From Global Pandemic to Anti-Racism: Wesleyan’s Year in Review

Olivia DrakeJanuary 12, 202123min

The year 2020 will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the most memorable of the modern era. From the threat and real-life toll of a global pandemic to domestic clashes over social, racial, and political injustice, 2020 was full of challenges—and the Wesleyan community met each one head-on. We banded together to keep our students and staff safe and pushed each other to show our resilience, to step up and speak out, and to use our trademark creativity to adapt and lead the way in addressing our new socially distanced and politically charged reality.

In this timeline, we look back and explore some of the University’s accomplishments and happenings amid an evolving pandemic.

Jan. 21: The Jewett Center for Community Partnerships announces the grantees of the JCCP Student Innovation Fund. Students from a range of majors and backgrounds—all with shared interests in utilizing resources in innovative ways to positively impact the greater Middletown community—applied to this fund. Read the story.

Feb. 2: In response to the World Health Organization announcing an outbreak of a novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, Wesleyan’s Chinese community (particularly students and parents) bands together to help their fellow citizens. The student-initiated group WesInAction raises more than $23,000, which is used to purchase medical equipment for hospitals in the pandemic’s epicenter in Hubei province, China. Read the story.

On Feb. 16, WesInAction delivered seven sets of oxygen concentrators and ventilators and 26,000 pairs of medical gloves to the First People’s Hospital of Xiaochang County and the People’s Hospital of Dawu County in Xiaogan, Hubei province.
On Feb. 16, WesInAction delivered seven sets of oxygen concentrators and ventilators and 26,000 pairs of medical gloves to the First People’s Hospital of Xiaochang County and the People’s Hospital of Dawu County in Xiaogan, Hubei province.

Feb. 19
: Students who spent winter break supporting voter registration, participating in political campaigns, and working with advocacy groups as part of the Wesleyan’s Engage 2020 (E2020) initiative gather in Allbritton Hall to share their reflections. E2020 is a comprehensive university effort to support student learning via civic engagement and liberal arts education. Read the story. More information on E2020 is also in this story.

As part of the Wesleyan’s Engage (E2020) initiative, Mitchell Motlagh ’20 of Keller, Texas, (left) helped raise awareness of the upcoming presidential campaign in Berlin, N.H. “Some days it was -2 outside,” he said. Derek Chen ’23 (right) worked with Turnout Nation, employing relational organizing to increase voter turnout. For Chen, the biggest challenge was convincing student populations who aren’t as civically engaged to become more so, particularly in North Carolina. “My goal is to make voting a ‘regular thing’ that everyone does, talking to friends and family, convincing them to vote,” he said.

March 12: As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report thousands of known cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) nationwide, Wesleyan transitions all classes to distance-learning models for the remainder of the spring semester. Athletic contests are canceled. All University-sponsored, connected, or funded domestic and international travel for students, faculty, and staff is prohibited. Read the story.

April 6: To help medical personnel safeguard themselves during the coronavirus outbreak, two makerspace labs on campus manufacture much-needed protective masks using 3D printers. Wesleyan donates its first set of 100 face shields to medical personnel at Middlesex Hospital in Middletown. Read the story.

Shawn Lopez, Wesleyan’s IDEAS Lab coordinator, modeled a face shield he created using the lab’s 3D printer.

April 20: Wesleyan establishes a College of Education Studies, along with a new linked major in Education Studies. Rooted in a liberal arts framework, the new College will foster interdisciplinary scholarship of education studies that is connected to practice and policy. Read the story.

May 1–2: Rather than allowing the COVID-19 pandemic to force a final curtain call on theatrical productions, Wesleyan’s Theater Department pivots to an online format. The department offers live-streamed performances of The Method Gun, featuring 10 student-actors. After countless hours of line rehearsals, overcoming technical frustrations, and learning how to act and teach theater in a virtual world, show director and Assistant Professor of Theater Katie Pearl says, “I almost can’t believe what we pulled off.”  Read the story.

method gun
Students acted in the virtual production of The Method Gun. “In retrospect, and in looking at the show now, I realize that the pandemic put the whole process in a kind of helpful pressure cooker. And in the intensity of this moment, in the epic-ness of the task to translate what we were doing to Zoom, alchemy happened,” said director Katie Pearl.

