January 2021 Community Update from President Hanno

With so much happening in the world and right here at Wheaton, I wanted to provide our community with some updates that I hope you will find helpful. First, I hope that your year is off to a great start and that it has brought you renewed optimism for better times ahead.

These first few weeks of 2021 have not brought us much relief from the challenges we have been facing. We all continue to contend with the pandemic, with rising infection rates, even as the distribution of vaccines provides some hope. We continue to see racial injustice even as we seek ways in our community and beyond to make progress. We witness people still struggling to get by in these challenging times even as we do our best to support each other. If anything, what we are experiencing provides strong evidence that we must continue to collectively confront these many challenges. We need each other and we need a strong community – like Wheaton.

It is clear from the deeply disturbing actions of last week in Washington, D.C. that we are a long way from having a unified national community. Like many, I was astonished at what I saw happening. Despite the strong headwinds we obviously face, we must seek a way forward. As a first step, we have to join together to condemn this violent disruption of our democratic processes. I believe that the way forward includes all of us committing to the ideals that unite us. Wheaton, like all institutions of higher learning, has an important role to play in this. We must provide the space and the place where we can engage across differences and where we foster learning and debate that is driven by truth and respect. We must confront ignorance and hate and, as indicated in our earlier statement on the assault on the Capitol, we must stand against acts of shameful violence. We must lead the way in creating the civil society we seek for the future.

Next week brings us a great opportunity to engage in reflection on our society and our ongoing work on racial justice. Monday, January 18 is a national holiday when we commemorate and celebrate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Here at Wheaton, offices and departments will be closed that day to honor Dr. King. Throughout the rest of the week, there will be virtual programming that will provide our community the space and opportunity to reflect on and articulate our own personal and departmental goals and commitments related to anti-racism. We will still hold our traditional MLK Legacy Celebration on Thursday, February 18 when the spring semester is back in session. I will share more details on that event with the campus community next week. We all have a role to play in this important work and next week provides us with a great opportunity to work together toward our goals.

Despite all that is going on in the world, we remain focused on our core mission of providing great academic opportunities for students. Our later than usual start date for the spring semester (February 3) provided us an opportunity to offer additional courses for interested students during this break. We are currently in the midst of our first-ever optional, remote learning January winter term and more than 150 students took advantage of the course offerings. Other innovative programs such as our Social Entrepreneurship Launch Program and Weiss Women Leadership Program provide even more opportunities for students to make productive use of the break and to stay connected with Wheaton and each other.

Every day also involves significant planning and discussion for bringing students back to campus for the spring semester. We have carefully studied both the overall success and the challenges we encountered last semester and are making adjustments based on what we learned. While the spring semester will be similar to the fall in terms of policies, protocols and a mix of in-person and remote class options, there will be slight changes as we continue to prioritize health and safety. For example, we are providing out-of-state students the opportunity to receive at-home COVID-19 test kits at no cost to help satisfy the Massachusetts travel order prior to them leaving home for campus. Campus Life and Academic Advising offices shared these details and more information with our students this week in regards to their arrival to campus and their academic planning for the spring semester.

Currently, we expect a little more than two-thirds of our 1650 enrolled students to be living on campus this spring while the remainder will be studying remotely, commuting or attending domestic and international study away programs. All campus areas, in partnership with the COVID-19 Task Force, will continue to provide the best possible community experience this semester while ensuring the safety and health of the community. I am confident that everyone in our community will continue their commitment to and compliance with our testing cadence and all Return to Campus protocols. This was one of the reasons that our fall was so successful and will be even more important as we bring people back to campus. And, as we have learned throughout the last several months, we must continue to be flexible and adapt to any evolving guidance from local, state and federal authorities.

I am excitedly looking forward to the beginning of the next semester in a few short weeks. Given all that is happening, please watch for other communication from me and the staff here at Wheaton. Please stay safe, stay healthy, and stay optimistic.

Dennis Hanno
Wheaton College