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,

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.

On Two of My Great Teachers & Intellectual Diversity

A few weeks ago, I was interviewed about teachers who made an impact on my life. I’ve been very fortunate in this regard, having benefitted from mentors who very generously helped me set out on a path of learning and teaching. I chose to talk about two of my Wesleyan teachers, Henry Abelove and Victor Gourevitch. They were very different kinds of teachers, but what united them was an uncanny ability to invite students into deeply attentive modes of reading. That kind of attention, I think, is a model for so many other things in life.

I was also asked by Bob Greenberg (who puts together the Brainwaves video anthology) about why I think intellectual diversity is so important. Here’s my response.

These ARE dangerous times. The election is only 10 days from now. Make a plan to vote!

Virtual Homecoming/Family Weekend

This is the time of year we’d normally welcome a few thousand visitors to campus. The leaves are still hanging on, with a blaze of color to boot. The athletic teams would be gearing up for big games against our Little Three rivals. Theater and dance performances would be in process, poster sessions being prepared… Alas, we are going to have to be content with looking forward to all that after the restrictions of the pandemic lift. The leaves are still hanging on, and the teams are practicing — as are our performers and scientists. But visitors will have to be virtual for now.

But this is STILL Homecoming/Family weekend, and we do have an interesting program for folks who want to Zoom into contact with campus. There are classes in psychology and classics to attend, exhibitions to see, and panel discussions in which one can participate. The schedule is here.  You’ll see that there are discussions of careers and climate change, of movies and science, and–what a surprise!–politics.

I wish we could welcome you back to Wesleyan, but for now we have to make do with these programs and the great content they offer. You’ll have to take my word for it, the campus looks beautiful, and we will welcome folks back when it’s safe to do so.

Testing tent and concert stage for students


Tough Times, But There ARE Jobs Out there!!!

After folks have gotten settled in to their semester routines, Octobers are usually a very busy time at the Gordon Career Center. And this year is no exception. Surprised? I was, too. After all, unemployment is high, and the pandemic is having a dramatic impact on the workforce. Yet, companies and not-for-profits are still recruiting, and many of them are interested in college graduates with a well-rounded education. In changing times, those practiced in liberal learning are empowered to continue to adapt and make contributions to the organizations of which they are a part.

The Gordon Career Center has many resources to help Wesleyan students navigate the current internship and job environment. Most importantly, a visit with the staff at the GCC will help students reflect more deeply on the connections between what they are studying at the University and the the kinds of work they would like to explore after their undergraduate years. Becoming more intentional and strategic about their work goals will serve them well in the long run.

The GCC is open for operation virtually, with 100 events still to go this semester. They include information sessions with employers like the National Health Corps, Urban Teachers, and Venture for America; “Ask Me Anything” conversations with career advisors; and Cardinal Connection meetings with alumni in a variety of fields.

The Executive Director of the GCC, Sharon Belden Castonguay recently answered questions on Coursera Live about finding meaningful work in our current context. You can find a link to her presentation here, and, better yet, you can find out more about connecting with the staff at the Gordon Career Center here.

Good luck!

Resist Governmental Attempts to Undermine Anti-Racism

These days there are so many national issues of concern to those in higher education that it can be difficult to decide which one to focus on when. This difficulty generally serves the interests of the current administration, which constantly seeks to shift attention away from non-partisan challenges (climate change, Covid-19) toward partisan issues (law and order, pro-life judges) that it can use to galvanize its base of support. Another such issue has just been manufactured by the Department of Education, and it is one that we in Higher-Ed must focus on now.

About a week ago, the DOE announced a potential investigation of Princeton University – and the issue was race. This shouldn’t be too surprising. After all, the Trump administration had allied itself with the group suing Harvard University over its affirmative action policies (Harvard won the suit, and there is an appeal in process), and it has begun an investigation of Yale University over its use of race in admissions. Now it’s  Princeton being targeted. Christopher L. Eisgruber, the university’s president, had announced to the community that the school would do its best to root out legacies of racism, and that they would work to build a more inclusive community by recognizing that “racist assumptions from the past also remain embedded in structures of the university itself.”

Enter the DOE,  which wants to investigate Princeton because it has “admitted” to racism. Assistant Secretary of Education Robert King writes that since the university has acknowledged that systemic racism affects its campus even today—a problem affecting higher education institutions across the country which they too are working to address—it may not be entitled to the federal aid it has received since that aid was predicated on declarations of non-discrimination. With language right out of George Orwell’s doublespeak dictionary, the DOE threatens a university with failure to be non-discriminatory because it is trying to become less racist.

It would be easy to just shake one’s head at this latest abuse of power, but we in higher education have a duty to call out such harassment and hypocrisy.  During a pandemic, schools, colleges and universities need all the help they can get to protect the most vulnerable members of their communities – especially people of color who are disproportionately affected by this crisis. Instead of helping educational institutions fulfill their obligations to their students and the nation, the DOE engages in cynical attacks on those aiming to strengthen their communities.

Amherst College President Biddy Martin and I have asked dozens of schools to stand against this outrageous attempt to stifle positive change through the statement below. We have been gratified by the response. We stand together in the conviction that trying to serve all members of our communities should not be made the target of costly federal investigations.


September 24, 2020

Wesleyan University’s President, Michael Roth, and Amherst College’s President, Biddy Martin, have written the following statement regarding the DOE’s investigation of Princeton surrounding racism and adherence to federal non-discrimination law:

Across the nation, individuals, families, communities, businesses, corporations, and educational institutions are coming to grips with the country’s legacies of slavery and racial oppression,  which stretch back over four hundred years. Recently, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Postsecondary Education announced that it will be investigating Princeton University for possible misrepresentations in its reports of adherence to federal non-discrimination law because its president publicly recognized that historic racism has been embedded in the institution over time.

