Dear Sweet Briar Women,
I write you today from an extraordinary place in time. At the moment of my writing, we have a handful of individuals who are in isolation on and off-campus, but no student is in isolation as the result of testing positive for COVID-19; and no student is in quarantine on campus as the result of “contact tracing” or concerning symptoms.
I am proud of you, more than you will ever know, for the extraordinary caution and judgment you have shown to keep our community safe. But the road ahead before we reach normalcy is long and perilous, and I would like to make an appeal to you for continuing acts of courage and mindfulness.
You may have heard that the University of Notre Dame had to shutter the campus barely two weeks after students returned. It had tested students before they arrived on campus, with only about a quarter of one percent of students testing positive. In no time, however, the number shot through the roof, as the result of student parties. The same thing happened at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. There were student parties, and the COVID-19 number skyrocketed. The same occurred at the University of Kentucky, Oklahoma State and elsewhere: student parties and widespread infection.
I know there are no big parties around here, and I know you have been cautious. But with the big universities in the area opening this week – the University of Lynchburg and Liberty University – there is certain anxiety in the air.
Unless you have important and serious reasons to leave the campus, I would urge you to stay in – on weekdays, and on weekends. This campus is safer than most places you will visit, including, perhaps, home. Please give the idea of “sheltering in campus” a serious thought before you consider an outing. And if you have to be outside, please be extraordinarily cautious.
The situation is not so simple, I know. You have been following protocols that have robbed you of freedom, as well as comfort. In treating everyone with suspicion as if she is COVID positive, trust is eroded. In that odd space, I can imagine that you want to leave the campus on weekends in search of the security and trust of home, if your home is nearby. I can imagine you want to have parties and some fun, away from the stifling need to show caution and cover your faces.
I will double my efforts to make our college feel more like home, even at a time of pestilence, so that you will feel less the need to be away. I will also be sure that the faculty and staff, who commute to work from outside, show utmost restraint and responsibility to protect you. We have been holding COVID information meetings with them and they have gone very well.
Again, I commend you. What you have exhibited is accountability – which is what leadership is all about. I am so privileged to be your president, and look forward to the journey with you as we reach the pandemic’s end, together and safely.
Sweet Briar College