March 11, 2020 7:45 PM
Carmen Twillie Ambar, President

Dear Oberlin College Community,

As we all work to respond to what is now recognized as a pandemic, one of the things that I am preparing myself for is the consistency of change. My sense is that at least through the beginning of Spring Recess, the college will likely need to send campus messages frequently that reflect new, national, state, and local guidance.

As you may be aware, the World Health Organization today declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Additionally, today the Governor of Ohio, Mike DeWine indicated that this region had its first confirmed case of “community spread.” The Governor said that he believed that this would, frankly, get worse before it becomes better.

The message that we have been receiving is that colleges and universities have a role to play in helping to slow the spread of COVID-19. You may recall in my prior message that public health authorities recommend that we practice “social distancing” as the best way to prevent the spread of the virus. Several of you have asked why we would accelerate departure for Spring Recess, even to places with more known cases than exist in Ohio, as opposed to having people remain on campus. The fact is that a residential college campus promotes communal living, group dining, and large gatherings. It is probable that cases will begin to occur on our campus. With that eventuality, we will not be able to promote the very necessary practice of social distancing that is required to prevent the further spread of the virus. And of course, it would be particularly challenging for our institution to provide care for many people infected at one time should cases begin to occur on campus. I have found the below graph very helpful in educating myself on the types of protective measures that will be necessary as this progresses.

Graph comparing steep bell curve to shallow curve
World Economic Forum (weforum.org)

Students’ Departure for Spring Recess: In response to the changing guidelines, today students received an email from the Dean of Students with different language than my email yesterday. This email from the Dean of Students provides details about students’ departure from campus for Spring Recess. You will see that we have moved from strongly encouraging students to depart for Spring Recess to requiring students to depart unless they are permitted to remain on campus after petitioning to do so. While this is not a radical change from what we expected the final outcome of Spring Recess departures to be, it will now mean that students will need to demonstrate a substantive reason to remain on campus (e.g. international student status).

Staff and Faculty Travel Registry: As we do our part in responding to COVID-19, we are asking our entire campus community to complete our Spring Recess registry so that we know whether you are on campus, traveling home, or traveling in general. Please complete this travel registry so that we have the information that we need for what I hope will be our eventual return to campus.

FAQ: Please visit our FAQ page often as we intend to update it frequently to respond to the variety of questions that have begun to emerge.

Conclusion: I know that each of you is feeling challenged by the disruption that this is causing to our campus. Having talked to many of you, I know that you are worried about the work that must be done here on campus even as you think about loved ones both here and abroad. I want to encourage all of us to follow the lead of Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature Wendy Hyman, who told her students recently:

“We don’t get to choose when we were born. We don’t choose what natural disasters, epidemiological emergencies, stock market crashes, tyrannical regimes, or wars our generations face. We only get to choose how we react. We can use it as a way to pour our energy back into the world. . . ”

These words express the right sentiment for me, as we work through this moment.

Sincerely,

Carmen Twillie Ambar
President