Dear AU Community,
It has been a busy start to 2021 and the semester is only just beginning. We all hoped the new year would bring brighter days, and I believe that it will. However, the ongoing challenges we face–the COVID-19 pandemic, preserving our democracy, and confronting systemic racism–demand our attention, vigilance, and action.
The pandemic continues to rage at record and devastating levels, with thousands of deaths per day and new, more transmissible variants of the virus spreading around the world. We are also still processing the horrible events of January 6th at the US Capitol. I want to spend a few minutes today on what these developments mean in the AU community and the work we are doing in each area.
Preparing For a Safe and Healthy Semester
As the new semester commences (today is the first day of WCL classes), we are focused on the continued health and safety of the AU community. We are preparing updated COVID-19 safety measures and testing protocols, and further information will be coming later this week.
I am excited and optimistic about the opportunities for our community this semester and throughout 2021. Our faculty are prepared for a dynamic learning experience that builds on the lessons of last fall and continues to deliver the highest quality education. Our staff is planning for the mid-semester residential experience and the ramping up of on-campus activity throughout the spring. Students will engage not only with their studies, but also across our groups and organizations where exciting virtual events and gatherings further enhance our community. As we look ahead, we are planning for a full return to in-person classes and activities on campus in the fall.
The next several months will likely be a time of transition, as the pandemic response evolves, vaccine distribution continues, and the public health situation hopefully improves. The most important thing we can all do in the days and weeks ahead is follow public health guidance and stay safe.
The State of Our Nation
What happened last week at the US Capitol was shocking, reprehensible, and the antithesis of the values we hold dear. It will be important to not ignore or normalize the violence and insurrection of the past week. What we must do now is learn from this experience and find ways to re-center our country on facts and the pursuit of solutions to the fundamental problems we face. American University is a place where that work can, does, and will happen.
Next week brings opportunities to begin shaping what comes next in our country. Monday, January 18 is Martin Luther King Jr. Day and a time to honor his mission of peace, inclusion, and justice. These principles can help guide us through troubling times. It is also traditionally a day of service. The Center for Community Engagement & Service (CCES) has a list of virtual and safe service projects. You can also participate in the #AUMLKChallenge by registering and posting photos on social media. Due to the ongoing security situation in Washington, DC and COVID-19, we strongly recommend participating in virtual opportunities and avoiding in-person gatherings.
On Wednesday, January 20, we will witness one of the hallmarks of our democracy and a seminal event that occurs in our city every four years–the inauguration of a new president and the transfer of power. This celebration is always an exciting time for the AU community. This year, it is also a time to be mindful of safety. Our Northwest DC campus is secure and likely not in proximity to where demonstrations may occur. We will continue to monitor events and adjust our security precautions as necessary.
While in-person inaugural events will be limited due to the pandemic, the mayor of the District of Columbia has requested that visitors not come to Washington, DC for this occurrence. For AU community members who live in the DC region, we urge you to use caution, avoid the areas where events may take place, and follow the safety information from the DC government and law enforcement. Departments and managers are coordinating with our staff with on-campus presence to adjust working arrangements as needed. You can also download the AU Rave Guardian Safety app for connectivity to security services while you are on campus or traveling in the city.
As I wrote last week, we must confront the burden of systemic racism alongside the conditions that are threatening our democracy. This is a daily charge at American University, and our inclusive excellence work continues and is accelerating. Last Friday, the Ann Ferren Conference produced by the Center for Teaching, Research, and Learning (CTRL) featured in-depth sessions about enhancing diversity and inclusion in our academic pursuits. Interviews are underway for the permanent director of the Antiracism Research and Policy Center (ARPC). And this semester we will release the Year 3-5 Inclusive Excellence (IE) Plan, charting the critical future work and tangible steps in our journey toward a more inclusive and equitable AU.
I was recently asked about my professional highlight in 2020, and unquestionably it was how AU came together as a community under the most challenging circumstances. In a time where we had to reinvent nearly every aspect of our lives and work, we were nimble, we sought and received input, and we worked together to keep our community safe, pursue our mission, consider our broader community, and strengthen the bonds between us. I know we can continue to build on this work in 2021.
The beginning of a semester is always a time of hope and potential. This year is no different, even though the immediate conditions we face are unique and daunting. But what is important is that we, AU Eagles, are doing the work. We are taking on challenges and pursuing our purpose. I look forward to what we accomplish together this year.
Be safe and be well.