May 20: Brianna Johnson ’24 is the recipient of the Hamilton Prize for Creativity, which comes with a four-year, full-tuition scholarship to attend Wesleyan. Read the story.

May 24: For the first time in its history, Wesleyan University holds its Commencement virtually, awarding 771 Bachelor of Arts degrees. Streamed on both the Wesleyan website and on Facebook, the ceremony—the University’s 188th—sees more than 3,000 family, friends, faculty, staff, and alumni gather together online for a common moment in celebration of the members of the Class of 2020. Read the story.

Wesleyan University held its 188th Commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 24. President Michael Roth ’78 delivered live, on-campus remarks to a large virtual audience and a small gathering of socially-distanced in-person groups of graduates and onlookers.
During the 2020 Commencement, President Michael Roth ’78 delivered live, on-campus remarks to a large virtual audience and a small gathering of socially distanced in-person groups of graduates and onlookers. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

May 25: George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, is killed during his arrest in Minneapolis, sparking nationwide demonstrations. Members of Wesleyan’s administration and alumni speak out against racial injustice and offer resources for community members. Wesleyan President Michael Roth ’78 shares a blog post titled “Build an Anti-Racist Community in Which Hatred and Intolerance Have No Place.” Read the story.

June 22: Wesleyan President Michael Roth ’78 announces that the University plans to resume in-person classes in the fall, pending the ongoing recommendations of University, state, and federal health and safety experts. Read the story.

Aug. 28: Wesleyan welcomes students back to campus during the week of Aug. 24. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Residential Life stretches Arrival Day activities over the span of seven days, and students are assigned a formal arrival date and time to minimize crowds and allow for appropriate social distancing. Only students may enter residences during the move-in period. Students are asked to take a COVID-19 test prior to leaving home, and must be tested again upon arrival. They will be tested twice per week throughout the semester. Read the story.

arrival day
Arrival Day was held over a seven-day period in 2020. Prior to moving into their residence halls and homes, every student was tested for COVID-19 at Wesleyan’s testing site. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Aug. 31: Classes begin and all students are in a required quarantine until Sept. 6. Through multiple platforms, including Zoom and Moodle, faculty teach classes remotely or through a hybrid system. Read the story.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the university community was under a quarantine period from Aug. 24 to Sept. 6. Students were asked to a COVID-19 test prior to leaving home, tested again upon arrival, and will be tested twice a week as the semester gets underway. Through multiple platforms, including Zoom and Moodle, faculty taught all classes remotely during the first week. Following the quarantine period, faculty have the option to teach courses entirely online, in-person, or through a hybrid system for through the Thanksgiving break, after which, all faculty are prepared to return to distance learning.
Sasha Rudensky ’01, associate professor of art, taught ARST 253: Digital Photography I through a hybrid system; however, she opted to teach Photo I entirely in person.

Sept. 1: Wesleyan holds in-person classes on campus in both indoor and outdoor classroom settings. More than 180 classrooms have been rearranged in order to achieve a minimum six-foot distance between occupants. In addition, break times are expanded to 30 minutes or more to allow for custodians to disinfect all touchable surfaces in each classroom between classes. Read the story.

At left, the Powell Family Cinema served as a screening room, lecture hall, and classroom. Students could only sit in open seats, which were spread six feet apart from one another. At right, Mary Alice Haddad, the John E. Andrus Professor of Government and chair of the College of East Asian Studies, taught her GOVT 296: Japanese Politics course in the Hogwarts classroom. The outdoor classroom safely accommodates up to 40 students. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Sept. 4: In response to the killing of George Floyd, Student Activities and Leadership Development (SALD) hosts a four-part series of Black Lives Matter-themed workshops celebrating the contributions of the Black community at Wesleyan. Read the story.

Keynote speaker Professor Theodore Shaw ’76, the Julius L. Chambers Distinguished Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Civil Rights at the University of North Carolina School of Law at Chapel Hill, was the fifth Director-Counsel and President of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., for which he worked in various capacities over the span of 26 years.
During the SALD-hosted series of workshops, keynote speaker Theodore Shaw ’76 reflected on the Black Lives Matter movement. Shaw is the Julius L. Chambers Distinguished Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Civil Rights at the University of North Carolina School of Law at Chapel Hill, and was the fifth director-counsel and president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

Sept. 15: Following a carefully coordinated return to campus and an initial period of remote learning during Connecticut’s mandated two-week quarantine, the University reports that just two students and three employees at Wesleyan have tested positive for COVID-19 to date. More than 15,000 tests have already been conducted. Read the story.

