Harvard Graduate School of Design, Harvard University
by Sarah Whiting, Dean

March 23:

Dear GSD Community,

Welcome “back” from spring break; today is the day that we start online teaching. In its history, the GSD has not faced the kind of total rupture that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused, but extensive communication and planning over these past two weeks makes me cautiously optimistic that we are starting these remaining weeks of the semester on sound footing.

We know that there will be challenges with time zones, with interfaces, with connections, and with communication. None of our classes this term wereplanned to be taught virtually, and so I ask all of you for patience and ingenuity to ensure that our extraordinary quality of education persists. One major change intended to help us move forward is that as of this morning all GSD courses have shifted to a pass/fail grading system, a change that will allow both faculty and students to focus on the content and pedagogical aims of their courses as well all manage the transition to online instruction.

As we forge ahead, I want to be sure you are aware of the support you have:

    • <li”>The GSD Computer Resources Group has set up a virtual help desk where you can connect with CRG staff live via zoom or telephone for technical support.

<li”>Our Communications team has developed a series of webpages bringing together all guidance, information, and resources related to COVID-19 for GSD students, faculty, and staff, including GSD and university support for teaching, learning, and working.

<li”>Harvard University Health Services  is providing updates on confirmed cases of COVID-19, what to do if you are exposed to the virus, have tested positive or are having symptoms, and preventative measures, including when to self-isolate. Please contact  HUHS  immediately if you have any questions about how you are feeling; it is critical to self-isolate if you have tested positive for COVID-19. HUHS will notify anyone in the community who may have been exposed.

<li”>Loeb Library resources and services  are available remotely, including Zoom training and support, academic writing and Canvas support, and research guidance.

We will surely encounter bumps in the road; we all need to be forgiving. GSD staff, working remotely, are prepared to help with any issues; and students who have any questions should not hesitate to contact their faculty or program directors.

And lastly, but more important than anything else: now is a time to take extra care of your health and well-being. Wash your hands, practice social distancing, and do everything you can to avoid spreading illness, but also eat right and get sleep, and when the weather is cooperative, get outside (maintaining social distancing).

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you have questions or concerns. As the situation evolves, we will continue sharing information with you.




March 20:

Dear all,

Amidst our “new normal” of holding patterns, fundamentally recast plans, and compounding uncertainty, the message that we received just now from President Bacow about Commencement is especially disheartening. Harvard Commencement, I’m told, is a unique moment, but is also so much more than that: it’s a threshold, laden with symbolism but also with very real accomplishment, honor, and reward. It’s a celebration of achievements, hopes, and aspirations – a moment for you, your families, and your friends to press  PAUSE  on life: to reflect on and bask in everything you’ve accomplished. Losing this inimitable moment is heartbreaking.

So let me offer some good news: at some point, an in-person Commencement ceremony for the GSD’s Class of 2020 WILL HAPPEN, and it will coincide with the postponed 369th Harvard Commencement.

And on Thursday, May 28th, when we’d normally be convening here on campus, we will have our own virtual ceremony. Laura Snowdon is working with the Communications team and with Student Forum to develop viable virtual options for our school that will dovetail with the shared virtual convening of degrees and speech by President Bacow. What we sacrifice with the delay of our in-person opportunity, we can try to regain through the shared spirit of our collective.

In the meantime, I want to thank all of you again – students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends – for everything that you are doing for one another and for the GSD. None of us should deny that this is a challenging moment: so please, first and foremost, take care of yourselves.




March 6:

Dear GSD students, staff, and faculty:

I write to follow up on the university-wide message sent this afternoon from Provost Garber, Executive Vice President Katie Lapp, and Dr. Nguyen regarding the Coronavirus (COVID-19). I urge you to read their note below and to bookmark the COVID-19 page on the University website, which includes the latest information, helpful resources, and University efforts around COVID-19. That website is the university’s definitive go-to for current information. Additionally, I recommend bookmarking the  CDC’s website.

At the GSD, we are imposing our own specific guidelines around all public events planned for the school, tailored to our very particular environment. The following guidelines are effective immediately, and apply to all events planned to take place at the school through April 2020, including all public events planned by the Office of Communications, individual academic departments, student groups, individual faculty/staff/students, outside groups, and any others.  Only the public events that meet the following criteria are permitted to proceed as planned:

  • Visiting participants must not have traveled internationally since February 3, 2020.
  • Visiting participants must not be coming to Boston by plane (for now, trains, busses, and cars are considered to be less of a compromised environment, but we ask visitors to take all precautions).
  • Programs that limit attendance to the following attendance caps:
  • Attendance cap by venue:
    Stubbins:                                        50
    Piper Auditorium:                         75
    Loeb Library:                                  30
    Any portico classroom:                20

I completely understand that these guidelines will have a significant effect on many events that already have been planned, including some that have been planned for quite some time. Unfortunately, many programs will need to be rescheduled or canceled altogether, and in those instances I encourage organizers to consider exploring online alternatives for your programs, streaming lectures or organizing panel discussions using  Zoom, for example. Early next week, the Office of Communications will send out an update on how these guidelines affect the school-wide events calendar.

