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Bard Responds to a Global Pandemic


Bard Responds to a Global Pandemic

Bard was able to welcome first-year students in early August and returning students and new transfers two weeks later thanks to the coordinated efforts of state and local authorities, public health officials, and the College’s partners at Nuvance Health (the health care system that includes Northern Dutchess and Vassar Brothers Hospitals). Though it also took a tremendous amount of work by faculty and staff, it was the students’ commitment to understanding, following, and adjusting to the complex and ever-evolving protocols that made reopening possible. By taking responsibility not only for themselves but for the health and safety of neighbors, friends, and strangers, they truly embody the best of what Bard is about.

Instruction is in full swing, with a more spread out class schedule to decrease density in all areas, from classrooms to hallways to Kline Commons to the many tents that have been erected to allow for outdoor instruction (weather permitting). The option to learn, and to teach, remotely was made available; out of nearly 1,700 undergraduates, 228 are studying remotely (87 of those are international students), and more than 80 percent of classes are meeting in person.

The COVID-19 crisis mainly presents daunting challenges, but there are also opportunities to reimagine and reform existing systems. This fall, a new suite of multidisciplinary Common Courses created specifically for incoming first-year students was offered: Epidemics, Society, and Culture covers the history, science, and art of protecting the health of populations and the social, political, philosophical, and cultural implications of public health catastrophes. The Making of Citizens: Local, National, Global interrogates and analyzes the concept of citizenship and seeks to encourage students to think about how citizenship emerges, exists, and differs at the local, national, and global levels, and what forms of participation are necessary to sustain meaningful citizenship for themselves and others. Resilience, Survival, and Extinction introduces students to methods of biological analysis and cultural interpretation that explore the many ways we understand resilience, survival, and extinction. The course addresses the idea of evolution and the nature of change in human and natural history, including widespread biodiversity loss, from the perspective of the sciences and the humanities. Designing for Immediate Futures invites students to approach design as a tool for reflecting on the existing worlds in which we find ourselves and as a means to rethink them and invent new ones. And Alternate Worlds asks to what extent our experience of the “real world” (including real crises, like the current coronavirus epidemic) is mediated by imagined ones, by considering counterfactual histories, fantastical literary works, and utopias or dystopias.

Bard is a place to think, but it’s also a place to speak, a place to listen, and a place to act. Americans of color are suffering disproportionately in this health crisis and the national failure to combat it; the tragic consequences of our unacceptable long-term tolerance of economic and social inequality are starkly obvious. The painful events of this summer inspired Black students, alumni/ae, faculty, and staff to share their experiences of racism and violence and call for a more just, equitable, and inclusive campus community. Drew Thompson, associate professor of Africana and historical studies, curated a series of video conversations called “Reflecting on the Moment” that drew on the rich personal experiences and expertise of the Bard community to present approaches for community activism and engagement in the name of racial equity and justice. Lyford Paterson Edwards and Helen Gray Edwards Professor of Historical Studies Myra Young Armstead invited community members to speak to “systemic racism nationally and globally through the In the Moment essay collection, which documents a critical inflection point in national and local history.” And the Presidential Commission on Racial Equity and Justice was established, chaired by Dean of Inclusive Excellence Kahan Sablo, with Armstead and Dinaw Mengestu, professor of written arts and director of the Written Arts Program, as vice-chairs. As President Botstein wrote when he shared news of the commission’s founding, “Every institution in American civil society, particularly colleges and universities, must play a part in creating fundamental change. To that end, each institution should assess its past, analyze its present practices, and produce a plan for the future.”

Throughout the Bard community, those who’ve been able to come back to campus see the preciousness of the in-person Bard experience in a more vivid light than ever. It’s an experience worth defending and supporting, and the work continues. Having successfully navigated the campus reopening, which required students to test negative for COVID-19 within five days before arriving on campus and to take a second test five to 10 days after arrival, measures were instituted to maintain a healthy and safe environment in Annandale. In consultation with Nuvance, the College developed a detailed plan for surveillance testing in which a significant random sample of the Bard community is tested on a weekly basis to monitor any potential spread of the virus. If a positive case is identified, additional “surge testing” will be implemented, along with a contact tracing program that will test all close contacts and isolate them while awaiting their test results. This comprehensive testing strategy aims to maintain a clear and accurate assessment of the health of the Bard community and to facilitate immediate response to any positive case. (You can search daily test results for schools in New York State, including Bard, at schoolcovidreportcard.health.ny.gov.)

