Lawrence’s 16th and 17th presidents recently had the opportunity to spend time together on campus. They discussed everything from their hopes for Lawrence, their respect for presidential history and their personal and professional journeys, to Meatless Mondays. They also answered questions from Lawrentians along the way.
Dear Lawrence Community,
A few weeks ago I shared the news that the Lawrence Pandemic Planning Team (LPPT), in consultation with campus colleagues and public health experts, was developing plans for Fall Term. In the meantime, our community commitment to Honor the Pledge has continued to keep infection rates below 0.5% for most weeks during this academic year. Many members of our community have also diligently pursued vaccination.
Thanks to this shared effort, we can now confirm our plan to return to in-person living, learning, and working this fall. The university made this decision grounded in the guiding principles that have framed our planning from the pandemic’s inception: to protect the health and safety of our community; to sustain our academic mission; and to support faculty, staff, and students. We continue to pair these principles with our core Lawrentian values of community, equity, and student empowerment.
To protect community health, we will require all students accessing or residing on campus to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19. This requirement begins this summer and joins the existing requirement that students be immunized for various other highly contagious diseases. Exceptions will be made for medical reasons, religious beliefs, or personal conviction. Faculty and staff are highly encouraged to be vaccinated. Aspects of university activity will be restricted to vaccinated individuals in order to sustain community health. For members of the Lawrence community who are living, learning, or working on campus, the Fox Cities offers several opportunities for vaccination.
Thanks to the efforts of many, our plans for the fall are now taking shape.
- Faculty have worked hard to reestablish in-person classes. The class schedule provides more specific details. In person services provided by staff offices are being evaluated and expanded to meet the needs of all constituents
- The housing lottery has begun. All residence halls will be available except for 300 South Meade Street (Big Exec) and the guest houses along North Park Avenue, which will be reserved for potential quarantine and isolation needs.
- We have relocated new student move-in and orientation from September 6 to September 9. This orientation will be augmented with online programs provided during the summer for incoming students.
- For students currently in their first year at Lawrence, we also plan to provide time before the Fall Term begins to reconnect to campus.
More information regarding orientation and move-in dates will be shared in the coming weeks.
We know the pandemic will continue to have an impact on campus life. We will adapt the university’s health framework as the CDC and others provide new guidance. Additional information will be provided by the LPPT in the coming weeks and months, including:
- Updated health and safety protocols, including changes to the Lawrence Campus Community Pledge, surveillance testing, and campus guest guidelines.
- New rules for hosting public events and providing public access to campus.
- New guidelines regarding employee density in campus offices and departments.
- An updated travel policy.
We are planning a live question and answer session for students and families as well as for faculty and staff within the next few weeks. Please stay tuned to your email for additional details. In the meantime, if you have any questions or concerns about our plans, or other issues surrounding the pandemic, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Even as we create a framework for the fall, we need to continue to be flexible as new information and conditions unfold. If adjustments to our fall plans are needed, we will be in immediate communication.
Examples of our community’s creativity and resilience will always be foremost in my many memories of my time at Lawrence. Thank you, again, for your commitment to your fellow Lawrentians.
President, Lawrence University
Welcome to Spring Term whether you have joined here in Appleton or you are joining from around the globe. Spring has always brought thoughts of renewal for me and, I expect, for many of you as well. After a long 12 months of the pandemic, we do seem to be turning a corner. I am looking forward to attending outdoor athletic competitions and campus events again, to hearing music across the campus, picnicking on Main Hall Green, and, of course, to celebrating our graduating seniors at Commencement in the Banta Bowl. David and I will savor each of these experiences even more as our time on campus draws to a close.
We have spent this academic year together in a hybrid mode, which has allowed all of us to make our decisions about whether to come to campus or to join this learning community from home. About 70% of students decided to live on campus. Thanks to our community’s commitment to Honor the Pledge, we have managed to keep infection rates well below 1% for nearly the entire year. With your leadership and vigilance, we will be able to maintain this remarkable record.
Through the ingenuity of our students, faculty, and staff we have found ways to reimagine teaching, learning, and community. Many memories will remain in my mind of this past year, but examples of our community’s creativity and resilience will always be foremost. I am also thankful for our community’s efforts to become a more antiracist, equity-minded institution, even as the pandemic occupied much of our energy. Current events reinforce the importance of this work for us.
As vaccination rates rise and infection rates decline, we are ever more hopeful to enjoy the gift of human connection, face-to-face instead of screen-to-screen. We have begun to make Fall Term plans that allow for a return to in-person experiences in our classrooms and labs, on the playing field and stage, and through campus activities. These plans will continue to closely follow CDC and State health guidelines. At the same time, we are mindful that the pandemic has taught us to be agile, which is why we are also developing plans to modify our housing processes, workplace rules, and course modality should conditions warrant.
