Claflin is progressing, plans return of all students in fall, president says
Apr 05, 2021
Claflin President Dwaun J. Warmack addresses student reporters via Zoom on March 23.
The goal is to return everyone to campus in the fall, Claflin University’s president said.
Dr. Dwaun J. Warmack spoke with Panther reporters on March 23 about plans for the fall semester and how Claflin has fared during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s our goal to return everyone back in the fall,” Warmack said. “We need folks back on campus.”
In the fall, the university plans to operate according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control guidelines. “We aren't going away from the safety and well-being of our students.”
Class sessions for the fall semester will be staggered in number for those choosing in-person instruction. Synchronous online learning options will still be given to students, but safe in-person instruction is encouraged.
In residence halls, the layout of the room and size will be considered to ensure social-distancing protocols are upheld. Outside eating options will be in effect.
Though a vaccination is not mandatory to return to campus, Warmack said he encourages faculty, staff and students to get the COVID-19 shots.
“I strongly encourage it if we want to get back to true operational peace,” Warmack said.
The vaccine will allow the campus “to get as close as possible to returning to some sort of normalcy.”
Warmack said there will be options available for those interested in taking the vaccine.
He said an important part of the Claflin HBCU experience is on-campus life, but the first objective must be to ensure safety and good health.
He said exactly how the campus will look in the fall with numbers of students remains unclear until the semester draws closer.
“We’re not coming back in the fall full swing.”
Warmack said he plans to have a face-to-face commencement for the graduating class in April.
“We didn’t want to cheat another class,” he said of no live commencement being held in 2020.
The ceremony will take place on April 24 at the Orangeburg County Fairgrounds. Social distancing will be followed.
Warmack said the university has not been sitting still amid the pandemic. Claflin has “not just survived but thrived.”
“A lot of great things are happening,” Warmack said.
He said enrollment has not suffered as it has at other institutions. “We have been leading in that way.”
The enrollment strategies now being implemented via the university’s in-house operation and not an outside vendor have worked -- and saved $500,000 in the process.
Warmack spoke on grade comparisons from prepandemic and during, saying they show that academic progress has not been lost.
And Claflin has maintained fiscal stability with key donations, Warmack said, citing record gifts from faculty, alumni and trustees, plus $20 million from billionaire author and philanthropist McKenzie Scott.
“We’ve been blessed,” Warmack said.
He cited new degree programs, including mass communications partnerships with the University of South Carolina. More partnerships are coming.
Warmack said he anticipates a new Claflin presence in a revitalized downtown area in Orangeburg. He was not specific in stating what that presence will be but said Clafllin and S.C. State universities are “economic engines for Orangeburg.”
The city has purchased properties at Railroad Corner near the universities and is planning for revitalization. The mayor has said making the area student-friendly is a priority.
The Social Justice Institute is a priority for a university that was founded on diversity and inclusion, Warmack said.
Warmack said “the pandemic has taken a lot away.” Freshmen lost their first-year experience on campus.
He advised rising seniors to make the most of the coming year no matter how it ultimately plays out.
“Come lead by example,” Warmack said.
He praised current Student Government Association President Marquel Sanders and Vice President Isaiah Griffin, as well as Miss Claflin Terin Tyson, for their roles in making the most the present year with so few students on campus.
All decided to return to campus when it was reopened to some students. “I take my hat off. They led by example.”
As to their leadership and the potential leadership of new seniors, Warmack said, “You create the change you want to see.”
“I am depending on seniors” to adapt and make the new year a good one. So much remains unknown about the fall.
“We’re building the plane while we’re flying it.”
On another matter, Warmack said building a new student center remains a priority.
It will be three stories and feature a theater and food vendors. Trustees have approved the concept.
“It’s going to be a beautiful facility.”
A capital campaign will help fund the center, which will take 18 months to build once ground in broken.
“You will be excited” about the new center, he told students, praising those presently matriculating at Claflin as drivers of the effort to get a new student center.
“You all planted the seed.”