First, I have to say, I miss you! I miss your combined energy on our campus, seeing your bright minds in action and hearing your laughter with friends as you walk between classes or grab lunch. These days, I am following Governor Wolf’s mandate and working from home, and I feel the loss of our quick chats outside Blue Line cafe or the smiles and waves crossing the quad on a busy day. Our campus certainly is beautiful, but it’s our people who make F&M unique. And even though we’re not in the same place, I take comfort in knowing the connections continue. Your relationships with professors, coaches, staff members, and one another are at the heart of who we are as a College, and now it’s our growing strength in building virtual interactions that will help us to feel united and supported.
You have shown perseverance and kindness in working through the challenges we’ve faced in recent weeks. Although our daily reality looks different for each of us, the toll these circumstances are taking on our personal lives is real. Some of you are worrying about your loved ones working on the frontlines. Others are figuring out how to balance academics with home responsibilities like caring for younger siblings. Many are figuring out what it means to celebrate religious holidays, like Passover, Easter, and Ramadan, apart from family and tradition. This may be one of the most unsettling and challenging moments of your lifetime, and I want you to know that all of us at F&M stand with you. Above all, I hope you and your loved ones are well and healthy.
Now in our second week of online learning, I am inspired by the great positivity and hard work our faculty and students are bringing to the online space. Your professors have risen to the challenge and are determined to fulfill the commitment they made to teach you well, just as you are rising to the challenge of learning and growing in new ways! I hope you are finding your groove in this new version of an F&M education.
With the pandemic still causing much uncertainty, and new orders from the state legislature shutting down all K-12 schools through the end of the academic year, we have decided for the safety of all concerned to offer only online courses this summer. The silver lining in that decision is that many more F&M students will be able to take advantage of the expanded list of courses we plan to offer online. Keep your eye out for more information.
I hope that you are using your resources! Although campus is closed, many student services are still operating. We encourage you to engage actively online with OSPGD (we are asking our broad alumni and friends network to help identify internships and employment possibilities), academic advisers, College House deans and dons, Counseling services, Accessibility services, tutoring, and the myriad support systems in place to serve you.
With so much going on in the world, it is more important than ever to reach out and lean on one another. If you’re uncertain where to start, I encourage you to take the first step by contacting the F&M DipCares team. Led by Care Coordinator Susan Knoll, the DipCares team is eager to support you in facing any COVID-19 related challenges, as well as unexpected life events, personal crisis, mental health struggles, financial issues, academic difficulties, etc. Please complete the DipCares referral form to seek assistance for yourself or for a friend.
The College also recognizes that many of our students are experiencing unforeseen financial hurdles, such as purchasing food and supplies, last-minute travel costs, lost wages, technology expenses, and more. To help meet students’ needs in this time of duress, the College has created the Student Hardship and Emergency Fund. To apply for emergency support, please visit this site.
While we are certainly here to help you through the serious circumstances and difficult challenges of this time, we also are here to help you regain a little piece of what your college days are meant to be all about: community and fun! Yes, we can use the word “fun” at F&M, even now! For those who choose to make use of them, opportunities abound in F&M’s Virtual Quad to engage with your fellow Diplomats and take a study break. Come hang out on “Hartman Screen” for all kinds of online programming and activities, like virtual yoga, knitting club, a Sweet Ophelia a cappella performance, and Trivia Tuesdays. If you played trivia with us this week or last and were in the Top 100, you’ll be gratified to know that you beat your college president!
Answering Your Questions
The uncertainty of present circumstances can sometimes make it feel as though there are more questions than answers. We don’t have solutions to everything, but we are working hard to ensure you have easy access to the most current information as it relates to F&M operations. As questions arise, please be sure to make our COVID-19 Updates website your first stop. On that website you will find information about refunds for housing and meal plans, student employment, access to appropriate technology for online learning, and much more. If you don’t find what you need, please send an email to email@example.com. We are committed to providing prompt responses to all queries received at that address.
Naturally, some of the most frequently asked questions have been related to housing and when students can return to campus to pick up their remaining belongings. Except for a limited number of students who have been given permission to be on campus, F&M’s campus must remain closed until state and federal mandates allow us to open again. It’s vital that we minimize the population in residence as much as possible, which is why we continue to work with students still on campus to help them return home or to another safe location. Though Lancaster may seem like a safe place compared with some other cities, health experts anticipate a sharp increase in new cases here soon and, with very limited on-campus staffing, the College may not be able to provide all the added support necessary for students who may become ill.
We also are recommending that students still living in off-campus residences seriously consider returning home or to another safe alternative. I understand the frustration of having to pay rent even when you are not living there, but health and safety – for ourselves and for others – needs to be everyone’s first priority. The College continues its efforts to communicate with the owners of off-campus housing and advocate on behalf of our students and their families.
