President Bollinger and Beilock reported the first deaths from COVID-19 within the Columbia community, including that of a student, in an email update sent to students this afternoon.

In the email, President Bollinger noted that “in recent days, [individual members of the Columbia community] have lost family members, neighbors, and now at Columbia, we have lost valued employees and one of our own students.” The student referenced was Masters student Susan Chuang, who attended the Columbia School of Social Work (CSSW) and previously graduated from the School of Professional Studies. In their statement, CSSW highlighted Susan’s “thoughtful contributions to her classes, the passion she showed for the social work profession, and her dedication to the clients she served at her field placements.”

The affiliations of the employees who have passed away remain unclear; Bwog has reached out for additional information and will update this post if and when it becomes available. One former adjunct faculty member, Thomas Waters of the Urban Studies department, passed away earlier this week from an illness reportedly similar to COVID-19. In an email to the Barnard community, President Sian Leah Beilock similarly reported the first deaths from COVID-19 within the Columbia community, alongside sharing President Bollinger’s statement with Barnard students. She recognized these tragic losses, as well as the losses of loved ones that the Columbia community may already be mourning.

Bwog offers our condolences to the family, friends, and loved ones of those who have passed away from COVID-19. We have reached out to the University to see what resources will be made available to students and faculty members who are grieving their loved ones and community members. Regarding this question, Columbia noted that Counseling and Psychological Services has opened up virtual appointments that can be scheduled here. We will update with Barnard’s resources when they become available.

Presidents Bollinger and Beilock also offered updates on the state of the University as the coronavirus continues to affect academic procedures in an unprecedented manner. Notably, Bollinger announced that over 1,800 Summer 2020 courses offered by Columbia will be administered online. A Columbia University spokesperson has confirmed to Bwog that the dorms will also not be opened to students this summer. No mention was in the email about the status of the Fall 2020 semester.

Both emails also briefly touched on the status of Commencement 2020. The University will hold a virtual Commencement ceremony on May 20th, with individual schools offering “virtual Class Days” at their discretion. A delayed in-person ceremony will hopefully be held, but no further specifics were offered. President Beilock addressed the class of 2020 directly in light of the cancellation of Barnard’s Commencement. She expressed a dedication to hold an in-person ceremony to celebrate the class sometime within the coming year. Regardless, the Barnard Class of 2020 will be conferred with their degrees on May 20th during the virtual University Commencement ceremony.

Finally, both highlighted the ways in which Columbia has been “commissioned into service” in the fight against coronavirus. Bollinger noted that Baker Field, located at 215th St. and Broadway, is being used to expand hospital facilities. Dorms at the Morningside Campus, which have been largely cleared of students, are being opened to Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center (CUIMC) and employees at nearby Mount Sinai Hospital to ease their commutes. (A city council member has recently suggested that the empty dorms at Columbia, as well as at the City University of New York in Harlem, could also be used to house New Yorkers who test positive for COVID-19 but cannot self-isolate at home. As of now, Columbia has made no indication about whether or not it will take this suggestion into consideration.) Additionally, the CU library system and SEAS are both working to make face shields. This stands alongside the research Columbia faculty members have undertaken to understand and fight the novel coronavirus. Columbia has compiled a list of aid projects for anyone looking for ways to help the COVID-19 relief effort that will be updated as more opportunities to help are made known to the University.

President Beilock continued to commend the efforts of Barnard alumnae working in hospitals around the country and the world to combat COVID-19, as well as Barnard community members who have dedicated time and resources to address the community’s needs during the pandemic. She expressed gratitude for the efforts of Columbia University and the Irving Medical Center for their tireless work against the spread of the virus. Both Presidents underscored their gratitude for health workers who are risking their own safety at this time, as well as the adaptability and care shown by the Columbia community as the pandemic develops.

The statements by both presidents are included in their entirety below. Bwog has reached out to Columbia and Barnard for additional information regarding the losses to our community and the changes that have resulted from COVID-19. We will update this post with that information when we receive it.

President Bollinger’s Statement

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:

This is the message I hoped never to have to convey. I must report the first deaths from COVID-19 within our own extended Columbia community. In recent days, we have lost family members, neighbors, and now at Columbia, we have lost valued employees and one of our own students. Of course, the mortality rate nationally and globally is staggering, but the shock is always greater when the losses occur within your own home and community. I am sure many of you are suffering under the spread of the virus, being personally afflicted or caring for those who are, all the while carrying on with coursework and other responsibilities. Please know we think about you and the burden of these experiences every day.

