President Connie Ledoux Book moderated the third and final event in a series of virtual Community Town Halls aiming to address the questions of Elon students, faculty, staff, alumni and parents.
Members of the Elon University community gathered virtually for the last in a series of three Community Town Halls focused on issues facing students, faculty, staff, alumni and parents.
In a discussion moderated by President Connie Ledoux Book, Elon senior administrators addressed a number of the more than 250 questions submitted by the campus community. Questions touched on a wide range of topics, including the university’s COVID-19 response, the campus calendar, student engagement and issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion.
Book was joined in the panel discussion by Provost Aswani Volety, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives Jeff Stein, Vice President for Student Life Jon Dooley, and Vice President for Inclusive Excellence Randy Williams.
The panel received several questions about the academic calendar for the rest of the fall semester and beyond. Provost Volety responded to parent questions about allowing students to transition to remote learning ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, the university’s plans for Winter Term and whether students would be allowed to enroll in remote-only instruction for the spring semester.
“We will continue to offer remote accommodations for students who have a legitimate reason not to be on campus and in the classroom, and we will continue to work with those students,” Volety said. “But right now, given everything that’s going on and the feedback we hear, spring semester will be face to face, predominantly.”
President Book discussed conversations with students, who talked about the creative ways in which faculty were leveraging technology and tools to engage their classes in learning this semester. Book also highlighted student appreciation for faculty who have paid close attention to students’ well-being during these uncertain times.
A number of parents submitted questions about student engagement and ways the university can help students feel at home on campus while physical distancing guidelines are still in place. Book highlighted the Kernodle Center for Civic Life and its relationships with more than 100 community partners, offering students opportunities to get involved on and around campus. Book also reminded the community of the efforts of Elon Votes! to engage students in the voting process as the 2020 election quickly approaches.
Vice President Dooley further discussed opportunities for engagement, spotlighting Phoenix Connect as a portal to help students stay connected to the campus community. Dooley also touted the work of the Office of Student Life, Campus Recreation and Wellness and other departments to host events that help students get involved. Dooley also reminded students about the importance of reaching out to residence advisors, Elon 101 teaching assistants and other faculty and staff around campus for support.
“It is important to know that those feelings of seeking more connection are not isolated – to normalize that for students,” Dooley said. “And so part of the message there is really to continue to push to reach out.”
In regard to preventing the spread of COVID-19 and other viruses on campus, a few parents asked about the university’s requirement for students to get the flu vaccine before Dec. 31. Book cited guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and health experts that say an extra effort should be made this year to take the flu vaccine to avoid the possibility of accelerating the coronavirus and the flu during the colder months. The university does offer an exemption process for special circumstances, Book said. To facilitate the process, the university is offering free flu shot clinics through the end of the semester.
Vice President Stein, who heads the university’s Ready & Resilient Committee, discussed a number of questions related to Elon’s response to COVID-19 and how the university is protecting the campus community. Stein laid out plans to test students upon their return to campus following Winter Break, as well as accommodations made for students, faculty and staff with specific concerns or issues related to the coronavirus.
The discussion came on the heels of Stein’s Oct. 9 announcement to the community that Elon’s COVID-19 Alert level is expected to move from Alert Level 2 to Alert Level 1 in the coming days.
“It’s not that this process is over with COVID-19, it’s going to be with us for a while, and we’ve got to stick to these precautions,” Stein said. “But what we’ve been through in the last few weeks I would say proves that together we can make it through the rest of the semester. It’s hard, but we can do this, and I think we all just want to thank this entire community for the hard work that’s been involved.”
Vice President Williams addressed questions about the Oct. 2 “Take Back Our Streets” rally and march hosted on campus in response to a convoy of vehicles that drove through the Elon campus with members who spewed racist and hateful taunts at members of the Elon community. Williams answered questions about the university’s decision to allow the event in the midst of the campus’ social hiatus, explaining that the event was organized by students and approved by the university, similarly to other events hosted during that period.
“While this was the social hiatus period, we didn’t have a stop of all activities and events,” Williams said. “We recognized that there were still some things that could occur, and we felt like the rally and march was one of those events that could occur. The organizers were very vigilant about the wearing of masks and the physical distance that was mandated and needed for us to have a successful event.”
Answering other questions related to diversity, equality and inclusion in the campus community, Williams discussed the university’s commitment to hiring more faculty of color and offering the support they need to be successful in their work. Williams explained that in the most recent round of faculty hiring, 37 percent of new hires were people of color.
“We’re doing this because it’s the right thing to do, it’s what our students need,” Williams said. “We are an institution that responds to students’ needs, and students need to have a greater representation of faculty in the classroom, not just for students of color, but all of our students need to be exposed to the diversity of identity as it relates to race.”