Getting to the start line at all was a challenge. That journey began back in March, when it became clear that shutting down was the only option. Information was scarce, so on March 16, the first day most staff began to work from home in response to the spread of the virus, Dean of the College Deirdre d’Albertis launched “Ask an Expert” on Google Classroom. Tapping into the wide range of knowledge and expertise in the Bard community, the online forum addressed issues raised by COVID-19. Felicia Keesing, David and Rosalie Rose Distinguished Professor of Science, Mathematics, and Computing and a biologist who studies the transmission of infectious diseases, contributed the first entry, a clear and concise explanation of what needed to be done and why. That was followed the next day by Visiting Professor of Global Public Health and Human Rights Helen Epstein’s somewhat chilling assessment of the measures that had been taken to that point and what steps would be necessary to manage the pandemic. Over the subsequent weeks, contributions included reflections on the influenza pandemic of 1918 from Professor Armstead, who examined the “View from North America”; Francis Flournoy Professor of European History and Culture Sean McMeekin on that flu’s spread to Europe and beyond; and a look at what happened in Annandale during that time from Bard College Archivist Helene Tieger ’85. Armstead later tackled the racial dimensions of the pandemic; Associate Professor of Economics Pavlina Tcherneva made the case for a federal jobs guarantee; a number of papers on the economic effects of COVID-19 from Levy Institute scholars were posted; there was a mask-making primer from Executive Assistant to the President Saidee Brown; Associate Professor of Photography Tim Davis ’91 explored how “this crisis has made all of [us] think like photographers”; and Professor of Biology Michael Tibbetts shared news of an intriguing possible therapeutic treatment derived from llamas (say “llama nanobodies” three times fast).

Faculty and staff were deeply engaged in volunteer efforts as well. Ivonne Santoyo-Orozco and Ross Exo Adams of the Bard Architecture Program; Maggie Hazen and Melinda Solis from Studio Arts; Information Technology Services’ Doug O’Connor, Hayden Sartoris, and Christopher Ahmed; and the Philosophy Program’s Katie Tabb produced face shields for frontline health-care workers (two 3D printers were loaned by Bard physicist Paul Cadden- Zimansky; Hazen and Solis used 3D printers purchased with proceeds from a GoFundMe campaign established by MFA alumna Luba Drozd ’15 that raised more than $20,000). Fisher Center Costume Shop Supervisor Moe Schell and others from her team, Audrey Smith from Buildings and Grounds, Rosalia Reifler from Environmental Services, and Brown sewed 200 facemasks for essential College employees on campus.

Students who remained on campus faced different challenges than those who had returned home. The Alumni/ae Association Board of Governors heard the call when Justyn Diaz ’20 informed them that those sheltering in Annandale were experiencing a snack shortage. Board members Michelle Dunn Marsh ’95, Claire Phelan ’11, and Genya Shimkin ’08 led the charge, raising money and awareness to address the deficit. Bjorn Quenemon ’03 and Jamie O’Shea ’03, whose BjornQorn has appeared on Saturday Night Live and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and received raves from Modern Farmer, GQ, Bon Appetit, and many others, sent popcorn. Lisa Newmann ’75 donated boxes of her delicious and stimulating JavaUp snacks, which are made with coffee beans sourced by No. Six Depot, a roaster in the Berkshires. The caffeine may have contributed to the impressive level of student engagement in evidence these past months. Syl Shread ’22, Finn Tait ’22, and Jackie Lerman ’22 formed the Student Response Team, which coordinates food and medicine deliveries to students who need them. Caroline He ’23 was head organizer of a Coronavirus Relief Benefit Concert, which took place in Olin Hall on February 22 and raised more than $16,000 for medical supplies for a hospital in China’s Hubei Province. Volunteers of CultureConnect, a Trustee Leaders Scholar project that sends students to tutor newly immigrated families in Red Hook and Rhinebeck elementary schools, moved—along with everyone else—to technology. However, since many of their charges don’t have computers, they met with their 17 students at least once a week over the phone to do activities. Isabel Ballard ’21, Grace Carter ’21, and Jamie Hoelzel ’21 established a “food support closet” as an initiative of the Wellness Club. Post-outbreak, they shifted to an order-and-deliver system in which students fill out a Google form and the Student Response Team picks up the order and delivers it to the student’s door. About 60 packages—food, soap, shampoo, and other necessities—were being delivered a week. As part of an Engaged Liberal Arts and Sciences course, Keyvious Avery ’21 and Aidan Galloway ’21 created Thrive On! Kingston, which distributes resource kits containing masks, wipes, and personal protective equipment as well as soap, shaving kits, body wash, shampoo, reusable bags, water bottles, notebooks, pens, and blankets to high-volume homeless shelters in Kingston and to the community organization Beyond The 4 Walls Outreach Program. Bard students also volunteered with Red Hook Responds, which Dan Budd of Taste Budd’s Café organized, with the support of the town and village of Red Hook. The helpline for residents in need of grocery and prescription delivery quickly turned its attention to meal delivery. Several Bard students, including Emma Bernstein ’20 and Bree Bogle ’22, worked remotely as operators and shift leaders. Recognizing that this is going to be a challenging job market to break into, alumni/ae generously shared their professional expertise and offered mentorship to students, particularly the class of 2020, in a series of Career Development Office online panels with Bardians working in freelance journalism and media; finance, economics, and business; tech, creative digital, and data; and the sciences.

