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Vassar Students, Faculty, Administrators Brace for Some Big Changes

As Vassar’s Spring Break entered its second week, President Elizabeth Bradley and the college’s Senior Officers were continuing to work with faculty, staff, and administrators to prepare for the myriad changes that will happen on campus when classes resume through distance learning on March 23.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continued to change lives worldwide, Bradley announced on Friday that Vassar would move all classes online until at least April 10 and that most students would be asked to remain at home until then. In her message, President Bradley noted the decision to move to distance learning had been made after assessing observations from health officials, students, parents, faculty, and administrators. “We sought an approach that was consistent with our values, which include protecting all members of our community, with particular attention to those who are most vulnerable and may experience health, financial, or other hardships,” Bradley said.

The Crisis Response Planning Group had been meeting since December, when news of the outbreak in China was first announced, to make contingency plans tied to the outbreak. With guidance from the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. State Department, Vassar last week amended its rules for international travel to and from affected areas of the world, and the decision was made to move to distance learning and limit activities on campus. In response to the crisis, Vassar has created a website, vassar.edu/coronavirus-updates, that contains a one-stop hub of information on travel, frequently asked questions and other resources on COVID-19 response efforts. The faculty and administration have been hammering out the details and procedures that will govern Vassar’s distance learning and working on a plan for students who will be living on campus due to hardships that prevent them from going home.

Dean of the College Carlos Alamo-Pastrana urged all students who could reasonably return to their homes to do so. “We have a responsibility to minimize harm to our local community and reduce any unnecessary burden on the limited support services available at the college during this period,” the dean said.

The college also announced that all students who have on-campus jobs would continue to receive paychecks. “We understand how important student employment is to our community—whether it helps pay for books, a winter jacket, or a portion of tuition,” Alamo-Pastrana said in a message to students. “We also know how much pride many of you take in your campus jobs, whether you are a research assistant, a student photographer or one of the friendly faces that greets us all at the Athletics and Fitness Center.”

In response to the public health crisis, Michelle Walsh, Director of Athletics and Physical Education, announced the college had cancelled all athletic events for the remainder of the academic year. Walsh said she and her staff have been following all applicable college policies as they evolve in making decisions in athletics. “We will continue to work with senior leadership of the college to determine the most appropriate courses of action,” said Walsh. “Please know that I share in the sadness and profound disappointment within our athletic community that comes with this difficult news. We are so proud of all of our student-athletes and all that they aspire to and achieve, both in the classroom and in competition; the loss of this opportunity is not one that will be easily absorbed.”

Bradley said she was heartened by the response and support she had received from many members of the Vassar community. “I am comforted by the many communications I have received from students, parents, alumnae/i, and colleagues who are ready to support our community and its mission through these challenges,” she said. “Vassar is a courageous and fearlessly consequential community and we will get through this.”