to equip our students with the foundation needed to confront and address such existential challenges.

I will close simply by urging all of the US citizens in our community to research voting options well ahead of Election Day on November 3: to make a voting plan and to understand deadlines for mail-in and early voting, as well as COVID-19 considerations for in-person voting. Sarah Lawrence has partnered with TurboVote to make it easy for members of our community to register to vote and to stay informed about local and national elections. Vote.org is an additional resource that includes easy-to-access state-by-state deadlines and all the information necessary to make a voting plan.

Thank you, as always, for being Sarah Lawrence in the world. In times like these, I am especially grateful for who you are and what you do to make a difference.

Yours,

Cristle Collins Judd
President
president@sarahlawrence.edu
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.