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Fall 2020 Update for First Year Students

July 20, 2020

Dear First-Year Students,

For the past two and a half weeks, I have taken great joy in hearing from you and your parents. Your excitement about beginning your Spelman College journey here on campus has buoyed all of us. We were eagerly preparing to stand outside of the Spelman gates, as we do every year, to welcome you personally to this special place.

It pains me deeply now to deliver the news that in the past two weeks, the health crisis has worsened considerably in the state of Georgia, the city of Atlanta, and in Fulton County, in which Spelman and the Atlanta University Center are located. Because of the worsening health crisis, we have reluctantly come to the realization that we can no longer safely sustain a residential campus and in-person instruction. With a sense of great disappointment, I now share with you our decision that all instruction for the fall of 2020 at Spelman will be virtual.

You may ask why? Why did Spelman change its decision less than three weeks after making the announcement? It was just 19 days ago, on July 1, when we published our plan, fully anticipating that, as summer progressed, the virus would subside. Quite the opposite has been the case. An honest appraisal of the evolving facts compelled us to change course.

Every day, Spelman, along with our partners in the Atlanta University Center — Morehouse College, Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse School of Medicine — has monitored data that tracks the progress of the coronavirus.

After a review of the recent data by the Task Force on Spelman College Academic Year 2020-2021, our senior leadership team, and the AUC Council of Presidents, the College presented a summary to the Spelman College Board of Trustees. What the data tells us is that, although the AUC, with the guidance of Morehouse School of Medicine, has put into place a formidable set of protocols and practices, conditions in the environment in which we reside have rapidly deteriorated, with no indication of a timely recovery expected.

Listed below is some of the data that drove our decision:

  1. The safe rate of infection (<.9) vs. the current rate of infection in Georgia (1.15) and Fulton County (1.19) indicates that it is rapidly increasing and is designated by COVID Act Now as high.
  2. The safe hospital intensive care beds rate (< 50%) vs. the current rate in Georgia (87%) and Fulton County (77%) signals considerable risk of hospital overload and is designated by COVID Act Now as critical.
  3. There is conflicting state and local public policy about COVID-19.
  4. There is a lack of sufficient contact tracing in Georgia: Per best available data, Georgia has 1,300 contact tracers. With an average of 3,507 new daily cases, COVID Act Now estimates that Georgia needs 17,535 contact tracing staff to trace all new cases in 48 hours before too many other people are infected. Georgia is likely able to trace only 7% of new COVID-19 infections in 48 hours.

*All data is as of July 17, 2020.
*Infection Rate: Average number of people one COVID-19 positive person infected.
*Links to the data we considered can be accessed here for Georgia and Fulton County.

These are sobering facts. I hope that you agree that we have no other choice than the one we have made to pivot to virtual learning for everyone for the fall semester. I can imagine how disappointing this must be for some of you. For others, the change may bring a sense of relief, because, as much as our hearts want to be together, our heads must guide us in these uncertain times. Let me share with you what we are doing to ensure that your community engagement and virtual learning experience will be as enriching as it can possibly be.

  1. We intend to conduct a celebratory set of events virtually as part of New Student Orientation to extend a warm welcome to you.
  2. As we draw closer to the opening of the school year, you will receive a special gift from Spelman to help you participate in the virtual opening ceremonies.
  3. You can expect a series of virtual alumnae events in your area.
  4. During the weeks between now and the start of classes, we will offer guidance that will help you make the most out of virtual learning.
  5. We will also assign you to a student success study group, along with an adviser in your major.
  6. All new students will receive an academic adviser. If you have not declared a major, you will be assigned to a special academic adviser who will help you make choices about your academic program.
  7. As president, I intend to continue the President’s Reading Circle and will announce the book and extend an invitation, as is the custom, after the semester starts.

Many of you are entering Spelman as members of a cohort. Some of you are in the honors program, others are Wi-STEM Scholars, Health Science majors or Bonner Scholars. These affiliations have already been engaged virtually and will continue in the fall semester. One of the exciting aspects about coming to Spelman is the realization that there is something for everyone at Spelman. One of the most lasting ways to experience the Spelman Sisterhood is to identify student organizations to join that enable you to realize your passion and purpose, even as you are engaged in your academic work. Our Division of Student Affairs will make sure that you and your parents are aware of the rich menu of choices that await you.

Many of you have already taken steps to come to campus and I want to assure you that we've considered the ways in which the move to virtual instruction may impact you and your families. We have prepared below a series of FAQs that are designed to answer many of those questions beginning with the financial consequences of this decision. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us if you need additional information.

I leave you with this thought from Galatians 6:9, which reads:

"Let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not."

With hope,

Mary Schmidt Campbell, Ph.D.
President, Spelman College