We will continue to update you with our plans as they are finalized for the academic year. I look forward to being with you this spring as we work together to sustain and deepen this learning community we call Lawrence.
President, Lawrence University
Dear Lawrence Community,
The recent shootings in the Atlanta area mark another tragedy involving gun violence. We mourn the loss of the lives of all eight victims. But the fact that six of those killed were women of Asian descent serves as a troubling reminder of the increase in anti-Asian hate incidents, harassment and discrimination in this country since the beginning of the pandemic.
As a community that values inclusion, I know you join me in standing with the Asian, Asian American and Pacific Islander communities; we must oppose all forms of hate, including the scapegoating and xenophobia directed at individuals who belong to these groups. This is part of our commitment to become an anti-racist campus community.
If you seek support or need someone to talk with, please contact campus resources including Wellness Services, Spiritual & Religious Life, the Diversity & Intercultural Center, International Student Services, the Center for Academic Success and Office of Diversity & Inclusion. For those remaining on campus during Spring Break all centers will be open. Additionally, our employee assistance provider, ERC, is available at no cost, and employees on the university health plan can access an in-network counselor or mental healthcare provider by searching the United Healthcare Choice Plus Network online.
For any incidents of concern, contact Campus Safety at 920-832-6999 or email@example.com. If you witness a bias incident, please complete a bias incident report or contact the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. In addition, the Rave Guardian App could provide access to safety and community resources. Information on downloading the app is available on the Lawrence website.
As we continue to move forward through these challenging times, I hope you find peace and support with friends, family, or other loved ones during the break.
President, Lawrence University
As Winter Term comes to a close I am sure most of you have started to think about Commencement. I am pleased to announce that Lawrence will host an in-person, outdoor Commencement ceremony on Sunday, June 13 at 10:00 a.m. Like many of the events since last March, Commencement 2021 will look different than in years past. Our goal will continue to be a celebration of your time at Lawrence and the milestones you and your classmates have achieved. Many details still need to be worked out, but so far we know that:
- Commencement will be held at the Banta Bowl in order to safely accommodate all attendees.
- All seniors will be invited back to campus to participate in the ceremony, including those who currently live off-campus.
- Each graduate will be allowed up to two guests in order to accommodate our social distancing guidelines.
- The university also plans to host commencement events such as Baccalaureate and the Commencement concert. Some events may take place in a virtual format. More details will be provided in the coming weeks.
- As in years past, Commencement will be streamed live via Lawrence’s YouTube channel, so it will be available to friends, family and graduates around the globe.
- All regalia, including caps, gowns, and tassels, will be provided to graduating seniors by the Lawrence University Alumni Association (LUAA).
- We are also developing plans for a virtual alternative if the need arises.
- More details will be shared via email as they become available. You can also visit go.lawrence.edu/commencement, to find up-to-date information about the ceremony.
A survey will be sent to all seniors within the next two weeks requesting information regarding your plans for Commencement. It is important that you respond to this survey as soon as possible so that we can begin to finalize ceremony arrangements.
As we end our last year at Lawrence, together, I am deeply thankful for your leadership of our learning community. I am particularly grateful for your commitment to Honor the Pledge, which has allowed us to consider an in-person celebration of your time here. Since your arrival in Appleton, I have had the honor of watching you take full advantage of the Lawrence experience. Your successes as Lawrentians are even more meaningful in light of the challenges of this past year. I am so honored to be able to celebrate this important milestone with you, in person. I look forward to seeing you on campus or via zoom during Spring Term. Until then, I wish you a restful and healthy spring break.
President, Lawrence University
University Update on Efforts to Create an Antiracist Equity-minded Campus Culture (January 14, 2021)
Dear Lawrence Community,
Like many of you, I am still digesting last week’s assault on the Capitol: What does it mean for me? What does it mean for Lawrence and our learning community? The symbol of Confederate flags paraded through the nation’s capital continues to be in my thoughts and nightmares. With many of us limiting human contact due to the pandemic and the beginning of the term, it is likely that it is much more difficult to process these events. To play our part in responding to this attack on this nation’s basic principles of democracy, liberty, and justice for all, I believe that we must rededicate ourselves to our goal of becoming an antiracist, equity-minded institution and community.
In a statement last spring, the Board of Trustees wrote: “Centuries of discrimination based on race have embedded inequities in every aspect of our lives, including here in Appleton and on the Lawrence University campus. We affirm our commitment, led by all members of our community—the administration, faculty, students, and staff—to continue to eliminate the impacts of racism at Lawrence as we prepare our students to be leaders in their communities.”