It is outrageous that the Department of Education is using our country’s resources to investigate an institution that is committed to becoming more inclusive by reckoning with the impact in the present of our shared legacies of racism.

As presidents of colleges and universities, we, too, acknowledge the ways that racism has affected and continues to affect the country’s institutions, including our own. We stand together in recognizing the work we still need to do if we are ever “to perfect the union,” and we urge the  Department of Education to abandon its ill-considered investigation of Princeton University.

Michael Roth, President, Wesleyan University
Biddy Martin, President, Amherst College

Jeff Abernathy, Alma College
Barbara K. Altmann, Franklin & Marshall College
Carmen Twillie Ambar, Oberlin College
Teresa L. Amott, Knox College
David R. Anderson, St. Olaf College
Joseph E. Aoun, Northeastern University
Roslyn Clark Artis, Benedict College
Lawrence Bacow, Harvard University
Bradley W. Bateman, Randolph College
Sian Leah Beilock, Barnard College
Joanne Berger-Sweeney, Trinity College
Scott Bierman, Beloit College
Lee C. Bollinger, Columbia University
Leon Botstein, Bard College
Elizabeth H. Bradley, Vassar College
John Bravman, Bucknell University
Robert A. Brown, Boston University
Mark Burstein, Lawrence University
Alison Byerly, Lafayette College
Michael T. Cahill, Brooklyn Law School
Roger Casey, McDaniel College
Kimberly Cassidy, Bryn Mawr College
Shirley M. Collado, Ithaca College
Paul Condrin, Bentley University
Marc C. Conner, Skidmore College
Nancy Crimmin, Becker College
Ronald J. Daniels, Johns Hopkins University
Elizabeth Davis, Furman University
Sean M. Decatur, Kenyon College
Kent Devereaux, Goucher College
Harry Dumay, Elms College
Sister Janet Eisner, Emmanuel College
Harry J. Elam, Jr., Occidental College
Margee Ensign, Dickinson College
Damián J. Fernández, Eckerd College
Jacquelyn S. Fetrow, Albright College
David Fithian, Clark University
Carol L. Folt, University of Southern California
William L Fox, St. Lawrence University
Michael L. Frandsen, Wittenberg University
John Fry, Drexel University
Jorge G. Gonzalez, Kalamazoo College
Jonathan D. Green, Susquehanna University
Amy Gutmann, University of Pennsylvania
Philip J. Hanlon, Dartmouth College
Dennis Hanno, Wheaton College
Kathleen Harring, Muhlenberg College
Anne F. Harris, Grinnell College
David Harris, Union College
Majorie Hass, Rhodes College
Antoinette Hays, Regis College
Elizabeth L. Hillman, Mills College
Jonathan Holloway, Rutgers University
Lily Hsu, Laboure College
Joyce Jacobsen, Hobart & William Smith Colleges
Paula Johnson, Wellesley College
Rock Jones, Ohio Wesleyan University
Marisa Kelly, Suffolk University
Cristle Collins Judd, Sarah Lawrence College
Thomas Katsouleas, University of Connecticut
Water Kimbrough, Dillard University
Maria Klawe, Harvey Mudd College
John C. Knapp, Washington & Jefferson College
Frederick M. Lawrence, Phi Beta Kappa Society
Laurie Leshin, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Ronald D. Liebowitz, Brandeis University
Hilary L. Link, Allegheny College
Maud S. Mandel, Williams College
Biddy Martin, Amherst College
Michael C. Maxey, Roanoke College
Dwight A. McBride, The New School
Kathleen McCartney, Smith College
Patricia A. McGuire, Trinity Washington University
Scott D. Miller, Virginia Wesleyan University
Anthony Monaco, Tufts University
Kathleen Murray, Whitman College
S. Georgia Nugent, Illinois Wesleyan University
Melvin L. Oliver, Pitzer College
Lynn Pasquerella, Association of American Colleges & Universities
Laurie L. Patton, Middlebury College
Christina Paxson, Brown University
Lee Pelton, Emerson College
Martha E. Pollack, Cornell University
Steven Poskanzer, Carleton College
Vincent Price, Duke University
Wendy Raymond, Haverford College
Ravi S. Rajan, California Institute of the Arts (CalArts)
L. Rafael Reif, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Mary Lou Retelle, Anna Maria College
Suzanne Rivera, Macalester College
Paula Rooney, Dean College
Clayton Rose, Bowdoin College
Thomas F. Rosenbaum, California Institute of Technology
Michael S. Roth, Wesleyan University
Peter Salovey, Yale University
Ruth J. Simmons, Prairie View A&M University
Valerie Smith, Swarthmore College
Jane Snyder, Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis
Timothy Law Snyder, Loyola Marymount University
Clayton Spencer, Bates College
G. Gabrielle Starr, Pomona College
Kurt Steinberg, Montserrat College of Art
Sonya Stephens, Mount Holyoke College
Tania Tetlow, Loyola University New Orleans
Lara Tiedens, Scripps College
Stephen E. Thorsett, Willamette University
Laura Trombley, Southwestern University
Laura R. Walker, Bennington College
Jianping Wang, Mercer County Community College
Wim Wiewel, Lewis & Clark College
Edward Wingenbach, Hampshire College
David Wippman, Hamilton College

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!