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Smith’s Plan for Fall 2020, July 6, 2020

Dear Smith students and families:

Throughout the spring and early summer, faculty, staff and students across the college worked to construct a plan for the coming year—a plan with health and safety, students’ education and the Smith experience at the center. This effort required research, creativity, common sense and wisdom. In this letter, I write to share the product of that work, Smith College’s “A Culture of Care” plan.

In developing our plan, we reviewed the best medical and public health guidance available and mapped that information to Smith’s values, especially the transformative power of a liberal arts education. At Smith, this value is exemplified by dedicated faculty and staff who are invested in each student as a learner and an individual.

Mitigating health risk

Our goal is to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 on the Smith College campus, where students live in houses and attend classes together. Four actions will be critical for our collective health and safety.

Physical distancing

We need to de-densify our houses and classrooms so that routine physical distancing is feasible.


We need to test members of our community regularly for COVID-19 and isolate those who test positive to prevent the spread of the virus.


We need to disinfect high-touch surfaces often.


Most important, we all need to be scrupulous about hygiene and comply with federal, state, city and college safety guidance. As a practical matter, that means we will all be required to wear masks or other approved face coverings, practice physical distancing, wash our hands often and be observant about whether we are exhibiting symptoms of the virus. It’s as clear as that.

This last action represents a vital, shared, sustained responsibility. We need to practice these behaviors not only for ourselves but also for others, especially those students, staff and faculty who are at higher risk of serious outcomes should they contract COVID-19. Together we can keep Smith students on campus if we embrace and practice “A Culture of Care.”

Let me share more details about how we will enforce each of these four actions and describe what our academic program will look like this fall.

Living on campus and physical distancing

We want all students to have the opportunity to live on or near campus for at least one semester during the 2020-21 academic year. To decide how many students should be on campus at any one time, we began by examining our house system in light of the need for rigorous physical distancing. We made the decision to house all students in single rooms, limit the number of students living on each house floor and limit the number of students assigned to a shared bathroom. These decisions are consistent with the Massachusetts “Safe on Campus” Framework for reopening colleges and universities.

Classrooms will have fewer students and more space for each individual as well, with the number of students in a classroom at any one time capped at 30. Using these guidelines, we expect approximately 60 percent of our students to be learning on campus each semester. In-person social and co-curricular gatherings will be strictly limited to fewer than ten people.

This fall, first-year students, sophomores and students graduating in January will be invited to live on or near campus. Some student leaders, such as members of the Student Government Association, will also be invited to campus. Importantly, students with extraordinary circumstances, such as seniors who need access to campus resources for honors thesis research or students whose home situations are not conducive to remote learning, may apply to live on campus. Ada Comstock Scholars with on-campus housing assignments will be invited for the full year as will students from abroad who cannot return home.

For the spring, juniors and seniors will be invited to be on campus. If the campus community experiences minimal health impacts in the fall semester, and if improved treatments or widespread immunization become available very soon, we hope to be able to increase the number of students on campus in the spring.


One of the most important factors in limiting the spread of COVID-19 is frequent and reliable testing. Smith is fortunate to have access to one of the best testing systems in the country, developed and administered by the Eli & Edythe Broad Institute, the renowned Harvard-MIT biomedical and genomic research center. Through our contract with Broad, we will be testing all those on campus: every student, every faculty member teaching on campus and every employee approved to work on campus. Each will be tested on arrival and regularly thereafter. This testing will be mandatory. Our goal is to identify and quickly isolate any emerging case so that we can effectively mitigate the spread of the disease.

We will require all members of the community to monitor their health. Any student who becomes ill with COVID-19 will be assigned to separate isolation housing on campus, where they will be cared for and supported.

Face coverings

Masks or other approved face coverings will be required for everyone everywhere on campus, except in a student’s room, in accordance with the “Safe on Campus” guidance. As noted above, this is an essential action each of us must take to protect and care for the health of our community.

Cleaning and disinfection

Campuswide, we will implement an intensified schedule of cleaning and disinfection of our facilities in compliance with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control. Campus houses will be disinfected twice a day every day. Classrooms and learning spaces will be disinfected twice a day, five days a week. In addition, a team will be deployed to clean high-touch surfaces throughout campus. Everyone will be expected to sanitize their hands at every transition from one room or building to another, using sanitizer, disinfecting wipes and other cleaning items provided in all buildings.

