Letter from the President – Sept. 9, 2020

Greetings, sisters and brothers,

Last week Hesston College and the Harvey County Health Department issued a joint news release announcing the presence of a COVID-19 cluster at Hesston College. A “cluster” in this instance means three or more connected cases. Most of those students have recovered and are returning to life at Hesston. In many ways, life proceeds very much as it has before: classes in classrooms, meals in the dining hall, practice on the field and on the court.

That said, there’s no denying that it is an uncommon time to be on Hesston College campus. Our close-knit community, now socially distanced and masked, looks different from the one we’ve known before. But our community’s capacity for perseverance and resilience has never been more apparent. I see it every day in our students; in our faculty and staff; and in you, the alumni and friends of the college, who offer support in ways both seen and unseen. Thank you for holding Hesston in your prayers.

You may be fielding questions from family and friends about Hesston’s COVID-19 plan. You may have some questions yourself. I wanted to highlight just a few key features in Hesston’s COVID plan, so that when questions arise you can have some context for our processes and actions.

  • Hesston’s ethos of rigorous education, right relationships, and mutual accountability deeply informs our plan for meeting the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Officials at the Harvey County Health Department advised us to “play to our strengths” as we formulated our plan for reopening the campus in the fall of 2020. We took that advice to heart, formulating the Lark Commitment and CARES Levels of Concern as foundational to our approach to academic instruction, student life, and spiritual guidance. This plan touches every aspect of life at Hesston, and is enacted every day, every hour, in every interaction. It is as holistic as our college is.
  • Hesston’s commitment to care extends from the heart of our campus to friends far away. On the continued advice of local and national healthcare officials, including the Harvey County Health Department and the Centers for Disease Control, and as informed by current best practices, Hesston will continue to utilize a plan of targeted testing. Because testing resources are sorely limited, and because broad-based testing of asymptomatic individuals only affords a picture of a person’s viral load at one moment in time and has not been systematically studied for its effectiveness at curbing the spread of coronavirus, Hesston College will only test those exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, helping reserve vital resources for the most vulnerable communities.
  • Hesston’s small, vibrant community plays an invaluable role in the health and safety of everyone at the college. We’re a small college. And when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, small is a strength. Every on-campus student at Hesston has a single room this year, which dramatically reduces the risk of infection and community spread. Very few colleges can offer this as an option. Dining will occur in waves, chapel will be held in small cohort groups, and in-person classes are significantly smaller and more spread out. Our faculty prepared hybrid in-person and online courses, and our facilities team diligently prepared classrooms, labs, and living spaces so that students can learn and live together safely.
  • Hesston’s plan, as well as its people, are built for adaptability. As a campus built on two-year programs, we’re used to newness. We greet students as they begin their college journeys, and seemingly just as soon as we say hello, we’re waving goodbye as they’re off on their next adventure. Because of this, we’re uniquely positioned to respond to the larger situation as it shifts and changes. The COVID-19 pandemic generates a constant cycle of breaking news. And as new information is learned, as best practices are honed, and new resources come and go, Hesston will quickly adapt.
  • Hesston is not in this alone. The college has consistently relied on the input, advice, and continued partnership of local organizations like the Harvey County Health Department and Newton Medical Center as preparations for reopening were made. Those partnerships didn’t end when we opened our doors for the new academic year. We continue frequent consultation and collaboration with these vital community organizations, and we are infinitely stronger for it.

I’ve said before that the COVID-19 pandemic will have far-reaching implications for the world, the nation, and for our college. This isn’t the last time you’ll hear about COVID at Hesston. The numbers of cases will likely ebb and flow. Please continue to keep Hesston College students, staff and faculty in your prayers. Pray for healing for the sick, strength for the healthy, endurance for those who teach and those who work, and discernment for those who lead.

As this year’s theme verse suggests, we as God’s people must take life day by day, trusting that God will provide what we need. We are grateful for God’s continued provision in our lives, and pray for His continued grace as we face the challenge and promise of each new day.