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Updates on Summer Programming and Activities

Dear Faculty and Staff members, Students, and Parents and Families,

As we continue to navigate the conclusion of this academic year, two groups of faculty and staff members — one focused on academic experiences and the other on operations and logistics — have been working on a set of recommendations for how to address summer programs and activities that typically take place on campus. Each group has engaged in robust discussion with colleagues from across campus and taken into account a number of factors, including current government restrictions and the continued uncertainty of what official regulations and guidance lie ahead, the importance of preserving as much programming as possible, and the need for members of our community to have sufficient time to plan for the summer.

Based on the groups’ recommendations, along with our own analysis of what is safe and feasible for the Swarthmore community, the College has made the difficult decision to cancel all in-person activities on campus through July 31. More detailed information on various programs and activities is listed below. 

This is yet another significant disruption for the campus community, one that presents a host of additional challenges and exacerbates the already heavy financial burden brought about by COVID-19. We appreciate that this decision raises certain questions, including ones about the implications for staffing levels during the summer and perhaps beyond. Answers to those questions must be informed by the work of the Financial Study Group, announced by President Val Smith on April 7; we will provide more information following the Board of Managers meeting, which takes place May 7–9. 

While we cannot yet provide the answers you may be seeking, we can assure you that, as we work to address these challenges, we will do so guided by compassion, empathy, and creative problem solving that allow us to mitigate the effect on our students, faculty, and staff to the greatest extent possible.    

Commencement and Alumni Weekend

As President Smith shared last month, on-campus activities through May 31, including Commencement and Alumni Weekend, have already been canceled or postponed. A virtual Commencement will take place Sunday, May 24. In addition, we are committed to holding an in-person Commencement for the Class of 2020, and we are working to determine the best time to do so. The Advancement Office recently announced an expanded Alumni Weekend 2021.

Summer-Funded Experiences for Students 

Summer-funded experiences at Swarthmore are as varied and unique as the students who propose them. Given the range and complexity of issues presented with each project, students who have won summer opportunity awards should work with their on- or off-campus partners to determine whether their project can be accomplished remotely or be performed online. Awarding offices, departments, and/or faculty sponsors will work with students to determine whether a project can move forward and, if so, help develop individualized plans to modify proposals.

In the event that a project proposal is modified, students should talk with faculty advisers or the relevant center overseeing the project to determine whether there are any issues related to Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval with regard to research ethics or new risks related to conducting remote projects.

Students also might be able to defer their award to a later time, which will reserve their funding for a subsequent engagement. Individuals interested in doing so should contact their adviser.

We recognize that many students were counting on the income from an in-person, College-funded summer experience and that the loss of these summer earnings presents a hardship for students who have a summer work obligation as part of their financial aid award. We are committed to finding ways to reduce or eliminate the summer work requirement for students who are unable to participate in funded summer projects or other employment this year.

On-Campus Summer Research by Faculty

While Gov. Tom Wolf’s stay-at-home order designates scientific research as an essential activity, Swarthmore College must balance this with the need to protect public health and safety. On-campus research will be limited to individuals approved to perform essential activities, pursuant to principal investigators’ submission of a COVID-19 On-Campus Research Continuity Request Final approval of ongoing activities rests with the Provost, in consultation with research support staff and division chairs. This process is in line with the approach of many of the country’s largest research institutions.

Once the stay-at-home order has been lifted, the College will evaluate when and how faculty and staff can access spaces necessary to continue their research and scholarship (without students physically present) and the routine and necessary work of academic departments. We will continue to proceed cautiously using empirical evidence and official guidelines to inform our decisions, and we will communicate any changes as they are determined.

Research laboratories may be operational for critical procedures that require regular attention in order to maintain long-term laboratory viability. For example, cell, plant, or animal colony maintenance; shared computational equipment maintenance; and maintenance of equipment that requires gas or cryogen monitoring/service, such as freezers, electron microscopes, mass spectrometers, and incubators, may be performed. 

Human Subjects Research protocols may be modified, when possible, to allow for remote research activities. Principles that underlie the designation of activities considered essential can be found here.

Faculty members who have questions about making such modifications to IRB-approved protocols should contact Research Compliance Manager Jena Fioravanti. Faculty who need to modify current grant-supported projects should contact their program officer as well as the Office of Sponsored Programs.

Non-Academic Summer Programs

All in-person activities are canceled, including events, camps, athletic programs, and performances sponsored by outside organizations, as well as College programs such as the Chester Children’s Chorus. The Events Management Office and the Lang Performing Arts Center will communicate with off-campus organizations who have reservations to use campus facilities. If you have questions about campus events that you had scheduled, please contact the Events Management Office

Student Housing and Campus Dining

Because there will be no on-campus programs, there will be no student housing except for emergency housing. All dining facilities will be closed beginning on June 1, until campus facilities begin to reopen and the College deems it appropriate to resume some or all dining operations.  

Students who are currently living on campus are expected to depart by May 25. This move-out deadline may change depending on travel restrictions and/or stay-at-home orders. Those students who are currently living on-campus and anticipate housing needs beyond May 25 may request an exception by emailing no later than Friday, May 1. For their safety, any students living on campus this summer will be consolidated into one residence hall. Students with extenuating circumstances who are currently residing in campus housing may apply for emergency funding to assist with their departure. 

Admissions Tours, Group Information Sessions, and Interviews

Given social distancing guidelines, we will be unable to offer traditional tours this summer and will rely on virtual tours of the campus. The Admissions Office will offer virtual group information sessions and interviews. Once travel restrictions are lifted, we will evaluate whether prospective students and families can take self-guided tours of campus using apps or paper maps available to visitors, and we will communicate directly with those audiences.

Looking Ahead

We are deeply grateful for the ways in which the Swarthmore community has come together to support our mission under these trying times. We regret the loss of summer opportunities for faculty, staff, and students and look forward to when we can safely come together in person again.


Sarah Willie-LeBreton, Provost and Dean of the Faculty
Greg Brown, Vice President for Finance and Administration