Dear SESAH friends,
Since this spring, the SESAH executive and conference committees have been in near-constant communication about this year’s conference in Natchez, October 1-3, and like you, we’ve been watching the news about the coronavirus to try to discern what the future might hold. In the face of the many unknowns still surrounding the COVID pandemic, we have been encouraged by the number of paper abstracts, and this week, the papers committee, led by Leslie Sharp, sent out emails to presenters accepting over 55 papers. Thank you to all presenters who responded to Leslie’s survey about options for this year’s conference and gave us insight into your varied situations.
Because we believe that personal contact is preferable to virtual, both as individuals and as an organization, our Plan A is a hybrid conference that would combine an in-person meeting in Natchez with papers sessions and tours as planned but with live streaming that would allow those who aren’t able to attend to participate in the paper sessions virtually. We certainly will be discussing with the Natchez Conference Center ways to maintain social distance during the paper sessions, and we will abide by the guidelines for Mississippi, which currently allow up to 50 people in a single meeting space if seating maintains a 6-foot distance between people. We are also considering ways we might spread people out on tours, to keep not only our members but also our hosts safe. Like all places that rely on a robust tourism economy, Natchez wants us to come this fall, but they are just as concerned about COVID as the rest of us, so we want them to be comfortable too if we move forward with Plan A. In addition, we understand that many institutions will be cutting travel spending, so we’re looking at ways to reduce registration to a bare minimum to allow as many members who want to attend in person to do so.
If COVID forces us to cancel the in-person meeting, Plan B is to have one day of paper sessions, potentially up to three tracks, using Zoom or other similar software as many other organizations have been forced to do this spring. We would then postpone Natchez to 2021 and move Memphis and other proposed host cities back one year too.
Thanks to the work of Carter Burns and his colleagues at the Historic Natchez Foundation, we have had minimal costs so far for Natchez, so we have the luxury of being able to delay making a final decision about the meeting until mid- or even late-July. This will allow us all to watch the COVID numbers coming out of Mississippi and our region and also give us a clearer picture about the fall semester in our region and how we may or may not be able to move forward in a way that is safe.
We value your patience as we all work through this perplexing time together. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any concerns or thoughts you might have.