The spring semester brought historic change on campus with the arrival of coronavirus in North Carolina. President Nathan O. Hatch described the necessary steps taken to fight the spread of COVID-19 as “the greatest disruption to higher education in our lifetime.”
The University asked students not to return to campus after spring break as it suspended in-person classes. By April, more than 700 faculty were teaching 2,400 courses remotely, Provost Rogan Kersh (’86) reported. Campus events were canceled, and faculty and staff worked from home.
Several hundred students remained on or near campus because they couldn’t travel home or lacked other options. Facilities workers cleared vacant single rooms so students remaining on campus could move into them to accommodate social distancing. Study abroad programs were suspended.
Several students tested positive for COVID-19 after returning from a Wake Forest-sponsored trip to London. All recovered in isolation.
The Wake Forest community pulled together, working on options for supporting or reassigning staff whose work was suspended and caring for work-study students’ needs. State and local directives to close non-essential businesses, shelter in place and practice social distancing led to closing campus to all but a few essential employees.
Plans began for a virtual conferring of degrees in lieu of Commencement on the Quad. The first and second sessions of in-person summer classes were canceled, to be replaced with remote instruction.
Faculty, staff and students worked on creative ways to stay connected, such as a virtual Wake ’N Shake dance marathon and a podcast with submitted spoken-word poems and videos to virtually celebrate the annual garden party honoring the late Professor Maya Angelou (LHD ’77). The University expects to resume classes on campus and study abroad programs in the fall.
Wake Foresters reached out locally in many ways, with remote tutoring for grade-school students, stimulus check application advice from law faculty and students, expanded charity medical care and reaffirmed support for the ‘Purpose Built’ program in the Boston Thurmond neighborhood.
President Hatch shared inspiration and gratitude with messages to the University community.
“I could not be more grateful and proud of the Wake Forest community for the way it is banding together to meet these profound challenges,” Hatch wrote. “I have witnessed a remarkable weaving together of expertise, goodwill, cooperation, tireless work, strategic thinking and good humor. It is a privilege to be on a ship like Wake Forest amidst fierce winds and rising tides.”
By Katherine Laws (’20), Wake Forest Magazine intern