Volunteer efforts also addressed the needs of the spirit and soul. Bard College Conservatory faculty violist Molly Carr and her nonprofit, Project: Music Heals Us, put on concerts over the phone from around the country to COVID-19 patients in New York City hospitals. The Fisher Center graciously began presenting free online programming through its Upstreaming initiative, including live events such as the Bard College Theater and Performance Program production of Caryl Churchill’s Mad Forest, Neil Gaiman’s conversation with Hugo Award–winning author N. K. Jemisin, and Out of the Silence, the four-weekend Bard Music Festival (BMF), which celebrated Black composers alongside several previous BMF subjects. Upstreaming also made available curated archival events like Pam Tanowitz Dance company in a triple bill, including a SummerScape-commissioned solo for American Ballet Theater Principal Ashley Tuttle that was set to music by Carlos Chávez; Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s The Miracle Of Heliane; highlights from Live Arts Bard Biennials; two productions from director Daniel Fish: Acquanetta (his first show at Bard since SummerScape 2015, when he debuted his production of Oklahoma!, which went on to Broadway and subsequently won the 2019 Tony) and ETERNAL, an Upstreaming commission that reimagines a 2013 piece of his for a virtual context. Faculty and students have been forced to make radical adjustments; college admission offices have been no less stressed. Deadlines have been moved, events cancelled, and most of the usual ways of building a class had to be put aside, adjusted, or rethought entirely. Some of the creative measures taken by Bard Admission include a remarkably wide-ranging and engaging Virtual Open House for accepted students (videos from that event, including conversations between President Botstein and various faculty members, can be found at bard.edu/admission, along with a series of Alumni/ae Voices videos); establishment of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Advanced Achievement Scholars program, in which high-achieving high school juniors who live within a 120-mile radius of Bard were able to apply through the newly created Entrance Exam for Early Admission; the Bard Baccalaureate, a new program for adults who want to begin or return to college; the Crisis Response Scholarship for year-two Bard High School Early College students; and more than 50 themed webinars, most of which have been recorded and can be used by families to get a sense of what Bard is all about.

The show must go on. This year’s Undergraduate Awards Ceremony was, of course, virtual. It was also far better than TV. Dean of the College Deirdre d’Albertis and Dean of Studies David Schein presented the awards and announced the winners, but President Botstein provided the entertainment. Many of the named prizes were established in honor of figures from Bard’s history, often by their families, and the brief stories Botstein told about some of the College’s great characters—like Mary McCarthy, Muriel DeGré, and Charlie Patrick—were fascinating and funny, and a very welcome relief from pandemic infographics. This year’s graduating Film and Electronic Arts Program students gathered online for their “party, ceremonial toast, and primal scream to celebrate the submission of Senior Projects” on Zoom. They had a surprise visitor in the virtual form of film editor Jinmo Yang ’03, whose most recent project was the multiple Academy Award-winning Parasite. Director of Alumni/ae Affairs Jane Brien ’89 hosted a series of Zoom Q&As with Botstein. (Archived videos can be found on the Bard College Alumni/ae Association YouTube page.) Athletic Director Kristen Hall and Sports Information director James Sheahan, along with coaches and several scholar athletes, put together a stirring virtual awards ceremony. It was assuredly bittersweet for the seniors; while welldeserved recognition for their achievements was welcome, it was yet another reminder that, for most of them, their days of intercollegiate competitive sports were over, prematurely taken away along with so much else.

Bard Music Connects highlights the work of a wide array of Bard musicians, including students, faculty, and alumni/ae of the Conservatory, the Music Program, and The Orchestra Now. Its YouTube channel highlights all types of music and draws on the remarkable breadth of Bard’s musical talents and activities. Since early April, more than 40 videos have been posted. There are bassoon, clarinet, harp, horn, oboe, trombone, trumpet, tuba, and viola tutorials; Maestro Leon Botstein discussing Mahler; a whistling compilation from Bard College Community Orchestra member Alex Luscher ’22; Yixin Wang ’23 of the Bard US-China Music Institute performing Eternal Sorrow of Lin’an on guzheng; a lovely rendition of Sous le ciel de Paris performed by soprano Addie Rose Forstman VAP ’19 with Edward Forstman on piano; Yue Sun BMus ’12 (listed on the credits as vocal 1, vocal 2, vocal chamber ensemble (10+), violin, percussion, video and audio editing) performing her first composition, “Again, We Hug”; and to get you dancing around your living room (or home office), Hailey McAvoy VAP ’20 performing the classic Ice, Ice Baby. McAvoy said what we’d all been thinking while in lockdown: “Yo man, let’s get out of here.”

Jamie Hoelzel ’21, cofounder of the Bard Food Pantry, organizes supplies for students remaining on campus during the spring term. Photo: Annia Reyes
The founders of Thrive On! Kingston, Aidan Galloway ’21 (left) and Keyvious Avery ’21 (right)
Emma Bernstein ’20 working remotely for Red Hook Responds