As we approach our annual Thanksgiving break from classes this year, I believe we should take time for special reflection. In many ways, the pandemic that reached our city and campus nearly nine months ago has changed how we will celebrate. Too many will be missing friends and family lost to this insidious virus, others will be recovering from illness, and all will be reflecting on the path ahead and considering how to live lives to the fullest while protecting their health and that of others. Despite the challenges and struggles, during times like this it is even more important to illuminate the many reasons for giving thanks and, in particular, why we as a community have much to be thankful for.
For our university, a herculean effort by all across campus has allowed our mission to continue during the pandemic. Our Return to Campus plan was crafted through constant collaboration, cooperation and a cycle of learning and feedback, and our progress was driven by our collective ability to adopt and adapt. A plan is only words on paper unless individuals unite and work together; this is what lets us excel in discovery and learning in the best of times, and it is what helps us persevere in the most challenging of times. I am thankful for the One Vanderbilt culture that makes this possible day in and out.
In two days, it will be Nov. 20, and the end of in-person classes and activities for many of our programs. Bringing students, staff and faculty together during a global pandemic with countless new safety protocols is no small feat. To date, we have no evidence of classroom or research space transmission of COVID-19 at Vanderbilt. And we have managed to keep our positivity rates well below the Nashville community levels.
In addition to everyone taking personal responsibility, there are so many to thank who have made this a reality. We benefit from our close relationship with the Vanderbilt University Medical Center for keeping us abreast of community conditions and the latest on COVID-19 and public health research. I’m thankful for the VUMC health care professionals who are devoted to caring for the ill. I’m deeply grateful to our extremely skilled Division of Administration and nationally renowned School of Nursing. They developed a state-of-the-art testing and contact tracing program for the campus—without which we would have been hard-pressed to continue discovery and learning at the pace we were able to achieve. Our Public Safety and Public Health Ambassadors have been steadfast in helping with safety protocol implementation. The Division of Communications was integral in so many ways—helping to not simply share updates but to advance a culture of compliance and understanding. And many, many more across all divisions, including our Dean of Students and Housing team, our Campus Dining team and our custodial services teams, have met the needs of our students in ways never imagined and have put in countless hours to do so.
In terms of countless hours, I’m thankful for the willingness of the staff across Academic Affairs to pivot as necessary in adapting personal work styles to keep our campus de-densified and in developing new ways of doing our work to meet the demands of the day. Our Residential Colleges faculty and staff have also embraced the new normal of the living-learning experience. I’m tremendously proud of all our faculty for stepping up and discovering different instruction modalities, often teaching in more than one format to reach our students who are unable to be on campus, and finding ways to keep research, scholarship and creative expression moving forward!
While we’ve made progress, our work is not done. Students, staff, postdocs and faculty continue to contract this serious illness through social, household and community exposures. As a Vanderbilt family, we must stay vigilant as this new wave of COVID-19 is upon us and the case count ticks upwards in our city—and wherever one might be during the winter intersession. I urge you to stay the course and to be stringent in our shared commitment to continually adhering to our safety protocols. This will help all of us to weather the pandemic as best as possible. Over the next month, the provost’s office with the deans, and in partnership with other administrative units, student groups and the Faculty Senate, will be engaging in assessing our approach and policies from the fall, with the goal of using “lessons learned” for continued improvement as we look toward the spring semester.
There’s no doubt that this winter intersession and holiday season will be different this year. However, Thanksgiving is a most important holiday to cherish in a time like this. I do hope the upcoming break brings you time to rest, relax and tend to your well-being. Looking after ourselves and each other will allow our collective strength as One Vanderbilt to continue moving us forward successfully.
With my sincerest thanks,
Susan R. Wente
Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs
COVID-RELATED QUICK LINKS
Faculty Return to Campus
Staff Return to Campus
Faculty Adaptive Teaching Resources
Public Health Command Center