COVID-19 updates

Dean Greg Sterling announced the following to students on March 23.

Dear Colleagues,
 
As all of you are aware, the need to curtail the spread of COVID-19 forced the University to cancel our normal commencement exercises this year. I know this is a terrible loss for most of you who are scheduled to graduate. It is my favorite day of the year at the Divinity School, the day we celebrate your achievements. Whether your experience at YDS has been more than you expected or less than you hoped, it is your day, a day on which all of us—your families, the faculty, and the staff—honor you. 
 
While we cannot do this in person this spring, we will prepare a virtual commencement. At the moment, we plan to make this available on the day of commencement, May 18th. We want to be able to show each of you and read your names just as we would have from the steps of Marquand. We have a committee that is planning the virtual event. You will be able to watch it at your leisure, hopefully with your families after isolation ends. While we cannot honor you in person this year, we still want to honor you.
 
The University will also celebrate graduates through alternative means including video, photos, music, and speeches and remarks available to all students. President Salovey will officially confer degrees, and all graduates will receive their diplomas by mail by in mid-May or early June. The University is also exploring with our schools how graduates might come together on campus in the future. We will keep you posted as all these plans develop.
 
Please take care of yourselves. Good luck as you complete your work this semester. 
 
Best wishes,
 
Greg Sterling
 

 

Dean Greg Sterling sent the following to YDS alumni/ae on March 27.

Dear Colleagues and Friends,

There are some experiences in life that are disorienting. The shelter-in-place policy that went into effect last Monday night is one of these. I was the last to leave the Divinity School that night. As I left, I knew that YDS would be closing and would remain locked for the foreseeable future. It was disorienting for it to be so quiet, so empty, so devoid of life—and to know that it would remain so for a while.

Yet there is life, and there is activity, pulsing through YDS. It is not taking the form that you and I have known, but there is life. Let me explain what we are doing to address the COVID-19 pandemic that has come to shape and control so much of our lives as individuals and the life of YDS.

Students
Our students are now scattered throughout the world. Many still live in New Haven, which is their home as graduate students. For those in our Divinity School apartments, we offered three options: they could remain in their apartments, they could stay away but leave their belongings and receive half credit for their rent for the next three months, or they could move out completely and receive full credit.

Since the Divinity School is relatively isolated from grocery stores, we are continuing to provide two meals a day for those who subscribed to the meal plan (we do not serve dinner in our refectory) and who want food service. Others will receive a pro-rated refund for their meal plan. We have expanded our meal service from five to seven days a week to help students and have done so without charging them more.

To date, we have one student who has tested positive for COVID-19; that person is in quarantine at home. Others have some symptoms and are in self-isolation. We all need to take every precaution.

Classes
All classes went online Monday. There have been no significant problems to date. Through the magic of Zoom we are able to see and hear one another clearly, and teaching and learning continue. I taught my first ever online course on Monday. All students were present and participated. They were joining from South Korea, throughout the U.S., and here in New Haven. I am grateful that we have the technology that permits us to continue our educational mission, even in trying circumstances.

Because of the abrupt shift from in-person to online instruction, YDS is giving students additional options. We are allowing them to take courses pass/low-pass/fail if they want to shift from our standard evaluation system. We are also giving them the option of withdrawing from a class right up until the final day. We also provided suitable computers to any students who needed them to access online instruction.

Marquand Chapel
We obviously have had to cancel our in-person chapel services. However, Marquand Chapel is putting together daily devotionals that all can access online at marquandchapel.yale.edu. YDS has also put together a list of resources for churches and ministers who are looking for electronic content to help them maintain spiritual life in their communities. You can access those resources at this page.

Commencement
Earlier this week, President Salovey announced that Commencement exercises for May have been cancelled. At YDS, we will attempt to do something online in May and then invite the graduates back for something in person next year. Plans are not yet defined. This news is an enormous disappointment for graduating students, but cancelling is the right thing to do.

We have created an opportunity on Facebook for alumni and friends of the School to send our students warm words of encouragement and consolation. Their YDS experience has been dramatically disrupted, and they will welcome your support. Please visit this post on our Facebook page and tell our students you care.

Student Job Placement
The economic downturn caused by the effort to curtail the spread of the coronavirus has created a great degree of uncertainty for graduating students who have not already received a job offer. If you are aware of any jobs that our students might be qualified to fill, please send a note to Debby Jagielow, Director of Alumni Engagement and Annual Giving (deborah.jagielow@yale.edu), or, better yet, post them on the YDS Job Board by sending a message to ydsjobs@yale.edu. We appreciate any assistance that you can provide in a time of economic turmoil.

