Dear Liberal Arts Undergraduates:
I realize that under “normal” circumstances, I’d be welcoming you back from spring break and wishing you well as we began the home stretch of the semester. But as we all know, this semester—or this past year, for that matter—have been anything but “normal.” It seems hard to believe that it was this time a year ago that the harsh realities of COVID-19 began to hit home as Penn State transitioned to a remote learning environment. To say it has been a challenging year since would be a gross understatement by any stretch of the imagination—I think we can all agree that the pandemic has exacted a tremendous toll upon us individually and collectively, and that we all look forward to returning to some sense of “normalcy” soon, whatever that may entail.
The slow but steady distribution of multiple vaccines, the arrival of warmer weather, and the University’s announcement of its intention to return to in-person teaching and learning by this fall are all positive signs of light emerging at the end of the tunnel. I say this knowing that we are still not out of the tunnel and that some of us continue to struggle in multiple ways. I also say this knowing that recent Zoom-bombing incidents and other forms of racial harassment and violence have only added to many of us feeling isolated, anxious, and vulnerable.
Although I have said this on numerous occasions before, it bears repeating: your college is here for you, and as your dean I will always try to ensure that you have the support and resources you need to navigate these challenging times. For those of you in need of such services right now, remember to take advantage of the University’s Center for Counseling and Psychological Services and the Multicultural Resource Center. For those of you who may be having financial difficulty this semester, financial assistance may be available to you through the Liberal Arts Emergency Assistance Fund or the University’s Student Emergency Fund. And while I recognize that individuals on the receiving end of “Zoom-bombing” assaults are never at fault and should never be the focus of blame, I encourage everyone to review the college’s new illustrated Zoom-bombing prevention website for a helpful summary of protocols and resources on how to set up and protect your virtual meetings, as well as what to do should an attack occur.
I realize that numerous questions remain about what the future holds. “Will there be an in-person commencement this spring?” for example, or “How will we ensure that students, faculty and staff get the vaccine as we approach this next phase under COVID?” While I am also eager for answers to these questions, I appreciate that these decisions are being made thoughtfully and in the interest of maximizing the health and safety of everyone in our community. And while it does appear that we have turned a corner in our battle against the pandemic, now is not the time to become complacent. We must continue following the steps we have followed so far—wearing a mask, maintaining physical distancing, limiting the size of in-person gatherings—so we can reclaim that sense of “normalcy” we all seek sooner rather than later.
I do hope that last week’s Wellness Day provided you some respite from your daily routine, and that the (slightly) milder temperatures and additional sunlight at the end of each day will offer you even more opportunities to stretch your legs and clear your minds. Our final Wellness Day this semester is Wednesday, April 7, but I hope to be in touch again soon with information regarding spring commencement and summer and fall activities. Until then, please continue to be safe, be smart, be well, and be careful.
Susan Welch Dean of the College of the Liberal Arts
Professor of African American Studies
The Pennsylvania State University
111 Sparks Building
University Park, PA 16802