Dear University of Rochester Students, Faculty, and Staff:
Since our region reopened in the summer and our academic campuses embarked on the fall semester, you have all done a tremendous job of acting responsibly and in the best interests of our collective health, well-being, and safety during the global COVID-19 pandemic. I know there have been lots of new rules and restrictions, but I’m proud of how well everyone has done so far to keep the rate of illness and COVID-19 infections low on our campuses and among our clinical staff.
Across the country, we are struggling with the isolation of social distancing and with the uncertainty of when the pandemic will end. Around the globe, violence and unrest roils places that some of our students and scholars call home. There is no doubt that our current circumstances can create high levels of stress and anxiety that make navigating even routine aspects of daily life challenging. For those of you who are experiencing the disorienting and potentially debilitating effects of anxiety, I encourage you to take care of yourselves and, if you need to, take advantage of the support offered by the University or by other organizations and health care providers.
At the same time, we are also being called to confront long-standing issues of social and racial injustice in what feels like an increasingly polarized society. Political polarization has become a factor in the upcoming election that by all measures may set records in voter participation. And although the political situation may be fraught, I see this increased participation in the election as a welcome sign of our democracy at work and a reminder of the important role every voter can play in our nation’s future.
Against this unsettled and unsettling backdrop, our means of communicating with each other have been largely reduced to digitally mediated conversations, where nuances of intent are not always well conveyed and can easily be misinterpreted. We have words, but we often lack authentic human connections. Words can be hurtful, and—now more than ever—when passions and stress levels are running high, we encourage everyone to communicate and interact with each other respectfully, even when there is disagreement. Our views may differ, but our respect for one another must prevail. I ask you all to be mindful of this principle.
In fact, the University codifies this idea in our Workplace Values Policy (Policy 100), which states in part: “All members of the University community are expected to act professionally and treat others with respect when representing the University, whether that be internally when working with colleagues or externally with our community while engaged in a University-related activity. Professionalism requires acting conscientiously and with dignity, politeness, respect, and with appropriate regard to the perceptions of others.” Those of us in supervisory or leadership roles should be especially mindful of the principles enshrined in Policy 100, but these principles apply to all of us.
Another way to demonstrate our respect for one another is to continue to follow the health and safety guidelines put in place to control the spread of COVID-19 and to complete our Dr. Chat Bot questionnaire every day. I know it’s been a long several months, and I know that there are likely several long months still ahead of us. It’s for that reason that we must hold fast to the guidelines that have been put in place.
As news reports and statistics indicate, the virus is seeing a resurgence throughout the country, in part because outdoor activities are becoming much more limited, but also because many people are fatigued after eight months of the pandemic in the US and they are letting their guard down. For any of us trying to navigate this new normal, it may be tempting to give in or to disregard the rules for the sake of socializing and fun. But it’s when we don’t fully comply with the health and safety guidelines or we fail to provide accurate contact tracing information that super-spreader events can develop. This could place our entire community at risk of a resulting domino effect of infections and create additional stresses on our medical facilities and the medical professionals who have been on the front lines since the beginning of the pandemic.
It also could derail our plans to successfully complete the fall semester residency and to return in the spring: we are now seeing an increase in the daily average of positive cases on our campuses. If this disturbing trend continues, we may have to “Pause” in-person classes and activities on the River Campus and at the Eastman School of Music just as the conclusion of the residential portion of our fall semester is only a few weeks away! A “Pause” could go into effect at the University’s discretion if we deem it necessary to protect the health and welfare of the University community, or it could be mandated by New York State in order to control a surge in positive cases.
We each play an important role within our University community. We can all take our Meliora Values to heart and lead with compassion and respect—and that applies both to our interactions with others and to our continued compliance with health and safety guidelines. In that way, we can continue to carry out our missions of learning, teaching, research, and patient care without interruption.
Sarah C. Mangelsdorf
President and G. Robert Witmer, Jr. University Professor