President Hanno March 2021 Community Update

Dear Wheaton Community,

It is just over a year since we made the decision as a college to switch to remote learning for the Spring 2020 semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a college, as a community and as individuals, we have had to confront many challenges throughout these past 12 months. This has been difficult for everyone in our community, yet we have all worked hard to adjust and stay connected. Our virtual and modified in-person connections definitely still leave us feeling isolated and longing for something better. I am hopeful that the arrival of spring and continued progress in fighting COVID-19 mean that better, more authentically connected, times lie ahead. I believe and hope that we are headed in the right direction.

During February and March we have had numerous events on campus to observe and celebrate Black History Month, International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month. This has also provided the campus community with the opportunity to pause and reflect on all that we must do to address social inequities and racism on campus and beyond. Our efforts to create an anti-racist campus take on even more urgency when we see hateful acts such as the anti-Asian incidents that occurred in Georgia this week. Such incidents of discrimination, hatred and violence are unfortunately all too common and require action by all of us if we are to make progress. The Wheaton community is committed to institutionalizing our rejection of racism, bigotry and hate of all kinds. This is clearly needed now more than ever.

With this moment in mind, we recently announced that Dean Shaya Gregory Poku will move into Wheaton’s inaugural position of Associate Vice President for Institutional Equity and Belonging. This role is a fulfillment of one of Wheaton’s 10 action steps towards racial justice, creating a senior-level position focused on inclusion and equity. As Associate Vice President, Shaya will report directly to the president and be a member of the President’s Council. She will oversee Wheaton’s new Office for Institutional Equity and Belonging that will be a linchpin for increasing accountability, transparency, and partnerships. I hope you will join me in congratulating and supporting Shaya for this pivotal new role in Wheaton’s history.

Our attention at this time of year has also shifted to planning for the celebration of this year’s graduating class — and last year’s, who went without a formal Commencement gathering because of the pandemic. A cross-campus committee has been exploring multiple options for our 2021 Commencement. At this time, we are planning elements of an in-person ceremony here on campus to celebrate the Class of 2021 on Saturday, May 22. We will be following guidance provided by the state, limiting attendance to two guests per student and spreading out the awarding of degrees over the day to minimize large gatherings. There will likely be some virtual aspects of the ceremony (e.g., speeches and other ceremonial parts) and all of the celebration will be available to review remotely. We also expect to have a plan to include students who are remote in the events and, most importantly, the awarding of degrees. By April 1, all seniors and their families will receive detailed information on the specifics of attendance, the ceremony program and the registration process. These details will also be posted on the college’s commencement website as they are made available in the weeks and days ahead, but mark your calendar now for May 22.

The class officers of the Class of 2020 continue to work with staff on campus in the planning for an appropriate in-person celebration of their graduation last year. The hope is to plan something at a time and place that will bring as many of the members of that class together as possible. There will be direct communication from the class officers to the class soon about these planning efforts.

Thoughts of Commencement also bring up thoughts of reunions for our alumni. Given the significant travel restrictions still in place and the uncertainty of what the situation will be like in a few short weeks, all May 2021 alumni reunion events will be held virtually. We will continue discussions with Reunion class leaders to explore potential on-campus celebrations at a later date. More details will come from class leadership and Alumni Relations in the months ahead on all reunion activities.

A year ago when we made the decision to move to remote instruction, we had little opportunity to guide our decisions with research and planning. With time for that, we have shown over the 2020-2021 academic year that we can take steps to mitigate the impact of the pandemic and have students on campus. Now, while we continue to focus on maintaining the health and safety of everyone currently on campus, we are turning our attention to planning for the next academic year. Based on where we are today, with the vaccine rollout and continually evolving state guidance, we are planning for a fall 2021 semester that more closely resembles the pre-COVID campus environment. Of course, this is contingent on a continued drop in cases and the assumption that many more people will be vaccinated by then. As we have done throughout the past year, we will continue to follow state and federal public health guidance.

At this time, we expect most, if not all, classes and staffing to be in person. Using what we have learned from our virtual operations over the last year, we will explore creative ways to use technology to enhance our curricular and co-curricular educational experiences and to modify our work environment. As planning continues over the months ahead, you will continue to hear directly from me and various departments on campus. We’ll also post updates to the Return to Campus website so be sure to check it often.

Community and connection have been the key ingredients to successfully navigating Wheaton through this pandemic and they will be needed even more as we move forward and evolve. We have all been affected and changed by everything that has happened over the last year and we will need each other, more than ever, for support as we head toward the next normal. I’m optimistic that the next normal will be much better for all of us and for Wheaton as a community. Thank you for all that you have already done to support each other and to help Wheaton become even stronger.

Wishing you safety and health,

Dennis Hanno
Wheaton College