June 8, 2020

Dear Spelman Students, Parents and Families,

As summer approaches, we know that you are eager to learn what shape instruction will take at Spelman College in the fall, and whether or not we will be able to invite students, faculty and staff back onto campus.

Although the situation remains fluid, Spelman has been hard at work assessing the options that might allow us to gradually and safely repopulate our campus while the COVID-19 threat to health persists. To help think through the complexities, at the end of last term, Spelman’s president created the Task Force for Spelman Academic Year 2021
comprised of faculty, staff, senior administrators and students, and co-chaired by Spelman’s provost and vice president for Academic Affairs and its vice president for Business and Financial Affairs and chief financial officer, to study the challenges of reopening Spelman’s campus in a world dramatically changed by the coronavirus. We write now to report on the progress of our planning.

The Task Force has met frequently over the last month and considered a number of possible options for the next year, including the possibility of reopening the campus to residential students completely, partially, or remaining exclusively online until the threat of COVID-19 subsides. Assisted by the guidance of the CDC and local public health authorities, as well as the plans of other colleges and universities in Atlanta and across the country, the Task Force is preparing a set of recommendations to be presented to the Spelman College Board of Trustees later this month. We expect to be able to communicate Spelman’s final plan for the fall no later than July 1, 2020.

Throughout this planning process, our number one priority has been and will continue to be the health and wellbeing of our community. For that reason, even in advance of our announcement for the fall, every member of the Spelman community must prepare themselves for an academic year that is unlike any of our past. At minimum, our community can expect a period of tightened access to campus. This will be necessary to control population density
, which will reduce the threat of contagion and help to restore a sense of safety among Spelman students, faculty and staff. We will also institute new health and safety protocols, and the College will require 100 percent compliance with those protocols for the good of our community.

In addition, last spring taught us that no matter how well we plan, the realities of this pandemic may require us to swiftly change course. Public health conditions across the nation remain highly fluid. New hotspots of contagion continue to emerge and public health experts warn that new spikes or "second waves" remain a real possibility. This means that any plan to reopen would have to be able to flex and pivot as evolving conditions demand. A surge in contagion could trigger stricter controls or even a temporary campus closure, while an improvement in the rate of infection or the development of a viable vaccine could enable us to loosen controls and increase our campus population.  

In short, although we all want things to
get back to the way they were, to get there we must move cautiously through our new normal. We share below some details about our planning process to date, and our framework for the 2020-21 academic year, which incorporates the best public health data and guidance currently available.  

Our Process and Guiding Principles

The Task Force for Spelman Academic Year 2021, created as part of Spelman’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, has worked diligently since the end of last semester to develop a "Returning to Learning Plan," which will be presented to the College’s Board of Trustees at its meeting in mid-June. Three driving principles have guided the Task Force’s work, in the following order:

  • The health and safety of our faculty, staff and student body
  • The delivery of an excellent educational experience to all of our students
  • Our institutional responsibility to maintain the College’s fiscal stability.

Our president charged the Task Force to study the health, academic and budgetary challenges presented by various instructional continuity scenarios for academic year 2020-2021, with the goal of narrowing the options listed above down to one recommended course of action to be submitted to the Board of Trustees.

Possible Academic Options

  • a full reopening of campus and resumption of in-person classes
  • a closed campus with continued remote learning
  • a "hybrid" of those two options, reopening campus to some part of Spelman’s population (faculty, students and staff), allowing some students to move into the residence halls and to take classes in person, while other students would remain off-campus and continue to take classes online until the spread of COVID-19 recedes.

The Five Working Groups

The president also asked the Task Force to develop a plan that prepares the College for the budgetary impact of its recommendation, in order to ensure Spelman’s continued fiscal stability.

