Messages to the Community

What Comes Next for Our Community

Dr. Renée T. White, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff,

As we approach the end of the semester, I believe it is important to address how our community has been profoundly impacted since October 7 by the Israel-Hamas War, the unfolding humanitarian crisis which continues in Palestine, and the ongoing Gaza Solidarity Encampments on campus. Though we are not alone among universities grappling with how we face challenging moments connected to ongoing global conflicts, we are unique in our history, our abiding commitment to social justice, and how we allow that to inform our present and our path forward.

I want to first acknowledge and hold space for the range of emotions being experienced by our community. I know that many are feeling physically and emotionally exhausted after what has been a particularly challenging semester, compounded by a series of difficult semesters before it. From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic to the part-time faculty strike, through leadership transitions and intensive union negotiations, to our present moment, we have experienced significant challenges over the past several years, and there is a deep need for reconciliation and trust-building. Last week’s events and the presence of the NYPD on our campus have reopened and exacerbated existing wounds that we must collectively find ways to heal.

As I reflect on where we are as a university and the role of the academy, the questions that come to mind are what now, what next. We cannot take back what happened, but we can decide how we move forward together. I wanted to share my thoughts about how we can be intentional in reaffirming our institutional values through our actions, approach building an inclusive community, and deepen a sense of belonging for all. What does it actually mean for us to be a progressive university, and how do we truly foster safe spaces for robust and generative dialogue on the most critical issues facing us today? As our campus currently experiences a fragile and fractious environment, our path forward will greatly depend on our ability to center our EISJ principles in the restorative work required of us. To be a community is hard work that requires patience and dedication; above all, it is essential that we continue to center our humanity as we connect and engage with one another to craft a place of welcome for all learners.

This work also requires a delicate balance across safeguarding the right to protest and free speech, ensuring the continuity of learning, and preserving a safe learning environment free from harassment and harm for all. Maintaining this balance is not easy and requires sitting in discomfort. As a university, we have a long and storied history of activism and pride ourselves on being a place where students, faculty, and staff actively engage with real-world issues. At the same time, as an institution of higher learning we also have an obligation to our students and a specific educational mission to fulfill. Civic engagement is a vital part of our mission, and we see that in our students’ activism. It is our shared responsibility to equip students to take what they learn both through theory and practice and transfer it into what they will do beyond The New School, regardless of belief system or ideology, in the service of societal betterment.

I did want to share a few concrete next steps. In June, we will be partnering with Soul Focused, a grassroots leadership development organization for institutions that want to build stronger connections and create lasting solutions, to bring a series of training sessions to campus. We hope these sessions will equip individuals across our community with the tools and capacity needed to engage in meaningful dialogue around issues we continue to wrestle with as a university. More information about how to get involved will be shared in the coming days.

As shared in President Shalala’s message earlier today, in the coming weeks we will also begin a broader campus discussion and community education about investment principles, the history of divestment at The New School, potential obstacles, pathways, and timelines for divestment and related topics. The deans and Provost’s Office will be working with the co-chairs of the Faculty, Staff, and Student Senates, as well as of the EISJ Committee, to advance these efforts. More details will be shared as this work develops.

I also want to acknowledge the colleagues we have across the university already doing critical work in these spaces who have praxis and capacity that we can and should be leveraging. I have recently had faculty and staff contact me with really interesting ideas that I hope to incorporate into ongoing plans through the development of several faculty fellow positions that can partner with leadership within the Provost’s Office to bolster our capacity to do this work, and do it well. I will also be working together with the Executive Deans to further our work on pluralism and dialogue.

As we strive to repair our community and practice restorative justice, we must continue to cultivate a culture of care and intentionally come together to address difficult and complex questions. We are all part of a larger whole, and each of you contribute in countless ways to creating the university that you want to be part of, one that serves our community with integrity, accountability, and great care. I see this every day in the people who study, teach, and work here, and I believe it is only together that we can move forward from this moment to be The New School that lives up to the promise of our shared values and ideals.

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