Orange Alert

Unmasking an Opportunity

Posted on: Aug. 26, 2020

Dear students, faculty and staff,

Welcome to a new academic year! A very special warm welcome to our incoming students, faculty and staff.  We are excited to have you join the A&S family and are sure you will find our community to be an intellectually engaging, caring environment.

It’s so good to see our beautiful campus full of activity once more. However, it is up to each of us to make sure we are following health guidelines while going about our business, for the good of the whole. I am deeply appreciative of the efforts of everyone who worked nonstop through the summer, making our safe return possible.  By consistently social distancing and wearing face coverings, we all respect those herculean efforts and carry them forward for a successful year of residential learning.

For those who are learning, working or teaching remotely, we miss you and can’t wait to see you as soon as it’s possible. No matter where you are, you are equally a part of the A&S community.

I use the word “equally” with great intention. From the swell of the pandemic to the roar of the Black Lives Matter movement, these past six months away from campus have afforded us a precious and historic opportunity to examine our individual vulnerabilities and responsibilities.

When we look back on 2020, one of its enduring images will surely be the face mask. Who could have dreamed that a bit of cloth and elastic would become so critical, so contested, yet so humanizing? I know that last word may seem counterintuitive (after all, we are less recognizable with our faces covered), so allow me to explain.

We’ve learned to convey emotion and intent with our eyes, gestures and body language. Simultaneously, many of us have gained new awareness of our own privilege and the need to step up. To some extent, you could say that systemic injustice in America has been, and is still currently being, “unmasked.”

As we come together again, I ask you to put your new skills, cultural awareness and intellectual fearlessness to powerful use in making our community more welcoming and equitable. Whereas it was easier in our pre-COVID world to overlook our common humanity and responsibilities to one another, today’s ubiquitous presence of the mask demands: “Look at me! Recognize me as a human being.”

Coming to campus this fall involves some trepidation and uncertainty. I feel that too, and will be keenly watching for all A&S community members to act with mutual respect and concern for each other’s health. It is fitting that in the 2020-21 academic year, we’ll be celebrating the 150th anniversary of A&S. This is the time for each of us to live up to the A&S credo of ‘thinking freely, acting ethically and living decisively’ through our words and actions.

As I wrote this summer, we must each find our personal avenue of activism. As a first step, you can visit the web page of A&S’ Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Kishi Animashaun Ducre. Since 2018, Prof. Ducre has been an integral part of my leadership team, and I am immensely grateful for her leadership. I encourage you to take advantage of the resources on her page.

In closing, I urge you to view masks in this light. Consider each mask a flag of belonging, and honor it with kindness and respect. And when the time finally comes for us to safely put our masks away, carry forward that fact of our shared humanity on campus and into the world. This is an unprecedented opportunity to unite for the common good.  I am grateful for all your efforts, and look forward to what we will accomplish together.

Karin Ruhlandt