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A Message for Students and Families, May 26, 2020

Dear students and families:

This spring has been extraordinary, in every sense of that word. Since mid-March, none of us has experienced an ordinary day at school or work. Milestone events, such as Commencement and Reunion, have taken place virtually. And yet, amid profound disruption, we have found ways to celebrate the extraordinary and look to the future. When Student Government Association President Rosalie Toupin congratulated her fellow seniors at their virtual commencement, she captured it well: “It’s not quite what we imagined, but we are here—and there is much more to come.”

For many of our students, the beginning of summer will mean the launch of Praxis internships, this year in virtual format. The Lazarus Center for Career Development is reviewing applications for internship funding in fields including museums, aerospace, political campaigns and public health. I am grateful to the alums who, recognizing the unprecedented circumstances this year, have reached out to offer internship opportunities to our students and job opportunities to our recent graduates. In this economy, the act of one Smithie extending a hand to another has never been more important.

We are in the process of distributing emergency relief funding to students with financial need who incurred COVID-19-related expenses this spring. Some of that funding comes through the federal CARES Act; some comes from Smith’s own funds, so that we can extend the same financial relief to international and undocumented students excluded by the federal plan.

As you know, the college is engaged in academic scenario planning for the fall, and we will confirm our plans for the fall by early July. All of us involved in planning continue to hope for an in-person fall semester; at the same time, we continue to develop contingency plans for a range of approaches to our curriculum. In all of our scenario planning, we are ever mindful of the need to protect the health and safety of our community. I am working in collaboration with my Five College counterparts, as well as local hospital leaders and fellow presidents across Massachusetts, to ensure we can uphold the highest duty of care for every one of our students, staff and faculty members.

Provost Michael Thurston has referred to preparing for the fall as “planning in the dark, in the fog, on a shifting landscape”—an image that is both poetic and true. At the same time, I am mindful that, as we do this work, we are modeling one of the essential capacities that our liberal arts curriculum confers: the ability to wrestle with complex multidimensional problems in the context of evolving and incomplete information.

I believe it would be premature at this time to announce any plan, given that public health guidance and medical knowledge continue to evolve. I will update you regularly on our summer planning and continue to invite and benefit from your good thinking; please write to In the meantime, I invite you to join us in virtual community, via resources curated by our Office for Equity and Inclusion. I look forward to the day when we can once again enjoy an ordinary day on Smith’s extraordinary campus—strolling through the botanic gardens, eating at the Campus Center Café and touring the Smith College Museum of Art. Until then, please stay safe and be well.


Kathleen McCartney