When the first campus alert about novel coronavirus arrived Jan. 23, the threat seemed remote and abstract. On Feb. 29, we learned of a possible case of the virus on campus, which was confirmed. A week later, classes and labs were canceled so Rice could prepare for the possibility of remote instruction. Rice events of “more than 100 people” were no longer permitted. From the vantage point of mid-April, these early steps, so helpful in preventing the spread of the disease, fill me with nostalgia.
It seems like an age ago that Dean Bridget Gorman sent a heartfelt message to undergraduate students telling them that, for their safety, as many as possible should return home for the rest of the semester. “I know this news must be jarring to read,” she wrote, “and the days ahead will undoubtedly feel uncertain and stressful.” COVID-19 was wreaking havoc on campus routines, beloved traditions and future plans. And Gorman had a special message for seniors: “The final semester was supposed to be filled with celebration, a joyous time marking the conclusion of your Rice experience. … I do not have words to express my sadness in how this has all unfolded.”
Our spring issue reflects both the before and after of COVID-19’s deep disruptions to our campus.
And then, something kind of magical happened. Presuming that the spread of COVID-19 would postpone graduation, seniors improvised. Students quickly organized an alternative convocation. On the afternoon of March 13, seniors from all 11 colleges, donning stoles and holding high their college banners, walked from the Academic Quad through the Sallyport. While the Marching Owl Band played, a small crowd of fellow students, university leaders, faculty and staff cheered. Impromptu, unrehearsed and imaginative — the graduation was perfect.
In that spirit, our spring issue reflects both the before and after of COVID-19’s deep disruptions to our campus. In late February, an exhibition of remastered prints from Geoff Winningham’s 1971 documentary project, “Friday Night in the Coliseum,” opened at the Rice Media Center to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Though anniversary events were soon canceled, our photo essay — “Wrestling’s Big Night” — went forward in the hopes that readers would learn more about Winningham’s work and the center’s storied history.
As the reality of COVID-19 became apparent, we asked President David Leebron to address readers in a longer column. Throughout this crisis, his timely and thoughtful communications about the unfolding pandemic have been reassuring. The decisions and actions being taken to protect the health and safety of our community make us proud.
In so many ways, the Rice community has responded to unimaginable circumstances with “Yes, and … .”
Our departments capture campus life in more typical times — research news; profiles of faculty, students and alumni; and new buildings headline this list. Yet, a story about the student improv group Spontaneous Combustion, or SpoCo, offers unexpected guidance for this time. “One of the most important principles of improv is the phrase: ‘Yes, and … .’ SpoCo members always have to be ready to respond to any strange turn of events in a scene,” wrote Savannah Kuchar ’22.
In so many ways, the Rice community has responded to unimaginable circumstances with “Yes, and … .” We’ll tell you about some of these in our upcoming special summer issue on COVID-19. It’s not the issue we originally planned, but it’s one that, with contributions from Rice Owls everywhere, we’re improvising.