From the President's Desk: August 2020

Filed under:

Cristle Collins JuddAfter writing to you from the President’s House while working remotely for the last five months, I have returned to my office in Westlands in time to send you the first “From the President’s Desk” of the 2020-21 academic year. That I am doing so while wearing a mask is just one of the many indicators that we have begun implementing a carefully planned phased return to campusas we prepare for the first day of fall semester classes in just three weeks. There has certainly been nothing usual about back-to-school as we undertake this complicated process, with our priority on doing so in a way that protects the health and safety of our community. We are moving forward with the plan I shared with you earlier this summer: with detailed analysis and planning, a significantly reduced percentage of students will be allowed to reside on a carefully “de-densified” campus. Most of our courses for the fall semester will be taught in an online format mixed with in-person instruction for First Year Studies and some small group and individual conference work, all of which take advantage of the signature strength of our education—the close interaction of faculty and students. All along, our re-opening plan has been extremely cautious; even so, we know that it will require a tremendous collective effort on the part of all in our community to maintain a safe campus environment.

Yet, even in these most challenging of times, I am pleased to share with you that some things are as usual: we are excited to matriculate the extraordinary students of the Class of 2024, drawn from the second largest applicant pool in the history of the College, as they officially start their Sarah Lawrence careers. They are smart, passionate, creative, outside-the-box thinkers—in other words “so Sarah Lawrence.” And our faculty have prepared their typical array of enviable curricular opportunities for all of our students, accessible from wherever they may be, and which are now available for anyone to see thanks to the move of our course catalogue fully online. (I say “enviable” because every time I go through the catalogue, I find myself wishing that I could partake of these courses; I am sure those of you who aren’t current students have a similar response.)

Tomorrow afternoon, faculty, staff, and student leaders will gather virtually with small groups of the incoming class for our “First Year Reads” program. Led by Fatiah Touray, our Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, the College’s Diversity Committee chose Imbolo Mbue’s Behold the Dreamers as the book to launch this program. Members of the class will meet tomorrow in small Zoom group discussions, one of which I am excited to lead myself. We would like this to be a full “community reads” program, and invite all of you to read the book and join us on Wednesday, September 16, as writing faculty member Carolyn Ferrell ’84 leads a discussion with author Imbolo Mbue about the novel. See the sidebar of this newsletter for details.

Among the many-layered allusions of Mbue’s book is the title’s evocation of Langston Hughes’ powerful Depression-era poem, “Let America be America Again,” which I found myself drawn to re-read and reflect on as I was readingBehold the Dreamers. Hughes’ poem speaks tellingly to our present moment and acts as a reminder of the imperative to respond. As we continue the tradition I established when I arrived at Sarah Lawrence of collective annual exploration of a theme across programming at the College, this year our focus will be “Justice” and we will use our discussion with Imbolo Mbue to launch the series. Following “Democracy and Education” (2017-18), “Difference in Dialogue” (2018-19), and “E pluribus unum” (2019-20), this academic year’s theme of Justice will focus our attention on the inequities made starkly apparent by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the protests against racism and police brutality that have been unfolding in our country and across the world. As Martin Luther King, Jr. trenchantly stated: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” (Letter from a Birmingham Jail, 1963). Alongside racial justice, we plan to consider aspects of justice that include environmental justice, economic justice, philosophical and moral underpinnings of the concept of justice, justice in US jurisprudence, and restorative justice, to name only a few. We must also take a hard look at the foundations of our educational model and at the historic role of progressive education in dismantling and perpetuating structures of inequality. We look forward to sharing events across this year not only with our dispersed campus community of students, faculty, and staff, but also with alumni and families. Watch for more information about the lectures, panels, performances, and events on the theme of “Justice” that will take place over this academic year.

