Dear GSSWSR Students,
In the midst of the uncertainty, anxiety, fear and loss associated with so many aspects of COVID-19, the GSSWSR has worked in collaboration with the College to create a learning environment that is as responsive as possible given the unprecedented challenges associated with a rapid move to remote instruction precipitated by the social distancing required by the current pandemic. We appreciate and recognize the many efforts of our students, faculty and staff in bringing forward social work knowledge, values, ethics and skills in responding to COVID-19. From a trauma-informed perspective, we can all reflect on how initial coping responses in early moments of uncertainty and urgent need for action, may become modified as the situation is more clearly understood. Most importantly, we hope that you and your loved ones are healthy and safe.
We are writing now because several students alerted us to a petition that has been circulating amongst some GSSWSR students and others. While we believe that direct communication would have been more immediately effective, and thus preferred, we nonetheless value an additional opportunity to engage with our community around these very difficult issues and circumstances. As is often the case when addressing complex problems, we have also heard from many students with opposing views on the substance and/or the process of the petition itself. We have reviewed the petition with President Cassidy and the Senior Staff, and below please find our responses to key areas of substantive concern.
Communication, Accessibility and Remote Learning. Communication is necessary during times of emergency but can also feel overwhelming. For this reason, in addition to emails sent via our student list serve, we have created the GSSWSR COVID-19 webpage and the Student Services Moodle Shell, as places to archive all communications and links to resources at the GSSWSR, the College and in the broader Philadelphia environment. We are also utilizing the Student Services Weekly Digest to provide information about new resources such as the virtual community conversations at the GSSWSR, and the virtual groups being offered by the Counseling Center. We strongly encourage you to also read the College’s COVID-19 website with updates for the full community.
We anticipated that some of our students would face barriers and obstacles in the transition to remote learning. In an email (archived on our webpage) from the Dean’s office on March 23rd , we asked that you “please be in touch with the Dean’s office if you have accessibility barriers to participation in remote learning”. We are grateful to those students who have reached out to us in this regard. We continue to hope that any student who is experiencing barriers to accessibility will reach out so that we can engage in collaborative problem solving to address these barriers.
On March 17, you received an email from the Dean’s office, acknowledging the great uncertainty we are all navigating and asking for your partnership and patience in light of anticipated glitches and frustration we would all likely experience. The faculty are working tirelessly to reflect on how to deliver high quality courses taught in a new way, while at the same time maintaining their awareness of the multiple stressors facing our students. Twice weekly faculty meetings are being held to reflect on teaching strategies in our new environment and to share approaches for supporting students. Faculty have shared plans for altering assignments, being flexible with due dates when necessary and understanding that some aspects of planned course content may be particularly difficult within the context of our individual and collective experiences relating to the pandemic. Faculty are open to your feedback and we encourage you to be in communication with your faculty, and your faculty advisors. The Dean’s office has virtual office hours, as does the staff in Student Services and we would welcome hearing from you.
Tuition and Fees. We recognize that many students and their families are likely to be negatively impacted by COVID-19. In recent weeks, we have been working together to discuss our capacity to be responsive to emergent student needs during this very difficult time. It is the policy of the College that tuition will not be refunded for classes. Instruction is continuing and faculty are committed to working with students to achieve learning goals to the greatest extent possible. We have been in touch with student accounts and financial aid to explore a range of issues, including whether there could be flexibility with regard to holds on student accounts and the ability to register for courses. They have in turn requested that students contact them directly so that individual situations can be assessed. Over the past weeks, we have been exploring other possibilities for increasing our capacity for responding to unmet student needs both in the present context and in the future and this work will continue.
Field Education. The faculty and staff of the GSSWSR do understand the disappointment and frustration experienced by many students when we were required to suspend in-person field placement activities. Many of our agency and community partners are also facing organizational crises. For many of the people that you have been working so diligently with this year, this is a time of heightened vulnerability and limited access to support. The faculty and staff at the GSSWSR, in alignment with our mission and values, believe that continued efforts to build practice relevant competencies are particularly important in this time of pandemic. Toward that end, we provided a framework for you, your field instructors, and your field liaisons to utilize in crafting remote activities that offer opportunities for student learning and support of agency and client needs. We are so impressed by the quality and thoughtfulness students and field liaisons have shown in this work. We recognize that there is a range in the capacity of agencies to identify remote activities and when needed, we have asked students to work with their field liaisons to design individualized opportunities that support your professional development interests and needs. The Field Education office is working closely with field liaisons each week. Your field liaisons, your practice faculty and your advisors are available to talk with you about how to create meaningful alternatives to in-person field education.
We value the opportunity to communicate with you and welcome the opportunity to collaborate with you in the future.
With our best wishes for your health and safety.
Janet Shapiro, MA, MSW, PhD
Dean and Professor
Director of the Center for Child and Family Wellbeing
Bryn Mawr College Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research
Professor of Sociology
Bryn Mawr College
Sharon J. Nieter Burgmayer
Dean of Graduate Studies
W. Alton Jones Professor of Chemistry