This past week, I, along with Dr. Lee Goldman, visited inpatient units, an ICU, the Emergency Department, and an outpatient tent at our Medical Center. It is always remarkable to see our faculty, students, and staff in the health sciences provide such superb care to the sick under unimaginable circumstances while at the same time seeking to rapidly generate new knowledge that can help others. These are among the most challenging conditions, filled with anxiety and distress, and everyone is rising to the moment. 

In the few short weeks since many of you left campus, several of Columbia’s most familiar sites have been commissioned into service, including Baker Field, where the hospital is in the process of expanding its facilities. Emptied Morningside campus residence halls are now being used by CUIMC and hospital employees to ease their commutes. Our Libraries and our Engineering School are both producing face shields. All this, along with the research we continue to conduct and the additional intellectual and physical resources we expect to devote to this pandemic in the future, makes us proud.

And, in the final weeks of the semester, it is heartening to know that the academic work of the University continues. We are currently teaching a total of 9,622 courses online—something we previously would not have imagined possible. Continuing with this effort to maintain the functions of the University into the summer, we now expect to offer over 1,800 courses online.

There are two additional developments to note here: With respect to Commencement, individual schools will offer virtual Class Days during that previously designated week. And the University Commencement ceremony will be recorded and shared virtually on May 20th. We still hope to have at some later time an in-person celebration, but it is, unfortunately, not possible at this moment to be more specific.

Lastly, there has been an outpouring of inquiries about what each person might do to help in this crisis. I am happy to say that there is now a consolidated list on our COVID-19 website of ways you might assist and contribute to others. We expect to add more opportunities as they arise.

I want to return to what I said at the outset. I wish I could do more than just express our sense of sadness and loss. I do feel strongly, however, that this is a period when the strengths of universities are manifest and should be recognized. We lodge the professions within our universities, in part because we value and benefit from their expertise but also because we want to nurture a sense of public responsibility as being inherent in these societal roles. The journalist who enters war zones, the lawyer who fights for human rights, and the health worker who braves dangers of infection to aid the ill, all reflect the commitment to the selfless dedication of expertise that universities naturally nurture. As always, however, it is one thing to affirm this commitment, as we regularly do, and another to live it, as we are now seeing so vividly in our Medical Center. It is, therefore, to be celebrated, as an example for us all to follow.

Finally, I would say, if ever there was a time that proves, yet again, that the subjects and preoccupations of the humanities are of transcendent importance in a good life, this is surely one of those. 

From the President’s House, Jean and I send our warmest regards. 


Lee C. Bollinger

President Beilock’s Statement

Dear Members of the Barnard Community,

With deep sorrow, I write to share the following message from President Bollinger, who regretfully reports the Columbia University community’s first deaths from COVID-19. We are saddened by these tragic losses and join the rest of the University in mourning them and in mourning the loved ones of our own Barnard students, faculty, and staff who have passed away because of this virus. We are also thinking of the hardships that many of our family members and friends are enduring as they struggle to beat COVID-19.

We are immensely proud of our Barnard alumnae who are courageously fighting the coronavirus on the front lines in hospitals in New York City, around the country, and across the world; as well as our Barnard community members who have contributed their time, resources and dedication to mitigating the effects of this pandemic. And, we are deeply grateful for the heroic efforts of Columbia University and the Irving Medical Center to combat the virus from every angle.

To the Class of 2020: I understand that the past weeks’ disruptions have been particularly heartbreaking, as you embarked on your last semester at Barnard — and as you looked forward to honoring your achievements together at Commencement in May. This is a watershed moment in your lives, and I’ve sought your thoughts and those of Gabi Garcia ’20, your class president, on how to most meaningfully mark the occasion after announcing that an in-person commencement could not proceed as planned. And I hear you. 

Although the University has decided to hold virtual Class Days, Barnard remains committed to holding an in-person ceremony to celebrate the Class of 2020. We don’t know yet what that will look like, but we are exploring options for the fall or next spring. I look forward to continuing the conversation with you as we move forward. 

In the meantime, I will be proud to present you as the Barnard Class of 2020 at the virtual University Commencement ceremony on May 20th for the official conferral of your degrees. 

Finally, to all Barnard students, faculty, and staff: in addition to the tragic loss of members of our extended community, I know that you are all also feeling the impacts of the pandemic on your own lives — from isolation to the inability to celebrate holidays such as Passover and Easter with your family. Please know that I am thinking of each and every one of you as we continue to navigate the final weeks of the semester, and I encourage you to continue to take care of yourselves and each other. 

Most sincerely, 

Sian Leah Beilock, President

alma mater via Bwog Staff