June 5 Community Update from President Hanno

Despite the calm and silence of a relatively empty campus, this has not been a quiet week for the Wheaton community. As I noted in my email last week, the racist acts and social injustice that have persisted for too long require action from all of us. It has been a week of action, and planning for further action, across just about every area of the college. Today, Friday, all staff met in the morning and the entire faculty met in the afternoon, with discussions on how we can make progress in fighting racism and injustice as part of the conversations.

Our discussions and events throughout the week have been difficult but powerful. I share in the anger expressed in our campus meetings in response to the killing of George Floyd by those who we expect to protect all of us. We have seen too many people, such as Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others lose their lives because of their skin color. I stand with you against police brutality, racism, white supremacy and absolutely any form of discrimination. I am committed to taking personal action and to leading the college to seek to end the inequities facing African Americans and the Black community. Racism in all its forms does not belong here at Wheaton and we are committed to identifying and removing the barriers that prevent our community from reflecting the values of belonging, compassion, respect and understanding.

This work is challenging, but we have to be committed to doing that work and striving for a more inclusive and just community. This work is not new at Wheaton, and I believe we have built a solid foundation to help us make progress. Our Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan was launched in 2018 to guide us through this important, ongoing need for productive action and change. Developed by a campus-wide task force that worked throughout 2016 and 2017, the plan complements Wheaton’s overall strategic plan and provides specific goals and recommendations to achieve greater inclusion and equity over the next 10 years. The plan has already helped to establish institutional structures such as the Diversity, Equity and Access Leadership (DEAL) team, the Center for Collaborative Teaching and Learning (CCTL), and the Bias Incident Prevention and Response Team. These provide a foundation on which to build, but we need to prioritize and act on the unmet needs identified in the plan – and we will. Even before students return to campus, we will engage with them through DEAL to revisit the plan, identify gaps in it, and prioritize next steps.

I encourage you to think about how you can engage with the college to fight against societal inequities. There were many opportunities to do that this week and there will be many more. For example, the Center for Social Justice and Community Impact held a moment of silence and virtual call to action event that was attended by more than 200 community members. DEAL, in partnership with Marketing & Communications, held multiple online sessions on diversity, inclusion and accessibility in our communications for faculty and staff members. The Marshall Center for Intercultural Learning held a virtual processing space for students of color. Faculty across campus have formed groups to focus on how we can create an anti-racist campus, and more broadly, how we can combat the racism that prevails in our society.

Much of the current public discussion relates to the role of policing in perpetuating and fueling racist acts, and this will be discussed and addressed here on our own campus. Most of the policing in our community is handled by our own Public Safety and we will look at all of our practices and procedures to ensure that we do better in meeting our community expectations on policing and engagement. When students return to campus, Director of Public Safety Robert Winsor will provide opportunities for student engagement and dialogue. And, while we have no formal relationship with the Norton Police Department, we are reevaluating how we engage and work with them.

What we have done in the past to address racism and social injustice is not important if we don’t commit to doing even more and then actually doing something about it. Our actions of the past, and the level of commitment I see across our community, provide me with great hope that we can build a Wheaton that is focused on ending systemic and structural racism, here and beyond. The very nature of what Wheaton has been about throughout its entire history, what a liberal arts education is all about, requires us to challenge the status quo. I’m committed to doing that and I hope you will join me in this important work.

We also continue to focus our efforts on the plans and preparations for a return of faculty, staff and students to campus this fall. Detailed information on these plans will be shared by July 1, with some relevant information shared even before then. More information on the campus-wide group working on this, our COVID-19 Task Force, can be found online. As we move into our implementation phases, students will be joining the groups working on many of the focus areas. A reopening landing page will be the home for all updates since there will be much information to communicate and rapidly evolving plans and protocols. Phase 1 of our Reopening to Work plan for staff will begin on June 15 and those procedures will be shared directly with staff. We continue to work closely with national and local experts to ensure that we protect the health and safety of each of our students, faculty and staff, as well as all the people in our surrounding communities.

In closing, what is happening in the world today convinces me more than ever that what we do at Wheaton is critically important. Our strategic plan calls for us to be the leading liberal arts institution in preparing students to create innovative solutions to big challenges, and to act on them. There are no bigger challenges, and no better time to act with solutions, than now. I hope you will join me in committing to creating a more just, humane, safe and equitable community and world. We can and will make a difference.

Dennis Hanno
Wheaton College