A Mid-Semester Update from President Judd

Dear Students, Faculty, Staff, Alumni, Families, and Friends of Sarah Lawrence,

From time to time, I write to our entire Sarah Lawrence community with updates from the College. With our mid-semester break just a few days away, this is a good time to reflect on recent developments, to report on a number of timely matters, and to comment on the work ahead for the College.

I began writing this letter before we were hit by a powerful storm on Friday. As we have dealt with the loss of power and heat (and wifi!) for significant parts of our campus over the last four days, I was not surprised, but nevertheless heartened, to see the ways in which students stepped up to support each other and to witness the tireless and unstinting efforts of our staff as they worked through the night of the storm and throughout the weekend to ensure the wellbeing of all. Thousands in Westchester County were left without power in the aftermath of the storm and Sarah Lawrence was no exception. And—again, no surprise—I have experienced abundant creativity as we have worked to keep all warm and fed, along with ample improvisation so that we could plan to hold classes even as many buildings on campus remained without power.

While most power was restored late last night, a number of residences and classroom buildings still lack power, we continue to contend with scattered outages as a result of repair work in the area, and it will take time to bring some services like the Pub fully back on line. There are too many people to call out for special thanks, but we are deeply grateful to all in public safety, facilities and maintenance, the emergency management team, student life and college events, our RAs, communications, the registrar, dining, IT, and everyone else who pitched in to keep the campus updated and to work as proactively as possible to minimize disruption, even as many of our staff were facing power outages and storm damage at their own homes. The President’s House is one of the buildings still without power and heat, so I am personally sympathetic to the challenges many of our students faced this weekend and grateful that we have all tried to get through this with good humor and understanding. As has been the case all weekend, we have the ability to relocate students in affected residence halls, and encourage students to contact Westlands Desk to be connected with the dean-on-call at any time for assistance with this. Above all, we are grateful that while we suffered some significant damage to property with fallen trees, no members of our community suffered injuries.

The experience of this weekend is, in fact, all part of the continuing warm welcome I have experienced from all parts of the SLC community. We began this semester on a high point as we broke ground on the new Barbara Walters Campus Center (click the link for a virtual walkthrough), the first newly-constructed building on campus since 2004. We continue to look ahead to the Fall 2019 target date for its opening and the new capabilities it will bring for hosting campus-wide events and meeting the dining needs of students at the heart of the campus. (Not to mention that it will also provide a large central space with a backup generator to support us through events like this past weekend!)

Across this year, the inaugural theme of Democracy and Education has provided a means of engaging faculty, students, staff, and our larger Sarah Lawrence community regularly around matters of shared importance to Sarah Lawrence’s mission and society at-large. (Click here to view upcoming events; a recap of the Democracy and Education events to-date is available here. I would especially encourage you to check out the video of our students in Celebrate Sarah Lawrence if you have not seen it yet.) We have hard questions to face as a campus and a nation: How do we chart a path to constructive campus engagement and dialogue at a time when values of inclusivity, free speech, and true, open debate paradoxically can be at odds with one another?

Most recently, on February 20, alumna Kyes Stevens MA ’99, MFA ’00 returned to campus to share the story of the Alabama Prison Arts + Education Project at Auburn University. The program Kyes directs currently serves 10 of the 15 major prisons in Alabama, providing pre-college and college-level courses for credit, and has received national acclaim. Prior to the lecture, Kyes met with a group of SLC faculty and students, many of whom participate in the College’s Right-to-Write Program, through which students and faculty conduct writing workshops at Westchester Correctional Facility. Kyes, the Alabama Prison Arts + Education Project, and Right-to-Write stand as powerful examples of the ways in which education and democracy are self-reinforcing, the complexities that attend difficult debates related to mass incarceration, and the ways in which a Sarah Lawrence education radiates into the world. We are delighted that Kyes will return to campus as the speaker for our graduate commencement.

On March 29, we will host a panel of distinguished scholars and educators, including alumna and 2017 National Teacher of the Year Sydney Chaffee ’05. Among the questions the panel will take up is that of education and access, one of the most confounding issues facing higher education and colleges like ours. Today, Sarah Lawrence students come from every socioeconomic and demographic background, from across the US, and from 45 nations, and they benefit from a transformative education that serves a public good in the lives they take into the world. But for most, they and their families cannot bear the full cost of this education, and our resources severely constrain our ability to provide the financial aid needed to make this education accessible.