Below is a summary of our current efforts, including initiatives connected to CODA’s recommendations and concerns from last fall. We know that addressing structural racism is an urgent need, and while some of the initiatives will take some time to review and implement, we are prioritizing this work. I want to again thank student leaders, as well as the many faculty and staff, whose energy is moving us forward. Each entry is listed with the name(s) of the leader of the effort and a goal for completion. While interconnected, the initiatives are grouped into three categories: Changes in Processes and Policies; Fostering a More Diverse Community; and Creating a Safe Home for All. These initiatives will provide a strong basis for future endeavors. If you want to better understand any of these initiatives or potentially get involved, please contact the lead directly. Our communal aspirations require all of us to engage.
I hope to see you at one of the MLK Day events this Monday. You can find a full program schedule here.
President, Lawrence University
Changes in Processes and Policies
- Many have suggested ways to improve our Bias Incident Response process. We will begin an external review of the process immediately with the hope that suggestions from peer institutions will enter into our discussions by the beginning of Spring Term. In the meantime, we are in the process of adding 2 student representatives to the Bias Incident Response Committee, and we are developing a new way to provide summary data from the process. Lead: Kimberly Barrett
- An interim Anti-Hate Speech policy was instituted in November in consultation with the Faculty Committee on University Governance, LUCC and others. A group of faculty, students, and staff are developing a more permanent policy which will be reviewed through shared governance committees by the end of the academic year. Lead: Kimberly Barrett
- The Office of Communications will introduce visual media procedures and policies, including the opportunity for community members to annually opt-out of having their image used for communication, marketing, or publicity purposes. Communications will also organize its image inventory and work with the Registrar and Human Resources to help enforce this process. The new visual media procedures and policies will be in place for fall of 2021. Lead: Megan Scott
- Lawrence has created a Preferred Name Policy to enhance transparency and to make it easier for people who want to use a preferred name to access information about the process. The policy will also be used in training with faculty and staff to help prevent outing and other biased behavior related to gender identity. We will identify ways to modify Argos reports to allow more specific designation of student preferences regarding names used for various purposes this summer. Lead: Kimberly Barrett
- The Facilities team will consult with the Disability Working Group by the end of Winter Term to ensure that we create a physical campus that is accessible to all. Lead: Mary Alma Noonan
- For the current admissions cycle and beyond, the admissions office has reviewed and reworked application review guidelines to reduce reader bias or self-centering when assessing applicants’ quality of writing and match with Lawrence, as well as to significantly lessen the influence of test scores and high school ratings, both of which are strongly tied to socioeconomic status. Lead: Beth Petrie
- For the current admissions cycle and beyond, the financial aid office has created a supplemental financial aid application as a student- and family-centered alternative to the CSS Profile, with far fewer questions and no cost to the student, removing significant barriers to completing the financial aid process. The financial aid office is also investigating digital signature replacements for the cumbersome physical signature requirement for financial aid verification for implementation by the fall of 2021 if not sooner. Lead: Ryan Gebler
- Since the summer of 2020, the admissions and financial aid offices have been auditing communications to ensure inclusive and welcoming descriptions (more student-focused, with less “institutional speak”) around Lawrence’s features, processes and expectations. Lead: Ken Anselment
- A committee of faculty is working on restructuring the Reappointment, Tenure, and Promotion processes to better serve a diverse professoriate. This effort is supported by a grant from the Mellon Foundation and follows an external review of these processes. Proposed changes to our processes will be discussed in shared governance committees starting this spring. Lead: Bob Williams
- The University has instituted new processes for faculty and staff searches to ensure that Lawrence attracts candidates from all backgrounds. The number of BIPOC candidates hired since new processes were instituted has increased significantly. We expect these processes will ensure the University continues to attract diverse and talented candidates on all searches this year and in future years. Leads: Katie Kodat, Kimberly Barrett, Tina Harrig
Fostering a More Diverse Community
- The presidential search committee and its search firm Isaacson, Miller are focused on attracting a diverse set of candidates for the 17th president of Lawrence. Lead: Christyn Abaray
- A committee of faculty is involved with an effort to implement inclusive pedagogy and curricular transformation in the humanities and humanistic social sciences. Faculty have been implementing specific curricular and pedagogical changes for the past four academic years and will continue to do so influenced by this effort. This initiative is supported by a grant from the Mellon Foundation. Lead: Kathy Privatt
- A committee of faculty is working to engage science students of all backgrounds and identities through an Inclusive Excellence Initiative funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The initiative will lead to the redesign of all introductory courses in biology, chemistry and physics over the next two academic years. Lead: Stefan Debbert
- Funding for the Diversity and Intercultural Center has been increased in response to the increase in the number of BIPOC students in our community this academic year and will increase as is necessary in future years. Lead: Christopher Card
