Celebrate the Vaccine and Make Time to Grieve These Horrific Losses

As I write this, vaccine shipments are being transported across the country. Soon, our health care workers will gain some basic protection, and then many of our friends and neighbors will have the opportunity to be vaccinated against this awful virus. This is certainly worth celebrating, and we should admire the scientific ingenuity and sheer hard work of those who have made this possible.

At the same time, we should acknowledge that in the coming weeks, in America alone, tens of thousands will die from the effects of Covid-19. Many already seemed to be inured to these horrific losses. Every day this country sets a new record for the number of deaths caused by the pandemic. Everyday, families and friends are dealing with loss and grief.

So, let’s celebrate the scientists, the health care workers, and those delivering the vaccines that should change the course of the pandemic. Let’s also be mindful of those around us  dealing with the losses of these last months and the losses to come.

And let us stay vigilant to get through this harsh winter. Masks, distance, hand washing.

 

December 1st is #GivingTuesday!

More and more we are living our lives online, and I can imagine it isn’t very inviting to face one more task on one’s computer. BUT supporting organizations one admires on a national giving day should be inviting! Tomorrow, December 1st, is Giving Tuesday, and once again Wesleyan is participating. In the wake of Black Friday’s and Cyber Monday’s shopping mania, several years ago Henry Timms, then executive director of the 92nd Street Y, came up with the idea of a national philanthropic day. Henry is now president of Lincoln Center, and #GivingTuesday is an independent organization headed by the ever creative Asha Curran. Hundreds of millions of dollars are sent to worthy organizations through this “global generosity movement.”

This is Wesleyan’s seventh year participating, and over this  time, thousands of Wesleyan alumni, parents, students and friends have chosen to make donations. Together, we have unlocked millions of dollars in matching funds for financial aid.

This year Trustee Andrew Vogel ’95 will match every gift made on #GivingTuesday, December 1st, with a dollar-for-dollar contribution, up to $50,000, for Financial Aid.  When Wesleyan alumni join in collective action to support students we can accomplish so much! You can make your donation here.

I hope you will be giving to your favorite causes tomorrow, and I am especially hopeful that Wesleyan will be among them. Also, don’t forget about WESUFM, and other university initiatives. There are many worthy causes out there, and this university is very grateful for every gift we receive.

Dedicated Gratitude

As Kari, Lola and I walked around campus this weekend, we saw many students packing up. Since Wesleyan decided to transition to remote classes a few days early, and since it’s good to isolate before Thanksgiving, we were not surprised to see students preparing to leave, having, we hope, received a negative COVID test in the last day or two. Still, I felt a pang of sadness as I watched the cars fill up with suitcases and furniture. It is already quieter. Even during the pandemic, the energy students bring to campus – masked, distanced and all – has been so enlivening.

“Enlivening” is a fine word for Wesleyan – and by it I mean something more than making the campus “appealing” or “entertaining,” which the dictionary tells me are the primary meanings of the word. I mean that our students, in concert with staff and faculty, make our campus come alive. They make it sing, and I’ll miss the amplitude and resonance of that song over the coming break. Of course, there will be some students on campus over the break, and we’ll do our best to support them. I’ll listen attentively to their singing until our friends return to our chorus when the next semester begins.

Enlivening is a good word, too, because it reminds us of our responsibility to keep one another safe, to keep the most vulnerable members of our community – literally – alive. More than a quarter of a million people in this country alone have died due to COVID-19. We should never lose our ability to be shocked by this public health tragedy. We can do better.

As we remember our losses, we should also remember our achievements: how we at Wesleyan pulled together over the last months to provide a “safe enough” place for liberal education. I am so grateful for the dedication of our staff, faculty and students, because it’s that dedication that made it possible for us to have a campus on which we could navigate with confidence, make new discoveries and find joy with friends.

I feel enlivened by that dedication. Here we may be masked, but we are not anonymous to one another. We connect, despite the pandemic restrictions. With all the tumult around us, I am so thankful for the efforts, the exuberance, and the caring attentiveness of the Wesleyan community. My Thanksgiving will be smaller this year, but my heart is filled with gratitude.

Wishing you a safe and joyful holiday!

Towards a Healthy Thanksgiving and End of the Semester

For those of us on campus, we have two weeks of classes and residential life before the Thanksgiving holiday and long winter break. Kari and I have been very impressed with the mask wearing on campus. When we walk around with puppy Lola, folks are keeping their distance, though we also see people exercising, eating meals, and generally hanging out in small groups. It’s seemed safe enough, though everyone is conscious that the safety is fragile, and that we must remain vigilant against the spread of Covid.

Of course, now we are in mid-November, and the spread of the pandemic is accelerating around the country. Even Connecticut, which had been very successful in keeping the virus more or less under control, has seen an increase in the number of cases over the last month. For that reason, we have restricted our students to campus for all but essential local travel, making sure we maximize our chances to keep contagion at bay. There has been a moderate increase in positive tests over the past week, and so we want to be especially vigilant for these last 10 days. Wear your masks, maintain social distance, and keep washing your hands thoroughly—wherever you are. And of course, avoid large groups and keep your testing schedule as long as you are on campus. We want everyone to have a healthy holiday, and the Connecticut Department of Public Health has issued a holiday gathering preparation guide with good advice to reduce risk associated with holiday celebrations.

The last weeks of every semester can be stressful, and they can also be rewarding. Let’s stay healthy and get the reward of a more relaxing, healthy, holiday break.

 

Acknowledging Our Veterans

Today, November 11th, is Veterans Day, a great time to acknowledge the service of the many in the Wesleyan community who have served in the U.S. armed forces. In 1918, the Armistice was signed on November 11th, and after that brutal conflict that left tens of millions dead and wounded, the world hoped to put war behind us. Alas, that was not to be, and over the last hundred years we have at various times depended on servicemen and servicewomen to step into the breach.

