Dear Spelman Community,

When I first set out to write this column, it was an opportunity to thank you, our Spelman alumnae, for your unwavering support. At the same time, I was eager to share news of the continuing success of our extraordinary Spelman students and the dedicated faculty and staff responsible for their outstanding education. I was looking forward to letting you know that the 2019 U.S. News & World Report rankings continue to place Spelman College at the forefront of all liberal arts colleges – No. 6 among liberal arts colleges on social mobility and innovation – and still the No. 1 HBCU.

Because the Spelman community is especially excited about the launch of the Atlanta University Center’s new Data Science Initiative, this issue of the Messenger celebrates that launch by featuring star alumna Daphne Smith, Ph.D., C’80, the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr. Smith is renowned as a healthcare data analyst, specializing in disease management. I am pleased to present our feature on such an accomplished career.

However, with the coronavirus outbreak, I decided to use my message to focus on how Spelman has responded to this health crisis and share with you why I am so hopeful.

Our first sign of the virus’ impact showed up through our study abroad programs. Two dozen Spelmanites were studying during the spring semester in countries all over the globe: Japan, Italy, South Africa, Morocco, London and Brazil were just a few of the destinations. As the virus spread around the globe, it became apparent we needed to do everything possible to bring our students home safely. And we did. Through the tireless efforts of our provost Sharon Davies, J.D., and vice provost for global education ’Dimeji Togunde, Ph.D., all of our students returned home safely.

Then, the virus arrived in Atlanta.

As spring break approached, it became clear that with the virus crossing the ocean and landing with such ferocity, housing students in residence halls was akin to having a cruise ship on campus. Large gatherings for classes, events or just casual socializing made "physical distancing" as a major preventive strategy a near impossibility.

Moving quickly, Spelman, along with its academic partners in the Atlanta University Center — Morehouse School of Medicine, Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University — made several key decisions. We extended spring break for a week, and under the guidance of our vice president for student affairs, Darryl Hollman, Ph.D., moved students out of the residence halls and, through the office of Provost Davies, transitioned 800 courses from in-person to online instruction. Our dean of Sisters Chapel, the Rev. Neichelle Guidry, Ph.D., established "For the Soul of Spelman," a virtual gathering to provide solace and spiritual community for our students during this time. Also, a number of faculty and staff set up virtual gathering spaces. Our vice president for institutional advancement, Jessie Brooks, and his team quickly set up an emergency fund for those students who would experience hardships as a result of the abrupt changes. Your generosity to that fund, my Sisters, has been overwhelming.

To protect the health and safety of faculty and staff, as well as students, our chief financial officer, Dawn Alston, and her team instituted a telecommuting policy that allows some employees to work remotely from home. Because we still have 65 students who remain on campus because they are not able to go home, the College retains on-campus staff essential for their health and safety, as well as the ongoing operations of the campus. Ms. Alston and her team have also expertly managed the finances of the College as the disruptions brought unexpected costs.

Our associate vice president for government relations and my chief of staff, Helga Greenfield, and Ms. Alston worked closely with our Georgia legislators and the United Negro College Fund during the spring break and beyond to assemble a financial assistance program for higher education with particular attention to HBCUs. Their good work has paid off. Though the federal assistance will not cover all of the additional costs incurred by the College, as a result of the health crisis, it will certainly go a long way toward mitigating the impact.

For our students, the abrupt move off campus was a major upheaval in their lives. To watch them pack up and leave was to witness young people in mourning. They are experiencing real loss. They are losing the enduring face-to-face relationships they have forged with friends, faculty and staff. They are losing the spellbinding spirit of spring at Spelman, a time that brings many of the ceremonies we hold dear: Founders Day, Class Day, the walk through the arch, baccalaureate, commencement and, of course for you, my Sisters, reunion. Our Office of Alumnae Engagement is working hard to have a virtual experience for Founders Day and replace many of our other ceremonies for later this year.

Despite the disruptions, I remain hopeful. In the past weeks, I have witnessed a community rally as I have never before seen. Faculty responded with energy and enthusiasm in shifting from in-person to online instruction. Some were completely new to online and participated in week-long training sessions. Students are working their way through initial barriers to adjust to a new learning format. Staff members are shifting roles to accommodate the new reality. The College has purchased laptops, tablets, new soft- ware, internet hot spots, cloud storage and additional capacity for our various online platforms. In the process, we are finding that we are re-writing the script for higher education every day with resilience, resolve and imagination.

That is why I am hopeful.

I am hopeful, because we have demonstrated we have resilience, resolve and imagination to re-envision ourselves. Spelman and every college and university in the country will be forever changed by this crisis and will need every bit of that imagination, as well as a spirit of innovation, to shape its future.

What shape will higher education take? As of now, we don’t know, but we do know that Spelman can rely on its deep reservoirs of faith and its capacity to remain, in the words of our hymn, "undaunted by the fight."

Keep the faith,

Mary Schmidt Campbell, Ph.D.
President, Spelman College

*originally published in the Spring 2020 issue of the Spelman Messenger


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