- The University will discuss with students ways Merit Pages, an online platform that showcases student accomplishments inside and outside the classroom, may be used that work against fostering an inclusive learning community. Ideas stemming from the review will be implemented before fall of 2021. Leads: Katie Kodat and Megan Scott
- The Career Center is working to establish a summer internship program in Social and Environmental Justice in partnership with nonprofit organizations based in the Fox Cities and Milwaukee. The program will begin this summer and is funded by a series of gifts through the Campaign. Lead: Mike O’Connor
- Antiracism training is being developed for the student body and will be implemented by fall of 2021. Lead: Christopher Card
- The required diversity training for faculty and staff will be augmented with antiracism and accessibility learning modules effective this spring. Lead: Kimberly Barrett
- Students have raised concerns about possible tokenization in our promotional material. The University will foster conversations this spring with students, faculty, and staff on how to best present itself as a diverse and welcoming community to the larger world that both honestly represents the community demographics and our aspirations. Lead: Kimberly Barrett, Brittany Bell, Megan Scott
- The University is investigating ways to address the basic needs of BIPOC students and access to haircare services, products, and ethnic foods, not readily available in the Fox Cities. Lead: Brittany Bell
- Lawrence will move the food pantry to an ADA accessible location and confirm funding and management by fall of 2021. Lead: Mary Alma Noonan
- This spring the space between Mudd Library and Wriston Art Center will be dedicated as “Kaeyes Mamaceqtawuk Plaza” (pronounced Ki ace Mamah chitawuk) as part of the University’s continuing effort to increase the diversity of campus iconography and acknowledge the presence of Wisconsin’s current Native American tribal communities. The dedication will include the installation of a contemporary commissioned art sculpture by an enrolled member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, Chris Cornelius, an Associate Professor of Architecture in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Architecture and Urban Planning. The name of the plaza is in recognition that the University currently occupies land original to the Menominee Nation. The name of the new space will be written in the Menominee language, meaning Ancient People – a word the Menominee people historically use to refer to themselves. Leads: Beth Zinsli and Brigetta Miller
Creating a Safe Home for All
- The University has reinstituted the safety escorts and rides for emergencies and essential trips both on and off campus. We will evaluate additional ideas to extend the safety net of campus to downtown Appleton in partnership with the City of Appleton and local businesses this winter. Lead: Christyn Abaray.
- Campus Safety and Student Life staffs have begun a series of training programs to support their work in the residential spaces. Staff will continue to participate in diversity and anti-bias trainings to better ensure that engagements with students in the residences are welcoming, professional and consistent with the highest standards of safety. Lead: Christopher Card
- Lawrence introduced the new Rave Guardian App earlier this term. It allows students, faculty, and staff to connect with Campus Safety and access important campus resources like Wellness Services, LU Safewalkers, Bias Incidents, COVID-19 concerns, and facility work requests. Lead: Christopher Card
Dear Lawrence Community,
I am sure all of you expected Winter Term to be unlike any other, but events, both national and local, have solidified the start of this new term as one that we will never forget.
The vision of a mob storming the nation’s Capital yesterday violated the very core of what we stand for. President-Elect Biden said, “At this hour, our democracy is under unprecedented assault unlike anything we’ve seen in modern times. An assault on the citadel of Liberty, the Capitol itself…… Let me be very clear. The scenes of chaos…..do not reflect a true America, do not represent who we are.” The President-Elect was joined in words of condemnation by many other elected officials on both sides of the aisle, including our own Congressional representative Mike Gallagher.
Closer to home, the Kenosha County District Attorney’s decision earlier this week to not press charges in Jacob Blake’s case painfully illustrates the continuing inequality in our society. These events and many others work powerfully against the values of Lawrence and the community we hold dear.
We also continue to live in the middle of a pandemic. Thank you to those who have decided to connect from locations around the globe and to those joining us here on campus. I am grateful for our community’s resilience and care for each other. I want to thank every member of our community who showed up for testing and who carefully observes the pledge as we gather in Appleton. As the contours of COVID-19 continue to change, we will do everything we can to keep our community healthy and safe.
Many of us have now lost loved ones to this deadly virus. Within our own community, it was with a heavy heart that I learned of Pat Powell’s death earlier this week. Pat, a beloved member of the Bon Appetit staff, contracted the virus after the end of fall term. I know you join me in sending our thoughts and prayers to her loved ones and all others who have been touched by this deadly virus.
It is against this backdrop that we begin our term. Our world is certainly not one that meets the expectations of our community or the principles we discuss in classrooms, laboratories, residence halls, and studios. Our challenge will continue: to work every day to lead our college, our community, this nation and others around the world to meet our aspirations and the values we teach and learn here. Your efforts to reach this goal inspire me every day.
I look forward to seeing you soon on campus or via zoom. Be well and please continue to make decisions that keep others well.
