‘Get Your Smith Together’ podcast brings alumnae wisdom—and some solace—to anxious students.
Read Smith’s plans for the fall 2021 semester.
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‘A Lot of Faith and Hope’: Returning to Campus
During her first few days on campus in late January, Laila Wright ’24 went for solo walks in the snow.
“I was surprised at how powdery the texture was,” says Wright, who came to Smith from Jamaica for spring semester. “It was my first time seeing snow.”
Rowan Wheeler ’21 says she’s been listening to podcasts to help pass the time since moving into her room in Morris House two weeks ago. “I’ve gone through so many of them just to be hearing voices,” she says, with a laugh.
The two students are among approximately 1,220 Smithies studying on campus this spring. As part of Smith’s “Culture of Care” plan to safely welcome students back to campus, arriving students have undergone a period of testing and quarantine, forgoing visits to each other’s rooms and all gatherings. Dining halls, house common spaces and most campus buildings have remained closed during the initial operating mode.
Students will start classes February 15 in remote learning mode while the college determines which of three operating levels – green, yellow or red – will guide campus life in the immediate future. Even in green mode—the least restrictive category—many classes will remain remote, and safety measures such as physical distancing, testing and mask-wearing will be required across campus.
Welcoming back everyone who wanted to study on campus this spring was a complex process, says Julianne Ohotnicky, dean of students and associate dean of the college. Arrival times had to be spaced so that students could undergo required quarantine time, and so distance could be maintained during check-in and move-in activities. Students also needed to be educated about pandemic safety measures on campus—“what six feet actually means,” Ohotnicky says.
Despite such challenges, the arrival process has gone smoothly and students have been making connections even at a distance, says Baishakhi Taylor, vice president for campus life and dean of the college.
“Students have been thoughtful, caring and observing about our compliance and safety measures,” Taylor says. “Their partnership and collaboration are key to our Culture of Care.”
‘Rolling with the Punches’
First-year student Annie Rafferty traveled to Smith from her family’s home in northern California for her inaugural semester on campus. She says one of the welcome surprises so far has been the ease of finding gluten-free food options—even in the initial grab-and-go-only dining setup.
“My cousin [at another college] is extremely jealous,” says Rafferty, who has a room in Chase House. “She says she has to move off campus to get anything gluten-free.”
Laying low for the first few weeks at Smith hasn’t been easy, says Rafferty, who is interested in studying government and economics. “I would kill for access to the common rooms,” she quips. “I’m also not enjoying wearing a mask to the bathroom.”
Still, “it’s kind of how I’ve felt all through the pandemic—just rolling with the punches,” Rafferty says. “I actually did encounter someone new on my way to the bathroom! I’m really looking forward to being able to sit in the common rooms with people, and to some classes where we can have ‘discussion halls’ together outside.”
Taking Comfort in the Culture of Care
Fellow first-year Laila Wright, who is living in Cutter House, says a virtual interterm physical conditioning class helped structure her days before the start of spring semester courses this week.
“I have my yoga mat, and I’ve been exercising in my room,” she says. “It’s great being in a Smith house! I’ve been looking forward to it, especially since I had taken a gap year” before starting Smith courses remotely last fall.
Wright arrived from Jamaica with her parents in mid-January and spent a week in Northampton buying suitable winter gear and other supplies for a semester on campus. (Her aunts, who live in the U.S., had lots of good advice about the need to “layer” clothing in winter.)
Her parents were sad that they couldn’t accompany her to quarantine quarters at the Ellery hotel or help her move into her room on campus. “Still, it gave us a lot of comfort when we read about Smith’s system for opening,” says Wright, who plans to study economics and Spanish. “The Culture of Care seemed a very solid plan. And I love how diligent the college is about testing.”
In addition to her courses, Wright hopes to join a Spanish language club this semester and perhaps even try out for crew.
Most of all, “I’m looking forward to making more friends,” she says. “Lifelong friends.”
‘A Lot of Faith and Hope’
Emma McDonough ’21 is living in a single room for the first time in her Smith tenure. She spent fall semester at home in Rochester, New York, then rented an Airbnb in Holyoke with her 2020 Smith roommate for several weeks before briefly quarantining and moving into her room in Sessions.
She has kept busy with an interterm course, “Women and Revolutions,” and working remotely for a vaccine shipping company in her hometown. McDonough has also spoken to an adviser from the Lazarus Center for Career Development and has even sent out her first job application for a paralegal position. (Law school is her ultimate goal.)
Support from professors has already given her a boost this semester, says McDonough, who attended Monroe Community College in Rochester before enrolling at Smith. “They send out the syllabus early so you can ask questions. And they’re good about knowing that everyone is adapting to this [pandemic] situation differently.”
“Right now I have a lot of faith and hope,” she adds. “Smith, for me, has always felt like we have a culture of care. Everyone is good about following protocols and taking care of each other.”
“There’s just a lot of thankfulness to be here because Smith was one of the very first schools that closed” in 2020, she says.
Easing the Distance
Rowan Wheeler ’21 says returning to campus as a senior “has been very meaningful.”
She and some Smith friends studied remotely in fall 2021 from a rented apartment they shared in Florence. “We’d drive past campus every week on the way to the grocery store and wave, ‘Hi Smith! We miss you!” says Wheeler, who is majoring in history with a concentration in museums.
From her room in Morris House, Wheeler has been learning new skills in an interterm graphic design class and attending virtual board game and movie nights with Smith housemates and friends.
Technology has definitely eased the social distance the pandemic requires. “I’m excited about being able to see all these students who can’t come back to campus this semester but still have that virtual connection,” Wheeler says. “I’m glad that a lot of things are staying remote because it means those students won’t be left out.”
Among the many things she is looking forward to about her final semester on campus is the chance to finally take a horticulture class, practice with the handbell choir (she is president of that group) and continue networking with fellow museum educators about how programs are adapting to the virtual environment.
Above all, “I am so excited to use Neilson library!” Wheeler says. “It was closed the summer I got to Smith, and I’ve been walking by in the dark and just staring at the building.”
Thinking about her final semester on campus Wheeler feels grateful.
“For our class especially, we’re appreciating what we have here at Smith,” she says. “And we know we’re going to have some kick-ass reunions!”