These last few months and the ones ahead are a period like none other we have faced, as a College, as a nation, as a global community. We mourn and grieve lives lost or shattered by the global pandemic, the economic meltdown, and the insidious effects of systemic racism. But amidst this grief, I must also express profound gratitude for the ways the Sarah Lawrence community has responded and continues to respond. We are grateful to the members of our community who are on the front lines working to develop vaccines and therapeutics to combat COVID-19, caring for those whose lives and livelihoods have been destroyed by the pandemic, and fighting for racial justice. And as we move forward the work of the College, it’s hard to adequately describe to those who have not witnessed it first-hand just how much our dedicated faculty and staff have been doing without pause these last five months; the volume of work is enormous, as is the pressure that accompanies it, and they have done it all with grace, professionalism, and creativity as they’ve shown tremendous resilience and steadfastness in their dedication to Sarah Lawrence and to our students. We are grateful to our alumni and donors who have recognized the unique challenges of the moment by providing resources to help us support necessary increases in financial aid and emergency funds for students alongside meeting the many significant associated costs the College is encountering. And finally, I want to express our gratitude to our students and families, especially our seniors, as they adapted last spring and have adapted yet again to the disappointment for many of not yet being able to gather together on our campus. I speak for all of us at the College when I affirm that we are committed to ensuring the continuity of your Sarah Lawrence experience and maintaining our extraordinary community virtually until we are all able to safely be together in person on campus.

With this gratitude I also want to offer an expression of hope as we begin this academic year. In a letter I wrote to you last April, in the early and most uncertain days of our response to the pandemic, I spoke of being filled with a sense of optimism in spite of the difficulties that surrounded us. Having seen what I have this summer from you, the dedicated people who are Sarah Lawrence, I can look back and say with certainty that that optimism was warranted, and I can look ahead with confidence that—together—we will continue to meet any challenge that confronts us.

We are all excited to welcome our undergraduate and graduate students to the start of the 2020-21 academic year. That excited welcome is extended regardless of where our students may be. As we learned over the last five months through the extraordinary effort of our students, staff, and faculty: you don’t have to be at Sarah Lawrence tobe part of Sarah Lawrence.

Yours,

Cristle Collins Judd
President
president@sarahlawrence.edu 
Instagram: @slcprez

Announcements

Fall Plans & FAQs

As a reminder, we’ve set up a site dedicated to the logistics of our return to campus this fall. Questions are being answered on an ongoing basis in order to help all members of our community be prepared and informed. Visit the site

SLC Reads

Join us via Zoom on Wednesday, September 16, at 6:30 p.m. ET as writing faculty member Carolyn Ferrell ’84 moderates a discussion with author Imbolo Mbue about Behold the Dreamers, her debut novel about marriage, immigration, class, race, and the trapdoors in the American Dream. Learn more and register

Welcome New Tenure-Track Faculty!

I am delighted to announce three new tenure-track faculty members coming to the College. This fall, we welcome Maia Pujara, PhD, to teach neuroscience and psychology, and Bernice Rosenzweig, PhD, in environmental science. Elias Rodriques, who is completing the prestigious Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, will join us to teach African American literature in the fall of 2021. These three distinguished scholars bring with them the intellectual curiosity and passion for teaching that is part of SLC's DNA—please join me in welcoming them to the College!

The State of New York

New Yorkers have taken mask wearing and social distancing to heart, with the state currently experiencing a 10-day streak of a less than 1% infection rate. The seven-day average infection rate for Westchester County—where Sarah Lawrence is located—and adjacent New York City is .8% and .9%, respectively. This information is updated daily on the state’s New York Forward dashboard.


About Sarah Lawrence College

Founded in 1926, Sarah Lawrence is a prestigious, coeducational liberal arts college that consistently ranks among the leading liberal arts colleges in the country. Sarah Lawrence is known for its pioneering approach to education, rich history of impassioned intellectual and civic engagement, and vibrant, successful alumni. In close proximity to the unparalleled offerings of New York City, the historic campus is home to an intellectually curious and diverse community.