Toward a Better and Brighter Year in 2021: A message to WWU students

Dear Western Students,

The first days of the new year have provided no respite from one of the most challenging years in living memory, as the nation deals with astounding post-holiday COVID spikes, with some areas, including the northern part of Whatcom County, seeing a tripling of infection rates in just the past week.  But I see rays of hope that 2021 will be a year of healing as COVID-19 vaccines become more available and as more federal stimulus funds are distributed which can provide direct aid to students and families in need. 

Because of this latest surge in COVID cases, and because our first priority is the safety of Western’s students, faculty and staff, we announced yesterday that spring and summer quarter classes will continue to be mostly remote—with the exception of select research and experiential classes in person—as they were in the fall and winter quarters.  Like you, I am deeply disappointed that safety considerations require us to stay in a largely remote mode for the remainder of this academic year, but I am optimistic that we will have a much larger in-person fall quarter and I look forward to welcoming you on campus.

We will also have another combination virtual commencement ceremony for our winter and spring graduates on June 12. 

I recognize that the past year has made it difficult to focus on learning, and that many of you have been disproportionately affected by the impacts of the pandemic and pre-existing inequities that have only deepened.  Please know that no matter where you are, you are a valued member of the Western community and we appreciate that you chose Western for your studies.  We are absolutely committed to do what we can to ensure that each of you has the opportunity and support to be successful at Western, from expanding access to our programs, especially for those who have been historically under-represented in higher education, to continually enhancing the distinctive excellence of Western’s academic programs and learning experiences.

We continue to make progress on several initiatives that will enhance your learning and living experiences at Western.  I am excited to see daily progress on the new residence hall on the Ridge, named for Alma Clark Glass, the first Black student to attend Western, to open next fall, and the new Interdisciplinary Science Building, scheduled to open in the winter 2022 term.  We are very well positioned to receive funding for the next two capital projects, the Electrical Engineering/Computer Science building and a Coast Salish Longhouse, in the legislative session that began this week.

We will also work with the legislature to ensure that, as intended, the Washington College Grant program is fully funded going forward, so more of you—our current and future students—can benefit from it.  We are also seeking funding from the legislature to address urgent mental health counseling, sexual violence support and other critical student services, as well as funding to expand recruitment and outreach efforts to underserved Washington students.

In addition, this quarter we will initiate a climate survey to better understand your experiences and perspectives with an eye toward better serving you in the future.  We are also in the process of recruiting for some key positions, including the Executive Director of the Office of Civil Rights and Title IX Compliance, a Multicultural Student Services Executive Director, and an African American Student Retention Counselor, all positions with active student participation in the search process.

There has never been a more important time to listen to and support one another, to hold ourselves and others accountable for elevating our shared humanity, and to ask ourselves what we can do to identify and pursue activities to ensure that Western is an inclusive and respectful community.  I know that working together we can make a positive and lasting impact on our communities and our world.  Thank you for choosing to stay committed to your education at Western. 

You have my best wishes for a successful and healthy winter quarter. 

Sabah Randhawa

President