May 29 Community Update from President Hanno

Dear Wheaton Community,

In a typical year, everyone at Wheaton turns to preparing for the beginning of the next academic year almost as soon as the spring semester is over. The same is true even in these very different times, but the nature and scope of our activities this year are obviously quite unlike anything we have ever done before.

We continue to focus on the plans and preparations needed to begin our fall semester back on campus. This week, the Massachusetts Higher Education Working Group of the Governor’s Reopening Advisory Board shared its framework (PDF) to help guide the state’s colleges and universities in their efforts to bring faculty, staff and students back on campus. I participated Friday morning in a now-weekly call with college presidents from across the Commonwealth and the sharing of ideas and plans is proving to be very helpful as we all move forward in these uncertain times.

Here at Wheaton, we have a well-defined process in place to develop our plans and guide our preparations, driven by a highly engaged and large group of faculty and staff from all areas of the college. The overarching goal of our Reopening Task Force is to ensure that we protect the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff as well as all the people in our surrounding communities. The Task Force has eight subcommittees, focused on every single health and safety aspect of creating a safe environment on campus when everyone returns. We are working closely with and relying on guidance from national and local experts and, while we still have a lot of work to do, we are well on our way to meeting the standards and expectations set forth by the state. We expect that there will be changes to our physical environment and new procedures and protocols in place, all focused on creating a safe environment for all.

If you are following the national discussions on the reopening of colleges and campuses, you have probably noticed that there are many different models and ideas being shared. Some of these include adjustments to the academic calendar to help minimize the movement of students on and off campus. I want to assure you that we are considering every possible option and remain committed to providing you with the full details of our specific plans by our previously promised date of July 1. As key decisions are made between now and then, those will also be shared with you.

Some key decisions about planned summer activities will be made very soon. As I prepare this email, later today (Friday) there is a meeting with the senior class officers to discuss the plans for an in-person celebration of the Class of 2020. The current restrictions on large gatherings have not yet been lifted in Massachusetts or nearby Rhode Island and probably will not be this summer, so these plans will have to take that into account. The senior class officers will be communicating with their classmates after today’s meeting and more details on plans will be shared next week.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that COVID-19 is not the only major challenge that we as a nation and Wheaton as a college are confronting right now. Yet again, we witness another instance of violence inflicted on an African American man in our country. Yet again, we see instances of racism and intolerance in the national news on an almost daily basis. I know that George Floyd’s murder and the many other recent racist acts in the news and that some experience daily have a profound impact on many members of our community. It should matter to all of us. Our own community is not perfect, but we are committed to creating a community that is inclusive and works toward justice for all. We are in the process of creating a campus plan of action and support in response to these tragic recent events that will be shared at the beginning of next week. We must be better, and I urge every member of the Wheaton community to join me in committing to action to address racism in all its forms.

These certainly are challenging times, but it is exactly at times like this when Wheaton has shown what a strong community it really is. We will confront and overcome these challenges by working together and supporting each other. I’m glad to be part of such a connected and caring community.

Dennis Hanno
Wheaton College