A Message from President Kington to the Grinnell Community
Over these past few weeks, we have encountered and worked through unprecedented challenges and changes together as we moved quickly to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. In what will forever be a defining moment in each of our lives, you rose to the occasion, despite understandable fear and sadness you may have felt as you were faced with difficult choices and the sudden cancelations of anticipated traditions such as commencement.
As the president of Grinnell College, I have been so impressed by the patience, perseverance, dedication, and generous humanity that all of you have shown as you helped each other in response to the crisis before us. As a medical doctor and a public health researcher, I have been so proud of how seriously our community has taken the threat of COVID-19, doing all we can to flatten the curve and slow the spread of coronavirus.
And now we have come to a new chapter for Grinnell -- our temporary “new normal” of living and learning together, yet apart. Next week we gather in virtual classrooms and connect online in our commitment to academic continuity. Our faculty and staff have been hard at work to ensure that, even amid a global public health crisis, we are able to provide you with an education that still allows for discovery and the exchange of ideas.
In recent years, many researchers and opinion leaders have noted that, despite increased digital connection, we are more isolated and polarized than ever before. It is perhaps ironic, then, that in this time of physical distance, we must rely on that digital connectivity to reimagine a new way of learning and being in a community together. The very civic institutions, especially those of higher education, that have experienced declining commitment in recent years, are now the structures we all turn to for direction in the absence of clear, consistent guidance from authorities or others.
Under the exceptional leadership and collaboration of Dean Anne Harris and Chair of the Faculty Todd Armstrong, Academic Affairs staff have worked tirelessly and nimbly to address our students’ academic continuity and degree completion needs with great care and flexibility. Faculty responsiveness to helping individual students while preparing to resume their own “regular” teaching and mentoring responsibilities in irregular ways has been extraordinary. Academic support assistants (ASAs) have worked diligently to learn new technology, assist with setting up class modules, and a range of other behind the scenes tasks. Academic support centers, including the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), and the Center for Careers, Life, and Service (CLS), have been essential in helping us prepare to change the way we are fulfilling our educational mission.
The transition to virtual learning has placed a whole new set of demands on faculty, and I am most grateful for the enthusiasm with which they are undertaking those efforts, and for their flexibility and understanding of the impact this will have on our students.
The success of our ongoing response from the early days of this crisis until now is truly due to the remarkable work of our entire community. Our response efforts have been possible because of an unprecedented degree of hard work by faculty and staff, many of whom have been working an incredible number of hours every day. Some seven days a week.
Grinnell College began tracking the coronavirus situation immediately following our holiday break. A response planning group first began regular meetings in late January, primarily as an exercise in preparation, not yet able to anticipate that we would be where we are today. Thankfully, that planning and preparation enabled us to take early action to keep our students, faculty, and staff safe; to support course and degree completion; and to not overburden students who are in financial need.
Early action led to the recognition of a number of issues related to the needs of our students and our broader local community. Behind the scenes, faculty and staff provided one-on-one advice and support for students, designed plans for those needing special assistance, helped students make last-minute travel arrangements (securing many of the costs from College funds), gave students a hand with packing and moving their belongings out of the halls, prepared box meals and washed dishes in the dining hall. The list goes on and on. Alumni volunteered to help in any way they could, including offering to house students who could not go home. Community members and businesses reached out to support our students, and as always, students helped each other.
Throughout all, we have tried to recognize the immense personal toll taken upon our students, faculty, and staff whose families are in those areas that have been the hardest hit by the virus in recent weeks. Our hearts go out to them and to all who have shouldered this burden while doing their part to aid with the College’s response.
There is always risk in citing individual examples, but I feel compelled to give special recognition to some truly heroic (and I do not use that word lightly) efforts:
- Student Affairs staff helped students mobilize to move home or better situate themselves on campus, to care for living and healthcare matters, and to be a 24/7 touchstone for meeting students’ holistic needs.
- Administrative support areas such as Financial Aid and the Treasurer’s Office have worked diligently to process refunds and navigate federal work study implications.
- Information Technology Support (ITS) has responded to individual needs for support and hardware, all while building out additional infrastructure for online class delivery and remote work.
- Facilities Management staff have worked tirelessly to clean and care for our spaces and structures, lent much needed hands for those moving, operated airport shuttles, and more.
- Dining Services staff have kept students fed, even while shifting to a new residence hall food delivery system.
- Emergency response and Campus Safety personnel have provided constant attention to keep us organized and focused on the big picture, while taking care to keep our community safe.
- Staff from across campus, including the Office of the President and Development and Alumni Relations, have come together to serve as an ad hoc “Grinnell Travel Agency,” working creatively to help students travel home, return from overseas programs, and just generally get to wherever they might be safest.
- Community Enhancement and other staff from across campus have worked and volunteered to help with the economic and human impact this crisis has had on our neighbors in the City of Grinnell. They have been especially dedicated to helping meet the needs of families with food insecurity.
There are many, many more individual efforts to recognize and incredible stories to be told about Grinnellians’ acts of kindness and commitment to each other in these unprecedented times. Many across our community continue to plan for the ongoing well-being and needs of College and community members; to put in place the academic, advising, and technical support needed for instructional continuity; and to address the myriad details of operations that have kept Grinnell College working.
Our generous alumni have continued to help in countless ways, and have been donating to the new Supporting Our Students Fund (SOS Fund) created to directly support student expenses incurred by the disruption the pandemic is causing.
In due time, we will be sharing more and more of these stories and experiences with you through some new and creative means that may include podcasts, social media, videos, and more. Today we have launched #GrinnelliansStayConnected, an initiative driven by students, faculty, and staff to provide ways for Grinnellians to stay connected and collectively care for ourselves and one another.
Ultimately, how this global public health crisis defines us and reshapes our many communities is yet to be determined. However, I am confident that when the final records are written, they will show that what we did here at Grinnell was defined by our commitment to our mission, our community, and our students.
Raynard S. Kington