With cleaning supplies at every entrance, educational signage plastered throughout each building and the establishment of a dedicated quarantine and isolation residence hall, the Millsaps College campus looked remarkably different for much of this past year. Students, faculty and staff looked different too — faces covered by purple masks and lots more space (at least six feet, to be exact) between everyone. We didn’t get to experience the excitement of Saturday afternoons at Harper Davis Field or the roar of the crowds at basketball and volleyball games in the Hangar Dome. New ways of holding longstanding ceremonies and events, like a virtual first year orientation and town hall meetings with students, faculty and staff, rounded out a truly surreal calendar year.
Like every college and university across the globe, Millsaps College was impacted by COVID-19. But unlike many colleges and universities, Millsaps was able to return to in-person classes in the middle of August and experienced relatively low positive case rates — 59 total positive student cases and six total positive faculty/staff cases as of December 14, 2020 and no one with serious symptoms — while many colleges and universities in Mississippi and across the country tracked numbers in the triple digits and higher.
In addition to staying current on all guidelines from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Mississippi State Department of Health, we quickly partnered with the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) in an advisory capacity. UMMC officials reviewed our plans and offered advice and information on an as-needed basis, helping us better understand and address the many elements of protecting the campus community against the virus.
But in the midst of the stress and challenges of the year, we continue to look ahead and focus on the future of the college.
A generous grant from the Woodward Hines Education Foundation, announced in October, will support students transferring to Millsaps from community colleges in Mississippi. We are working to build a strong incoming class for the fall of 2021, and seeing great energy and interest from students near and far.
With nearly 14 acres of land at the southwest corner of the intersection of North State Street and Woodrow Wilson Boulevard, property on our campus is ready ripe for transformation. Our goal is to develop the corner in a way that will benefit not only the college but the surrounding community. We hope to create a meaningful destination property for students, Jackson residents and all visitors to our city.
As this year comes to an end, there is much for which to be grateful. I am proud of how, in spite of enormous challenges and because of the determination and dedication of our community, our students were able to come home to Millsaps this year.
And as we look to a new year, at Millsaps College there is much for which to be hopeful.
Rob Pearigen is president of Millsaps College.