Today is the day. After countless hours of detailed logistical planning by our dedicated faculty, administrators and staff, and after weeks of our students hoping that campus life could resume, the 2020-21 academic year at Siena College is underway. This will be forever remembered as one of the most unusual and challenging times in our history.
What we are doing here is critically important to the future of our campus – and of our nation. We are committed to safely, effectively and meaningfully delivering in person our Franciscan-based Education for a Lifetime to the future leaders for America. With our entire Siena community working together, we will get this mission done – and we will experience a great sense of accomplishment and camaraderie in the process.
To lay the groundwork for success, let’s get off to a strong start. Our team has expended every effort devising academic endeavors and social activities to keep students thoughtfully engaged for the entire semester, and I am optimistic that we will succeed. First, all of us need to focus on the basics: closely follow all health and safety guidelines, including requirements for mask wearing and physical distancing. Now, more than ever, good hygiene habits are essential, including washing your hands and using sanitizer.
In normal times – as part of the overall College experience – students have been able to leave campus for our surrounding communities, and to visit friends and family back home and in other locales. This semester, I’m asking residential students to remain on campus to the greatest extent possible to minimize the chances of contracting and spreading coronavirus. In time, we will be able to enthusiastically resume travel outside our gates, but for now, please keep off-campus travel to essential trips only. I understand this is a sacrifice, but it will greatly increase the chances that we can all stay on campus together.
Although the national news is replete with stories of college campuses being impacted by the coronavirus, we have a lot working in our favor to help keep us safe. Siena is smaller than most universities and more spread out. Additionally, we’re located in the Northeast, where the number of COVID-19 cases has remained low for many weeks. Most of our students come from these areas, and those from areas harder hit by the coronavirus have been able to successfully quarantine. Perhaps most important, we are a community that cares for and looks out for one another – it’s the hallmark of our Franciscan identity. While we are in a strong position, we still must be vigilant and smart. If students adhere to the Pledge, and the administration fulfills its responsibilities, it’s very likely we will successfully complete our entire semester on campus by Thanksgiving.
We can draw some inspiration from our past. During World War II, families on the home front and our troops overseas, all pulled together to help win the war. Families rationed food, recycled scrap material and generally did without to help our troops defeat an enemy that represented an existential threat to all we held dear. Americans from every imaginable background and political ideology pulled together, and we prevailed. Although our times and challenges today are different, if we come together in a similar way and do our part, we too will overcome and flourish. Let us also remember that we are protecting not only each other on campus, but our family and friends at home, especially those who are vulnerable to infection due to age or a pre-existing condition.
Regardless of the challenges presented by this pandemic, the start of a new academic year is a special time for any college. It is a time of firsts and fresh starts, of dreams realized and important work continued. It is my honor and privilege to begin my first academic year as your president, and I look forward to the days ahead as we carefully and optimistically navigate our changed environment.
I encourage students to focus on your studies and safely get to know one another on campus. Our Student Life team and our friars, supported by student volunteers, have organized a series of special activities for the first few weeks. Even if you might be inclined to stay in your room, I'm asking you to safely join in. Now more than ever, we need each other.
Thank you for choosing to be a part of the Siena family. My every best wish to all of you for a safe, healthy and successful academic year. Inspired by Saint Francis, let us stand strong together, protect each other and the wider community, and focus on the empowering, person-centered education we have come together to receive and provide.
Christopher P. Gibson ’86, Ph.D.