Skip to main content

Smith’s Plan for Spring 2021

COVID Response

Published November 23, 2020

Dear students, staff and faculty:

I write today with an update about the spring semester that I am sure will be welcome news to the Smith community. Many students are eager to return to campus, and the college has developed a careful plan to make that possible.

I want to acknowledge up front that, as I write, many areas of the country—including some college and university campuses—are experiencing surges in COVID-19 cases. This is a serious situation, and one we are monitoring carefully. At the same time, well-managed campus communities provide a number of insights that suggest we can continue to keep campus positivity rates very low with students in residence.

Throughout the fall, we have monitored the experiences of other residential colleges with students on campus and can draw two clear observations. The first is that campuses with strong coronavirus management programs—asymptomatic testing, isolation of people who test positive, timely contact tracing and quarantine of close contacts—have managed to keep coronavirus transmission extremely low. For example, at many of our peer institutions that are testing regularly, the positivity rate at this moment is approximately .02 percent, which is extraordinarily low.

The second observation is that, when practiced together, recommended public health strategies—wearing masks or approved face coverings, hand washing, physical distancing, and less crowded indoor spaces—work. By combining these strategies with single-room housing for every student and enhanced cleaning protocols, the college will be able to welcome most students back this spring to live and study in community.

Based on survey responses, we predict that about 1,700 undergraduate students will be interested in living on campus. We are prepared to host as many as 1,830 students in on-campus housing, all in single rooms; note that we will still have adequate space for isolation and quarantine, if needed.

Later today, Dean of the College Baishakhi Taylor will ask students who have registered for the spring semester to confirm their plans by December 1. In advance of that commitment, we are providing information to help you make the decision that is right for you. Students will also be invited to register for webinars on the college’s spring plans that will take place on November 23 and 30; more information will also be available on our frequently asked questions site. Employees will be invited to a similar webinar to be held December 1. We have updated our COVID-19 website and FAQ, and we invite you to send your questions to

Mode of Instruction

Based on surveys of faculty, about half of spring courses will only be offered remotely, while the other half will be offered as “enhanced remote.” Enhanced remote courses will incorporate some in-person meetings, which may include office hours; small-group discussions; labs; and projects with the Smith College Museum of Art, library special collections and the botanic garden. A handful of performance and lab courses will be fully in-person. Please note that all courses will be held remotely for the first two weeks of the term, to allow sufficient time for all returning students to clear testing protocols. Also, depending on pandemic conditions during the term, there may be times when all classes will shift to remote.

Students on Campus

If our survey results are accurate, we will have space for every student who wishes to study on campus this spring. It is possible that more students will want to return to campus than the survey results indicate. For this reason, we will prioritize space for students on campus in this order:

  • first-year students (including those who postponed their admission until spring 2021), seniors, select student leaders, new transfer students and students with extraordinary circumstances that impede their learning from home
  • juniors and sophomores
  • students who postponed their admission until fall 2021
  • students currently approved for off-campus residency

Graduate students and Ada Comstock scholars will have the option of applying for existing on-campus housing that is dedicated for their use.

Recognizing that the spring semester is starting later than usual this year, we are delaying our spring billing cycle by a month. Bills will be sent on January 15 and will be due by February 10.

Arrival on campus: Students returning to campus will do so in phases, starting three to four weeks before classes begin, so that we can test everyone on arrival, quarantine or isolate as needed, and provide orientation for first-year students. Before arriving on campus, students should quarantine for two weeks. Those arriving from high-risk states and from outside the United States will reside in isolation/quarantine housing until they are cleared by our testing program. Students can expect to receive their scheduled arrival date in the third week of December.

Testing and treatment: We will require twice-weekly asymptomatic testing for all students on campus. Employees will be tested weekly, at minimum, depending on how frequently they come to campus. Further, we will ask all members of the Smith community to monitor their health and to seek medical treatment if they feel ill. Any student who becomes ill with COVID-19 will be assigned to separate isolation housing, where they will be cared for and supported by staff in residence life and the Schacht Center for Health and Wellness.

Masks or other approved face coverings will be required everywhere on campus because we know these work in preventing the spread of the virus. Before arriving on campus, students will be required to sign a statement of shared responsibility. We encourage you to read and understand the potential consequences of failing to abide by our campus public health requirements.

Day-to-day life on campus will be guided by green/yellow/red operating modes, with the progression of colors designating least to most restrictive measures. The operating mode will be determined by pandemic conditions on our campus, in the city of Northampton, in Hampshire county and in the commonwealth of Massachusetts. For example, if campus and local COVID-19 rates are low and students and others are complying with masking and social distancing, we will operate under the “green” designation, allowing students to use common spaces and visit other houses. If increasing COVID-19 positivity rates or other metrics lead us to shift to a more cautious “yellow” designation, those kinds of group activities will no longer be permitted, and classes will shift to fully remote for those on and off campus, for the duration of our "yellow" status. In red mode, students will be required to stay in their rooms except when being tested and picking up meals.

We are very eager to have more students on campus. At the same time, it is important to note that significant uncertainty remains about the trajectory of COVID-19 cases and the spread of the coronavirus in the coming months. I encourage students and families to approach any campus travel arrangements or ticket purchases with caution and, whenever possible, ensure that travel-related purchases can be refunded. Our plans for the spring could change at any point based on the severity of the pandemic or if federal, state or local regulations change.

I wish each of you a restorative and healthy Thanksgiving break. There is always much to be thankful for, even during a pandemic, and certainly that would include Smith College, our intellectual home. As I imagine the spring semester, with students both on campus and off, I know that we will cherish the college—and one another—even more. Take care and be well.


Kathleen McCartney