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Warren Wilson's Lynn Morton prepares for fall semester, renewed appreciation for local community

Ty Roush
Black Mountain News

SWANNANOA - Warren Wilson College president Lynn Morton is anticipating every scenario the administration can think of in preparation for its upcoming fall semester.

Morton, who has been with the private institution since 2017, said that the college is in the process of figuring out how to bring its students back while working with local and state health authorities.

“We’re trying to anticipate every scenario we can think of,” Morton said. “Incorporating social distancing, the possibility of infection changing our semester, two different terms, starting differently, ending differently, going hybrid. I mean, you name it.”

The school, which closed its campus until the start of its fall semester, scheduled to begin Aug. 24, implemented a credit, no-credit system for its spring semester. Students who opt-in for this grading system will opt out of letter grades, with any grade above a D- minus converting to passing credit hours without affecting the student’s GPA.

In addition to its new grading system, the school is also providing refunds for room and board.

The administration has moved ahead with plans for reopening the college for the fall semester.

More:Warren Wilson announces intent to reopen campus for fall semester

With a student population of over 700 students, Warren Wilson has the benefit of implementing a program of social distancing in dining halls and classrooms that would be more difficult at a larger university. 

Despite its smaller size, however, Morton said that its main challenge is having students return to residence halls.

“We have already asked our faculty to plan for their course to be both on-ground and online so that a student who, for example, became ill but not terribly sick and was isolated, could still keep up and go online and then after the quarantine period could come back to on-ground.”

Morton added that the school is working on constant sterilization and cleaning for its public areas. 

For the seniors

Though the administration has made no changes to orientation in August, it has worked to provide for its seniors through an off-campus commencement.

Morton said that the faculty is currently in the process of videotaping each aspect of the ceremony. She added that she and Paul Bartels, interim vice president for academic affairs, have already appeared in their regalia on the school’s lawn.

The school held its virtual commencement on May 9.

Complementing its online alternative, it is also inviting its graduating seniors for an in-person commencement ceremony in May 2021.

Morton believes that an added benefit of being a smaller institution allows for stronger bonds with students.

“That’s the beauty of the small school,” Morton said. “They don’t come here just because we’re small, but there is an expectation that you’re going to get that personal attention that you may not get at a big school.”

In the effort of showing its appreciation to its seniors, the school sent gift boxes to each of its 136 graduates.

Warren Wilson graduation gift box

Each box contained a cap and tassel, sunglasses from alumni relations, a packet of Black-Eyed Susan and Blue Coneflower seeds, a haiku from community engagement, a letter from Morton and any honor cords or stoles earned.

“Receiving the graduation box was a bittersweet moment,” said Chandler Scott-Smith, a graduating senior. “It was such an exciting surprise to get my cap and cords, as well as my flower seeds, but sad to know that it was in place of having these items presented by my professors and getting my tree as I walked across the stage at graduation.”

Even while her students may not be able to cross the stage, Morton believes her school is working hard to create an equally special moment.

“I said in my letter to the students, this is going to be history,” Morton said, “and while it’s really hard right now and it doesn’t feel good, you need to think about where you were in this moment.”

Morton added that the school will be collecting remembrances from its graduates from commencement.