This is Our Home – Let’s Protect it Together!

Today the Wesleyan Student Assembly sent out a final announcement before students start coming back to campus to begin their two-week quarantine and start classes. They forcefully and eloquently describe what’s at stake as we try to keep our campus safe during the pandemic. I’m grateful for the permission to cross-post.

Although what has happened at some universities across the country over the past week may be unnerving, we believe that Wesleyan is well-equipped for a safe residential experience on campus this Fall. Faculty and staff alike have been working extremely hard to make it possible. It is now up to us, the student body, to step up and start to do our part, too, as we begin to return to campus starting tomorrow.

The COVID 101 Moodle and the COVID Community Agreement have clearly outlined the set of guidelines and expectations for residential students this semester. Though they may be restrictive and inevitably make Fall 2020 an abnormal semester, they are necessary to maintain a safe campus for anyone who needs it. If you find those guidelines too restrictive and personally impossible to adhere to, we urge you to rethink your decision to return to campus this Fall. Having the ability to return to campus is a privilege within itself. For many students, Wesleyan has become a home and a safe haven. For many others, an on-campus experience and the community it brings, even at a 6 feet distance and with a mask on, is critical for their academic success. That is why Wesleyan staff have gone to great lengths and pains to set up appropriate health and safety protocols, reconfigure essential services in accordance to COVID guidelines, and invest in a robust testing technology.

However, frequent testing, as Prof. Cohan and Prof. Johnston have emphasized in their COVID101 lecture, will not be enough for us to think that we are automatically in a safe bubble. So make no mistake. This bubble does not magically build itself. It takes a village to build and takes even more to preserve, but it only takes one person, possibly with one urging idea to have one party with friends, however small, whether on campus or off campus, for that bubble to burst entirely and completely. So let’s not risk it. Too many people have worked too hard to set us up for success, and too much deliberation and planning have gone into all of your decision to return to campus already; too much is at stake for any of us to take such risks and be sent home 2 weeks into the semester. It is always better to err on the side of caution instead of being left with some residue of guilt. So keep your mask on even though it seems unbearably hot when you are outside of your residence, and make sure it covers both your mouth and your nose! Remember that it is 6 feet and not 5 feet and a half apart. This arrival season, show your love and care for friends, faculty and staff who you have dearly missed not by the kisses and the hugs, but by wearing a mask and keeping your distance. As Dr. McLarney has said in his last email to the campus on Wednesday, you may not be able to control what others do, but you can do your part. You can lead by example. You can help reinforce and strengthen those new norms of health guidelines on campus. It is possible.

Our return to campus this Fall will be abnormal, but it can also be phenomenal. A residential experience this Fall means that many students will have access to secure housing and several other important on-campus resources to fulfill their academic endeavor. Many people will get to keep their jobs. It will also mean Middletown can be lively again. Indeed, according to Mayor Ben Florsheim in a conversation between the WSA leadership and Middletown officials last month, local businesses have been longing for Wesleyan students to come and “bring the business back to town” since we left last March. Many will benefit from our students’ presence and care for the community at large. But please remember that those benefits can only be reaped if we all adhere to guidelines and practice our individual and collective responsibility that goes hand in hand together. In returning to campus this Fall, we all sign a community agreement. It is not a matter of legality or liability. Rather, it is a matter of life and death. It is a new social contract built upon the long-standing values of community and trust that should transcend all political, cultural or personal boundaries. It is a social contract that simply cannot afford a single rebel. We trust that cardinals care, because this is our community. This is our home. So let’s do our best to protect it.

Welcome back home, Cardinals!

Anna Nguyen, Student Life Committee Chair

Ben Garfield, Academic Affairs Committee Chair

Felicia Soderberg, President

Walking the Campus, Thinking of the Coming Semester

We are preparing to welcome students back to Wesleyan in the coming weeks, and I walked around the campus yesterday feeling nostalgic about the past and nervous about the future. We have a strong plan, informed by the work of experts, but we know plans are only as good as the people who put them into practice. Our team has been preparing for months, and we are counting on the cooperation of students, faculty and staff as we try to keep everyone as safe as possible. Sure, when we read about the outbreaks at Chapel Hill and other college towns, we are deeply concerned. Our plans are different, as is our scale. But we still need people to observe some basic public health guidelines. We can do it!

I went to the large testing test yesterday and had my quick and easy nasal swab test. Results by tomorrow!

