Students depart Williams-Mystic this week as campuses close due to coronavirus pandemic

Rebecca Tauber

The Williams-Mystic program, like the College’s campus in Williamstown and the Williams-Exeter Programme at Oxford, decided last week to send its students home and transition to remote learning in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Executive Director Tom Van Winkle announced the decision on Wednesday, Mar. 11, a few hours after President of the College Maud S. Mandel sent her all-campus email announcing the closure of the Williamstown campus. Mystic students’ departures followed the same timeline as those at the College, with in-person classes ending Friday, Mar. 13, and students departing over the following few days. The ocean and coastal studies program, which draws students from a variety of colleges and universities and typically consists of original research and travel to America’s coasts, will begin classes online on April 6.

While all Mystic students received Mandel’s email Wednesday morning regarding actions at the Williamstown campus, some at Mystic initially held out hope that the program, given its different location and small size of 18 students, would remain in operation. The program had already canceled its California trip the week before but was still determining whether it could keep its students on its campus, based in Mystic, Conn., for the semester. 

The program held a meeting at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday to tell  students that it had not yet made a decision, and again at 5 p.m. announcing the closure. “The way it was dragged out over the day, the cancellation, was kind of stressful,” said Patrick Hodgson ’22, a student at Mystic.

The students, three of whom attend the College and the rest of whom attend other institutions, were instructed to pack with the expectation that they will not return to the Mystic campus this semester. Those with financial need were offered assistance with packing materials and shipping. Van Winkle asked students to get in touch with him by the following day if they had extenuating circumstances that would prevent their departure. Unlike the College, which had a form and petition process, concerns at Mystic were dealt with on a case-by-case basis given the program’s small size. Currently, one overseas student is remaining at the Mystic campus for the duration of the semester.

In his message to students, Van Winkle expressed regret for the shortening of the in-person semester. “In the short eight weeks that S’20 [Class of Spring 2020] has been in residence, the class has developed a remarkably close community,” he wrote. 

The program is now in the process of determining how to transition its classes to a virtual format for the rest of the semester. “Our faculty are now working hard to think about how to adapt the curriculum to an online format given our 43-year history of in-situ and experiential learning,” Van Winkle said.