Dear Graduate School of Education (GSE) Students,
I write to you today to give you an update on our plans for the start of the 2020-2021 academic year, and to reaffirm our commitment to racial justice.
As I look to this upcoming year, I feel both a sense of pride and obligation. Since coming to Fordham in 2004, I have seen the GSE at its best and at its worst. I have seen numerous instances of faculty and students living their values and coming together to fight injustice. At the same time, I have also witnessed instances of micro and macro-aggressions among students, faculty, and staff. If my work on motivation has taught me one thing, it’s this: We will not feel moved to act unless we feel like we have a voice, that we are competent, that the work we do is meaningful, and that we belong. I know that not everyone has always felt welcome at Fordham, and not everyone has felt heard. To that end, I pledge, especially to our Black students, faculty, and staff, to investigate and address the structural inequities that have disadvantaged some and advantaged others in our institution, and to foster an environment where we all feel like we have the agency to make a difference with and for each other. We must act intentionally and concertedly to fight racial injustice and promote learning. I remain steadfastly committed to this critical work.
As for the fall reopening, understanding the specific needs and concerns of students pursuing degrees in the GSE during the COVID-19 pandemic, and after consulting with GSE faculty and staff, I have secured the Provost’s approval to transition all GSE courses, with few exceptions, into an online modality for the Fall 2020 semester.
As many of you know, the needs of our school are very different from the undergraduate community at Fordham. Most students commute to campus, and many work in schools or have additional responsibilities at home, which makes an in-person return difficult. We also have a growing number of international students who may not be able to physically return if we were to resume full on-campus instruction. Our offices and classrooms are also mostly located on the 10th and 11th floors of Lowenstein, which presents additional health and safety concerns because of elevator usage. I am also mindful of the differential impact of the virus on our most vulnerable and marginalized communities.
I realize that this news may come as a disappointment to some of you who were looking forward to reconnecting in person with friends and colleagues. Although our courses may be online, you should continue to expect the same high quality, rigorous, transformative Jesuit education that you have grown accustomed to receiving at GSE. Since March 11, when we made the difficult decision to physically close the doors of the Lincoln Center campus, our faculty and staff have been working tirelessly to incorporate best practices in inclusive, equitable online instruction into their courses. For example, recognizing the need for flexibility, our faculty are working on expanding asynchronous modules to complement the live, interactive course components, and actively attending to issues of access and bias when considering course content and delivery.
As part of this process, we have identified a few courses in assessment that may require limited on-campus instruction. We are working closely with the instructors of these courses to determine what additional supports they and their students may need so that we can maintain the integrity of the course content while still attending to individual needs. I want to underscore that no student who has health issues or concerns should feel pressured to return to campus during the fall and that we will continue to make accommodations for the foreseeable future.
We are also mindful of the needs of students who have internship or field placement requirements. We are still awaiting final guidance from the state, city, and accreditation agencies regarding field experiences for the fall; however, please know that top of mind is the health and safety of students, staff, and the broader community that we serve. I know that our programs are ready to offer creative, alternative, flexible options to meet the needs of our students, should we receive authorization to do so.
I recognize that this is a lot of information to process and you may have additional questions or concerns in the weeks to come. Please feel free to reach out to your advisors and division chairs. As always, you can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I sincerely hope that this message finds you and your loved ones safe and healthy, and I look forward to working with you all this upcoming year.
Akane Zusho, PhD