I strolled around campus (here is a map of walking routes on campus, if you’d like to do the same) and started to imagine it full with our wonderful (masked) community! If you are coming back to Middletown, remember to practice social distancing, wear that mask, and stay healthy before you travel.  Stay safe, be well!!

 

 

Engaged Projects — A Different Way to Learn and Earn Credit

As we face an uncertain fall with a mix of online, hybrid and in-person classes, the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life has developed an “education in the field” option that I think will be of great interest to many Wesleyan students. Called “Engaged Projects,” these are individualized and “self-designed endeavors in which a student studies a topic of their choice and completes a final project intended for a non-academic audience.” Some students will choose projects that are closely connected to their central course of study, while others will use this option to explore new areas and interests. “Final projects can take the form of blogs, videos, a website, or other media; a work of art, an event, a workshop, a presentation, or panel; a policy proposal or analysis; a white paper or op-ed series; a business plan; and/or any other piece(s) thoughtfully designed for the public.” These quotes are from the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship’s website, which has detailed information about this option.

Interested students should submit a proposal through Handshake. Proposals will be reviewed on a rolling basis until August 27. Students whose proposals are approved will be added to the course during drop/add.

Given the nature of this experience, students will not be graded on the quality of their work in the traditional sense. Instead, the emphasis is on their learning process, and whether they are engaging with complex material, challenging their assumptions, experimenting with new ideas, learning new skills, engaging with new audiences, and reflecting on their intersecting positions and roles in the world.

Here’s how the Engaged Project option works:

EP students will develop a self-directed research and project plan. They must enlist an EP Sponsor who will serve in an advisory/mentor role. Sponsors can be Wesleyan faculty, staff, alumni, or community partners; family members or friends; or other experts or professionals willing to play this role. Seeking and enlisting an appropriate Sponsor is a component of the EP learning experience.

When I first heard about this option, I thought it was an excellent way to escape computer screens and to do work for academic credit out in the world. This can take many forms, and the project should be fun for the students and convey what they’ve learned to anyone with an interest in the topic (in other words, you shouldn’t have to be an academic to understand the final presentation). I know there are many faculty members and alumni (among others) who are ready to be sponsors.

 

 

August Begins with Thoughts of the Fall

For over a decade now at the beginning of August, my thoughts begin to turn to the excitement of Arrival Day and the beginning of fall semester. Of course, this year those thoughts are anxious ones; this year I’ve been thinking about “next semester” for months.

Worried? Of course I am worried. There is a resurgence of the pandemic in many areas across the country. While changing conditions may force us to alter our plans, I believe that our plan for testing, tracing and supportive isolation should keep our community as safe as possible.

Safe enough? I believe so. We know how to break the chain of virus transmission, and if we all work together, we can do this. Alas, in the absence of a coherent national strategy of fighting the war against the pandemic, states and the institutions within them are left to their own devices. Wesleyan is fortunate to be working closely with public health authorities in Connecticut, and we believe that given current conditions, we can practice risk reduction while providing a great education – in-person and remotely. A professor of public health recently wrote me to say that our campus plan would be safer for all concerned than leaving our students on their own.

Still, we monitor the pandemic’s spread with concern. So many lives lost, so much dislocation, so many in distress. For we at Wesleyan to provide an educational oasis in these troubled times, we must cooperate to protect the most vulnerable and break the chains of transmission. We are prepared to do just that!

November 3 is Coming!

Across the country people have taken to the streets to make their voices heard and demand change. At a time of fear of contagion and disease, in a season that has already resulted in the deaths of more than 150,000 Americans from Covid-19, the courage and hopefulness of activists is inspiring.

Election Day is November 3, a little more than three months away. Many people are worried about efforts to suppress participation, either by making it difficult to vote by mail, or by creating impediments to voting on Nov 3. We have seen this movie before! We don’t have to let it play!!

One way to push back against voter suppression is by becoming a poll watcher. Here’s some information about how to do that:

Powerthepolls.org “addresses the need for healthy and diverse poll workers who can staff in-person voting locations during early voting and on Election Day,” aiming to “inspire upwards of 250,000 Americans to sign up as poll workers this year. Power the Polls is focusing on healthy candidates to ensure that those workers most susceptible to the coronavirus are given the space to take care of their health, while still keeping polling sites open and available for efficient in-person voting.