In this unprecedented time, our goal of protecting the health and safety of our community is more important than ever. Each week—and often every day—brings news that is deeply troubling, whether it is our nation surpassing more than 200,000 deaths from COVID-19 or the presence of a potential hate crime in a neighborhood near our campus. I write today both as your president and as a Lawrentian to address the critical issues of the health and safety of our community.
The spread of COVID-19 in the Fox Cities has reached alarming levels. According to data from the Appleton Health Department, we have moved from community spread to widespread community transmission. The Federal Government has designated the Fox Cities and most of Wisconsin a “red zone” the highest designation for community transmission of the virus. Please take seriously this frightening increase in the presence of COVID-19 in our surrounding community. Limit all nonessential interactions off campus. For those living on campus, the safest place for you right now is the Lawrence campus. For those commuting to campus for work or learning, please exercise great care in your life at Lawrence and beyond.
In the midst of such a fast-moving outbreak, we at Lawrence have done a truly amazing job mitigating the spread of the virus. As of September 27, we have administered 2,878 tests on our campus and have only 7 total active cases among those living, learning, or working on campus. This is a rate of positivity of less than one half of one percent: a testament to your diligence in adhering to health and safety guidance.
On this Giving Day when we thank our community for their support of Lawrence, I cannot fully express how thankful I am for the actions all of us are taking to mitigate the spread of the virus. We have all worked to Honor the Pledge—wearing masks, physically distancing, limiting your exposure to the virus. We have become a model for members of our surrounding community. Please continue with your practices. It is only by working together that we will mitigate the spread of the virus and keep each other healthy.
As was communicated earlier this week, the unrest, violence, and vitriolic, blatantly racist actions associated with our current political moment have again touched our campus. The police are actively investigating this weekend’s incident, targeting a private home in a neighboring community, as a potential hate crime. Sharing more details on this ongoing investigation may impede the investigation. We also want to ensure the privacy and safety of those individuals directly affected by the weekend’s event. The goal for us and for the city is to find the perpetrator(s) as quickly as possible.
Although we cannot offer further details, we can say this:
Lawrence University does not tolerate hate speech or actions of intolerance, including racism, white supremacy, anti-Semitism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia. We believe that Black Lives Matter.
I know these recent events have generated stress, anxiety, even fear and anger in our community. I am struggling with these feelings myself. I know that many of you are experiencing them in your own lives. But I am strengthened when I remember the University’s core values of respect for justice and the dignity of all human life. These values inform our current work to become an antiracist institution, work that is wholeheartedly supported by the Board of Trustees. In addition to this effort, practicing empathy towards our fellow Lawrentians is one of the most important actions we can take. Remember that our own daily struggles and those of our peers and colleagues may not always be visible.
Being a Lawrentian is one of the true honors and privileges of my life. I will continue to Honor the Pledge and do all that I can to become antiracist. I ask each of you to join me in this work. Please support and protect each other, stand up to racism and intolerance, take advantage of the services the university offers, and work to make a positive difference—to be the light—in our community.
Be well and make choices that keep others well.
President, Lawrence University
Sampson House, 711 E. Boldt Way | Appleton, WI 54911-5699 | Office 920.832.6525
Allison, thank you for that unusual and warm introduction and for your leadership of the Public Events Committee this year. I look forward to seeing how you and the Committee reinvent our community gatherings.
Thank you Professors Gomez, Oh Zabrowski, Sieck, Spears and Swan for that beautiful prelude. You made an excellent selection this year with “Show Us How to Love” by Mark Miller. No year calls more strongly for love than this one. Thank you Jessica Hopkins’22 for reading our Land Acknowledgement this morning. And thank you, Linda Morgan Clement, the Julie Esch Hurvis Dean of Spiritual and Religious Life, for providing closing words for today’s Convocation. Our postlude today will also be a treat, a piece played by Hung Phi Nguyen’21.
I also want to thank the many members of the Lawrence community who helped me with research for this talk. Each year matriculation convocation has provided an opportunity for me to consider a topic with colleagues across the campus. This year, as in years past, I leave the conversation impressed by the breadth, depth, and generosity of our intellectual campus discourse.
Welcome to the academic year. I want to specifically welcome our new first year, transfer and visiting students, and the many faculty and staff who recently joined us. Since we will continue for the foreseeable future to be a community both on campus and dispersed to over 30 countries and close to 50 states, I ask that we all make an extra effort to extend a warm Lawrence welcome to our new members. I look forward to working with all of you in finding new ways to sustain our vibrant learning community during this pandemic.
I began to think about the theme of belonging and home for this matriculation convocation last spring in response to the societal convulsion created by both the pandemic and the deepening recognition of systemic racism in our culture. At that moment, I had no idea how personal this topic would become for me. This summer has been a time for me to reassess my priorities and decide to prioritize family, specifically my mother and my in-laws, over a position I love. Serving as your president has been the central privilege and pleasure of my professional career. David and I want to thank all of you who have allowed us to join, to belong, and to call this university and Appleton our home. Lawrence will always be in our hearts and we will always be proud to call Appleton our home no matter where we reside.
