200,000 Deaths. Remember.

This week the United States crossed the terrible threshold of 200,000 deaths, over about seven months. It’s hard to let that sink in. It’s more than almost any of the wars the country has fought — and those lasted years. More suffering is contained in the number than I can wrap my head around. Grandparents and children, mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, sisters and brothers. And friends. So many deaths from a virus whose capricious destructiveness has caused so much pain.

But Covid-19 isn’t entirely capricious. We do understand how to inhibit the spread of the disease. We can maintain six feet of distance with one another during social interactions, and we can limit gatherings to small groups — preferably held outside. And we must wear masks whenever we are around others. These things matter.

At Wesleyan, we are very fortunate to have had just a handful of positive Covid test results since August, and thus far those who have tested positive have recovered or are on the path to recovery. Of course, we are pleased about this, but it is so crucial that we not take the positive trajectory on campus thus far as a reason to let our guard down. We must remain careful. We must remain vigilant.

We can still spend time with friends outside, we can dance, play sports, listen to music, or just have a meal together with friends. I find so much joy in seeing folks on campus making the most of our time here. But we must also remember, especially as the weather turns colder, to wash our hands, wear our masks, and maintain distance during our social interactions. And we must get ourselves tested twice a week, every week. By rapidly providing supportive isolation to those who do get infected, we will prevent widespread contagion.

I am very grateful to the staff, faculty and students for their cooperation over the last month as we find a new rhythm of living and working together.

Let us remember those we’ve lost, and comfort those who are still grieving those losses. And let’s continue to keep ourselves and our community safe.

 

 

 

Keeping Our Campus Safe Enough is Everyone’s Job

I just finished my third week of teaching this semester, and I think we are falling into a rhythm of learning together — some of us, remote, some in class — as we navigate liberal education in a pandemic. Across the curriculum, I hear similar reports from colleagues and students. We need a healthy context in which to pursue our studies, and we are doing our best to provide that. So far we have run almost 15,000 tests on nearly 3,400 students and employees, and have had only 2 students and 3 employees test positive. While there are a handful of employees isolating or in quarantine, the student cases have cleared. We feel fortunate (and grateful) that the positivity rate on campus is well below CT as a whole.

We credit these extremely low positivity rates to our community’s careful adherence to all the safety guidelines we’ve put in place. I recognize that for students we were asking a lot with the campus-wide quarantine. We’re also grateful to all the students and families for avoiding gatherings for weeks prior to coming to campus, and for getting students tested shortly before arriving. This helped us to reduce the likelihood of someone unknowingly bringing COVID to campus.

As I wrote in a recent op-ed in Inside Higher Ed, in the absence of the federal government’s leadership in addressing this public health crisis, I believe that “bringing students back to properly run campuses — with frequent testing and careful housing and dining protocols — may well be healthier than leaving these young people to their own devices.” But that depends on our investment in public health measures and on cooperation from everyone who lives and works on our campus.

I know that our staff, faculty and students have embraced their collective responsibility to “protect one another for the semester to be safe enough.” We do this because we “understand that it is powerfully compelling to learn in an environment in which you can have informal discussions with people from diverse walks of life—amplifying the straightforward instruction from classes via serendipitous encounters, informal discussion and collaborative discovery.”

Of course, we have had our glitches. For the most part, this has been out of confusion or inattention, and situations have been corrected. We will work together to reduce lines or crowding, and to ensure that classes are running smoothly. Questions will come up based on one’s individual experience, and we will do our best to answer all inquiries promptly. The community safety guidelines contain useful information, and we will add to them as needed.

Thank you for everything you are doing to make Wesleyan a safe enough environment for a truly great education – in and outside the classroom!

 

Don’t Forget Our National Disasters

Today marks the nineteenth anniversary of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. Our collective memories of the thousands of innocent lives lost—and the innumerable acts of heroism and bravery exhibited by first responders—are no less vivid these many years later.

The 9/11 Memorial & Museum held its annual commemoration ceremony this morning, overseen by Executive Vice President and Deputy Director for Museum Programs Clifford Chanin ’75.  Its mission is to highlight the importance of documenting our history so that we may continue to revisit, process and learn from it.

