Dear Wheaton Community,
I hope you had a wonderful week and have found ways to both enjoy and cope with this hot July weather. Here at Wheaton, we continue to make progress toward bringing faculty, staff and students back to campus while also engaging in the ongoing work of the college. In the “never a dull moment category,” several buildings on campus suffered flooding damage from one of our recent major storms. However, our on-campus teams have responded in true Wheaton fashion and, with the help of outside contractors, things are getting back to normal and any repairs that need to be done to welcome people back to campus are on schedule. Thank you to the many staff who pitched in to respond to this difficult situation.
Recent days have also brought other challenges that Wheaton and other colleges and universities must confront. This week U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that students on study visas whose schools will operate entirely online may not take a full online course load and still remain in the United States. We are fortunate that our plans for the fall will make face-to-face options available to students so it will not affect our international students here in the U.S. However, it directly impacts many other institutions and sends a further signal that the U.S. is not welcoming to students from outside the U.S. Let me assure you that Wheaton is supporting our international students in any way that we can. We know that our international students are facing many challenges, with perhaps the biggest one the uncertainty of being able to return to the U.S. from their home countries because of closed borders, limited flights and delayed visa processes. Our Center for Global Education is in regular contact with all of our international students to help them in any way we can.
At the same time, we are working on the national front to push for change in these and other restrictive policies. You may be aware that Harvard and MIT have sued in federal court to stop the implementation of the plan to prevent international students from staying in the U.S., and Wheaton has joined this action by signing on to an amicus brief filed with the court. I have had several calls with both our elected representatives and higher education leaders in recent days about this topic, and we are committed to doing everything we can on the national level to advocate for changes to these policies as we continue to champion the ideal of access to education for all. International students are an important part of the Wheaton community and we are here to support and welcome them back on campus, if they are able and choose to do so. Now, more than ever, we need to open our minds, our hearts and our doors to those who need our support.
We appreciate all of the feedback and questions from the community in regards to our Return to Campus plans and are thankful to all of our students and families who responded to the quick turnaround request for the Fall Housing Intent survey. Faculty are working extremely hard to prepare for the flexible model of course delivery we will offer this fall and the Reopening Task Force is working around the clock to finalize logistics related to a safe return for all students as part of our covid-conscious residential model. Students will hear soon from the Registrar when the fall course schedule has been updated to reflect the format of delivery for each course. Remember that in this current environment, flexibility is key and course delivery may be subject to change due to evolving guidance or unforeseen circumstances as we get closer to the start of the semester.
Flexibility and adaptability are at the forefront of our planning and have to be at the forefront of all of our minds. I recognize that the uncertainty of this environment is difficult for all of us, and I am thankful for the efforts being put forth by so many on campus and for the patience that everyone has been exhibiting. All the experts agree that one of the key ingredients to a safe return to campus is a shared commitment by everyone to upholding the expectations of our changed environment – things like social distancing and the wearing of masks. We can only create a safe environment if we collectively commit to focusing on the health and safety of all. To this end, Student Affairs is working with student leaders to establish a community compact that will outline the practices and guidelines that will be needed to create a safe and inclusive campus environment for the fall.
Especially as we get closer to the beginning of the semester, I’d like to remind everyone that all campus offices are in operation and available to you at any time. While many staff will continue to work remotely, we have developed the processes to make sure all of our administrative and support functions are up and running. In fact, the virtual environment has opened up new opportunities for engaging with faculty, staff and offices. As one example, our Title IX and SMART (Sexual Misconduct and Assault Resource Team) office staff held special open office hours this past week and additional hours are scheduled for this Wednesday, July 15 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. eastern time. We have exciting programming and engagement opportunities in just about every area of the college that are ongoing and easily accessible. Don’t hesitate to reach out to any of our offices at any time for more information and for any assistance you might need. Our work is definitely ongoing and we are here for you, whenever and however you need us.
One innovative example of how you can stay connected is the virtual faculty lecture series taking place this summer that will explore the intersection of public health and social justice. The sessions have been moved to Thursdays, but are still open to all students and families, staff and faculty, and alumni. Each week from July 23 through August 20, two Wheaton professors will present on current issues that impact our health and our communities through a variety of interdisciplinary lenses. A set of instructor-chosen readings will be made available to all participants and current and incoming Wheaton students are also invited to participate in a connected seminar series. More than 225 members of the Wheaton community have registered thus far! If you would like to participate in this virtual lecture series, please complete the brief, one-time registration form and you will receive a link to each Zoom session via a weekly email.
As the college’s fiscal year closes (June 30), I am pleased to report that an initiative I mentioned in previous emails, the $500,000 Trustee Challenge for the Wheaton Fund, had a very positive impact! Many thanks to the nearly 1200 alumni, family, and friends who made gifts totaling more than $530,000 in the final six weeks of our fundraising year. This remarkable show of support is a testament to the strength of our community. Your Wheaton Fund gifts support virtually every aspect of our academic mission, including financial aid, internships, the library, STEM programs, the arts and so much more. I thank you for your support and I thank our Board of Trustees for their committed leadership that led to this successful challenge.
Summer is flying by and I am truly amazed at how much our community has not only achieved this year, but also accomplishes on a daily and weekly basis. All of this work is focused on improving the already-incredible experience we offer students and at strengthening the connections between everyone who is part of this special community. And every member of the Wheaton community is involved in some way. I appreciate all that you do for each other and for Wheaton. You have come together to already achieve so much this year, and we are very well-positioned for whatever comes our way next. Thank you!
Enjoy your weekend.