To our Washington University community:
This is one of my favorite times of year, as a new class moves in and others return to campus following summer endeavors. Many new faculty have joined us, providing intellectual renewal. Last evening, at our Academic Convocation, I welcomed our incoming first-year students and their families and set some important expectations. I take this opportunity to say “welcome back” to the rest of our community, as well.
The kick off of fall semester is invigorating and exciting, perhaps with a little trepidation for newcomers. We make a fresh start, but also continue the important work that has been underway to move forward with the university’s key education and research initiatives. I am sure this will be a successful and fulfilling year.
At the same time, I recognize that we face many challenges around the world and on our own campuses. In the short time since our summer break began, we have experienced tragic events that remind us the pursuit of social justice must continue. These include the massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando; the killings of Philando Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Louisiana; the horrific ambush of police officers in Dallas and in Baton Rouge; and deadly terrorist acts that have been carried out around the world. Many have been victims of natural disasters, as well. Flooding in Louisiana, fires in California and, just this week, a major earthquake in Italy. I know that hearts, including mine, have been heavy.
Among the great strengths of our university are the bonds that hold us together. During troubling times, we call on each other for support and look for opportunities to grow. We recommit ourselves to our shared values of mutual respect, inclusion and the celebration of differing perspectives. With this in mind, I hope you will join us on Monday, August 29, at a special event at 4 p.m. in Graham Chapel, where we will gather to reflect upon recent events and our core community values.
In addition to all the excitement a new academic year brings, we are energized by our preparations to host one of the most interesting and potentially significant political events in recent history — the second of three 2016 Presidential Debates, to be held on Sunday, October 9. The Danforth Campus will be bustling with activity as we welcome the candidates, other special guests and some 3,000 members of the media. While attendance at the debate itself is limited, there will be many ways to engage — from volunteering, to participating in programming, to joining the conversation via social media and online. You can stay abreast of our planning at the debate website.
Keep in mind, as the election nears, that we encourage our students to be active and involved. We want you to engage in the democratic process, and we will be looking for ways to inspire respectful debate about the issues confronting the nation. Sometimes we will disagree. That is acceptable and expected. Along with a strong sense of community, the exploration of new ideas and different perspectives is what makes Washington University a world-class institution. We must nurture openness of expression by maintaining an environment where everyone feels welcome to contribute their ideas and offer their perspectives. Here on our campuses, we will hold ourselves to a high standard, regardless of the tone and tenor that may surround us.
This is a unique time for us as a community and for the nation as a whole. We anticipate a stimulating period leading up to our Presidential Debate and Election Day on November 8. Soon, we will be sharing details about a series of open conversations that are being planned related to discourse and disagreement in a democracy and some of the significant topics that need to be addressed in the era ahead. Please join us if you can.
There are many challenges and unknowns before us. What we do know is that this is a time of great anticipation and excitement as we begin our academic year. I am proud to lead such a vibrant institution whose students, faculty and staff are contributing to making the world a better place.
Mark S. Wrighton