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A Year Like No Other

August 19, 2020

Dear Tulane Community:
 
Today, we embark on an academic year that will be like no other in the history of our university. After our time together was cut short last spring, I’m eager to share the semester ahead with you. But I know for many of our students, faculty and staff there is much anxiety tempering the joy of beginning in-person classes and operations for the first time after so many long months. For our students – from first year to graduate school – I know this is not the kind of university experience you envisioned.

But we are in the midst of a major cultural change. Every aspect of our lives – how we learn, work, socialize, even how we shop for groceries – has been changed by the COVID-19 pandemic, some permanently. At the same time, we’re experiencing a rising national commitment to equity, equality and civil rights. Life at Tulane, in New Orleans and beyond will look different and be different this year. One thing that will remain the same, however, is our care and commitment to one another. COVID-19 has taken a lot away from us – the ease and comfort of human interactions and activities, some of our favorite pastimes and more. Many have experienced financial distress and even the loss of loved ones. However, COVID has not and cannot crush the Tulane spirit.

As part of our commitment to one another – and through the hard work and dedication of our faculty experts and staff – we’ve implemented exhaustive safety measures to make the return to campus as safe as possible. Guided by the best public health experts in the field, we established the Arrival Center for our residential students and created a technology-enhanced model for classes. We have also implemented rigorous testing protocols to help protect our community, including testing everyone before they come back on ground. We will conduct extensive retesting of the entire community going forward, including weekly testing for the entire undergraduate population, as recommended by public health experts.  

As thoughtful and comprehensive as our return to campus plan is, there is no one perfect solution. We know there will be challenges and we’ll need to continuously adapt as we learn more about this disease, its prevention and its treatment. Most importantly, we all need to take responsibility for our shared safety. The vast majority of our community has been adhering to the safety protocols we established. I am very proud of you. We can do this!

I would especially like to thank the incredible student leaders who helped make our return to campus possible. This includes the RAs, who welcomed all students living on campus and the New Student Orientation Board of Directors and Wave Leaders, who led all first-year students through the challenging transition to college during this particularly difficult time. These students model daily excellence and love of Tulane. But everyone must do their part. There will be – and have been – consequences when community members fail to follow these protocols. Our success requires institutional, community and individual effort.   

In addition to COVID-19, systemic racism and inequity are at the forefront of our national conversation, including here at Tulane. We are grappling with the centuries-old legacy of racial prejudice and discrimination and know we have a long way to go before we become the truly equitable and just community we aspire to be. We’re tackling the difficult subject of racial inequity the same way we’re tackling COVID-19: head on. We aren’t afraid to take on challenges, whether it’s addressing racial bias or finding a cure for a deadly disease. We can learn from our mistakes. We aren’t afraid to try new things or a new plan if our first doesn’t succeed. We can emerge from this year, ready to change the world for the better. In the coming weeks, I will outline progress on A Plan for Tomorrow: Racial Equity at Tulane,  as well as our efforts going forward to promote racial justice and equity in the Tulane community.

Despite the challenges of these times, there are many reasons to be hopeful – and they are all around us. This year’s incoming class is the most diverse and selective in Tulane’s history. Our research is driving life-changing advancements in healthcare and infectious disease and our experts, often supported by the untiring efforts of our graduate students, are leading the field in COVID-19 research. This year our faculty have achieved record levels of federal research funding – a mark of our exciting academic trajectory.  

The greatest advantage of returning to campus is that we can support each other, learn from each other and use our shared experiences to question our perspectives and challenge our limits. These interactions – large and small – are a big part of being a Tulane student, faculty or staff member. I only ask for your help in making these interactions as safe as possible: wash your hands, wear a mask and practice social distancing.  

Together, we’ll get through these tough times.
 

Mike Fitts