Building and maintaining trust is critical to the success of any organization. Ultimately, trust is the natural consequence of promises fulfilled, expectations met and values lived. Indeed, the most significant predictor of the loss of trust in a crisis is the perception that an organization doesn’t care. As an institution of higher education, Grinnell College has an intricate web of audiences, which sometimes may have competing interests, making responding to sensitive issues or to crises especially challenging. When the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic became clear in March 2020, WEST supported Grinnell College as they moved rapidly to respond to the crisis at hand. WEST worked closely with Grinnell to ensure its community believed the College cared in order to build and maintain trust in the institution as it weathered the global health crisis.
Like many colleges and universities across the country, Grinnell faced difficult decisions as spring break 2020 approached amid the rapidly spreading coronavirus pandemic. With a two-week spring break and a large number of students from overseas, the College was the first in Iowa and one of the first schools in the country to decide to close campus and shift to online learning for the remainder of the academic year.
WEST played a central role in determining how the College would communicate its pandemic response. To build and reinforce trust in Grinnell, WEST worked closely with the communications team to craft empathetic messages that clearly provided critical information for the College’s key audiences.
We reviewed and edited the regular campus messages, providing critical information to students, faculty, staff and parents as the situation evolved. We also had a hand in shaping bigger milestone communications marking transition moments within the course of the pandemic.
In addition to regular calls with the communications team, WEST participated in daily virtual meetings with the College’s emergency response team, including representatives from each of its administrative departments, to provide strategic guidance in collaboration with the vice president of communications.
As the College’s response shifted out of emergency response, WEST continued to shape campus messages and provide strategic guidance about how to communicate with priority audiences as operational plans necessarily shifted due to the pandemic conditions.
Grinnell College safely closed campus at the beginning of the pandemic while providing academic continuity in its shift to online learning for the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic year. The College also was able to navigate the inherent uncertainty of the pandemic to facilitate a phased and safe return to in-person learning for the 2020-2021 academic year.