Baishakhi Taylor, who began work as dean of the college and vice president for campus life on July 1, has been working with other campus leaders to find ways to engage students in the daily life of the college this fall, while maintaining the health of the community.
and the college’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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All-Hands Crisis Response
Entire campus community takes up an array of challenges presented by a dangerous pandemic
Alumnae respond forcefully within hours of the March 10 announcement. Some offer to send care packages, some share a list of alumnae willing to take students in, others offer to pay for students’ moving expenses. In response, Smith creates a Student Emergency Aid Fund. Contributions from hundreds of alumnae and a $100,000 donation from the Student Government Association’s unused activities fees would go to student travel and technology expenses.
Facilities and residence life staff assist students in moving off campus by the March 20 deadline. The international study team brings home more than 200 students from study abroad programs.
Some 225 students remain on campus through the spring, while efforts are made—such as moving them into single rooms—to assist their social distancing. Meals are exclusively grab and go.
When a temporary city homeless shelter is set up at the nearby high school, Smith begins contributing 80 meals a day and lends a refrigerated van to a community food delivery service. Further, houses in the Quad serve as standby emergency housing in case medical staff from Cooley Dickinson Hospital need to isolate themselves.
Campus health and wellness opportunities and connections ramp up—although virtually. English professor and Zen Buddhist priest Ruth Ozeki ’80 and Mary Beth Brooker, MFA ’20, begin 30-minute weekly Zen-style meditations via Zoom; Matilda Cantwell, director of the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life, offers a guided meditation and conversation on “Calm in a Time of COVID-19.” Smith Counseling Services offer virtual support groups: to help students overcome social isolation, for students who must remain on campus, for students of color, for low-income students.
The college purchases a license to Calm, a relaxation and meditation app that the campus community can use at no cost.
To distract from the sadness engulfing the world, the college circulates a weekly list of video offerings: cats playing dominoes, a sea-otter cam, virtual concerts (including pianist Jiayan Sun playing Schubert’s sonatas in Sage Hall), and virtual tours of gardens, museums and aquariums around the world. Especially popular: a Pets of Profs photo album, introducing the cats, dogs and hedgehogs making appearances in virtual classes.
As 400 classes move to a virtual platform, the college considers how best to support students in their new home “classrooms.” Other long-term challenges facing CIRT include creating a plan for campus continuity and providing the technology for employees to work from home.
Faculty stay connected by meeting virtually every Friday in their Sherrerd Center Teaching Circles. Via teleconferencing, they discuss how to teach within a crisis and how to structure their pedagogy while teaching remotely. Similarly, the Wurtele Center for Leadership offers a workshop for staff members on how to lead and collaborate with their teams while working from home.
A coronavirus response website, with a regularly updated FAQ, informs students, faculty, staff and alumnae on policy developments.
This story appears in the Summer 2020 issue of the Smith Alumnae Quarterly.