What a year. I expect many of you feel, as I do, the pain, the conflict, and the dislocation in our society. The new presidential election cycle has unleashed overwhelming forces to divide us. Our country’s attempt to reckon with systemic racism brings both hope and conflicting views of an aspirational future. Environmental degradation continues to march on around the globe. And, the pandemic has curtailed ways to process all of this stress, has upended family life, and has created severe economic burdens on many of us and the institutions we serve.
This chaotic environment filled with conflict, inequity, anxiety and anger has forced me to raise basic questions about where I feel safe and accepted. Where are my roots? Where do I belong? Where is home?
Can I truly feel at home in a purple state in a time when political discourse has morphed into verbal hand to hand combat and the middle ground has become suspect? When we moved to Wisconsin eight years ago, I saw the state’s political tradition as a strength, a place to fully explore all sides. Now it feels like an invitation to a daily political war. Many theorists who have explored the concept of belonging find that one of its central aspects is the need to feel that your whole identity is recognized and affirmed. This recognition is seen as an invitation to create a deep connection. If this is true, how can belonging be created in a society in which racism and bias against minority identities continue to exist?
The pandemic has also made it harder to return to places where we once felt at home. The virus threatens every travel plan and has led countries and regions of the world to limit visitation. How can those of us who have deep human connection in multiple locations sustain ties that are integral to our sense of belonging?
These questions and many others consumed me this summer. As Ann Belford Ulanov recognized in an address entitled “Root, Uprooting, and Rootedness” at the CG Jung Institute in Chicago last year, our world has reinforced “internal flux rather than integrating themes.” Privileged to join a sustained dialogue group on race and racism at Lawrence and in the Fox Cities, I realized that these questions are on many of our minds. Countless researchers have studied the human desire for belonging. Some posit belonging as the opposite of isolation: it ensures that we do not feel alone. Others suggest that finding meaning in one’s life is anchored in the sense of belonging. Research has found that the smallest social belonging interventions can yield lasting positive effect on individuals. Many believe that belonging is critical to creating successful learning environments.
In “The Need to Belong,” Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary suggest that “a need to belong is a fundamental human motivation.” They explain that two criteria must be present to create a sense of belonging: frequent and pleasant interactions with a few other people which take place in a stable context, and an enduring framework of affective concern for each other’s welfare.
In “Searching for belonging – an analytical framework,” Marco Antonsich takes this idea one step further. He suggests that “belonging is a personal, intimate, feeling of being ‘at home’ in a place.” For Antonsich ‘home’ “here stands for a symbolic space of familiarity, comfort, security and emotional attachment.” But where does one find such a place? Is home where we spend our childhood? Where we find resonance and safety as adults? Or as Robert Frost said, is home just “the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in”?
In a book entitled “The Politics of Belonging,” Nira Yuval-Davis analyzes the sense of belonging from the perspective of identity, politics, and intersectionality. She understands that “people can ‘belong’ in many different ways and to many different objects of attachment. These can vary from a particular person to the whole of humanity, in a concrete or abstract way, by self or other identification, in a stable, contested, or transient way.” For Yuval-Davis, “Even in its most stable ‘primordial’ forms, however, belonging is always a dynamic process. . .”
Ulanov also emphasizes process. She describes belonging as the “searching for an environment safe enough to become our own most selves.” By ‘our most selves’ she means an environment where we find, explore and create ourselves. She believes we discover or uncover this root of belonging rather than create it. Archbishop Desmond Tutu calls this Ubuntu, the assertion of being human.
Brene Brown, in her book, “The Gifts of Imperfection,” also acknowledges the common human need to belong. But she emphasizes the complexity of achieving what we long for: “Belonging,” she writes “is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”
Natasha Trethewey captures beautifully in her poem “Theories of Time and Space” this challenge that faces us as we seek to belong. She writes:
“You can get there from here, though there’s no going home. Everywhere you go will be somewhere you’ve never been.”
It sounds so simple to create for oneself, right?
Like many of you, I think, my own sense of belonging springs partially from my upbringing. In the Jewish tradition, the biological family provides the core for belonging and those of us who have family are obligated to create it for others. For example, on the central Jewish holiday, Passover, the Bible instructs us to gather in family units to feast and celebrate. Family is so central there are special rules requesting every existing family unit to invite the stranger who is without familial connection. This has been translated into our current tradition of an elaborate ceremony over dinner called a seder which involves roles for each family member and encourages families to invite those without a home to join the celebration.
