August 28 Community Update from President Hanno

Dear Wheaton Community, 

The semester has begun! I’m almost certain that Wheaton has never seen a more unique opening week in its 185+ year history. It’s been almost six months since students were on campus and in the meantime we have changed our physical spaces and developed new processes and protocols to contend with COVID-19. We have students literally all around the world attending class virtually and we have reimagined and recreated our traditional events in a way that still brings our entire community together. As someone who has been here on campus every day since we sent students home in March, I can personally attest to the positive energy and enthusiasm that pervades campus right now. It’s truly great!

Before I share more about move-in and the beginning of the semester, I must address a critical issue that affects us all. Yet another shooting of a black man, Jacob Blake, has displayed how systemic racism continuously puts black lives in danger. We need to recognize that this senseless violence is, yet again, another unfortunate visible representation of the ways our systems have produced inequality and social injustice for years, decades and centuries. Provost White addressed this issue head-on in her stirring convocation address, “If Not Now, When?” I accept her call to action and know that we need to focus on what can be done right here at Wheaton. We must work together to act on and do our best to eliminate the systemic biases and injustices that we know exist right here in our own community. As I shared in my remarks at Convocation, this needs to be the year that Wheaton makes progress by leaps and bounds, not just incrementally, on creating an anti-racist campus. In previous emails I have shared some of the action steps we have underway, but we need to do more – and we will. Next week you will hear from college leadership and the co-chairs of DEAL (Diversity, Equity & Access Leadership) with specific plans for the semester and beyond and how you can be engaged with this very important work. Nothing should be more important to this community and to the many communities we are part of beyond Wheaton. 

Bringing our community back together to start the academic year provides us with a reconnection and the renewed energy to address such important work. We welcomed just over 1100 students back to campus during our week-long gradual move-in and overall enrollment for this Fall semester is around 1700 students, one of the highest in the history of the college. We are off to a great start here on campus, but we know we must remain vigilant around creating a safe and healthy environment for all, whether here on campus or studying, teaching or working remotely.

A key part of our safety measures includes an aggressive COVID-19 testing program, which might best be described as an early detection system. We have already conducted over 4,000 tests of students, faculty and staff on campus and it has worked exactly as we had hoped. The results are coming back quickly and there has been one positive test. That person is asymptomatic and not a student. The person has been advised to isolate and not return to campus until further notice. We have a strong contact tracing model in place and anyone who might have had close contact with this individual will be contacted for monitoring and assessment by our partner, the Contact Tracing Collaborative (CTC).

Remember that to protect the confidentiality of anyone who tests positive, we will only reach out to those who have potentially had close personal contact with the individual. All notifications and contact tracing outreach and follow up will be conducted via telephone. Calls from the Massachusetts (MA) Contact Tracing Collaborative Team will use the prefix 833 and 857 and your phone will say the call is from “MA COVID Team.” Calls will be made daily between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Your local health department may use their local phone number to contact you, as well. Therefore, it is critical that all members of the community check their phone and voicemail regularly and answer any calls they may receive from an unknown number. If you have questions please contact our Associate Director of Health Services Cynthia Maricle at maricle_cynthia@wheatoncollege.edu.  

In general, we will not be sending updates whenever a case is identified but remember that we have made it easy for you to monitor information about test results and campus operations. Ongoing testing and other measures related to managing campus operations will continue to be regularly updated on our testing results page and our COVID-19 dashboard.

Even with a relatively smooth start to the beginning of the semester, we must all remain committed to doing our part to minimize the risk of community spread of the COVID-19 virus. Even one case is too many but we know that we can control the spread if we all follow the protocols established in our Community Commitment. We can’t let our guard down, no matter how safe and secure our environment might seem. I was on a call today with Secretary Sudders of the Massachusetts Health and Human Services and she stressed the importance of limiting gatherings, particularly parties and other similar events that have recently resulted in clusters of cases. In her words, we all know that “COVID-19 is the uninvited guest at any gathering.” Whether you are here on campus or somewhere else, please limit group gatherings. Wear that mask and continue to practice social distancing. The safety of our whole community could rest on the decisions you make. 

It was great this week to see classes meeting outdoors and the Dimple full of students, many in front of a computer participating in a class in that beautiful setting. Zoom has definitely created a whole new meaning for the classroom setting! The beginning of the semester has also provided us with the opportunity to move forward with other important work outside the classroom. For example, this week our LGBTQ+ Network, in partnership with a variety of departments, students and administrators across the college, launched a new website for Gender Affirming Policies. This evolving resource is intended to give our community the tools to acknowledge and respect the variety of gender identities and expressions within Wheaton, including many who are gender non-conforming (GNC) and people with trans identities. While there is still much work to do, this is yet another step to identify barriers within our institutional systems and structures that may prevent us from meeting our mission and vision of equity.

As this first week of the semester ends, I can’t help but reflect that the challenges we face and the work we have ahead of us sometimes seem very daunting. However, all I have to do to overcome those feelings is to think about all that we have accomplished in recent months and to reflect on the passion and commitment that drives so many here at Wheaton. We know that we can develop action-oriented solutions to the issues affecting our community and our nation. We’ve done it before and we have the people with the skill and the commitment to do it again. This new academic year, with all of us connected in more ways than ever before, is full of hope and promise. I can’t wait to see what we achieve – together.

As I indicated last week, I will be shifting away from these weekly Friday emails. I have shared with you several other ways to stay in touch with what is happening here at Wheaton and I hope you will use them to stay connected. And don’t worry – you’ll still hear from me on a regular basis! I have heard from many of you how valuable this communication has been to you during these challenging times. Know that it has been very valuable to me, too. 

Have a safe and healthy weekend,

Dennis Hanno
President
Wheaton College