Union News

COVID-19 March 17 Update: Message Recap

Categories: COVID-19, Union News

I hope you are all hanging in there. This past week has been extremely stressful and has required a great deal from every sector of the Union Community. As you know, we have taken aggressive steps to help ensure that we minimize exposure to COVID-19, and at every turn, you have responded with graciousness and shared goodwill. I am particularly thankful to all of you who uprooted your Union-life and relocated or begun to work remotely. For those who had no option but to stay, I am moved by your calm and receptive responses to this serious situation.

Over the past few days, you have received numerous emails. Today, I want to update you on where Union stands.


  • Union’sacademic campus is closed, except for essential staff. This closure includes the Burke Library, the computer room, the Pit, James Chapel, and the small chapel.
  • McGiffert remains open to residents only, and all access to visitors is restricted. Please respect this restriction as we are not able to totally monitor who comes and goes. If you have moved off-campus, it is important that you honor this restriction as well.
  • Union’s staff is working remotely and remains available via email should you need to reach someone.
  • Students with on-campus work-study jobs are asked to contact their supervisors regarding possible work-from-home alternatives.

Academic Life

Click here to review the letter sent from the Dean’s Office outlining the changes we have made to the academic calendar, deadlines, grading system, and more. Please review it carefully. It is designed to lessen the load and assure that everyone can succeed.

Residential Life:

  • We know that this has been a very disruptive week for everyone. We are working diligently to do all we can to keep you as safe as possible, and to continue to care for you.
  • Many students have relocated, and this has allowed us to reduce our census in accordance with the Department of Health’s advice.
  • We have relocated a small handful of students from International House dorms into our McGiffert community, where we are better able to support their needs.
  • We have taken some space in McGiffert off-line to use for isolation or quarantine, as needed.
  • Please continue to refer to emails from our Residence and Student Affairs staff regarding safe hygiene and social distancing practices in the residence hall.
  • We are making sure the dorms are cleaned regularly and have provided cleaning supplies for student use in bathrooms and kitchen areas.
  • We have closed all student lounge areas in order to reduce exposure.
  • We are keeping the food pantry in the McGiffert lobby fully stocked and reserves have been set aside to keep it full. Please, no one should worry about food insecurity.
  • Pharmacies and grocery stores are still open and well-stocked.


  • Anyone who still has the ability to relocate off campus is strongly encouraged to do so. This continues to be our top priority for campus safety.
  • Boxes and supplies are available on the ground floor for your use.
    If you are moving and it is possible for you to completely empty your room, we strongly encourage you to do so.
  • However, if it facilitates your immediate departure, you may leave furniture and other large items in your room.
  • If you want to pack up your room but have no place for storage, we have reserved a space in McGiffert for your use.
  • We have established a small emergency fund to assist with up to $500 toward unanticipated moving expenses if they are causing a substantial financial burden. We ask that you carefully consider the amount you need. This fund is available to students who have already left and incurred moving expenses that create a financial hardship, as well as those who are presently relocating. If you wish to apply for consideration, please send an email, along with receipts for the moving expenses, to Charlene Visconti, Dean of Students.
  • Students will receive a prorated two-month refund of dorm fees should they relocate by March 27. Refunds will be received as quickly as the finance staff can process them.

Health Resources

  • We still have no confirmed cases of COVID-19 on campus.
  • Columbia Health has 24-hour virtual access to mental health and medical services, but can no longer accept walk-in appointments and ask that you call ahead for a virtual appointment: Medical 212-854-7426, Mental Health 212-854-2878.
  • Please seek prompt medical evaluation if you have a fever, cough or shortness of breath.
  • Faculty and staff should contact their primary care physician. If you do not have a primary care provider and need help finding one, dial 311.

Keeping Connected

  • We realize that social isolation and distancing may be good at protecting your physical health but is not good for your mental and spiritual sense of well-being.
  • Please join the regular worship events the Director of Chapel, Sandra Montez, has created. (She has shared information about these in recent emails.)
  • We are working to create other ways to keep us connected and will be back in touch about those.
  • Be creative with your friends and fellow residents and figure out way to laugh a little and keep your ability to play alive and well.

COVID-19 Updates and Information

We have set up a webpage with COVID-19 guidance, and you can access it here. You can also access a COVID-19 FAQ using this link, from Columbia Preparedness. Also, the NYC hotline for information on coronavirus is 888-364-3065.


I want to offer a special word of thanks to Michael O and Charlene Visconti who have worked tirelessly to address our many student needs and concerns. Michael O is now Union’s official superhero! I am also thankful for Don Joshua and the IT staff for their constant work to keep us connected online. Although the majority of Union’s staff are working remotely, facilities staff are still on campus and working around the clock to keep McGiffert clean and safe. For their presence, we should all be deeply thankful. Special thanks also go to Dean Pam Cooper-White and Nicole Mirando who are diligently managing the load of academic issues, and to our faculty who have generously and quickly shifted their courses online so that we can continue to teach and learn. I am also grateful for the great leadership of the student senate co-chairs, lyla bowhem and Rachel Arrey who have done an excellent job of collecting and sharing student concerns. In my conversation with all these people (and many more who are working hard to keep things going), I hear nothing but open-hearted concern for our community’s well-being and a generous giving of self for the good of the whole.

We are a remarkable community. In times like this, we get a glimpse of Union at its very best – a seminary where “the needs and cares of the world” remain our first concern. At the present moment, those needs and cares are mighty indeed. I have no doubt but that together, we are up to the task of meeting them.


Serene Jones

Office of the President
Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York
3041 Broadway at 121st Street | New York, NY 10027
212-280-1403 (Tel) | 212-280-1440 (Fax)
Email: [email protected]