Kwame Anthony Appiah takes the power of biological family one step further to establish belonging. In the preface to his book “In My Father’s House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture” he describes his sense of belonging as living, “in two extended families divided by several thousand miles and allegedly insuperable cultural distance that never, so far as I can recall, puzzled or perplexed us much. As I grew older . . . I learned that not everybody had family in Africa and in Europe; not everyone had a Lebanese uncle, American and French and Kenyan, and Thai cousins. And … now that my sisters have married a Norwegian and a Nigerian and a Ghanaian, now that I live in America, I am used to seeing the world as a network of points of affinity.” Now that is what I call a home!
For many of us, the people we choose make a family and create belonging. In, “Families we Choose: Lesbians, Gays, Kinship,” Kath Weston explores this phenomenon. She points out that the sign on the stage at the 1987 Gay and Lesbian March on Washington read: “Love makes a family – nothing more, nothing less.” Members of the LGBTQ community and many of the rest of us create family, roots, belonging through connections to spouses and friends.
As Reginald Shepherd, an African American poet wrote in a poem dedicated to his husband entitled “You, Therefore,”
“home is nowhere, therefore you,
a kind of dwell and welcome, song after all,
and free of any eden we can name.”
Clearly, for some of us, confidence persists in the power to create the place where we truly belong.
Antonsich suggests that other “modes of belonging” exist outside of family, both biological and created. bell hooks in her book, “Belonging: A Culture of Place” offers a compelling meditation on how location itself can create this sense of rootedness. hooks’ view of her native Kentucky is not sentimentalized. She chronicles the racism and the culture of white supremacy of her childhood in complicated and painful ways. But still her heart returns to the landscape and people of her early years. At the end of a chapter entitled “Kentucky Is My Fate,” she writes: “During my time away, I would return to Kentucky and feel again a sense of belonging that I never felt elsewhere, experiencing unbroken ties to the land, to homefolk, to our vernacular speech.”
Place, as well as people, becomes the sustainer of belonging.
Many other traditions also connect belonging to a place or location. From the Native American perspective, for example, Paula Gunn Allen, a well-known poet from Laguna Pueblo, made this connection very clear: “We are the land. To the best of my understanding that is the fundamental idea that permeates American Indian life.” This view of belonging certainly makes sense here in the land of Neenah, Menasha, and Winnebago, all names that originate in Native American language and tradition. But the idea exists as well in Victorian England. As George Eloit stated in Daniel Deronda, “A human life, I think, should be well rooted in some spot of native land, where it may get the love and tender kinship for the face of the earth.”
A strong link to an ancestral home is not central to or at the core of everyone’s sense of belonging. Pico Iyer, a British born essayist of Indian descent who splits his life between Japan and California put it this way in a Ted Talk entitled “What is home?” “Home . . . is really a work in progress. It’s like a project on which they’re constantly adding upgrades and improvements and corrections. And for more and more of us, home has really less to do with a piece of soil than you could say, with a piece of soul.”
Later in the talk he mentions something that speaks directly to our mission here: “home, we know, is not just the place where you happen to be born, it’s the place where you become yourself.”
Not all of us have had the privilege of finding a sense of belonging during our lifetime. Prejudice, racism, and bias have prevented many of us from finding spaces safe and supportive enough for us to develop a sense of belonging. Candice Pipes chronicles the lives of Black service men returning to the United States in an article called “The Impossibility of Home.” She offers many examples of young men and women who enlisted, thrived in the military, and fought for our country. But when they returned they encountered the same prejudice and racism that marked their lives before their military service.
From a different perspective, Steve Striffler, in “Neither Here nor There: Mexican Immigrant Workers and the Search for Home,” provides insight into the lives of people who have become an essential workforce in the United States as farm laborers, meat packers, and menial factory staff. As the title suggests, their work here may lead to higher income but also to a persistent sense of dislocation and alienation. Tragically, these experiences are repeated in many situations. Others point to societal alienation and dislocation as forces working against our sense of belonging. In “Home” Toni Morrison states, “What do we mean when we say ‘home’ is a vital question because the destiny of the twenty-first century will be shaped by the possibility or the collapse of a shareable world?” Antonsich also believes that increasing cultural and ethnic diversification of contemporary societies could inhibit the formation of communities of belonging.
Given what these sources tell us of the complexity, the challenge belonging presents now, here, can we possibly believe in our own capacity to create “home” for ourselves and others?
Popular culture, especially recent television programs, try to point a way forward. Multiple programs by Shonda Rhimes like “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Station 19” and “Scandal” use work settings to create diverse, inclusive ‘families’ where straight and gay, black, brown and white characters all belong to each other and to a place. Ryan Murphy’s many programs like “Glee,” “911,” and “Pose” follow the same path by creating connectedness and belonging among diverse groups of people who support each other like traditional families. These become families in which we can all see ourselves. Of course, I have recently wanted to be Travis Montgomery on “Station 19.” As a gay fireman with a black firewoman best friend he is beyond cool. Yes, his husband, a fellow fireman, died in the first season, but I digress. Although Rhimes stated once “I am not changing the world, I am pretending to change the world on TV” the sense of belonging she creates illustrates for all of us the potential of redefining what “belonging” and “home” mean in this new century.