Working with partners from across campus, the Task Force initially organized its planning efforts into five primary areas:

Healthy and Safe Workplace and Residential Life: This
working group focused on the elements necessary to provide a safe workplace and residential experience for all members of our community in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. This work was co-led by Dr. Darryl Holloman, vice president for Student Affairs and Dana Lloyd, director of Health Services, and assisted by Leah Wardlaw, C’2021, chief justice, Spelman Student Government Association; Bernadette Cohen, director of Human Resources; Dr. Leyte Winfield, associate professor and chair of the Division of Natural Sciences & Mathematics; Dr. Tinaz Pavri, professor and chair of the Division of Social Sciences & Education; Merina Dhakal, environmental health & safety compliance manager; Patricia Hill, housekeeping services supervisor; Desiree Mack, benefits services manager; Moses Purdue, chief of police; and Alison Cummings, director of Housing & Residential Life.

Instructional and Research Continuity: This
working group focused on how to ensure that Spelman delivers an excellent educational experience to all of its students whether in-person or online, and that students receive the excellent return on investment that Spelmanites expect. This work was co-led by Dr. Kathleen Phillips-Lewis, associate professor and chair of the Division of Humanities and Dr. Dolores Bradley Brennan, professor and vice provost for faculty, along with representatives of our faculty, staff and student body, including Dr. Desiree Pedescleaux, dean of Undergraduate Studies; Dr. Angela Farris Watkins, associate professor and chair of the Department of Psychology and Faculty Council president; Dr. Leyte Winfield, associate professor and chair of the Division of Natural Sciences & Mathematics; Dr. Pushpa Parekh, professor of English and chair of the African Diaspora and the World Program; Dr. Michelle Robinson, professor of English and director of the Writing Center and the Comprehensive Writing Program; Celenia P. Kiernan, associate registrar; John A. Brown, registrar; Myra Greene, professor, director of the photography program and vice chair of the Department of Art & Visual Culture; Blanche Bryant, manager of Instructional Technology and Dr. Tiffany Oliver, associate professor of biology.

Student Life and Community Life: This
working group, co-led by Ingrid Hayes, vice president for Enrollment Management and Dr. Andrea Lewis, associate professor and chair of the Department of Education, considered how cherished ceremonies at Spelman might be impacted by the need for social distancing and other health precautions, including events such as Homecoming, Reunion, Miss Spelman pageant, the Christmas Carol Concert, Founders Day, Commencement, etc. It also examined other aspects of co-curricular life and the needs of particular student cohorts such as our Social Justice Scholars, Bonner Scholars and Wisdom Scholars, and brainstormed ways to counter the isolating impact of studying remotely. This work was assisted by Joyce Davis, director of marketing and communications; Leah Wardlaw, C’2021, chief justice, Spelman Student Government Association; Bonnie Taylor, dean of students and assistant vice president of Student Affairs; Linda Patton, associate director of Alumnae Engagement; Jessie Brooks, vice president for Institutional Advancement; and Fana Haile Selassie, C’2021, president, Spelman Student Government Association.

Budget and Operations: This working group, co-led by Spelman’s Vice President for Business and Financial Affairs and CFO Dawn Alston and Asella Braxton, director of budgets and contracts, focused on determining essential budget needs to provide quality curricular and co-curricular programming while facing the financial challenges brought on by the pandemic. This work was assisted by Marissa Pace, associate vice president of Business & Financial Affairs; Helga Greenfield,
chief of staff to the president and associate vice president for Title III and government relations; Julius White, director of Enterprise Support Services; Art Frazier, director of Facilities Management & Services; Jackie James, director of Administrative Support Services; Dr. Tiffany Watson, associate provost for executive projects and initiatives; Dr. Darryl Holloman; and Steve Bowser, director of Public Safety.

Technological Support: This
working group, co-led by Spelman’s Vice President for Technology Services and Chief Information Officer John Wilson and Blanche Bryant, focused on how to ensure that faculty, staff, and students have the technological equipment, training and support that they need to ensure all students enjoy an outstanding educational experience whether in person or online. Their work was assisted by Kirk McAllister, manager of Enterprise Support Services; professor Myra Greene; Ingrid Lassiter, assistant director of web communications; Marissa Pace, associate vice president of Business & Financial Affairs; and John Brown.

