President Hanno April 2021 Community Update

Dear Wheaton Community,

While the calendar says that we are in the middle of spring, and we have been able to enjoy a few beautiful New England spring days, today is definitely not one of those. Wheaton has more resembled a snow globe today even with the flowers and trees beginning to bloom. Despite the unusual weather, Spring Weekend is happening on campus and we are adjusting, as we have become all too familiar with over the last year. For example, I was able to catch a glimpse of this year’s Head of the Peacock this afternoon, held complete with social distancing in the Balfour Natatorium to contend with both the pandemic and the weather. Congratulations to the winners of the two heats, “Davis University” and “UNsinkable.” Our student organizations, clubs and leaders have gone above and beyond to develop a wide array of protocol-adhering events for students both on-campus and remote for the weekend.

Our biggest event for prospective students, Welcome to Wheaton Day, was also held today and for the second year in a row in a virtual format. I attended much of it and the personality and connectedness of our community came through in a big way for the several hundred attendees. Thank you to the many faculty, staff and students who turned out to welcome our visitors and show them what an amazing community we have here at Wheaton.

As we have shared in recent weeks, we are also turning our attention to the planning for the celebration of this year’s and last year’s graduating classes. We continue to have discussions with the Class of 2020 Leadership Committee about a suitable way to honor our most recent graduates and more will be coming from them to the class very soon. The Class of 2021 has helped to shape the plans for their Commencement celebration on Saturday, May 22. It will consist of a virtual event beginning at 8:30 AM that will include formal remarks and personalized recognition of every member of the class. This will also be available on-demand after the event. Following the virtual program, we will be hosting five separate in-person ceremonies, based on a student’s major, to award degrees and present students with their diplomas. To comply with state guidelines, each graduate will be allowed two guests. The awarding of diplomas will be broadcast live throughout the day so that friends and relatives can tune in to watch, and students who are remote will also be able to participate in this part of the program no matter where they are. Information on registering to attend the event will be coming from the Dean of Students Office next week and we are continually updating the college’s commencement website with all the details. We hope that many members of the Wheaton community will tune in on May 22 to celebrate our newest alumni.

Our ongoing work on creating a welcoming, inclusive and safe community for all here at Wheaton seems to take on new urgency almost every day. Incidents such as the rise of anti-Asian violence and yet more senseless killings of Black men such as Daunte Wright continue to underscore the importance of establishing equity and belonging across all communities. We are committed here at Wheaton to addressing the systemic racism that impacts our communities of color and we continue to take steps to make this happen. The recent announcement that Dean Shaya Gregory Poku would move into Wheaton’s inaugural position of Associate Vice President for Institutional Equity and Belonging and the creation of the Office for Institutional Equity and Belonging is an important step in our journey but much work remains. Shaya is already building partnerships and developing structures that will speed our journey, but we all need to dedicate ourselves to building better communities, here on campus and beyond. Wheaton’s history has always been about addressing inequity and, joining together, we can accelerate that work and truly make a difference now.

Recently I had the pleasure of announcing the addition of a new senior leader to the Wheaton community, as Dr. Darnell T, Parker will be joining us in July as our Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students. Dr. Parker brings considerable expertise in all aspects of student affairs, diversity and equity, and Title IX compliance within higher education. He joins us from Case Western Reserve University, where he has served most recently as the Senior Associate Vice President for Equity after four years in the division of Student Affairs. Students, faculty and staff who participated in Wheaton’s search process noted Dr. Parker’s focus on active listening and building trust to forge collaborative relationships with all stakeholders to achieve institutional goals. His past experiences and accomplishments showcase his passion and ability to connect curricular and co-curricular areas and initiatives, which align well with the personal, interdisciplinary, and connected nature of the Wheaton experience and the Compass curriculum. I hope you join me in welcoming Dr. Parker to the Wheaton community.

Even as we navigate through the pandemic to finish this academic year, we are also focused on planning for the next academic year. We continue to work together with colleges and universities across Massachusetts to plan for what Fall 2021 will look like. With students back on campus and classes delivered face-to-face, we are planning for a Fall 2021 semester that more closely resembles the pre-COVID campus environment. Testing protocols are likely to still exist in some format and we’re working with our higher ed partners across the state on what a vaccination policy might look like. Expect more information on that soon. As we have done throughout the past year, we will continue to follow state and federal public health guidance, and as planning continues over the months ahead, you will continue to hear directly from me and various departments on campus. We’ll also post relevant updates to the Return to Campus website so be sure to check it often.

As we hit the home stretch of the spring semester, we can’t forget that we are still in the middle of a pandemic. The community has done an exceptional job of navigating through these difficult times, but we must continue to be vigilant and follow the guidance that has gotten us to this point. Until more are vaccinated, the wearing of masks and social distancing are the two most important precautions we can and must take. Our robust testing program allows us to rapidly identify the close contacts of the few cases we have experienced on campus but the surest way to prevent spread is with masks and social distancing. Our own results on campus show that definitively. Thank you to every member of the community for looking out for each other.

It’s a different campus than that of previous springs, but one where the many reshaped activities, events and initiatives still bring us together as a vibrant, connected and supportive community. We should all take great pride in this and use it to build our hope for even better times ahead. I do – and I thank you for that.

Wishing you safety, health, and warmer days ahead.

Dennis Hanno
Wheaton College