Right now, our on-campus staffing has been severely limited by state mandate. To provide life-sustaining safety and support, we have to move some students to consolidate our on-campus population. We also have to prepare for the real likelihood of coronavirus cases on our campus by clearing some rooms to use as possible quarantine or isolation areas. As a result, some students have been notified that their belongings will be professionally packed and stored. I know that is unsettling. I want to reassure you we are taking these actions only because they are necessary, and that the professional moving company we have hired to do this work has long years of experience in being careful with items of personal value. I can also assure you that the on-campus storage of these belongings is safe and secure. For more information on this process and updates as the details evolve, please visit the On-Campus Housing Information document on the COVID-19 website.
If you do remain on campus, please help us prevent the communal spread of COVID-19 by wearing a mask. There are now cloth masks available free of charge for F&M students and employees currently living and working on campus. Join me in giving a big thanks to Ginny West and Holly Andrew from the Department of Theatre, Dance and Film, who have put their sewing talents and unused fabric from past TDF productions to good use. As masks are produced, they will be available for pick up at the office of the Department of Public Safety on campus. They will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, and we ask that you limit yourself to one mask per person.
Exasperating though it may be, the challenges of this pandemic change daily and often require us to answer new needs and adapt to evolving circumstances, and sometimes even to reverse or alter previous decisions. A recent opinion piece in the College Reporter highlighted the frustration, anxiety, and anger that some students are feeling. Those feelings are real, and they are painful to read. At the same time, it’s important that we not minimize the very real challenges we must respond to in this unprecedented moment of global crisis.
As conditions have changed, we have had no choice but to continually reduce the number of students permitted to remain on campus, and we will likely continue to do so as the coronavirus crisis escalates. All colleges and universities are facing the same challenge: we cannot count on having the staffing available to support a larger campus population given the mandatory, statewide shutdowns. F&M’s foremost priority is the safety and well-being of our entire community. This includes essential workers on our staff, many of whom are facing their own challenges in light of this crisis. Some are immuno-compromised themselves or have household family members with medical issues. By minimizing the number of students on campus – and thus, the need for essential workers – we can effectively decrease the risk of our community members contracting and spreading the virus. While our greatest hope was to be able to provide a safe place for as many as possible, the pandemic has made it increasingly difficult for us to sustain the quality of life, health, and safety we have pledged to provide our students. The larger our on-campus population, the more difficult this becomes, especially as conditions continue to worsen.
We know it is truly hard for many students to leave our campus, and that in some cases returning “home” or elsewhere creates challenges of its own. Given that we cannot harbor everyone who would prefer to stay, we are actively working to connect students with the resources they need to navigate their unique circumstances. We have assisted students with the expense of airline tickets and other travel-related costs. We continue to provide technical assistance and equipment for students with connectivity issues. And we discuss and provide resources, as much as we can, for other challenges on a case-by-case basis. The College is doing its best to support students through their emotional struggles, physical isolation, food insecurity and housing insecurity, as well as share the financial burdens of finding shelter at home or elsewhere with all the resources available to us in this crisis.
Ongoing College Business
Even as we take on new modes of thinking and working, much of the College’s regular business continues, including plans for summer sessions and for the fall semester. We have not wavered on our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. In addition to the hire of a Chief Officer for Diversity and Inclusion (our search remains on track for a summer hire), the next big step in creating a more inclusive climate will be reviewing the results of the Campus Climate Survey from Rankin and Associates. While we had hoped to present the findings of the survey to the greater campus community this month, Rankin and Associates have requested that we extend our timeline to the fall. The Campus Climate Committee has honored that request and has postponed the presentations until Tuesday, September 29, 2020.
Though we will also have to wait until the fall semester to launch our strategic planning process, I feel confident that our current circumstances will hone our community’s collective skills and an understanding of our shared values to the great benefit of this endeavor. When we come together again, we will be equipped to embrace the unfamiliar, to confront challenges with newfound innovation and adaptability, and to move forward with a bold strategic vision that we all can take pride in having forged together. Despite rough sailing now, there is no question that Franklin & Marshall College will survive and thrive in the post-pandemic world.
I know that you, too, will survive and thrive. This crisis has disrupted higher education and our daily lives in extraordinary ways, but our students will emerge with new skills and experience in innovation, ingenuity and perseverance, and will have discovered an even better evolution of their true selves. I firmly believe that our 2020-2024 graduates will be more prepared than ever to become the game-changers the world needs. So stay safe, work hard, and finish strong. All of us at F&M are rooting for your well-being and success.
President Barbara K. Altmann