The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic caused the University to extend spring break for an additional week. In a letter sent on March 11, 2020, Penn administrators instructed those off campus during spring break to not return and requested that students on campus move out by March 15. Starting March 23, all classes were taught online.
Adapting to this new learning environment brought on unique challenges for many students — specifically those without reliable Wi-Fi access and international students with time zone differences. In response to student petitions, Penn extended the pass/fail opt-in deadline to April 29, the last day of classes. The dean's list was also suspended for the academic year.
Penn also modified other second semester traditions. Hey Day, when juniors are officially pronounced seniors, was also held virtually for the Class of 2021. In early March, Penn canceled Quaker Days for admitted students to visit campus.
During the academic year, the 2020 Democratic presidential primary election was in full swing with political groups on campus organizing around different candidates. Two student groups, Penn for Bernie and Penn for Biden, traveled to New Hampshire in February ahead of the first-in-the-nation primary to canvass for their respective candidates.
Penn Democrats endorsed former Presidential Professor of Practice and President Joe Biden for the nomination in late March, even though the group was split, with some members still supporting Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the primary. Following this endorsement, the Coalition Against Fraternity Sexual Assault removed Penn Dems from its alliance, as Biden faced a sexual assault allegation from one of his former Senate staffers.
Several candidates in the primary had notable connections to Penn. Biden became the nominee after Sanders dropped out in April. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who dropped out of the race in March, taught at Penn Law School from 1987 to 1995.
After Biden secured the nomination in the spring of 2020, the general election featured two candidates with ties to Penn — as he would face off against, and ultimately defeat, 1968 Wharton graduate and then-incumbent President Donald Trump.
Gregory Eells, Penn's executive director of Counseling and Psychological Services, died by suicide on Sept. 9, 2019. He had been appointed to lead CAPS in January 2019, and began his role that March. Previously, he had served as the director of Counseling and Psychological Services at Cornell University.
Student groups continued to advocate for better mental health resources and general wellness, which they said took on renewed importance following Eells' death. The Student Committee on Undergraduate Education released its 2020 White Paper, which listed the ability to schedule CAPS appointments online as a primary goal, and the Undergraduate Assembly worked to integrate CAPS clinicians into more undergraduate schools.
The Penn volleyball team's season was cut short after posters deemed "vulgar, offensive, and disrespectful" by administrators were found in the their locker room. This discovery brought out a history of alleged mistreatment and formal grievances within the program, leading to head coach Iain Braddak resigning from his position after two seasons on the job. He was replaced by Meredith Schamun.
The pandemic canceled all Ivy League spring sporting events after March 11, including the Ivy League Men's and Women's Basketball Tournaments. Teams coped with this unexpected loss by attempting to connect and honor senior teammates virtually.
The Penn Relays were also canceled for the first time in the event's 127-year history. The first Digital Penn Relays offered spectators the chance to watch athletes participate in Minecraft races, accompanied by various commentators.