Staff and Faculty
All staff are working remotely from their own homes and have been since Monday, March 16th. Whether staff are able to work or not, they are being paid. We are also paying student workers their full semester’s wage whether they are able to work online or not.

The faculty are also working from home. We closed access to their offices on Monday evening, March 23rd. I have been heartened to see the response of faculty to this crisis. They worked hard during the two weeks of spring break to adjust their courses to an online format and to adjust their requirements to the contingencies created by this pandemic. They are also compassionate and sensitive to the students. You would expect this of YDS faculty, but it is always heart-warming to see it.

Summer Programs
We are cancelling this year’s Summer Study program, which had been scheduled for the first two weeks of June. We will refund those who have paid their registration fees. Details will be sent to those who have registered. We are still planning to offer our for-credit summer language programs as planned but they will be conducted online.

New Haven
We are trying to assist the greater New Haven community in a couple of ways. Mayor Justin Elicker asked Alison Cunningham ’84 M.Div., our Director of Professional Formation, if she would work with the city to develop a plan for caring for the homeless in New Haven. Alison came to us last summer after many years of service as the Director of Columbus House, a homeless services program in New Haven. We agreed that she could devote half of her time to supporting the city this way.

In addition, Kyle Pedersen ’02 M.A.R., Director of the Connecticut Mental Health Center Foundation, is helping area churches in need of assistance as they adjust to online worship and virtual community in a state of shelter-in-place. We asked for student volunteers to join Kyle’s effort, and a number have already responded and are assisting.

Hope
These are challenging times, but they are not times for despair.

In Romans 5:3-5, the apostle Paul described how hope is produced in us. I was taken aback the first time I read it. He wrote that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope. I would have altered the order and said that suffering produces hope and hope produces endurance and endurance produces character. Why did Paul place hope last in this list of four? The hope that we have is not hope in ourselves, but hope in God. It is only when we realize that we cannot do everything ourselves (a lesson we learn in suffering), when we resist (endure), and are shaped by these experiences (character) that we fully understand the power and the strength of God in our lives. Martin Luther King understood this when he wrote: “In the midst of outer dangers I have felt an inner calm and known resources of strength that only God could give. In many instances I have felt the power of God transforming the fatigue of despair into the buoyancy of hope.” May we hold on to our confidence in God. It is not a naïve confidence, but a confidence born out of suffering, endurance, and character.

Thank you for your continuing support. May we all pray for one another, for those who are ill, for those caring for the ill, and for those who make decisions that affect all of us. While we live in isolation, we remain together. Please stay healthy and hopeful.

Best wishes,

Greg Sterling
 


 

Dean Greg Sterling announced the following to students on March 23.

Dear Colleagues,
 
My favorite pre-Socratic philosopher is Heracleitus, who is credited with saying that you never step into the same river twice (apud Plato, Cratylus 402a). He said this to refer to the changes in the cosmos. The saying is very relevant to our circumstances as we seek “to flatten the curve” of COVID-19. Here are a couple of changes.
 
The Quad
In keeping with the Governor’s Executive Order 7-H and the announcement of the Provost, we have decided to close and lock the Quad effective tonight. We are doing this in order to discourage any gatherings, to free maintenance staff to serve other areas, and to signal our serious commitment to limit the speed with which COVID-19 is spreading.
 
There is an exception. Students who are on the dining plan will be able to pick up their meals between 10 a.m. and 12 noon each day in the northeast building of the Quad. You must have signed up (you may still do so) with Kathy Antos, Associate Administrator, in order to be eligible (katherine.antos@yale.edu). You will have access through the door on the lower level inside the fenced area that is closest to East Rock and immediately off the drive as it bends around the building. This is immediately below the Old Refectory and is the closest point to the apartments. You will follow the same pattern that you did today, except you will find your meals in the sitting area off the classroom and offices on that floor. Please sign in and use a glove to pick up your meals. You will be able to do this seven days a week. After you have picked up your meal, we ask you to leave the building.
 
All other doors will be locked and will not open with a card swipe. This is true for faculty, staff, and students.
 
If you have questions, please contact John Stachniewicz, Director of Finance and Operations (john.stachniewicz@yale.edu).
 
We realize that the apartments are small. We hope that the mildness of the spring (notwithstanding today’s snow) will enable you to take walks outdoors. Please remember that we have a labyrinth and courtyards that will remain open. Social distancing is important to practice, even outdoors.
 
Student Support
Jeanne Peloso, Associate Dean for Student Affairs, and Lynn Sullivan, Director of Community Equity, have been in touch with all students. They have divided the entire community into two groups to provide support. They will begin subdividing you into smaller groups with other individuals who can check in on you. We simply want to make sure that everyone is healthy both physically and mentally. 
 