As we pause today to remember the victims and the first responders of 9/11, we should vow to remember the lives that have been lost during this global pandemic. As on 9/11, we see both terrible losses and great heroism on the part of frontline workers. And, as on 9/11, we are reminded of the interconnectedness of our world and the importance of caring for and protecting each other, especially during difficult periods.

While the pandemic continues its deadly march in different parts of the country, fires rage across the western part of the United States. So many families are dealing with evacuation, destruction of their homes, and the loss of loved ones! There are many ways to help through donating and volunteering — or just supporting friends on campus whose families are impacted.

On a day like this, I thank my lucky stars to be part of the Wesleyan community. Our semester has gotten off to a good start, but we must remain vigilant here on campus to protect one another. Please wear your masks and avoid crowds. Get tested and act sensibly! Remember!!

 

Civic Engagement and E2020 Talks

I received the announcement below of events leading up to Election Day. Lots of interesting talks that help us think about civic engagement.

We are happy to announce the launch of the E2020 Speaker and Events Series!  This series will feature an array of public figures from diverse backgrounds – all with compelling messages about the power of students and young people to affect change and urgency of this moment.

On Tuesday September 8, 2020 (6:30pm-8:00pm) we welcome political and human rights activist, Esam Boraey.  During a talk entitled: Organizing communities. Strategizing politics. From the Arab Spring to Election, Boraey will speak about his experience as an activist during the Egyptian revolution of 2011, reflect on his work with the American Muslim Alliance and Connecticut Council on Interreligious Understanding, and offer thoughts on this unique moment in American history.

On Thursday September 10, 2020 (6:30pm-8:00pm),  we will host  “Good Trouble: A New Generation Engages A New Political Season” – which will feature a panel of young organizers and agents of political change (Brayn Chong ‘21, Devin Smith, and others) who will share reflections on their work and thoughts on how to galvanize young people and communities during this unique moment in American history.

The E2020 Speaker and Events Series is a centerpiece of Wesleyan’s E2020 Initiative– the University’s comprehensive effort to support student learning and civic participation, while engaging the public around the electoral process and broader questions related to civic life.

You can learn more about upcoming E2020 Speakers and Events here. To RSVP for a speaker or event, please complete our pre-registration form.   Thank you in advance for your participation!

 

After Week 1 of Quarantine Classes Begin

Students began arriving on campus in large numbers one week ago, and I can share how happy I am to see the campus animated with the energy the semester brings. Today is the first day of classes, and, as most of you know, this week everyone is studying remotely. The faculty have worked with creativity and diligence in constructing courses that will stimulate and instruct in this most unusual context. Wesleyan teachers want to connect with the students, and we will find ways to do so despite the constraints created by the pandemic.

We have given a few thousand tests, and so far we have had two positive employee cases (and those people are in isolation), and we have had two students thus far who have tested positive. The students don’t have symptoms and are in supportive isolation until they are medically cleared to return to campus. We also have had several students who informed us of having tested positive before leaving for Middletown. They are staying home until medically cleared to return to campus when they are no longer contagious. You can find our testing results on this dashboard, which will be updated at least twice weekly.

As a reminder, we’ll be testing all students twice weekly to allow us to detect COVID in the pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic stage and to isolate any infected students and their close contacts in order to stop the spread of the disease. We’ll also be testing faculty and staff who are working on campus. More information on testing frequency and schedules is available on our Testing website.

Students remain in quarantine this week, although in addition to being able to grab meals and exercise they can socialize in small groups with folks from their residences. The size of gatherings will be crucial all semester. If we do have contagion, we can control spread if the tracing of contacts doesn’t lead us to large groups. I am delighted to see everyone wearing masks on campus, and folks seem to be taking the situation with the seriousness it deserves. They are also clearly thrilled to be on campus. Please continue to wear masks and remind others to do the same!

I am so proud of the staff who have put together this complex operation. The operations team, with Rick Culliton as the point person, has done exemplary work. They even had to deal with a tornado watch! Happily, we only had brief rain delays. Bon Appetit has done extraordinary work making delicious food available at multiple locations. There have certainly been the occasional lines, but we are doing our best to remind folks to maintain social distance as they await their meal choices.

We will need to remain vigilant and creative in order to make the most of this semester. I’m looking forward to meeting my film and philosophy class this evening. It will be good to connect!

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.