WWU Continues Mission Through COVID-19
As the state of Washington grappled with an emerging pandemic, John McVay, Walla Walla University president, announced on March 12, 2020, the university would end winter quarter face-to-face instruction on its five campuses at the end of the next day to help limit the spread of COVID-19. Winter quarter final exams were administered online.
During the university’s spring break, March 19–27, WWU faculty and staff worked hard to prepare online classes, to plan for spiritual support and to arrange for other student services to be offered online for at least part of spring quarter. Monday, March 30, was a historic day as the university began spring quarter entirely online.
This was no small feat. With campus buildings closed and most of the university’s employees working remotely in compliance with Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" order, the university continued to offer services via multiple online platforms supported by phone and email.
“I’m pleased to report that this difficult situation also brought out some of the best of our talents,” says McVay. “WWU faculty and staff tackled the enormous challenge of putting online WWU’s excellent academic, social and spiritual experience. Our community was geographically apart, but we were spiritually together, working together and praying together that God would build and nourish our community.”
Instrumental in the university’s response has been the WWU COVID-19 Taskforce, which includes WWU employees and a student representative and is led by Doug Tilstra, WWU vice president for student life. The taskforce monitors regional and local developments, wrestles with complex decisions, and ensures frequent updates are provided to students, faculty and staff via email and at www.wallawalla.edu/covid19.
Among the decisions addressed through the taskforce was moving the university’s April U-Days recruiting event online and postponing Alumni Homecoming Weekend 2020. Homecoming weekend typically brings more than 1,000 guests to the Walla Walla Valley, and the WWU alumni office team is already at work on plans for a combined 2020/2021 homecoming April 22–25, 2021.
While these and many other adjustments have been met with courage and innovation by students, faculty and staff alike, the pandemic has served to remind us of Walla Walla University’s most valuable gifts, which include the unique blessing of being together as a community. “We took extraordinary measures to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and protect our university family and various communities,” says McVay. “But Walla Walla University is a friendly, familylike university, and we really like to be together. It has been painful to be apart.”
“The blessing of community has bolstered Walla Walla University for nearly 128 years,” says McVay, “and we do not take for granted that we will be stronger together well beyond this pandemic as we pursue our mission in community focused on excellence in thought, generosity in service, beauty in expression and faith in God.”