Online Classes
We began online classes today. The reports that I have received so far have been positive. Jennifer Herdt, Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, has been in touch with both faculty and students. All contact information is available through her emails if you encounter a problem.
 
The Handwashing Ritual
Finally, we are all aware that we need to wash our hands for twenty seconds with regularity. A friend pointed out that it takes roughly twenty seconds to recite the Lord’s Prayer. It takes a little longer if you are more deliberate, but you can include drying your hands and should be fine. If you are Jewish, the Shemah should work as well. This might be a way to help you ritualize your handwashing.
 
Please take care of yourselves. This is a serious crisis that has many ramifications. Let’s all do everything that we can to help curb the spread.
 

Best wishes,
 
Greg Sterling


 

Dean Greg Sterling announced the following to students on March 18.

I am writing to you to advise you against traveling if at all possible. We have stopped all international and domestic travel supported by the Divinity School. If you are in a place where you can remain for an extended period of time, I urge you to do so. All classes will be online and the only library resources available are online. You should be able to do your work if you have a computer and a reliable internet connection. If you are unable to remain where you are, I recommend that you travel to a place where you can remain with the least possible interaction with other people in tight quarters while in transit. Please review the CDC information and advice on coronavirusflu season, and prevention.  If you are ill, do not travel. Contact your health provider and follow their instructions. Please note that travel is at your own expense. If government-imposed restrictions and flight cancellations make it impossible to travel, Yale will not be able to intervene, and you will have to wait for the restrictions to be lifted and flights to resume. Therefore it is best to stay put if at all possible. It is critical that we do all that we can to limit the spread of the virus.

I also want to let you know that the Quad will be closed to all students from 5 p.m. through 7 a.m. beginning tonight. We are doing this at the request of Security, which is stretched thin. We ask that students vacate the Quad when normal business hours end. There are no services available after 5 p.m. since the library and the computer cluster are closed. Thank you for understanding.
 
Best wishes,
 
Greg Sterling


 

Yale Divinity School Dean Greg Sterling sent the following announcement to students on March 17. Please continue to monitor Yale University’s COVID-19 information page for frequent updates on the University-wide response to the emergency.

Colleagues,
 
I am writing to provide some answers to questions that are on your minds. Thank you for your patience as we work through the many challenges and complications posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Each dean at Yale is addressing the specific needs of their school since our circumstances vary significantly. We have tried to be as uniform as possible across the University, but there are areas where this has not been feasible. I will try to explain when our circumstances are different and the impact this has on our decisions.
 
The goal at present is to reduce the amount of physical contact and interactions as much as possible. This is a serious pandemic that requires action now to avoid consequences down the road that none of us want to imagine. The virus has spread throughout the U.S. We are now trying to mitigate the spread.
 
Please complete and submit the survey that you received Sunday evening as quickly as possible. We are using the responses to help us logistically.
 
Your Health
Please take care of yourself. I have routinely begun any report about the Divinity School by discussing people. You are our greatest resource. The most pressing issue at present is for each of us to develop a routine that will enable us to be productive while we work in more isolation than we ever have (at least this is true for most of us).
 
Health Care
Your Yale Health plan remains in place. Please review the basic information online at https://yalehealth.yale.edu/coverage/student-coverage. Please avoid unnecessary trips to the Yale Health facility.
 
To fill prescriptions, you have two options. One, you can use the Magellan mail order service. You will need to request a new prescription (call or use MyChart) and fill out the form located on the Yale Health “Magellan Rx Home” web page. Once you submit the form, you can call Magellan to request expedited services. Prescriptions can be mailed to street addresses (but not to P.O. boxes or residential colleges) inside the United States. Two, you may submit your prescription to another pharmacy to refill. They should contact the Yale Health pharmacy on your behalf to obtain the prescription. You will need to pay for the prescription out of pocket, then submit a claim form (pdf); you will be reimbursed for all but your co-pay. If your prescription has expired or did not have a refill option, you will need to contact your health care provider for a new one (call or use My Chart).
 
Mental Health
One concern that I have is that some of us may become quite lonely. This could be particularly challenging for those who live alone. I urge you to stay in contact with one another by email or phone. If you have pressing challenges, please be in touch with Associate Dean Jeanne Peloso (jeanne.peloso@yale.edu) or Director of Community Equity Lynn Sullivan (lynn.s.sullivan@yale.edu).
 
The Yale Center for Mental Health and Counseling is open to serve you as well. Contact them at https://yalehealth.yale.edu/directory/departments/mental-health-counseling.
 
Residences
YDS Apartments. The YDS apartments are and will remain open. This is one area where we are markedly different from other schools at Yale. Our apartments are true apartments rather than dormitory rooms with shared facilities. We know that a number of you consider them home. Just as there are no plans to ask people to leave White Hall Apartments, so we are not asking people to leave our apartments.
 