Following a mandatory two-week quarantine, students continue to be tested for COVID-19 twice a week on campus. (Photo by Olivia Drake)
Following a mandatory two-week quarantine, students continued to be tested for COVID-19 twice per week on campus. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Sept. 18: Three weeks into the fall semester, Wesleyan students are adapting to the “new normal” during the COVID-19 pandemic. Face coverings or masks are required in all public spaces to help reduce the spread of the virus. Some students find the masks also can serve as a fashion accessory or statement piece. Read the story.

Students were required to wear masks in all public spaces. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Oct. 10: Wesleyan’s careful planning, creative problem-solving, and exemplary adherence to safety protocols result in the campus community staying together this semester. For the third week in a row, Wesleyan reports 0 cases of COVID-19. Read the story.

Oct. 16–17: Wesleyan parents, alumni, faculty, staff, and students gather together virtually to celebrate Wesleyan’s 2020 Homecoming and Family Weekend. Participants are treated to popular WESeminars, live campus tours, a Parents’ Assembly, two symposiums, and more—all from the comfort of their own homes. Read the story.

Nov. 3: Approximately 600 students, faculty, staff, and local residents vote at Middletown’s Voting District 14, located inside Beckham Hall in Fayerweather. Read the story. In addition, Matt Lesser ’10; Wesleyan employee Amy Bello; John Hickenlooper ’74, MA ’80, Hon. ’10; Alex Kasser ’88; and Michael Demicco ’80 win seats in their respective elections. Read the story.

Students showed off their “I Voted” stickers after casting their ballots on Nov. 3. Wesleyan students, faculty, and staff, as well as Middletown residents in Voting District 14, turned out to vote at the polling place in Beckham Hall.
Students showed off their “I Voted” stickers after casting their ballots on Nov. 3. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Nov. 9: Jeopardy! fans around the world mourn the passing of longtime host Alex Trebek, who died on Nov. 8 at age 80. Many Wesleyans had the opportunity to compete on Jeopardy! over the years, and several reflect on their experiences and share remembrances of Trebek in this story.

Nov. 17: With the holiday season approaching, Wesleyan’s Pandemic Planning Committee (PPC) reminds students, faculty, and staff to remain vigilant and safe. Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont rolls the state back to “phase 2.1,” reinstating many restrictions on both indoor and outdoor gatherings. Wesleyan continues to follow state and federal guidance closely. The COVID-19 testing site moves indoors to Beckham Hall for the winter season. Read the story.

covid testing
COVID-19 testing moved inside Beckham Hall for the winter. (Photo by Simon Duan ’23)

Dec. 17: More than 25 students in Fred Cohan’s Global Change and Infectious Disease course have pandemic-related op-eds published in national media outlets. Cohan, professor of biology and Huffington Foundation Professor in the College of the Environment, assigns the op-ed writing as part of his course and offers students extra credit if they are able to get their work published. Read the story.

In addition, the campus community mourns the loss of these faculty, students, and staff who passed away in 2020:

  • William Coley, professor of English, emeritus, died Jan. 7 at the age of 96.
  • Daniel “Dani” Jewell-Tyrcha ’22 of Scituate, Mass., passed away Jan. 26 at the age of 20.
  • Brooke Rich, an employee of Wesleyan’s food service provider Bon Appétit Management Co., died March 4 at the age of 41. She was honored posthumously with Wesleyan’s 2020 Morgenstern-Clarren Social Justice Employee Prize.
  • Norman Shapiro, Distinguished Professor of Literary Translation and Poet in Residence, formerly professor of romance languages and literatures, died April 3 at the age of 89.
  • Sean Higgins, Wesleyan’s Lock Shop foreman, passed away on Sept. 25. He was 60 years old.
  • L. Kent Bendall, professor of philosophy, emeritus, died on May 15 at the age of 88.
  • Luz Gladys Rodriguez, administrative assistant in the Registrar’s Office, died Dec. 18 at the age of 64.

View all news published in 2020 on News @ Wesleyan.