Hundreds of Wabash students will line up around the Allen Center today to receive the much-anticipated second vaccination. With finals beginning next week, The Bachelor interviewed President Feller, Nurse Chris Amidon, Dr. Ann Taylor, and CFO Kendra Cooks to discuss the Wabash during the pandemic – the college’s successes, failures, and hopes for the future.
In such a chaotic year, it is important to remember the victories. For starters, we managed to stay residential for the entire 2020-2021 academic year – an impressive accomplishment given the circumstances. “I have been pleasantly surprised that we were able to stay in-residence the entire year with mostly face-to-face instruction. I honestly did not think that was possible when the school year began,” said Nurse Chris Amidon. “For a campus that invited all students back to campus, operated at full residential capacity, and did not impose strict regulations on student behavior, I think our results are something we can all be proud of,” said President Feller.
Beyond remaining residential, Wabash demonstrated impressive community resolve. “Wabash has always been a supportive community, and I appreciate all the ways people have stepped up to do things outside of their normal job descriptions to make this year possible,” said Dr. Taylor. “‘Wabash Always Fights’ means a lot of things to a lot of people, but I like to think that it exemplifies our undaunted spirit in challenging times. I am not surprised that our community banded together, stretched beyond comfort zones and job duties, and met the emerging needs of our community head on with thorough planning, collaboration, sound decision making, and clear communication.”
Wabash also demonstrated an impressive ability to adapt to an ever-changing crisis. President Feller pointed to the frequent adaptations the entire Wabash community has faced, saying, “I have been impressed with the ability of the campus to pivot quickly when required and to find ways to make the best out of difficult situations. As a place that so values tradition I worried that adaptation would be difficult for Wabash. I think we learned that we are capable of quite a lot if it is in service to our core mission and values.”
One remarkable feat, especially during this spring semester, was how many events were able to adapt safely to pandemic life. “Of the 100 athletic events we had this year, 45% of them occurred on our campus. We have opened our doors this semester to visitors. We have hosted admitted student weekends. We have presented plays, Glee Club concerts, the National Act, Chapel Sing, Celebration of Student Research, and other events with appropriate safety measures in place,” said Kendra Cooks.
Taylor pointed to students with the success of these events, saying, “[These events are] a credit to our student leaders and CARE Team, who have found creative ways to come together while meeting the health guidelines.”
“I think, compared to other colleges, we were much more open to allowing interactions and activities than nearly every other school in the country. I hope that, looking back, students will realize that the College trusted them and allowed much more personal freedom than elsewhere,” said Amidon.
An additional win was the administration’s focus on keeping Wabash financially accessible, even during such a costly crisis. “We held the line on tuition pricing for next year, and our financial aid team continues to work with the needs of our students and families adversely impacted by the pandemic,” said Kendra Cooks. “I could go on about how Wabash continues to differentiate itself, but I am certainly proud of those results.”
“The length that this disruption has dragged on,” said President Feller, “is something that I wasn’t really mentally prepared for.” There is one question on every Wabash community member’s mind: what will the upcoming fall semester look like? After all, as Taylor said, “Crystal balls are hard to come by these days.” While many remain hopeful that the fall semester will represent a return to normalcy, it is clear that widespread vaccination is a prerequisite for normal Wabash life. Amidon said, “I believe that, if enough people get the COVID- 19 vaccine, we will have a fairly routine semester in the fall. We moved mountains to bring the vaccine TO campus, so no travel and no costs were involved for students, because all our future success hinges on the percentage of people immunized against severe disease.”
Dr. Taylor similarly said, “A lot will depend on how quickly we can vaccinate everyone; the longer the virus circulates, the more opportunities there are for variants to develop. We will continue to follow the CDC, the Indiana and Montgomery County Departments of Health and other respected scientific sources for guidance about the fall semester. But in general, I anticipate it looking more normal.”
President Feller explained several preconditions for a return to normalcy in the fall. He said, “I see the fall semester looking a lot more like our traditional form, though my vision is shaped largely by things that I anticipate will happen rather than items I can point to with certainty. For example, I am hopeful that we will have good evidence in the coming months that the vaccines not only prevent severe disease but that they also inhibit transmission. I also believe that we will continue to see a drop in overall case numbers throughout the summer. And I think that we will receive updated guidance from the CDC and the Indiana State Department of Health in coming months that pave the way for a return to normal. Obviously, the success of the vaccination clinic has been a huge step forward on that path.”
Today’s vaccination drive represents hope and progress in the fight against the pandemic, but it by no means represents the end. “I want to remind students that the pandemic is not over when finals end. As you leave the Wabash bubble it is imperative that you carry the protection of immunity from vaccination with you,” said Feller. The entire Wabash community will need to continue to remain vigilant in the coming year.
With a new chapter beginning, reflecting on our progress is critical. Amidon said, “It’s hard to be in a historic event and have perspective about it, but I really believe that one day, we’ll all be able to reflect on the pandemic and how we did our best to rise to the occasion. The world may never be quite the same after this, and hopefully we’ll learn some lessons about the importance of public health, and to appreciate everyday things that were taken from us this year.”
Dr. Taylor put it best: “We should celebrate our successes, mourn our losses, and offer grace to ourselves and others. It brings up the enduring questions about what it means to be human, and how we can best live in community, and I hope we take time to really process what we’ve learned.”