You will find in this missive elaborations and updates on our three continuing conversations: racial justice and TCNJ, coronavirus impact, and plans for fall 2020. A theme throughout is how much I have learned from you via survey responses, Zoom group conversations, or personal correspondence. Thank you for engaging these topics and TCNJ so fully.
Racial Justice. I received many letters in response to last week’s missive. Some I heard from voiced the anger or shame that it took yet another murder of a black man to move us beyond the slow pace of change in society or at the college. Others sent entreaties that our work on anti-racism not neglect intersectional equity challenges at TCNJ for communities identifying in different racial, ethnic, religious, ability, gender/LGBTQ+, class, and other identifying categories. Others wrote to reinforce that this is about more than policies, structural and ongoing. Others wrote to report work or share more resources. Among the many items and resources that you offered:
- “Racial Progress in America,” a podcast with Dr. Piper Kendrix Williams, Associate Professor in the departments of English and African American Studies, sharing her thoughts with hosts and TCNJ alumnae, Adriana Carrig and Mariah Grippo.
- The Toni Morrison Book Club, which was authored by Piper Kendrix Williams and three of her faculty colleagues – Juda Bennett, Winnifred Brown-Glaude, and Cassandra Jackson.
- Three video resources: a conversation with Emmanuel Acho; a primer on systemic racism; and a Hampshire College TEDxtalk by Jay Smooth on talking about race.
- A piece on white privilege blind spots.
There has been much activity these past two weeks to deepen understanding, commitments to, and action on anti-racism at the college. Vice President James Felton, Interim Director of Diversity and Inclusion Marvin Carter, and I are working with student leaders from Student Government, Black Student Union, NAACP, and other student organizations at the forefront of diversity, equity, and inclusion work on campus. We share a common vision for sustained communication and collaboration to address racial bias and achieve inclusive excellence at TCNJ.
I want to underscore that the commitment on the part of the college to do the work necessary to bring about structural and cultural change within our own community and the larger society is steadfast and real. It is not a momentary response. Rather, it extends beyond any single activity, course, workshop, or conversation, essential as these are. We will hold one another accountable as we work to make our college and communities equitable and inclusive.
Readiness Task Forces. At the same time, we are making steady progress on another urgent issue—preparing for fall 2020. The past two weeks have required tremendous planning and productivity from the over 100 faculty, staff, and students serving on the five Readiness Task Forces established in late May to finalize our preparations. The five task forces—health and safety, academics, student experience, campus operations, and external affairs—are now completing the detailed action plans that will support the college being ready to execute either of our scenarios for fall instruction: on-campus and/or remote learning.
Please know that I know how frustrating it is and how patient you have been as TCNJ has stayed on our June timetable for a final decision about fall 2020. I thank especially those who had to make decisions about off-campus housing leases and other deadline-driven choices. Your forbearance while we have remained methodical has been extraordinary and very much appreciated.
State Guidance. Although we are all feeling the joys of relaxed state restrictions, I remind the TCNJ community that the “restart” for colleges and universities is in Stage 3 of the state’s restart plan. The state is only beginning to enter Stage 2 now. In the meantime, I and several dozen other college presidents and higher education leaders are providing input through the Higher Education Advisory Group, which has met weekly since mid-May with the New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education. I have been extraordinarily impressed with the care and complexity of conversations on how to safely and responsibly open colleges and universities. This is at once especially tricky and highly desirable for residential colleges, such as TCNJ, which offer intimate learning environments and high-impact extra-curricular activities that bring people together.
Recognizing that each institution is different, the advisory group is advocating for the state to offer its guidance with sufficient flexibility to allow colleges and universities latitude in final decisions and logistics. What is clear, however, is that the state will not open the way for in-person instruction until it feels ready for Stage 3, dependent on health metrics and our behaviors. Also clear, and as I have written previously in these missives, should fall instruction resume on campus there will be new rules and protocol for our behavior on campus (e.g., masks, hygiene standards, size of gatherings) as we commit to protect our own and one another’s health.
Fall 2020 Survey. Our planning is informed by insights from surveys administered over the past two weeks on fall 2020 preferences for housing and instruction. Thank you for your abundant responses in separate surveys sent to incoming first-time students (and parents/guardians) and continuing students (and parents/guardians). The response rates—over 80 percent for incoming students and their parents (roughly 1,440 responses from each group) and 63 percent for continuing students (over 3,300 responses plus another 2,475 from parents/family members—convey your passion and interest in the topic. This was reinforced by the over 2,800 open-ended comments you additionally provided.
There is more to discover in the data, but preliminary findings show strong interest from both incoming and continuing students (and their parents) to maintain enrollment regardless of whether TCNJ resumes on-campus activity or online instruction only. For all respondent groups there is greater preference for on-campus versus remote learning.
Between last week’s missive and this week’s, I have offered numerous additions to your summer reading lists. But I would be remiss to not share the bounty of a longstanding and wonderful practice by faculty in the TCNJ Department of English to offer a Summer Reading List to its students and the wider community. There is plenty already on my bedside table, but as I found last year, this excellent and eclectic list provides inspiration year-round.
Your continued communication with me and others at the college has meant a great deal. Thank you for your commitment to TCNJ and better days ahead. Your help in making this a reality is the source of our energy and resolve.
Kathryn A. Foster