When South Carolina’s governor ordered all public schools closed in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Benedict College administrators had already started to prepare for a potential closure. Benedict, a small historically Black private liberal arts college in Columbia, has a student population of just over 2,000. When the school decided to close, there were still hundreds of cash-strapped students on campus, many of whom were wondering how to get home to their families until Benedict president Roslyn Artis and her team helped more than 100 domestic and international students go home.
“We moved quickly,” Artis told CBS. “My team…clarified the plan and began to execute almost immediately.”
Artis’ team began by notifying the university’s board of trustees about what a college closure would mean for Benedict. According to Benedict administrators, 74% of their students are the first person in their family to attend college, and 84% are Pell grant-dependent.
“The ability of our students to simply purchase a plane ticket and go home, or for a parent to send for their children or leave work and come get them on short notice was not something that was realistic for our particular population,” said Artis.
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“When [Artis] informed the board about the challenge of evacuating the campus, she did not ask her board members for financial assistance, but we heard her pain,” said Trustee Doris Johnson, whose husband’s law firm also donated money to aid the students. “It was just a natural response that we all wanted to assist in any way that we could.”
The board helped raise nearly $25,000 in just days, which the school used to purchase flights, bus tickets, and even luggage for students.
Freshman sports management student Fabeina Riggins said she would not have been able to get home to San Diego on such short notice without the help of the college.
“It’s not easy for college students to come up with plans like that in a matter of a couple of days…we knew it was a situation but I definitely couldn’t have done it without them,” said Riggins. “Even though this was such an immediate and urgent situation, they definitely had everything under control.”
Senior sports management student Deveall McClendon stayed on campus throughout spring break, so that he could continue to work for the City of Columbia Parks & Recreation. McClendon said that in addition to paying for his flight home to Minneapolis, Benedict staff went “above and beyond” by meeting students at the airport to ensure that even their luggage fees were covered and students made their flights. “I’m just still happy that I was able to get around to be with my family,” said McClendon.