Now is the time to sign up poll workers who will:

  • Prevent staffing shortages that would result in closure of polling places
  • Ensure election technology functions properly and efficiently, minimizing lines and delays
  • Help voters in their communities navigate issues when voting.”

There are many ways to help activate the democratic potential in our communities. There are more resources listed here. We want to hear your ideas for turning out the vote in November — whomever you are voting for. Please write to me or Clifton Watson (cnwatson@wesleyan.edu), the Director of the Jewett Center for Community Partnerships.

 

Middletown Mutual Aid

I came across references to Bryan Chong’s [’21] activism in the Hartford Courant‘s reporting on efforts to defend international students. Since then, News @ Wesleyan has profiled Bryan, and I wrote him to express my admiration for his activism. He wrote back telling me about another organization in which he is active, Middletown Mutual Aid Collective. Bryan explained that he and “other Wesleyan students have been collaborating with community members and institutions – like the North End Action Team, St. Vincent de Paul, etc. – to provide material services and fundraise for the most vulnerable people in Middletown at this time. We set up a Direct Cash Assistance Fund with the purpose of supporting the neediest without means testing and with no questions asked.”

I have to admit that I had questions about the “no questions asked” policy, certainly coming from my own experience of financial aid and means testing, United Way, etc. I had read about the different approaches of mutual aid societies (this is a handy example from the New Yorker), and I was impressed by the partner organizations working with the Middletown group. Kari and I made a donation, and I wanted to let lots of other people know about the good work that Middletown Mutual Aid is doing.

There are lots of ways to lend a hand to our neighbors in Middletown. If you want to learn more about this organization’s important work, you can do so here.

No New Rules for International Students!

In an important development today, the United States government decided not to pursue new rules that would have forced many international students to return home if studying online this fall. U.S. District Court Judge Allison D. Burroughs announced the plan this afternoon, which leaves in place existing exemptions for online study that were put in place as the Covid-19 pandemic forced many campuses to close.

Wesleyan had filed a brief in this case, and we are thrilled by the outcome.

 

 

More Information, More Questions

This week Wesleyan released more information about our plans to open in the fall, plans that rely heavily on the cooperation of our campus community to protect the health of all. Working with the Broad Institute in Cambridge Mass, we expect to provide frequent, simple testing for everyone on campus, and to provide supportive isolation to those who are Covid-19 positive. We will have a mix of online and in-person offerings, with the course listings being updated as I write. Of course, like so many people, I am watching with alarm the resurgence of the virus in several states. We must be cautious. We will be.

Providing more information often leads to new questions, and I know that many families have been contacting the University with queries particular to their own circumstances. We are grouping these together so that we might share broader answers that may anticipate other concerns that develop. We will update the website frequently and respond to emails as quickly as we can.

We will also be holding forums with athletes, arts students, financial aid students, and others. Some of these will be on Zoom, others may use different formats. Stay tuned for announcements in this regard.

Provost Nicole Stanton will soon be announcing a suite of Wesleyan initiatives addressing racial justice. We view these anti-racist initiatives as important steps forward and look forward to discussing them in the coming weeks. We will not lose the energy that the Black Lives Matter movement has brought to the fight against racism.

Finally, we have been working urgently on plans to protect and support our international student community.  In addition to joining an Amicus Brief in support of the Harvard-MIT lawsuit against the new ICE regulations, we are planning to offer our students the help they need to continue their Wesleyan studies, from focused in-person classes to opportunities abroad. This will take different shapes in different contexts, and we are determined to find ways for our students from outside the U.S. to have access to the educational opportunities we offer. We will have much more to say about this soon.

I am grateful for the many questions we have received – among them those that have been relayed to us from the Wesleyan Student Assembly, International Students, UJAMAA and other groups. We will do our best to answer these even as we try to anticipate and address new questions that may arise.

Thanks for your patience, if patience you have to extend our way. Apologies to those who are frustrated by the uncertainties that remain. We’ll do our best to address them.

Protecting International Students

The federal government yesterday issued regulations that will require international students who are enrolled in universities in the United States to return to their home countries if their schools offer only online instruction. In short, during the pandemic, when many students will be studying online in order to reduce the risk of infection, international students will not be able to stay in this country if their course load is entirely remote.

In a cruel addendum to this draconian policy, ICE insists that if a school moves to online instruction at any point during the semester, the international students will have to immediately leave the country. In the spring, recognizing the particular hardship of the pandemic, the government allowed international students to remain in the US even if they were no longer living on a campus. This will no longer be the case under the most recent regulations.