Additional contributors to the task force include Elizabeth Gowans, C’2021, current student trustee Nia Malone, C’2020, former student trustee; Mya Havard, C’2017, former student trustee; Serena Hughley, C’2020 Top Ten Student; Thomas Chambliss, police lieutenant; Don Blackston, associate director of Facilities Management & Services; Dr. Myra Burnett, vice president for Institutional Research, Planning and Effectiveness; and Jennifer Johnson, director of the Student Success Center.

Preliminary Conclusions

After a month’s work, the working groups unanimously agreed that, given the size of the campus and the density of a fully populated campus, a full reopening in the fall could not be accomplished without jeopardizing the health and safety of our community. After eliminating that option, the Task Force narrowed its focus to either attempting a gradual reopening for the fall semester, in phases, in line with the latest public health data, or continuing to offer all courses online in the fall, with the hope of a gradual reopening for the spring semester as public health conditions improve. Under either of these scenarios, Spelman contemplates that many of its students will take courses online at the start of the school year, and that many faculty may elect to teach online rather than in-person. We describe the Task Force’s preliminary assessment of these two options briefly below.

OPTION No. 1: Returning to In-Person Learning

Option No. 1 hopes to welcome some portion of Spelman’s students to live and learn on campus in the fall, while other students will continue for a time to access courses and campus life from a distance. The key to the success of this option will be implementing the necessary protocols and practices to ensure a safe environment.

Spelman is fortunate to be a part of the Atlanta University Center Consortium (AUCC), which includes a world-class medical school, Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM). In partnership with the AUCC institutions, and with the leadership of MSM, we are developing a comprehensive wellness program to guarantee Spelman’s ability to test, trace and isolate COVID-19 cases to safeguard the health and safety of the students, faculty and staff who return to campus. MSM is currently testing the effectiveness of their screening testing, monitoring and contact tracing protocols. Their modeling this summer will guide Spelman and other members of the AUCC as we roll-out these protocols across the four campuses.

Our intent is to implement a system of testing, and screening and reporting symptoms, along with contact tracing, in the event of infection. An effective system would enable the College to efficiently identify and isolate new COVID-19 cases. The College will maintain residential space, specifically designated for quarantined cases in order to contain the spread of the virus. 

Based on the preliminary recommendations of the Task Force working group assessing the viability of the low density hybrid option, our community could expect the following:

  • The majority of our students will start the school year online in order to protect the health and safety of our students and the faculty and staff who teach and support them. 
  • Should a low density hybrid option be approved by the Board, the Task Force will develop a final plan to prioritize those faculty, staff, and students who will be the first to return, the number of students who will be allowed to transition into the residence halls, and how to institute a regimen of health practices to keep them safe, organize our classrooms for needed physical distancing, and reconfigure work spaces with new health-promoting practices and ways of working, etc. 
  • The College has not determined yet which students would be eligible for residential life, if we choose Option No. 1. We are considering making that choice by class rank or by major.  As well, we are considering students whose personal circumstances create a compelling need to be on campus, and those who require accommodations for learning differences and needs, underlying health conditions and other individual circumstances. Whatever the choice, the number of residential spaces will be greatly limited. 

Persons on campus will be expected to participate in regular testing and to engage in consistent health promoting practices, which will include physical distancing, avoiding large gatherings, wearing masks or other face coverings, self-reporting COVID-19 symptoms, isolating if they are sick or receive a positive test result, and quarantine if they have had close contact with someone who has tested positive.

  • In tandem with our AUCC partner institutions, we are also considering compressed academic terms, which will reduce the possibility of infection by eliminating the most common reasons for student travel. For example, if some students are allowed on campus, it is very likely that Fall Break would be eliminated and that classes would end before Thanksgiving, with final exams online to prevent the need for students to travel home and then return to campus in December.
  • Large gatherings would be restricted, beginning with gatherings as small as 10 persons or more. Those restrictions would be lifted as conditions improve and warrant.  
  • We also anticipate implementing travel restrictions and reporting expectations as a part of any on-campus experience.   