The current risk level associated with COVID-19 at the GSD is low. Nevertheless, as always, the health and safety of each member of the GSD community is our top priority. Please bear in mind that we all have to consider not only our own health, but the health of those around us. Especially now as we approach spring break, I’d like to ask you to work with all of us to try to limit our school’s exposure. We recommend the following:

  • First and foremost: if you are ill, please do not come to school. This applies to students, faculty, and staff. Even if it’s just a cold: stay home and get better.  If you are not feeling well, or if you develop flu-like symptoms, please stay home and contact Harvard University Health Services , or your own health care provider for their advice.
  • Do not worry about the consequences of staying home: everyone can communicate remotely, and everyone understands. If you are a  student, contact your faculty; if you are  faculty, contact your program director; if you are  staff, please consult a new site on Harvie or contact GSD Human Resources.
  • The GSD Computer Resources Group (CRG) is working to ensure we have the appropriate tools so teaching, research and administrative functions can be carried out remotely, if needed. If you are not already accustomed to using Zoom, again, everyone should learn it now, in the (I hope unlikely) case that we have to suspend school. To access Zoom, go here and authenticate with your HarvardKey credentials. Staff in CRG can help if you have issues.
  • The best possible protective measure is to wash your hands and avoid touching your face (wash your hands carefully, with soap and for 20 seconds or more). Building Services has implemented enhanced cleaning procedures, including disinfecting high-touch areas in Chauhaus and around the school. You’ll also notice that additional hand-sanitizing dispensers have been placed around the school.
  • All University-related international travel is prohibited.
  • All personal international travel is strongly discouraged.
  • All University-related non-essential domestic air travel is prohibited.
  • Anyone considering personal domestic travel is encouraged to exercise extreme caution and good judgment.
  • We have cancelled all upcoming course travel.
  • Anyone (including short-term visitors) returning to campus from a country under a Level 3 Warning for COVID-19 is required to complete this confidential health form  and self-isolate, per the guidance from HUHS. We are discouraging visitors from all international locations from coming to the GSD. See above for specific guidelines on public events and participants from or who have traveled recently to other countries. If you have questions about travel plans or scheduled visitors, please contact me or Jackie for more specific guidance.

We continue to monitor this evolving situation and coordinate with the University and other Harvard Schools to develop contingency plans should our campus be more directly impacted in the coming days or weeks. Please pay attention to email: we will continue to be in touch as the situation develops, with updated information and guidance.

I appreciate all your efforts and cooperation as we navigate this public health challenge. And again, please remember that the current risk level associated with COVID-19 at the GSD is low. We are simply working to ensure that everyone takes care to help keep it so.




February 28:

Dear students, faculty, and staff:

I’m writing to follow-up the note that the provost, Alan Garber, sent to the university yesterday afternoon regarding travel and COVID-19. I want to assure everyone that the university is working very hard to assess news about spread of the virus as it comes out, and is considering very carefully what measures should be taken to ensure the safety of the university community. The provost’s office also has been and plans to be in close communication with the GSD and other schools around the university, as this situation develops.

First and foremost, I urge you all to read the provost’s message below, if you haven’t already. I want to emphasize that the GSD is following the provost’s guidance on international travel, and we expect that anyone who has arrived or returned to campus from South Korea since February 24 or mainland China since February 3 should please do two things: (1) self-isolate themselves for a full 14 days before returning to class or work, and (2) fill out this confidential health form, so that Harvard University Health Services can provide ongoing assistance and advice, as needed. Anyone planning any future international travel should also register their plans in Harvard’s International SOS MyTrips registry, and in addition to that, I recommend reviewing updated travel advice available at  Harvard Global Support Services.

Regardless of whether you plan to travel, either domestically or internationally, I strongly advise everyone to take extra precaution in helping our community stay healthy. Wash your hands often and thoroughly, and exercise good judgment about your own well-being. If you do not feel well—even if you only feel that you might have a minor cold—stay home and rest. Do not feel pressured to come to campus and slog through it. I ask that all of us—faculty, students, and staff—make accommodations for those of us who may need to be away from classes and work. I also encourage you all to consider how you might continue your work in the event that you will need to try to do so remotely. For example, Zoom is an extremely easy-to-use platform for video-conferencing that all Harvard faculty, students, and staff have immediate access to. And as I advocate even when we’re not facing something like COVID-19, please make sure to get plenty of sleep, eat a balanced diet, and generally take care of yourselves.

As we learn more, please be assured that we will share information with everyone accordingly.




Our website has detected that you are using a browser that will prevent you from accessing certain features. An upgrade is recommended to experience. Use the links below to upgrade your exisiting browser.