On April 3, alumna Nell Minow ’74, widely-cited columnist, film critic, and expert on corporate governance, will be on campus speaking to the rising potential of corporate governance to be a positive intermediator in the current, highly-polarized political and socioeconomic environment. On April 4, Pulitzer prize winning journalist and founder of Define American Jose Antonio Vargas will address matters at the heart of the current debate about access to our democracy, presenting a lecture on The Power of Storytelling: Fighting Anti-Immigrant Hate and Shifting the Conversation on Immigration, Identity, and Citizenship. Consonant with the inaugural year theme, the speaker at undergraduate commencement will be Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation and an important leader for social change domestically and internationally. We will cap off this year of intensive discussion of Democracy and Education at Reunion with presentations by SLC faculty members and a conversation with New York Times White House correspondent Maggie Haberman ’96 (Click here for the 2018 Reunion schedule). As you can see, it is going to be a busy spring and we invite you to join us for these events (and many others you'll find listed on our event calendar) in person, or via the Web.

In addition to these outward-facing programs that help to focus us on pressing questions, I have been leading faculty, staff, and trustees in conversations about Sarah Lawrence’s values and the vision that will sustain and advance the College in the face of the myriad challenges facing higher education. After break, I will also be involving students in these conversations. With our focus on self-direction and an experiential, multidisciplinary, and arts-infused education, we are uniquely positioned for today’s needs. Our form of education allows students to expand on classwork with investigations that add depth, breadth, experimentation, and accountability to their learning, and to do so in a way that unlocks morelearning, engagement, and opportunity. With our distinctive undergraduate and graduate programs, we are poised to create a more integrated model of education as we explore not just the individual strengths of our various programs, but also the unique intersections they offer to provide liberal arts and advanced and professional training. And we have opportunities through our foundational commitment to lifelong education—from the Early Childhood Center to various forms of continuing education—to explore new collaborations and non-traditional formats to benefit a diverse student body. To these we add our location—both our proximity to New York City and our deep engagement with our surrounding communities—and our various international exchange and global programs. We have programmatic and contextual resources that other colleges dream of replicating and the opportunity to present to the world an unparalleled combination of resources for learning, campus engagement, and development of the whole student. Our shared challenge is to ensure that we create a model that will continue to provide the values on which our well-deserved reputation rests and to do so in a way that is financially sustainable now and long into the future.

I want to conclude by making two timely calls to action. In New York State, the five-decade old Bundy Aid program has been targeted for elimination in the Governor’s 2018-19 budget, along with significant reductions in educational opportunity programs for under-represented students at private colleges and universities. If you are a resident of New York (or currently a student at Sarah Lawrence), I encourage you to research the proposed cuts and, if you choose, to express your opinions to lawmakers in Albany. The New York Student Aid Alliance is a good starting point for information and for contacting elected officials. Today, I am joining my voice with that of colleagues from campuses around the State to make the case for continued public support of higher education and our students.

I also want to draw your attention to the challenges now faced by college students who are undocumented, long-standing residents of the United States, often referred to as “Dreamers”. With the attempted elimination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the freedom of these students to seek and maintain a protected status, to study and remain active members of our community, has been thrown into doubt. While arguments about the proposed elimination of DACA play out in the courts, we have an important role to play in expressing to Congress the need for a permanent, legislative solution that protects the interests of undocumented students (at SLC and around the nation) who have been our neighbors, schoolmates, and real exemplars of citizenship in all the ways that matter. Along with other members of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, I urge you to consider this important matter and contact your elected representatives using Congress.gov to advocate for protections for DACA students and Dreamers seeking protected status. With all the anxiety facing Dreamer populations, knowing that their campus communities are actively supporting them and advocating on their behalf is powerful and important.

I look forward to keeping you apprised on developments on campus in the months (and years!) ahead. Thank you for the part you play in the Sarah Lawrence community. If there is one, foremost observation that I have to offer from the past seven months as your president, it is an understanding that a Sarah Lawrence education has never been more important for our world and that the College can and must rise to the challenges in front of us to sustain that education. I couldn’t be more excited to take on the challenges we face as we work together toward solutions.

Yours,
               
Cristle Collins Judd
president@sarahlawrence.edu