GRINNELL, Iowa -- A Grinnell College letter to staff and students Tuesday in response to the threat of the coronavirus caught many by surprise.
"It’s quite discombobulating," said senior student Kate Perry.
Anne Harris, dean of the college, says at Grinnell all classes will move online and all students will be expected to leave campus entirely by March 23 through the end of the spring semester on May 15.
"Thinking about the virus, tracking it, watching it and hearing what medical experts were saying as well, it just began to become the logical conclusion," said Harris.
Perry is from Los Angeles, California, and now her on-campus life has been fast-tracked. "I'm going to be graduating at the end of the semester, and having to condense all the goodbyes that we would have made over the next six weeks into one week is really sad," Perry said.
Madeline Nelson is another senior and hails from Minneapolis, Minnesota. She is worried about being able to finish out her biochemistry classes. "I’m concerned about completing a lot of my classes because a lot of them are lab-based or just require being there in person, so I hope I can actually graduate," Nelson said.
The move back to California won't come cheap for Perry. Harris says students in need of emergency financial assistance can also contact student affairs. "We are working with students in a staggered timeline to get them to where they need to be to meet their needs. We are able to work with them on a case-by-case basis," Harris said.
Students with exceptional circumstances can petition student affairs to stay on campus, but they are expected to stay in Iowa. Harris said, "It would include things like visa considerations, technology support at home, a safe situation at home and financial barriers to travel."
Extracurricular activities aren’t excluded. All college-sponsored international and domestic travel is suspended through the end of the semester, including athletics. "We talked about postponing as well as canceling, so those conversations need to happen and I’m looking forward to those," said Harris.
Grinnell College boasts approximately 1,700 students representing all 50 states. Eighteen percent of students are international from over 50 countries. The thought of students taking widespread trips across the globe over their two weeks of spring break made the decision a no-brainer for the administration.
"We were thinking about the specificity of our spring break at the college, which is two weeks long, and we started to realize we weren’t just doubling the amount of exposure and time the students would be out there, we were exponentially putting our community at risk," Harris said. Perry added, "It is very disruptive, but I do think it's probably better to take measures too early than too late."
Two town hall sessions for campus and community feedback are scheduled on Wednesday. They will take place inside Herrick Chapel from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. and from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m.