Smith College President Kathleen McCartney: I Feel Your Support, March 31, 2020
I write today from the President's House, where I have been mastering the art of the Zoom meeting. One of my favorite spots in the house is the breakfast room, with spectacular views of Paradise Pond, so I have temporarily moved my office there for inspiration.
These are unprecedented times, but I can say with certainty that they have brought out the best in all of us. We speak of Smith as a private college with a public conscience. This means that we take care of one another. In the past month, as we've had to make one difficult decision after another, I have seen our students, faculty, staff and alums come together in ways that have only reinforced my belief that Smith is a college unlike any other. This crisis has ignited our ingenuity and emboldened us to take action to support our neighbors, family, friends and the Smith community.
It has been no surprise to me that alums have been among the most eager to help by offering their ideas, good counsel and philanthropic support, especially to our students. We talk frequently about the power of the Smith network; it has been incredibly moving to see it in action. In the two weeks since we established the Student Emergency Aid Fund, for example, close to 500 alums, parents and friends have contributed in excess of $66,000 to help students defray the costs associated with continuing their studies off campus. To date, more than 200 domestic and international students have been helped with funds for travel, and computer and technology assistance. Thank you for caring so deeply about our students, for keeping Smith strong and for making it possible for us to fulfill our mission.
We have taken numerous steps to try to ease the burden-for students, staff and faculty alike-brought on by this pandemic. We are offering students and their families prorated reimbursements for room and board; we have paid work-study students for the remainder of the semester; we have ensured that the 275 students who cannot return home can remain on campus; we have created an impressive digital support team to make sure that faculty and students have all the tools they need for uninterrupted teaching and learning; we continue to pay all benefits-eligible employees as most of them work from home; we have set up a Smith College Employee Assistance Fund; and we have expanded access to our Employee Assistance Program. These have been significant financial investments, but we believe that they will only serve to strengthen our community in the long term.
Beyond our campus, we are also being a good neighbor to our friends in Northampton. I am proud to share that, in partnership with Cooley Dickinson Hospital, Smith will donate on-campus housing to support the hospital's needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, the college is donating supplies-including 250 cots and 80 meals a day-to support expanded sheltering capacity for the local homeless population. This harkens back to the 1918 flu pandemic, when Smith students volunteered as nurses at the hospital, and to World War II, when Smith hosted the WAVES. As history shows, helping in times of crisis and national need is part of our nature.
I also want to recognize the remarkable creativity and resilience of our students. The seniors, especially, have been in my thoughts. As I wrote to them earlier this week, the last semester of college should be a very special time, one for reflecting on what the past four years have meant. I so regret that they will miss cherished traditions like Senior Ball, Baccalaureate and Ivy Day. Before the seniors left, they brought a smile to my face when I witnessed them romping around campus in caps and gowns, heard their primal screams and saw photos of the student-organized commencement.
There are lots of ideas on the table to celebrate and honor their accomplishments, including a virtual celebration on May 17 and an on-campus Commencement with the class of 2020 once we are on the other side of this pandemic. In the meantime, I invite you to send our students a few kind words or a message of support through this form. They always enjoy hearing from you.
As alums, you won't be surprised to learn that our faculty are rising to the challenge of teaching remotely. On Monday, more than 400 courses began in alternate modes of instruction: via Zoom, Moodle, Google chat, Google docs, Slack channels, FaceTime and other media. I'd like to share one example. Laura Lilienkamp '18 of our Design Thinking Initiative is assisting biology professor Nathan Derr in transforming his BIO 317 class into a virtual "makers class." Students will receive Lego kits by mail so they can design molecular prototypes remotely and discuss their creations via Zoom. Virtual pedagogies like this will ensure the continued high quality of a Smith education in the weeks ahead.
I am proud to lead a college that has, as one alumna said, such "a big heart and a social conscience." The bonds we share cross generations and extend beyond borders. Michelle Stahl AC '95 understands the power of our connections. Two weeks ago, she proposed a virtual Illumination, calling on all Smithies around the world to "be part of the light" by hanging a lantern outside their homes at sunset on May 16 and then sharing images across social media. What a fabulous way to keep this Ivy Day tradition alive to brighten-literally-this special day. I'll be hanging one at the President's House, and hopefully a few more on campus.
Let us all continue to care for one another, to connect with our friends and classmates, and to find comfort in knowing that no matter how difficult things may seem there are Smithies everywhere who are ready and willing to stand by our side at every step. I feel your support, and it means so very much to me.
President, Smith College