Update to students, faculty and staff: We welcome fall semester

Aug. 19, 2020

Dear SNC community,

That fall back-to-college excitement is always invigorating, always life-giving, always a time of hope and anticipation. This year — a year like no other — presents an experience of welcoming students back to campus that is exhilarating and emotional in a way that is hard to describe. But I’ll try.

Late last week, as I was leaving campus in the early evening, I spotted something I haven’t seen in many months: A group of students gathered on the lawn near the Campus Center. Actual students, in person, on campus! What a sight. They were all wearing masks and keeping a safe distance from each other; three were tossing a Frisbee, a half dozen playing corn hole, others were in small groups gathered around tables in face-to-face discussion. In a normal year this would be a perfectly normal scene at a residential college like ours. But this sighting? It was different and a bit emotional. This is the first group of students I have seen on campus since mid-March.

As I approached, while staying a safe distance away, one student greeted me with the warmest, most enthusiastic greeting I’ve heard in months: “HELLLOOO President Bruess!!!” I couldn’t help but share how joyful it was seeing them back on campus. (I also was sure to compliment them for their masks and for practicing physical distancing.) What struck me in that moment was the intensity of students’ joy about being back on campus, being reunited with their peers. The look in their eyes, the enthusiasm in their voices, it was purposeful and profoundly beautiful.

This brief encounter reminded me how much our students value the educational experience we offer at St. Norbert College, and they appreciate it. They have yearned to be back in community, to return to campus. And what is also clear is that they are determined to remain on campus!

Turns out, faculty and staff have similar feelings.

And so I write today with both a welcome back message and one of deep gratitude. Thank you, our beloved staff and faculty, for preparing for the return of our students and to in-person instruction. Yes, uncertainty is all around us and there is much work to be done. But we open campus again during a global pandemic with two unwavering commitments: 1) the primacy of the health and safety of every community member, and 2) our mission-based responsibility to offer a vibrant and engaging educational experience. We pursue these foundational ideas confident in our plan to safely reopen, reassured with the understanding that we are prepared to respond wisely and thoughtfully to uncertainty.

Our plan to safely reopen depends on each and every person doing their part to practice the three W’s:

  1. Watch your distance
  2. Wash your hands, and
  3. Wear a mask.
Our plan depends on each person bringing their best self to campus every day because we have much more to navigate than the pandemic. As we adjust to COVID-19, please access the SNC COVID-19 website to learn details of our plan and help guide your efforts in our success. As we continue our transition of reopening, the oversight of our plan will be guided by a COVID-19 Response Group. This team will meet twice per week to help the college navigate this fall semester. Further, the college will be offering regular updates including a new COVID-19 case dashboard, which provides weekly updates on reported cases and other critical information essential to keeping our community informed and safe.

This fall and beyond, as I recently shared in remarks at a SNC virtual town hall event, we at SNC must and will confidently, actively, and decisively work toward racial justice on our campus and in our community. Our work toward and commitment to become an anti-racist college intersects with our work this fall to intentionally create respectful, safe, and depolarized spaces for the open exchange of ideas in preparation for the 2020 presidential election. Teaching each member of our community skills for depolarizing our politics while simultaneously achieving a deeper, broader understanding of what it means to be and what it will take for each of us, and thus our College, to become anti-racist requires a systemic approach, much hard and messy work, and at times individual and collective re-framing. To do so will depend on each and every one of us. And we will be providing the resources, tools, conversations, and opportunities to be what our mission calls us to: a community that recognizes the full dignity of every member.

I’ll conclude by sharing one more experience this past week of greeting students, another that brought a surge of joy and a sure sign that fall semester is upon us. On Monday, I was honored to be invited to welcome the new National Science Foundation (NSF) S-STEM scholars to campus. It’s inspiring to see the students and faculty working to implement this $1.0 million NSF grant, one aimed at developing and growing diverse scholars in the sciences. Congratulations and thank you to the cross-campus team for securing this grant and to Dr. Anindo Choudhury for making this transformational grant a reality! In our short time together that day, each student shared their excitement about being on campus; expressed their enthusiasm to begin conducting research; and made scholarly and personal commitments to working, living, and learning in communio. I was so proud of these students and the faculty that made this moment possible, I felt like I might burst as I walked back to my office.

With students as our inspiration and greatest hope, and with our faculty and staff as our wise guides and leaders, we welcome fall semester. We reconvene as a community. Moreover, we work safely together in service of the common good — always advancing our mission of educating students for the betterment of society and preparing them for every good work. It is my life’s joy to be among you as we together deliver on our Green Knights mission, doing so prayerfully, wisely, and at this unique time in our world and college’s history.