The stories Rhimes, Murphy and many others tell help us imagine the sense of home that Congressman John Lewis described in his Lawrence commencement speech in 2015. He said, “So it doesn’t matter if we are black or white, Latino, Asian-American or Native American. It doesn’t matter whether we are straight or gay. We are one people, one family. We are one house. We are brothers and sisters.” His voice, his words, can still give us the courage to believe.
It is now critical for us as a community to revisit these themes and to make sure that all members of the university feel that they belong here. This beloved learning community can and should become “home” for us all. I look forward to hearing your ideas, reactions, and disagreements as we make Lawrence the “home” we all need it to be: one that spans geography, race and all identities. One that helps us all to becomes ourselves.
Whether you join us from afar or on campus, good luck in this new academic year. Thank you for recreating this learning community we call Lawrence, especially within the constraints of the pandemic. It is a pleasure to have you all back and engaged in fall term.
Dear Lawrence Community,
I write to inform you that this academic year will be my last at the University. Serving as president of Lawrence for the past seven years has been the greatest honor and pleasure of my professional life. We have accomplished so much together: launching new curriculum and teaching methods; renewing campus infrastructure; and deepening our commitment to diversity, inclusion and equity. I have had the privilege of participating in the lives of smart and caring students. Our endowment has grown more than 70% which has helped us make Lawrence more affordable and decreased the average debt of our graduates. Many talented faculty and staff have joined us with their energy, insights, and new ideas. You have welcomed David, Homer, and me into this beloved learning community with open arms. We have established friendships that will endure for the rest of our lives.
With the end of our strategic plan in sight and the completion of the Be The Light! Campaign this December, it seems like an appropriate juncture in the arc of the University to prepare for new leadership. The pandemic has also made it difficult for David and me to keep connected to our parents during an important period in their lives. I plan to serve as your president for this academic year with all of my focus and energy. After June 30th we expect to move our center of gravity to New York City and Washington, DC to be closer to family. We also hope to frequently return to Appleton to cheer on Lawrence and do what we can for its future.
There will be plenty of time to celebrate what we have accomplished together for Lawrence and the many students and alumni we serve. But I do want to take a moment to thank you. Your advice, counsel, and friendship have made me a better leader and for that I will be eternally grateful.
I look forward to seeing each of you on campus or via Zoom very soon.
To the Lawrence Community,
After more than seven years of leadership, President Burstein informed the Board of Trustees today that this will be his last academic year at Lawrence. I am deeply grateful to Mark for all that has been accomplished during his tenure. The depth and breadth of his experience, paired with deft and compassionate leadership, made him the right leader for Lawrence at the right time in our history. He has led the university through unprecedented challenges and remarkable opportunities. During Mark’s tenure, our curricular offerings became deeper and broader, applications and the endowment increased dramatically, and our community became more diverse, inclusive, and equity-minded. Thanks to his dedication and service, Lawrence is well positioned for the future.
Throughout the year, the Lawrence community will celebrate our collective success and Mark’s impact on the university’s trajectory. In the meantime, I want to provide a sense of how we will proceed with the selection of the university’s 17th President. We plan to mount a national search supported by a national search firm. We are in the process of forming a Presidential Search Committee, which will be made up of trustees, alumni, faculty, students, and staff. I have asked trustees Cory Nettles ’92 and Sarah Schott ’97 to lead the Search Committee as chair and vice chair, respectively. We have also asked Christyn Abaray, secretary to the board, to support the selection process from an administrative standpoint. We expect to select a search firm shortly and have every expectation that we will select a new president during the Winter Term.
The Search Committee will soon launch a webpage to share its progress with the Lawrence community. We look forward to hearing from you about what characteristics you believe we should seek as we consider candidates for the position. In addition, we will set up processes to gather these views and suggestions of candidates as well.
In these moments of transition, it is important to find time to celebrate our progress and imagine our future. I hope the entire university community will join us in both activities. Thank you for your patience and contributions as we proceed with this important work.
I would be remiss at the start of this unusual Fall Term if I did not use this opportunity, on behalf of the Board of Trustees, to thank all members of the Lawrence community who have worked so hard to sustain the university during this pandemic. I know many faculty, staff, and students have provided leadership and extra time and effort to ensure that the learning environment we cherish continues to prosper.
From the entire Board of Trustees, we express our thanks and warmest regards.
Be well, and stay well,
David C. Blowers ’82
Chair of the Board of Trustees