We write to you on behalf of the faculty. You all received the same message we did about moving to remote learning this fall, and many of you are probably as disappointed as we are. Yet we think this was the right choice and support President Murray’s decision.
We miss you
Let us say at the very outset that we miss you! We miss your lively presence on campus. And yet we know that, together, we can stay connected and make it through this pandemic while teaching and learning in the same rigorous and stimulating ways that we have all come to expect and desire.
We believe that this is a time, perhaps like no other time, during which we need our young people to stay engaged, stay motivated, and continue to grow intellectually. We know you to be smart, socially engaged, and unafraid to work for meaningful change. And we remain committed to supporting you as you develop as critical thinkers and problem solvers.
Fall planning and exciting new virtual opportunities
So let us tell you a little bit about what your professors are planning for you this fall. Unlike the spring when we had to pivot very quickly to online teaching and learning, what we have planned for the fall will be at an altogether different level of engagement. Your professors have been working all through this summer to revamp their courses, think more deeply about online pedagogy, consider many different modes through which to stay connected with you, and learn all kinds of new tricks made possible by new technology. What you will get this fall is not online education as we commonly understand it, but an intellectually stimulating and challenging Whitman education delivered remotely. In fact, it is our intention to fully use whatever technological and other resources are available to us to explore possibilities that generally are not considered during a more normal semester.
Some faculty are crafting digital projects or applying digital tools creatively to their courses. Science instructors may be sending you materials for experiments or class demonstrations you will deploy at your home. Music instructors are working on collaborative music-making using online technologies and making "virtual performance" videos. Some of your classes may meet in online spaces with avatars and options for video collaborations. Others are creating plans for intense engagements in online breakout rooms and discussion boards. Many of your professors will be in touch with you with more information about their specific classes and departmental offerings. What is most important here is that you will be taking rigorous, exciting classes that will challenge and inspire you, much as would happen in an in-person semester.
An innovative and urgent initiative
In addition, we want to tell you about an important new initiative adopted by the faculty that helps us all engage with some of the urgent conditions that face us in the world. The recent spate of protests triggered by the brutal murder of George Floyd, in addition to the disparities in the effects of the pandemic within the U.S. and the world, has made us aware that we, as an academic institution, should examine the relevant issues collectively. Whitman College is adopting the theme “Race, Violence, and Health” for the 2020-21 academic year to organize our community around a series of lectures, workshops, conversations, and curricular offerings that will help us think, together, in a sustained way all through this year.
We are just in the initial planning stages, but we anticipate inviting notable speakers to share their ideas and experiences, creating faculty and student panel discussions, and hearing from alumni who are engaged in these issues. Some faculty will be including extensive discussions on these issues in their courses, while others may touch on ways in which race, violence, or health have been important or overlooked in their fields of study. Our aim is to provide you with opportunities to engage with students, staff, and faculty in the Whitman community, as would happen if you were on campus.
In sum, we are excited to welcome you “back” to Whitman (and for new students, welcome you to Whitman!), and we hope that once you have processed the disappointing news about remote learning this fall, you will realize that the Whitman education you all so value and the connections with Whitman faculty, staff, and peers that form the bedrock of the Whitman community, will continue unabated even in an online format. Several months of living with the pandemic and the problems you see all around you can be dispiriting, but this is not the time to sit still. The world is hungry for your educated interventions, and so we hope you will join us, with the same goodwill and energy we have come to expect from you every semester, this fall.
Barry Balof, Chair of the Faculty
Shampa Biswas, Chair of Social Sciences
Sharon Alker, Chair of Humanities and Fine Arts
Kurt Hoffman, Chair of Natural Sciences and Mathematics