COVID-19: Reed College Rewires Itself

Professors, students, and staff find creative ways to adapt and retool in the era of social distancing.

By Chris Lydgate ’90 | March 26, 2020

We won’t let the virus shut us down.

It hasn’t been easy. It hasn’t been pretty. There have been headaches, tears, curse-words, and gnashing of teeth. But in the face of the biggest dislocation in its history, Reed is showing remarkable resilience. Professors are finding ingenious ways to teach online. Staff are working nonstop to ease the transition and keep the trains running. And students have demonstrated an astonishing degree of compassion and concern for one another as they go about the tearful business of packing up their belongings and bidding farewell to campus. 

“I have been truly touched by the care and generosity I have seen among the Reed community over these last weeks,” President Audrey Bilger wrote to alumni on March 18. “The community is meeting these times with astounding ingenuity, adaptability, and resilience.”

In this time of stress and social distancing, we’ve taken a few minutes to share some stories of how Reed and Reedies are dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. Send us more ideas at

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The Humanities Go Digital

The conference method is the heart and soul of Reed’s academic program. Can it be adapted to remote learning? The answer is a resounding ‘Yes.’ But digital tools such as Zoom, Slack, and Moodle do require some adjustment. Reed’s Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) has launched a new blog where professors can swap ideas and strategies for adapting their courses to the online environment and holding virtual “office hours.” The CTL is hosting sessions (virtually, of course) on topics like designing creative assignments and addressing equity for students who do not have access to a reliable internet connection.

Professors are also sharing ideas on YouTube and other platforms. For example, Prof. Laura Leibman [English & Humanities] put together an eight-minute video on the four-part structure of an academic argument. Not only will this help students turn in a top-notch final paper for Hum 110, but it also gives them deeper insight into how to think about, research, and write essays in any field. Meanwhile, Reed’s academic tutors and coaches have moved their operations online to help students through the transition.

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CIS Pulls Out All the Stops

For the past two weeks, the staff at Computing & Information Services have been working nonstop to help professors move approximately 400 courses online. They are also assisting more than 1,400 students pursue their studies remotely from dorms, off-campus housing, other parts of the country, and other parts of the world—check out their resources for remote teaching and learning. In addition, staff are conducting intensive tutoring and group training for members of the community in the use of Zoom, Google Meet, VPNs, and countless other software tools for online interaction. And if that weren’t enough, they’re also upgrading specialized software licenses for student use, reinforcing technology infrastructure to handle the demands of moving college operations online, and doing too many other things to list. “Their problem solving skills have been impressive, and their commitment to the well-being of the students, faculty, and staff has been exemplary,” says Chief Information Officer Marty Ringle. 

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Chinese University Sends Masks to Reed

A special delivery of N95 masks is winging its way to campus this week—thanks to our resident Chinese scholar, Linlin Guan. Before coming to Reed, Linlin taught Chinese as a second language at Capital Normal University in Beijing, which has a long history of cooperation with the college; many Reed students have done study-abroad programs there over the years. She arranged for her contacts at CNU to send a shipment of masks to the Health and Counseling Center in the spirit of the Chinese idiom that runs: A goose feather sent from thousand miles; a small gift that conveys great affection.

“I hope that I can serve as a messenger to convey the support and love of Capital Normal University for all the community in Reed in fighting against the coronavirus,” says Linlin, who intends to remain on campus for the next month or so, since travel to China has been suspended.

Fortunately, the HCC has enough masks to manage ill students and protect staff, so it plans to regift the masks to frontline healthcare workers at Oregon Health Sciences University, where personal protective equipment is an urgent need.

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Alumni Give Back To Help Students

More than 83 alumni and friends have made donations totalling $17,335 to the Reed Student Emergency Fund since the coronavirus crisis began. The Emergency Fund assists students experiencing a wide range of unanticipated needs, including medical expenses, food and supplies, emergency travel, and housing security. More than 60 students have applied for help from the fund this spring. Here are some of the comments made by the donors: 

In the years since I've graduated, I have been nourished and enriched by the Reed students and staff I've connected with—in the Sports Center, as a Relay mentor, via Life Beyond Reed, and as an international host family. At this time when the world is sideways, I want to support Reedies in the best way I can. —Karen Belsey ’85

Small amounts can change lives. Just trying to do my part to build a few bridges. —Morgan Miller ’04

I cannot imagine what a turbulent time it must be, for the seniors at Reed especially. I manage a restaurant across the intersection from where Mark Angeles ’15 was struck and killed while riding his bike less than 10 days after graduating in the summer of 2015. I have wanted to make a donation in his honor for some time and it seems right to support these seniors of 2020 as they are launched into the unknown in a totally unpredictable way. My heart goes out to them as it still does for Mark and his family. —Abigail Cox ’16

I am heartbroken to learn that students have to finish the rest of the year online. While I have absolutely no doubt it is the best choice from a health perspective, I know how important the Reed community is. I hope the seniors have the opportunity to finish strongly and return one day to participate in thesis parade. —Natalie Morgenstern ’10

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Pantry Stays Open

Thanks to the remarkable dedication of volunteers, the Reed Community Pantry has kept its doors open during the crisis, so that any member of the community who is experiencing food insecurity can get access to food and other supplies. The pantry has adopted social distancing measures: during open hours, community members are asked to shop in the pantry one at a time. In this video, Maria Cunningham (yes, you know her better as the library’s head of special collections and archives) talks about volunteering at the pantry, and she shares tips on using humor to get through these difficult times. Note that Gov. Kate Brown’s "stay home" order allows people to travel for the purpose of getting these supplies in order to meet their basic needs. To donate or volunteer, check out 

That’s it for now, folks. Hang tight, wash your hands, and stay in touch. 


Tags: Academics, Alumni, Campus Life, Giving Back to Reed, Service, Covid-19