This message was sent to all employees.
As you read this message, we are almost exactly half-way through A-Term. A few months ago it was hard to imagine this day would come. And yet here we are. The successful reopening of our campus is exactly what we’ve all strived for these past six months—with students, faculty and staff all hard at work advancing our purpose-driven education and research, whether in person or from wherever they are in the world.
So many of you have stopped me on campus or sent notes to express gratitude for where we are and how we got here. My response is always the same—it’s a team effort. Everyone reading this message played a part in our early success. And we will all need to keep working together to keep it going. Because while things are going very well, it is way too soon to declare victory or let our guard down.
This message reviews what was discussed at our Employee Virtual Town Hall today.
We are fortunate that our layered health and safety plans are working to keep COVID-19 under control on our campus. People are following our protocols for face-coverings and distancing, taking advantage of outdoor spaces for learning and socializing, and providing support and care to one another. Our testing program is proceeding smoothly—we’ve performed more than 30,000 tests since our program with the Broad Institute began in early August, and our positive test rate is incredibly low at 0.03% over the past 30 days. Compliance with testing protocols (scheduling tests with the appropriate frequency and then showing up for testing appointments) is high, and we are serious about tracking down anyone who is not meeting our campus testing requirements. As we move forward the most important thing we can all do to keep COVID-19 at bay and keep the campus running is to stay vigilant with our health, safety, and testing protocols.
We’ve got a keen eye on our students right now and they seem to be adjusting reasonably well to a different type of campus experience. We are working to make sure they continue to build strong connections in the WPI community (safely!), and that they have all the support they need, whether academic or personal. Thank you to everyone, from faculty members, to student affairs and health/counseling staff, to library staff, to academic and career advisors, to athletic coaches, for helping our students advance their learning and growth during this most unusual year.
For our employees, we are delaying the return to campus for those of you in Pathway 4 offices until January. This decision is based on the fact that we are able to operate effectively while remote—and with more of us remote, we are able to keep our campus density down.
From a financial perspective, we are continuing to monitor, but things look stable at the present time. Of course the future is still uncertain. Until more information is available, we ask everyone to continue to monitor all spending carefully, focusing only on essential items and activities.
We’ll have more to say about future planning, for after Thanksgiving and for the Spring term calendar, shortly. And we have announced to the Class of 2020 that we are planning to celebrate their Commencement on Saturday May 8, 2021. Of course, this will depend on our ability to gather in larger groups than we can today, but we will put all our creativity to work to make this possible.
The other major topic we discussed at the Town Hall was our progress and plans for advancing what we’re calling Sustainable Inclusive Excellence at WPI. We are seeking to advance goals around diversity, equity, inclusion and racial justice at WPI and in STEM. We all recognize that this moment calls for action, and we are choosing to approach this action thoughtfully and carefully, so that we have the greatest chance to make truly systemic change for lasting impact. Our approach has three components:
- Update WPI’s mission and values to reflect our core purpose and what we stand for as an institution. This work was already under way as part of our next strategic plan, and many of you already have provided input through surveys and discussions. You will be hearing more about this in the coming months.
- Starting tomorrow, we are holding a set of dedicated listening sessions around issues of racial justice and sustainable inclusive excellence. We invite you all to participate in a session (or more than one!) that is appropriate for you or to please provide input through this survey. The specific details about the sessions are at the end of this message and will be in WPI Today. We really want to hear the lived experience of all people at WPI through these sessions, which will shape the action plans described below.
- Finally, building upon the first two items above, as well as the excellent work of Project Inclusion, we will create action plans at the organizational level to address specific actions we will take to make WPI more just, equitable, and diverse for the long term.
In addition to this three-part plan, we made some near-term commitments in Board Chair Jack Mollen’s letter to the community over the summer. I am proud to say that we have made progress on all of these commitments:
- Listening circles with students, faculty, and staff of color: Under way
- Launch of a bias reporting system: Built. Look for an announcement around October 1
- Anti-racism education and training for all community members: Complete for first year students, others a work in progress
- Launch of the Inclusive Community (Student) Council: Kickoff meeting September 10
- Launch of an Alumni of Color chapter: Launched in August and underway
- Learning and development with senior leadership on racism, power, and privilege: Initiated in July and continuing
- Creation of a Board Task Force on Racial Equity and Justice: Launched and underway
I want to express my gratitude to Vice President of Talent & Inclusion Michelle Jones-Johnson, Executive Director of Diversity & Inclusive Excellence Rame Hanna, and Director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs Dr. Tiffiny Butler for their support in advancing this work. But at that same time I want to remind us all that while these leaders are our guides, they cannot do this work for us—we all must embrace our role in bringing the aspiration of Sustainable Inclusive Excellence at WPI to life. And although WPI was recently honored as a recipient of the 2020 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award by INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine, we cannot rest on our recent progress—there is so much more to do.
After taking on all we have over these past six months, I am inclined to believe we can do anything. So let’s set our aspirations high and imagine a WPI where everyone has the opportunity to become their best, most authentic self in our community, and where we engage diverse people and perspectives to transform STEM in ways that create positive impact in the world. I look forward to advancing this important work with all of you.
Thank you all, keep taking care of each other, and stay safe and well.
For the Listening Sessions schedule and Zoom link, refer to the information in the bottom of the WPI Town Hall Follow-Up email you received on 9.22.20.