Over the past three years, the federal government has demonized immigrants and undermined the security of many who were temporarily in the United States to work or study. From threats of deportation to the “Muslim Ban” and fulminations on the “Chinese virus,” the Trump administration has stoked hostility to foreigners – or at least to foreigners it paints as undesirable.  Recent restrictions on immigrants were supposedly aimed to help with unemployment, but many of those who might be prevented from working in this country have the entrepreneurial skills that create jobs.

Now, foreign students wanting to study in the United States cannot help but feel the suspicion and hostility coming from Washington. At Wesleyan, we have been fortunate to have about 15% of our students coming from abroad, and they have contributed so much to the educational and cultural life of our community.

At Wesleyan we will take advantage of all appropriate ways to assist our international students during this pandemic. We will support their efforts to continue their education. I hope you will join me in urging our elected officials to stand up for international students and education. You can find more information about how to do so here.

 

Danielle Allen on Declaring Independence and Working for Equality

I’ve gotten in the habit of quoting from Frederick Douglass’s magnificent July 4th Speech, but this year I want to turn to a more contemporary source of inspiration. The political theorist Danielle Allen has written powerfully about the Declaration of Independence, and I’d like just to offer some quotations from her recent conversation with Ezra Klein for my blog on this holiday weekend.

On John Adams and Benjamin Franklin as authors of the Declaration:

That’s an important thing to say out loud because Adams is someone who never owned slaves and Franklin was somebody who was an enslaver earlier in his life but repudiated enslavement and became a vocal advocate of abolition. Both Adams and Franklin were in a different place on enslavement than Jefferson was.

That matters. The Declaration of Independence fed straight into abolitionist movements and efforts. It was the basis of a text that was submitted in Massachusetts in January 1777 moving forward abolition, and abolition had been achieved already in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania by the early 1770s and 1780s.

When we focus on Jefferson, we get one part of America’s story — the story of the slaveholding South. We don’t get the part of the story which was about how abolitionism was developing already, even in the 18th century. That’s part of our story in history, too. We should see it and tell it.

On the importance of thinking of equality and freedom together:

In the 18th century, when people thought about self-government, they often described it as a product of free and equal self-governing citizens. Free and equal always went together. In order to be free, you actually had to be able to play a role in your local institutions. You had to have equal standing as a decision-maker. So freedom and equality were mutually reinforcing.

That concept of self-government predates the 19th century and the Industrial Revolution, and the remarkable transformations of the global economy achieved by industrialization and modern capitalism. As the economy transformed, as you saw the immiseration of populations in industrial centers, the question of equality came to have a different balance. There was a new question on the table: How does economic structure interact with freedom and with equality?

So with the 19th century and early 20th century, you began to have a sort of refashioning of the concept of equality primarily around economic concerns and conceptions and castes. That way, there seems to be a tension between a market economy defined as somehow rooted in a concept of freedom and equality based on equal distribution of economic resources. The Cold War brought that to a really high pitch, with the Soviet Union characterized as the political structure in favor of equality and the United States characterized as the political structure in favor of freedom.

But what that debate between those two physical systems did was obscure the fact that at their core, freedom and equality have to be linked to each other. You can’t actually have freedom for all unless most people have equal standing relationship to each other. That’s a political point in the first question. And then you fold in economic issues by asking the question: If we need to achieve equal political standing, then what kind of economic structure do we need to deliver that?

I think it is possible to have market structures that are compatible with egalitarian distributive outcomes. I think you need an egalitarian economy. You don’t need, strictly speaking, an equal distribution of material goods in order to support the kind of political equality that gives people equal standing and of shared ownership of political institutions.

On the relevance of the Declaration for the current moment:

Arbitrary use of police power was at the core of the American Revolution. Arbitrary use of police power and excessive penalty in our criminal justice system have been at the center of many people’s attention for quite a period of time now.

In the declaration, they say, all of our petitions have just been met by repeated injury. Such has been the experience for the last decade too, I think, for people who’ve been working on police reform and reimagining of our justice and public safety system. So I think there’s a lot of continuity. There’s a really strong sense of what rights should be protected and what it means not to have basic rights protected.

You can read more of the interview with Danielle Allen here. The audio of The Ezra Klein Show is available here.

HAPPY 4TH!