Questions also touched on a contentious election season and how the university is planning to help the community process the events leading up to and following the election. President Book addressed a question from a faculty member about allowing all voices to be heard throughout the election process.
“When I think about this at Elon, I think about it from a mission perspective,” Book said. “We absolutely need diversity of voices, we need conservative and liberal voices if we’re going to fulfill our mission. And we are committed in our mission statement – the phrase we use is ‘respect for human difference,’ and by that we mean that we will engage respectfully, and we will have good, respectful civic discourse.”
To watch either of the first two Town Hall events, continue scrolling.
Second Town Hall Discussion – Oct. 2
Members of Elon’s senior leadership team gathered virtually on Friday afternoon to address additional questions and concerns from students, faculty, staff and parents during the second in a series of town hall discussions for the university community.
The second town hall, moderated by Vice President for Student Life Jon Dooley, provided further insight into how the university is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and how Elon is addressing concerns about a political convoy that drove through campus in September, with members of the convoy hurling racist and sexist taunts. The discussion also centered on preparations for Election Day on Nov. 3, as well as looked ahead at how many the issues the university is now grappling with could bring about long-term changes.
“We’re all wondering what our world will look like,” President Connie Ledoux Book said. “I just want to reassure the students that we’re in this together, that we’re all doing that thinking, too, and know that Elon and our community will arrive at a very powerful endpoint to all of this.”
The discussion was driven by more than 200 questions submitted by members of the university community during the past two weeks. The series launched Sept. 25 as an avenue to promote discussion and communication among the university community, and will conclude on Friday, Oct. 9, with the third town hall discussion, which can be viewed at www.elon.edu/live.
One question from a parent the panel fielded Friday focused on how students are making connections with each other during a time of physical distancing, social “bubbles,” fewer in-person events and smaller gatherings. For first-year students who are already adapting to a new living and learning experience, with many living away from home for the first time, this fall has been particularly challenging, Book acknowledged.
“We are very aware that the typical way that we design engagement for students has been disrupted,” Book said. “We are in much smaller cohorts and we’re managing physical space interactions.”
But opportunities for connection still exist, Book said. One of the benefits of having in-person classes is those personal interactions before and after the class period, she said. Additionally, the university is adapting some of its traditional in-person events to incorporate new health and safety protocols, such as moving yoga classes outside.
There’s an increased emphasis on mental health and wellbeing as well during a time when many may feel isolated, Book said. New workshops are assisting students with stress and anxiety specifically related to the pandemic, and Elon has expanded its offerings to incorporate group workshops.
“If a student is feeling especially anxious, we have worked very hard over the last three years to enhance our counseling services for students,” Book said.
Jean Rattigan-Rohr, vice president for access and success, said students should also lean on the “constellation of mentors” that they may have at Elon and intentionally seek out those connections with faculty, staff and fellow students. “At this time, more than ever, it is going to be vital for students to make those connections,” she said.
The campus community is now taking a “social hiatus” through Oct. 8, with dining facilities shifting to grab-and-go meals, organizations re-examining in-person events, and members of the campus community discouraged from non-essential travel. Jeff Stein, vice president for strategic initiatives and chair of the Ready & Resilient offered his thanks for the widespread support for these measures which were put in place following a recent increase in the number of positive cases. Asked whether the measures were having an impact, Stein said they were.
“Everyone is making sacrifices. This was a chore to adopt these steps we have take to deter the spread of the virus,” Stein said. “But what we’re seeing is the social hiatus is really helpful.”
One parent asked about what she is hearing from students who feel that their concerns are not being listened to, who don’t trust the information that the university is providing during this challenging time. Book said that’s why discussions like these town halls are important — to put those concerns on the table and begin to work on them.
“We count on the ability to have a back and forth, a dialogue about it as a way to build trust,” Book said. “I want you to know that we are listening, and we carry those concerns into every decision. … People are truly working in the best interest of our Elon community and understand the responsibility of these decisions that we are making, that they impact people’s well-being and health.
“We want to build trust during this time and that’s why we’ve worked to be transparent and will continue to do that,” she said.
Shifting to the convoy that rode through campus, Book explained that a roundtable has been formed that incorporates students, faculty, staff and members of the local community to look at how can better respond when similar events occur in the future to keep the campus informed and safe. “Everyone in our community and the country deserves the right t be free and safe,” Book said.
In the meantime, Book said the university has issued no-trespass orders to six individuals involved in the convoy, and she has instructed Elon Campus Safety & Police to use the university’s E-Alert system when they know a convoy will be passing through campus. The university has submitted a proposal to periodically close Haggard Avenue, the public road that runs through the campus and was used by the convoy, and program that space for the campus community later this fall.