These steps will be critical to our ability to look out for each other and to resume campus life. Our reopening plan will thus occur in phases, and be grounded in confidence grown of data, rather than hope, as well as our own lived experience. Additional details will be forthcoming as the Task Force continues its work with input from our faculty, staff, students, parents, alumnae and AUCC partners.

OPTION No. 2: Exclusively Online Instruction

The second option contemplates the possibility that it may be necessary to continue to conduct all courses online for the time being for the safety of our community. The Task Force working group preparing for that option has focused its efforts on strategies that will ensure that Spelman students receive the top-quality educational experience they rightly expect, should it be necessary to start the fall physically apart.

Faculty Development

The College has launched the Online Course Development Program, an aggressive training program that about 20 percent of Spelman faculty members have completed. That program introduced faculty members to educational technology, deepened their awareness of the pedagogy of virtual instruction and promoted their adoption of best practices for transforming an in-person course to a dynamic, excellent digital learning experience. Members of the Spelman faculty are continuing that training this summer.

Our goal is to make the opportunity for training through the six-week Online Course Development Program available to our more than 150 full-time and part-time faculty members, beginning June 22.

All courses will either be synchronous (students attending class online together at the same time via Zoom and Moodle) or have a blend of synchronous and asynchronous (accessing the course at any time) elements (a hybrid online course).

All class sessions will be recorded to enable students to access course content outside of the assigned class time. All faculty members would schedule some of their office hours synchronously, to better support students.

The College will identify two or more online instructional designers to support the faculty in this effort, working with our resident instructional designer and our instructional design consultant. Experienced online instructors will serve as peer-mentors.

Lead online faculty members will receive additional training this summer to enable them to assist in the development of their colleagues.

Online Learning Development for Students

Students will also receive opportunities for training on how to optimize online learning. Our E-Learn Ready program will assist students in evaluating their ability to thrive in an online learning environment by helping them assess their capabilities, strengths and weaknesses. Additional support will be provided by staff in the Student Success Center. 

To accommodate students in different time zones, student support services will have extended hours.

Staff and faculty will be trained to monitor student engagement and performance so that interventions can happen quickly and as often as needed. Student Access and Counseling Services will also be readily available.

The Online Working Group will conduct a comprehensive assessment of the technology needs of all students, faculty and staff this summer to ensure that our community has the equipment and Internet access needed to teach and learn online.

Spelman’s Path Forward

We conclude by acknowledging that Spelman is mindful that colleges and universities across the country are also studying these questions and preparing to announce their fall plans. We are gratified by reports that these peers are grappling with many of same the challenges discussed above. But we should not expect unanimity in our approaches to the question of how to reopen in the fall. There are sure to be differences among us, due to our unique geographies, student and workforce demographics, needs, circumstances and missions. 

At Spelman, with the Board’s approval, we will start the school year cautiously, with an eye toward gradually returning to a new normalcy based on the benefit of careful experimentation and college-wide adherence to health-promoting practices. 

As we embark on this path forward, we will not have answers to every question. It is simply not possible to answer in advance every question that can be posed. But we deeply appreciate the active engagement of our faculty, staff, students, alumnae and parents in our town hall forums. Those who have participated, sharing questions, concerns and ideas about the fall, have helped us think through the details of our new normal. We have learned a great deal from the questions and concerns you have brought forward. Again, we remind you that the next town hall will be held on Wednesday, June 10, at 5 p.m. and we invite your continued participation.

For more information about our COVID-19 related communications, please see our Coronavirus Updates and President’s Letters to the Community pages.

It is our fervent hope and prayer that every Spelman student will be able to enjoy some time on campus during the next academic year. Our campus is not the same without you. We miss your presence more than we can say. To our new students, we cannot wait to meet you and wrap you in the wisdom and love that is your Spelman Sisterhood. Until the time, when we can all be together again, your health and safety will continue to guide our actions and planning process. 

Blessings to you and your loved ones,

Mary Schmidt Campbell, Ph.D., President

Sharon Davies, J.D., Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs

Dawn Alston, Vice President for Business and Financial Affairs and Chief Financial Officer

Office of the President
Phone: 404-270-5001

Fax: 404-270-5010

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