A Message from Dr. Peter Meehan, President and Vice Chancellor
It is my great pleasure to welcome you to the fall 2020 semester at St. Jerome’s University. I want to offer a particular welcome to any new members of our community, including students, faculty and staff. While you may be understanding St. Jerome’s right now from a distance, I am sure you will soon experience, as I have, the warmth and support of the people studying and working at this university.
In my first official message to you as President, I want to thank all of you who have extended such sincere and friendly greetings and words of welcome to me since I arrived in mid-July. It has meant so much. You have reinforced my initial impression that I am in the company of a caring collective. I am looking forward to getting to know and to work with all of you, and to continue to address our important mission here as a University of Waterloo partner.
In one sense, the new semester picks up from where we left off when we closed our doors in March. The COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated that we offer remote asynchronous teaching and learning, which continues to be a very difficult situation. It runs contrary to what we know is best about our university: the way we teach, research and work individually, and about the importance of the various human interactions that are at the core of our particular emphasis on the undergraduate experience.
Understanding, perhaps, that there are few other options open to them at this time, our students are back in our courses in stronger than anticipated numbers. I know we are doing our best to serve them. It is true that crises often bring out the best from people. I have been inspired by the remarkable strides our faculty and staff are taking to continue to serve student needs and those of our community.
The seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic demands our continued vigilance to prioritize the safety of students, faculty and staff. I offer the gratitude of our entire community to everyone who has been working so hard with our Return to Campus team over the summer months, to prepare for our gradual and eventual return to normal. They have been prioritizing work for the benefit of all of our health and safety throughout all of their planning initiatives.
Presently, we are preparing for the next phase, when we envision the return of some faculty and staff to working in their offices and in our research labs. To re-familiarize yourself with the various COVID-19 announcements from SJU and the University of Waterloo, as well as the up-to-date protocols for coming to campus, please visit the COVID-19 page on our website. We remain focused on working together – 2 metres apart – to safeguard everyone on campus.
Another significant undertaking has been the opening of our modified residence program. At the beginning of September, we welcomed 90 students to residence, approximately one quarter of our usual complement. Preparing to have students on campus in this way has been a very labour-intensive process.
Led by Interim Director, Student Affairs, John Arnou, our Student Affairs staff has been working diligently to both implement and educate students on COVID-19 (specifically, with regard to sanitization, cleaning, social distancing and mask protocols) who are being accommodated in private/single rooms. For their safety and that of our entire community, we have implemented protocols in all residence and communal dining environments, as well as adding the use of contactless equipment in residence communal washrooms.
We have also prepared for the possibility of an infection here on campus. We have developed isolation protocols and resources to support students experiencing illness, or those that have had a COVID-19 exposure or a positive test. These include providing meal deliveries to residents, and the dedication of 20 fully-contained residence rooms for self-isolation and quarantining in the JR Finn building.
John’s team is also making regular updates to our Residence Handbook to include COVID-19 safety measures and protocols, and implementing an additional COVID-19 Information, Guideline, and Agreement. These will be reviewed with our students in order to ensure that they understand the importance of this information. We consider everyone’s safety our priority and a shared responsibility.
The events of this past summer, including the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement, have underlined the significance of addressing the serious problems of systemic racism, discrimination and injustice in our society. This is a powerful moment for St. Jerome’s, offering us an opportunity to address “how” we want to be a Catholic university.
Respect, inclusion, and the basic equality of persons are all fundamental to Catholic Christian understanding, and to meeting our students, regardless of their backgrounds, “where they are” on the journeys that are life and faith. This has been fundamental to the message of Pope Francis, who is constantly encouraging us to encounter and seek out dialogue with others.
At the University of Waterloo, this presents St. Jerome’s with both an opportunity and a responsibility. I am looking forward to highlighting them in the broad-based consultations with all of our stakeholders that will go into the creation of our next Strategic Plan.
As part of a three-stage process to begin to address the issue of racism and discrimination on our campus, this past spring, Interim President Scott Kline introduced the President’s Working Group on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. Over the summer this group met four times. They are now ramping up their work to meet bi-weekly. Please use this link to keep current on announcements and information shared by this group.
For now, I encourage all members of our community to take advantage of the various opportunities for engagement with and education on this issue, including this year’s National Dialogues and Action for Inclusive Higher Education and Communities, that is being organized by the University of Toronto on October 1-2. Registration is free of charge.
Thank you to each of you for all of your hard work on behalf of our students and our community during these very difficult and often uncertain times. As hard as it will be on a daily basis, we must keep in mind what we have been told by Canada’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Theresa Tam, that this is for now, not forever.
My best wishes to all of you for a safe and successful academic year!
President and Vice Chancellor
St. Jerome’s University in the University of Waterloo