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Honoring the Legacy of Louise Slaughter

By Richard Feldman


Along with many in our community, I had the privilege of attending the service last week for Congresswoman Louise Slaughter in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. It was a deeply moving celebration of a consequential life. The extraordinary program highlighted the breadth and depth of the accomplishments and character of a woman who, throughout a long career in public service, demonstrated tremendous grit as well as grace. Louise was a true friend to the University of Rochester, and I am very glad we had the opportunity to host the service.

A microbiologist, Louise was a fierce advocate for research, from health sciences to photonics. At the time of her death, she was leading the charge in Congress to restore funding for our Laboratory for Laser Energetics. She fought constant pressures to cut research funding and truly understood the connection between funding science and improving the health of the world. At the service, Secretary Hillary Clinton stated that “[Louise] always stood up for science, facts, reason, and evidence.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi summed up Louise’s advocacy in a way that resonates with so many of us in the University community: “Louise always shortened the time and distance between what seemed inevitable to her and inconceivable to others.” Her advocacy has enabled our Medical Center to maintain itself as one of the top research institutions in the nation.

As chair of the Congressional Arts Caucus, Louise was an unabashed champion of the arts and the humanities. She was so proud to represent the Memorial Art Gallery and the Eastman School of Music and frequently cited them in her annual efforts to secure more funding for the National Endowment for the Arts.

A crusader for jobs and technology, Louise led the three-year effort to land the American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated Photonics headquarters here in Rochester. She fought tirelessly to secure federal funding for infrastructure investments and to bring high-tech companies to Monroe County. In her last official event with the University, Louise helped open NextCorps, the University’s new state-of-the-art facility dedicated to fostering the creation and growth of high-tech companies in historic Sibley Square.

The service was a memorable event, all made possible by the contributions of many people across the University who came together to collaborate in tribute to a trailblazing leader and University ally.

Louise cared deeply about taking care of the community—the Rochester community, and also our University community. Her legacy serves as a model for all of us as we continue to prioritize efforts to revitalize Rochester, from our work in transforming East High School to offering free dental care through the Eastman Institute for Oral Health’s SmileMobile clinics to our lead poisoning research and abatement efforts in inner-city housing that have helped Rochester be a national model.

Louise was dedicated to safeguarding the community in every sense of the word, including fighting for a strong federal response to the devastation on Puerto Rico caused by Hurricane Maria. Rochester is home to the largest Puerto Rican populations outside of New York City and among the highest percentages of Puerto Ricans in all major US cities. I had an opportunity to reflect on this particular segment of our community during my lunch earlier last week with the seven students from Puerto Rico who are spending a guest semester here in Rochester. Those students, all in their first or second year of college, are among the newest members of our University, transplanted here while their own institutions of learning are not operating after the damage caused by Hurricane Maria in September. You can read more about how they have quickly settled into life at the University, landing roles in a musical, playing volleyball, and joining other clubs like Model United Nations and UR Debate Union here. I enjoyed hearing from them about their experiences of Rochester for the first time. They underscored for me how meaningful it has been to be welcomed and supported in their academic, extracurricular, and personal pursuits. Some of them commented about their delight with learning from and interacting with students from a variety of cultures and backgrounds. This new program has enabled our University to help the students to keep their academic programs on track.

We have an opportunity with these students and others who follow them to expand the boundaries of our University family and involve more and more voices in our ongoing missions to learn, discover, heal, and create. Remembering Congresswoman Slaughter’s indefatigable support for our University’s future should inspire us all to continue our efforts, in all of our pursuits, to be ever better.

Welcome to Words from Wallis Hall. This regular communication from President Feldman will serve as an ongoing opportunity to share important updates on the University’s efforts to strengthen a culture of respect, and to keep the campus community informed of people and programs that make Rochester a world-class institution.