The academic calendar

Like many colleges and universities, Smith has developed its calendar for 2020–21 in accordance with public health guidance that anticipates a resurgence of COVID-19 in late fall. Accordingly, we will begin fall semester classes on Tuesday, September 1— one week earlier than planned—and will eliminate the fall break. Students will return home at Thanksgiving, completing fall-term coursework and associated exams and final projects remotely, by Thursday, December 17. Students may elect to take three or four courses in the fall term and will have the opportunity to take additional courses during a remote six-week January/February interterm, for which we are planning innovative courses and co-curricular offerings. Spring semester classes will begin on Monday, February 15, and conclude on Thursday, May 21, with graduation set for Sunday, May 30.

Teaching and learning

In spring 2020, our faculty had two weeks to pivot to remote instruction; this fall will be very different. With the support of the Sherrerd Center for Teaching and Learning and their colleagues in Information Technology, faculty members are incorporating innovative pedagogies for remote and hybrid instruction. Most courses will be designed to be delivered both remotely and in person, with students and faculty members choosing the mode(s) they prefer. The majority of remote sessions will be delivered in real time, to enable immediate interaction and discussion. Some courses will consist of remote lectures and small, in-person “tutorials.” Some courses will assign alternating groups of students to attend in the classroom on alternating days. Some lab-based courses will break large groups into smaller cohorts, thereby enabling every student to have hands-on learning with fewer person-to-person contacts. As always, the goal of the faculty is to offer an outstanding academic experience to every student.

The Smith experience

Even during this unusual academic year, Smith’s values and traditions will endure, many of them virtually. Vice President for Equity and Inclusion Floyd Cheung is leading the planning for Cromwell Day, which will take place on November 10 with the theme “Tackling Anti-Blackness: Moving Past the Abstract.” Our academic centers are busy planning important experiential opportunities, such as the Draper Competition for Collegiate Women Entrepreneurs and workshops on collaborative leadership. And rest assured that we WILL have Mountain Day. These are but a few examples of the programming we are developing to enrich all aspects of the student experience.


Unfortunately, the physical distancing required to reduce viral spread precludes our participation in varsity and club sport competition this fall. I know that is a disappointment to our fall teams and to all of us, like me, who support them. While we are suspending fall sports for now, Director of Athletics Kristin Hughes and I are in conversation with several NEWMAC colleges to explore whether our schools’ fall teams might be able to participate in limited league competition in early 2021.

Cost and financial aid

In recognition of the financial burdens that COVID-19 has imposed on students and families, we have taken two key actions. We have increased financial aid to help offset the impacts of the pandemic, and we have rolled back our planned tuition increase. Further, we have prorated fall room and board charges to reflect a shorter fall semester on campus. We remain committed to meeting every Smith student’s full demonstrated financial need and to reviewing each student’s financial aid award if their financial circumstances have changed.

For students on need-based financial aid, we have made two additional adjustments for 2020–21. We have increased the allowance for personal expenses by $2,000 per year, regardless of whether the student is residing on campus or at home, and we have reduced the work-study earnings expectation by 50 percent.

Final thoughts

I am sure you have many questions, and we will do our best to answer them. We have updated our COVID-19 website with important information that will help you plan for the fall. You will receive a follow-up communication shortly to confirm your fall plans; note that we will need your response by Wednesday, July 15. Students and families are invited to register for a webinar to be held 2–3:30 p.m. EST on Thursday, July 9, in which members of my leadership team and I will answer questions about the fall semester. In the meantime, you are also welcome to direct any questions to

COVID-19 has posed significant challenges to every sector of society, including higher education. But it is not the only crisis we are facing. This summer, acts of anti-Black violence galvanized activism against systemic racial injustice in our communities and institutions as well as at Smith College. There are hopeful signs that the country is ready to confront and redress the wrongs of the past 400 years. I look forward to sharing more soon about a new approach to this work at Smith, one based in deep reflection and action.

I want to conclude with a note about the risk of this virus. No college or community can eliminate risk entirely. By organizing our plan around a Culture of Care, we are underscoring a core value that must guide every person living and learning on our campus—caring for ourselves and for others. Rest assured that if circumstances change, we are committed to being flexible, responsive and willing to adjust our course of action to further support the health and safety of all.

I look forward to the fall, as different as it will be, because Smith will remain a learning community like no other I know.


Kathleen McCartney