June 12 Community Update from President Hanno

Dear Wheaton Community,

It has been a very busy week for Wheaton faculty and staff, even though we are outside of the academic year, as we focus all of our efforts on building a stronger Wheaton. Some of those efforts take the form of working on creating an anti-racist campus, some focus on preparing for the return of our community to campus, and still others focus on a whole host of other ways to bring our community together to work productively on challenges and opportunities.

As I write this email, I just left an inspiring community conversation hosted by Wheaton’s Diversity, Equity and Access Leadership (DEAL) on engaging in anti-racist work. Close to 200 faculty, staff and students gathered remotely and explored ways that we as individuals and Wheaton as an organization can make progress in this important work. It was one of several events held throughout the week focused on racial inequity and injustice. Faculty met to explore how to become anti-racist educators, and our Center for Collaborative Teaching and Learning earned national attention for the action-oriented guide on this topic that it has created and shared. Even recent alums have led action on campus and in our community, as 2020 graduates Casey Smith and Aeshah Farrouq worked with several people in Norton to hold a powerful Black Lives Matter protest on the town common last Saturday. There is much more work to be done on racial injustice and police brutality, here at Wheaton and elsewhere, but it is inspiring to see how members of our community have quickly come together to develop solutions and take action.

Many across campus are also deeply engaged in the college’s planning and efforts to bring faculty, staff and students back to campus through their work on the college’s COVID-19 Task Force. We continue to make progress on a number of key fronts with our plans and I will be able to share details for our planned face-to-face fall semester here on campus by July 1, as promised. The cooperation among colleges and other partners as we move toward having students back on campus has been incredible. This week alone, we had a major meeting with local public health officials to talk about how we can work together and I had a call today with a group of college presidents and Senator Elizabeth Warren to talk about how the federal government can support our efforts.

One of the key first steps in our reopening plan is to begin a phased return of staff and faculty to campus, which begins on Monday. In this first phase, essential service and operations staff will return to begin the preparations for the fall semester. Most employees will continue to work remotely for the time being and those slated to return have been notified. We expect each of the three phases in our plan to last three to four weeks, enabling us to be ready to welcome returning students for the fall semester.

Massachusetts and nearby Rhode Island continue to restrict the size and nature of large gatherings and it appears that these will not be lifted soon. As a result, there will be no major activities on campus throughout the summer. The senior class officers and Interim Dean of Students Zack Irish have communicated to the Class of 2020 and their families that we will be unable to host a live commencement for them here on campus this summer. However, the senior class officers have shifted immediately into planning for a separate and special celebration on campus sometime in the future, when it makes most sense. I know this is not what many had hoped for, including me, but I am very confident that we can create something in the near future that is very special and memorable for our amazing graduates. Stay tuned for more information as these plans are developed.

I also wanted to share with you news about two campus projects that are underway and that will bring change to some campus landmarks. First, if you were to visit campus right now you would see major work going on in front of the Admissions Building. By the end of the summer, the building will be accessible, something that is long overdue. The work will also result in a small plaza area in front of the building, offering a more welcoming environment to first-time visitors and our entire community.

Second, by the time students return to campus the bookstore will be moved from its current location into Balfour-Hood. It will be located in a renovated space adjacent to the mailroom, currently occupied by the Lyons Lounge and post office boxes. I understand from talking to some of our alumni that the bookstore actually used to be in that same location years ago. Current faculty, staff and students will hear many more details in the coming weeks about plans for the fall. Textbook ordering will be primarily online, offering many more options to purchase or rent books at the lowest cost possible and to have them delivered wherever you want.

As you can see from the few updates I have highlighted in this email, Wheaton is dynamic and ever-changing. What is consistent, however, is the commitment and passion that so many in our community bring to driving this change. No matter how difficult the challenge or how big the change, I am inspired by the way this community comes together to support each other and to focus on what we must do to create a better Wheaton. Thank you for being a part of this amazing community and for engaging with all of us as we move forward.

Dennis Hanno
Wheaton College