If you want to move out completely in order to be with your family elsewhere, we will waive the rent for April through the end of your lease in June. You should have all belongings out of the apartments by March 31st and notify either Kathy Antos (katherine.antos@yale.edu) or Jeanne Peloso. It is important to either move your furniture, give it to another student, or place it in the dumpster. Please do not leave it beside the dumpster. If, on the other hand, you want to go home but do not want to move out of your apartment, we will provide a credit of half rent for the months of April-June. We are not asking you to do this; we are offering this for those who may have family about whom they are concerned and who want to be with them. Again, please notify either Kathy Antos or Jeanne Peloso.
 
We are making an effort to do extra cleaning in the common areas of the apartments. The facilities staff are cleaning the touch points twice a day including the doors and laundry facilities.
 
Off-Campus Residences. We have no control over off-campus housing. Presumably this is now your residence and you can stay or leave depending on your lease and agreement with your landlord. We do urge you, however, to follow the protocols outlined by Yale and the city of New Haven to limit the spread of the virus.
 
Dining
If you are on the meal plan and would like to continue to receive meals, we will provide two meals a day for five days a week: breakfast and lunch, Monday through Friday (the way we did before the COVID-19 outbreak). The Refectory will not be open, but meals will be delivered to the Common Room where you can pick them up. We will also place a refrigerator in the Common Room. Director of Finance and Operations John Stachniewicz will send out a detailed message later this week with explicit details on the plan. You need to let Kathy Antos, Associate Administrator, know if you would like to have these meals and if you have any dietary restrictions. Please do so no later than Thursday at noon.
 
If you do not contact Kathy, we will pro-rate your meal plan and provide a refund. The University elected to do this campus-wide, which means that we cannot simply refund the balance on your meal plan. Details will be forthcoming on these reimbursements. Please do not count on them to come soon.
 
Here again, we are slightly different than most other graduate programs since we are relatively isolated. Our Refectory is the only source of food in our neighborhood, which is why we are making the arrangements described above.
 
Student Workers
As I announced last week, we will maintain pay for student workers who have regular jobs at YDS. Please contact your supervisor and ask if you can work remotely. Whether you are able to work remotely or not, we will continue to pay you. You will need to complete a standard timecard. We will follow the standard schedule for the issuing of payments to you. Unfortunately, we are not in a position to hire new workers.
 
Financial Aid
All financial aid programs continue unchanged. We hope that the changes announced in this memo will assist a large number of you.
 
Classes
Beginning Monday, all classes go online. Jennifer Herdt, Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, is providing leadership for this initiative at YDS. All classes will use Zoom or Canvas or a combination of these or other online resources. I have asked each instructor to be in contact with you about their course. Courses will meet at the regularly scheduled time. We realize that some of you may be in different time zones, but we need to have a single time in order to conduct simultaneous instruction in a course.
 
There are a number of other issues related to courses that Senior Associate Dean Herdt will address in communications later this week.
 
If you do not have a computer, please inform Jeanne Peloso, Associate Dean for Student Affairs (Jeanne.peloso@yale.edu). We will make arrangements so that all can access the courses. You will also need to make sure that you have a reliable internet connection.
 
The Quad
All classrooms are now cleaned and locked. The same is true for the computer cluster. The spaces that are accessible are the large common spaces: the Common Room, the Refectory, the north wing seating areas, and the Old Common Room until 8 p.m. each night. There are also the small study areas that I pointed out, but we ask that you practice social distancing if you use one of these. We have attempted to lock down the south wing of the building. Faculty will not be in their offices; nor will staff members with offices on this side of the Quad. Classrooms will remain locked. We ask that you only use the north wing if you enter the Quad. This is where the Common Room is located, as well as the main administrative offices of YDS and the organs for ISM students who need access to them. Confining ourselves to the north wing will assist the maintenance staff with cleaning.
 
Libraries
As announced previously, the libraries are closed for the foreseeable future. The library staff are now no longer able to scan materials. They can assist you with finding online materials, but they will not be in the buildings. I have asked the faculty to take this into consideration in terms of assignments, including papers, and grades.
 
Commencement
The University has not yet decided how to conduct commencement. I am sure that we will have one, but we will all need to wait for the University’s guidance on how and when this will take place.
 
We will continue to share information as decisions are made based on new developments and the rapidly changing situation. The most important thing is for each to take care of themselves and to help us all limit the spread of the virus.
 
With my best wishes,
 
Greg Sterling
 
The Reverend Henry L. Slack Dean and Lillian Claus Professor of New Testament
March 27, 2020