There have been multiple conversations around campus in the wake of the convoy, and Randy Williams, vice president for inclusive excellence, said he has heard from students the desire to be supported during this time, to be heard and to hear from the university about these issues of race and conflict. “What I’m finding is that creating spaces so that they can hear from us in a humanized type of way — not just as faculty members or staff, but as caring human beings, people who can relate to and understand how they may be feeling right now,” Williams said.
Looking ahead to the election, the university is encouraging voter registration and participation while also looking at how to increase dialogue and understanding during and after what has been a contentious election season so far. “We need to have some important discussions about the future of our nation, our community and the political process,” Dooley said. “I hope that is the culture of our campus as we move forward to and through the election.”
The third and final town hall discussion will take place on Friday, Oct. 9, at www.elon.edu/live. The town hall begins at 1:30 p.m., and questions can be submitted through a form on www.elon.edu/live.
First Town Hall Discussion – Sept. 25
President Connie Ledoux Book and senior university leaders responded to questions from the university community on Friday during the first in a series of three weekly Town Halls touching on a range of issues impacting Elon students, faculty and staff.
The hourlong online discussion was fueled by questions submitted leading up to and during the event, and focused on the university’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, an un-permitted convoy that recently rode through campus with members shouting racist taunts, and the ongoing efforts by the university around diversity, equity and inclusion. President Book announced the series earlier this week, noting that during this time, communication and conversation is even more important as members of the Elon community face challenges on a number of fronts. “We need more communication with everything that is happening,” Book said as the discussion got underway on Friday.
The event followed an announcement earlier in the day of a “social hiatus” on campus in response to the recent increase in the number of positive COVID-19 cases on campus. That move includes a shift to grab-and-go dining and encouragement for members of the campus community to re-evaluate their social interactions to help prevent the spread. The university also this week raised the alert level and implemented new measures including a more restrictive visitor policy for university housing.
Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Jeff Stein responded to multiple questions about the steps the university has taken and is prepared to take if the number of cases continues to rise. Those could include a short-term shift to remote instruction, an increase in testing, a shift of campus events online and a more extensive quarantine effort. Stein explained that the university’s Ready & Resilient Committee already had extensive conversations with schools that have already had to respond more extensively to increases in cases on their own campus.
“If we see that the numbers go into Level 4 based on our alert matrix, we’ll take action,” Stein said. “We will take those actions based on the context as we get there.”
Stein explained that if there is a shift to remote learning, there has been clear guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and local and state health officials that students should remain on campus rather than returning to their home communities and potentially contributing to the spread there. “I know that many would be compelled to depart campus, and that really only risks the health of others,” Stein said.
Stein detailed the efforts now underway to increase the amount of testing on campus, and the challenges the university is facing finding a testing provider who can provide a faster response time at a more economical cost. “I think we are getting close in the next couple of weeks to be able to significantly increase testing, which we need to do,” Stein said. “It’s an essential tool.”
On Saturday, Sept. 19, an extensive convoy of vehicles drove through Elon’s campus on Haggard Avenue, with the drivers and passengers in a number of vehicles shouting racist and sexist taunts at members of the university community. “What I want to say is that there is a difference between free speech and what we saw happen on our campus with targeted harassment,” Book said. “That is not allowable on our campus. But a public road brings in a more challenging environment.”
Book noted that drivers identified as shouting racist taunts have been issued no-trespass orders, which would allow the university to take additional action if they were to return to campus property. It’s one of the tools the university has available to it to help prevent this from occurring again, Book said. “I want to, with every tool I have, to create a safe space on our campus,” Book said.
Vice President for Student Life Jon Dooley said that the university needs to continue to encourage students to be active about their political opinions and to be civically engaged, but that what the university saw on Saturday was not a robust political debate. “It was pure and simple hate directed at individuals and we cannot have that as part of our conversation,” Dooley said.
Responding to a question from a student of color who feels that her voice is not being heard and her presence on campus is not valued, Vice President of Access and Success Jean Rattigan-Rohr said everyone on campus must commit themselves to the goal of ensuring each student knows they are cared for. “We need our entire Elon community, faculty and staff working to surround and support our students, particularly at such a time as this.”
Vice President for Inclusive Excellence Randy Williams reiterated that point, noting that the efforts that Elon is undertaking at an institutional level to increase diversity, equity and inclusion rely upon the dedication to these goals from across the university. “This has to be a shared responsibility,” Williams said. “There’s no single person, no single office, no one single center that will make this a success.”
Friday’s discussion generated more questions than could be addressed during the hour-long event, and additional submitted questions will be addressed during future events.
The next Community Town Hall will be on Oct. 2. Vice President for Student Life Jon Dooley will moderate the discussion with an initial focus on student concerns.
On Oct. 9, President Connie Ledoux Book will moderate the discussion and address any concerns or questions raised by the Elon community.
All events can be accessed at www.elon.edu/live.