There are now more than three million post-9/11 veterans, and many of them want to continue their education after leaving the service. About seven years ago, Wesleyan began partnering with the Posse Foundation to recruit veterans interested in a liberal education at the highest level. These students have contributed immeasurably to our campus culture, and I am very grateful for their participation in all dimensions of campus life. A few years after beginning our partnership with Posse, we began recruiting faculty members with military experience and academic expertise teach at Wesleyan. The divide between civilian and military culture does a disservice to both, and Professors Robert Cassidy and Joseph Slaughter make many contributions inside and outside the classroom.

You can read about a few of our Posse Veteran students here, and learn more about the research and teaching of Professors Cassidy and Slaughter on our website. Wishing all a good Veterans Day!


Patience, Kindness, Especially Now

Many of us were awaiting Election Day with great anticipation. After many months of advertising, emails, phone calls, essays and speeches, we were hoping the country would come to a conclusion about who would represent us in the coming years. Voting here on campus went very smoothly, and we know that thousands of students, faculty and staff made their voices heard with their votes. It’s been a very noisy season, and now we get to listen to what others have said with their ballots. Well, it will take some days before all the votes are counted, and so this means staying tuned in for a while more. After all that noise, now we need patient listening. I hope to listen to the roundtable planned with some faculty in Wesleyan’s Government department on Friday, November 6th at noon.

For many, this is just an additional layer of stress on top of what had already been a very anxious time. But we can get through this with the same practices that have gotten us this far: looking out for our friends, colleagues, neighbors and family members; listening respectfully to the points of views of others; finding some additional kindness in ourselves. We should find things other than the election news on which to focus. Watching the news obsessively won’t keep us any healthier than watching the COVID dashboard obsessively does – and I say that as someone who spends far too much time doing both things. Try to find time to relax, and to do the things that bring you joy – masked, of course!

It’s sometimes hard to work in a stressful environment like this one, but I hope you will find meaning and purpose in the work we do together. The University is preparing for preregistration, midterms are coming due, and the research, teaching and creative practice that enlivens the campus continues. I am grateful for that, and I trust you are, too. And it’s a beautiful fall day in New England. Find some time to exercise your patience outside!

After all the votes are counted, there will still be much work to do to as we try to find our way in these challenging times. Let’s do that with patience and kindness, and let’s do it together.

Foss Hill this morning, with the moon still hanging above the Observatory:

Patience and Kindness, Especially Now

Today I sent the following message to the Wesleyan community:

Dear friends,

Many of us were awaiting Election Day with great anticipation. After many months of advertising, emails, phone calls, essays and speeches, we were hoping the country would come to a conclusion about who would represent us in the coming years. Voting here on campus went very smoothly, and we know that thousands of students, faculty and staff made their voices heard with their votes. It’s been a very noisy season, and now we get to listen to what others have said with their ballots. Well, it will take some days before all the votes are counted, and so this means staying tuned in for a while more. After all that noise, now we need patient listening. I hope to listen to the roundtable planned with some faculty in Wesleyan’s Government department on Friday, November 6th at noon.

For many, this is just an additional layer of stress on top of what had already been a very anxious time. But we can get through this with the same practices that have gotten us this far: looking out for our friends, colleagues, neighbors and family members; listening respectfully to the points of views of others; finding some additional kindness in ourselves. We should find things other than the election news on which to focus. Watching the news obsessively won’t keep us any healthier than watching the COVID dashboard obsessively does – and I say that as someone who spends far too much time doing both things. Try to find time to relax, and to do the things that bring you joy – masked, of course!

It’s sometimes hard to work in a stressful environment like this one, but I hope you will find meaning and purpose in the work we do together. The University is preparing for preregistration, midterms are coming due, and the research, teaching and creative practice that enlivens the campus continues. I am grateful for that, and I trust you are, too. And it’s a beautiful fall day in New England. Find some time to exercise your patience outside!

After all the votes are counted, there will still be much work to do to as we try to find our way in these challenging times. Let’s do that with patience and kindness, and let’s do it together.

Yours ever,
Michael

Please Vote! Election Day on Tuesday, Nov. 3rd

What a time it has been! This is a political season unlike any other, with a pandemic raging while candidates present starkly different visions of the present and the future. Millions have already voted around the country, and on Tuesday we will have a polling station in Beckham Hall on campus at which those registered in this area can cast their ballots. If you missed the registration deadline this week but still wish to vote in Connecticut, you can register and vote at the Election Day Registration tent behind Freeman Athletic Center. Both sites will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. More info on registering and voting is available on the Jewett Center for Community Partnerships’ website.

Do you have a voting plan? If not, you can get help making one here.

Many predict that we may not have a clear outcome on Election Night. It could take days or weeks to count absentee ballots, and nobody will be that surprised if results are challenged in the courts. We must remain vigilant and protect our democratic practices should they be put under pressure. Protect the Results puts it this way: We will honor the valid results of the 2020 election, ensure that every vote is counted, and show up to demand that the losing candidate put their ego aside and concede for the good of our country. The organization has resources on its website for different ways of  “showing up” to defend democracy.

Whatever the outcome, there will be a range of emotions in our community. I encourage students to support one another during this time, while being respectful of those with different political views. Maybe you’ll hear some at the Pre-Election Fireside Chat (with S’Mores!) on Monday, Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. Masks, social distancing, and advanced RSVP are required. A virtual Fireside S’mores event will be held for remote students; please RSVP here.

Make a plan to vote, and then let’s defend the results.