Through the Wheaton Lens – Provost and Professor of Sociology, Renée T. White

This spring we learned a lot about ourselves as a college. I’d suggest that most of these discoveries are actually just confirmation of what we already knew deep down: We all really care about Wheaton.

by Renée T. White, Provost and Professor of Sociology

I have the good fortune of living on campus, across the street from upper campus. What that means is I get to witness the comings and goings of our students. I usually pass WheaFarm on the quick walk to my office. During the spring I see the students preparing the plant beds—tilling soil and replenishing the earth for the next round of plantings. That is one of many things I’ve been missing this spring.

We all have been managing adjustments to this new normal—or at least this temporary normal. I realized how much I was missing the students the first time I had a Zoom meeting with a few of them to plan events for the spring. Just seeing them gave me such joy and brought home for me how important they are and how much I wish for their success.

When I speak with my faculty colleagues about what they miss, they describe similar things. They miss the serendipity of running into students on campus—just walking across the Dimple, or in Chase, or Wallace Library. But they also describe the intangible energy of the classroom. That anticipation of the discovery, the debate, the conversation that happens seemingly organically when a group of curious, engaged thinkers gather in one space. They miss students bursting into their offices or studios or labs with “one more thing” to share or “a new idea” they want to test out with their professor. We all are managing that nostalgia for the traditional rhythm of campus life, none more than our students.

This spring we have learned a lot about ourselves as a college. I’d suggest that most of these discoveries are actually just confirmation of what we already knew deep down. We all—faculty, staff, administrators, alums, students and families—really care about Wheaton. Faculty, staff and students have dug deep into that well of care and dedication to create a different kind of Wheaton that would sustain us through the semester. This meant figuring out which platforms worked best to instruct and to encourage learning; students shared their knowledge with one another and looked out for each other in their classes to ensure their peers’ success. Staff in Student Affairs, Academic Affairs, Enrollment, and other divisions found new ways to coordinate and collaborate with students in order to create (or enhance) virtual communities. Just take a look at the ways students were active on all sorts of social media. I have a new appreciation for Instagram because of what I witnessed.

Students hosted scavenger hunts, bingo and trivia nights; they held exercise classes and taught us about the importance of contemplative practices now more than ever; they celebrated each other’s accomplishments with regularity. I also saw students advocate for one another. They reached out to faculty and staff with questions about access to needed materials, to ask that we check in on their friends to give them an extra show of support, to share their friends’ accomplishments and much more. Student tutors immediately agreed to continue providing support for their classmates well beyond the number of hours they would usually work. The expressions of support and camaraderie exceed what I can describe here.

Celebrating your students and extolling their incredible ability to function during this tumultuous spring doesn’t mean that it was easy, or smooth, or without consequence. We know that change in the most predictable and stable of times is difficult. Navigating through the unknown and unfamiliar is hard and failure is a part of that process. Dealing with failure and disappointment, though, is part of being human. I am sure this is a lesson each of you understands quite well since this spring has challenged us all. And for our students, they have had to reorient what they hoped for this semester while also maintaining progress in their classes. They have grappled with loneliness, missing their friends and foregoing the rituals of spring. They are confronting an array of questions and concerns including worrying about the health and well-being of loved ones. Yet despite all of this they have persevered.

If you haven’t done so, I encourage you to explore some examples of their successes such as the senior class art exhibition, Many Frequencies, Equal Intensity, which was curated as an incredible interactive experience with support from Senior Seminar advisor Professor Claudia Fieo and Jessica Kuszaj, Associate Director for Arts Events and Publicity. It is available for public viewing until August 20, 2020. Students in Professor Gabriela Torres’ class Global Health: Power, Sex and Gender collaborated on a digital work called COVID Cultures.

We are profiling the work of students who were selected to present in our spring Academic Festival where we showcase their creative, research and other academic projects. Thanks to Rachel McElaney, Student Success Advisor in Arts & Humanities, and Ally Baldwin, Assistant Director of Career Services for Digital Student Engagement, you can see the student participant profiles on our 2020 Academic Festival website, on the Academic Festival blog and on the new Office of the Provost Instagram account (follow us: @wheatonmaprovost).

Hopefully what this tells you is how much we appreciate your students for their creativity, their moxie, their commitment to one another, their unending curiosity, their regard for faculty and staff, and their love of Wheaton. We know they miss being here on campus. We miss them too, and look forward to seeing them back on campus.

Through the Wheaton Lens
As parents and families, you are an integral part of the Wheaton community. Recently, through the Wheaton Lens has brought campus to you through the eyes of our Wheaton staff and faculty. But, we look forward to once again profiling another one of your amazing students in our regular Through the Student Lens feature in the future.