January 21, 2021
Dear UNL Students, Faculty and Staff –
Welcome back! To those of you who will be on campus, it will be so good to see you. To those joining us remotely this semester, you are a vibrant part of our community and we look forward to connecting.
I can’t think of any January in my memory where students have returned to campus with so many major challenges facing us as a community and as a nation. In the coming weeks, we’ll begin to see the one-year recaps of the first news reports of the novel coronavirus as it began spreading around the globe. Since then, more than 2 million globally — including more than 400,000 in the United States and nearly 200 here in Lancaster County — have died of this disease. Like so many around the world, it has been deeply personal as I recently lost the last sibling in my mother’s family to COVID-19.
Managing COVID-19 impacts has become a way of life for us all, but it never gets easy. We all long for the days before COVID — when we greeted each other with handshakes and hugs, when we could gather freely with friends and family, and when our campus teemed with activity and large crowds cheered on our Huskers.
Those days will come again. The arrival of vaccines offers hope and a light at the end of the tunnel. For now though, while we can envision the end, we are not yet there. Our priority has to remain — safety first — while delivering on our mission of exceptional education, world-changing research and creative activity, and engagement with Nebraskans.
Last fall, we offered the most in-person education opportunities in the Big Ten, and amongst the most nationally in higher education. This spring, we will have even more opportunities for students to engage directly with their professors and learn in person. As I’ve said before, doing so safely in January looks different than doing so safely in August. Our enhanced safety protocols, including the required re-entry testing, are designed to protect our students, faculty and staff.
Our re-entry tests will provide us with important data to determine our testing approach for the rest of the semester, as always with close consultation with the Lincoln-Lancaster County Heath Department. Our community of more than 31,000 Huskers is the densest living and learning environment in the state of Nebraska and the region. What’s necessary here will likely look different that what’s necessary elsewhere.
We also resume our classes at a time when America’s democracy has been tested. On January 6, we witnessed a violent mob overtake law enforcement and storm the U.S. Capitol. Yesterday, President Biden and Vice President Harris took the oath of office at the Capitol amidst heavy security.
As a university community, we condemn the attack on the Capitol. Violence is never the answer; nor is hate. Neither will help to bridge the divide in our country or set a foundation for a better future.
As an institution of higher education, we know this is a time to lean into discovery and learning. To probe and learn from the past. To explore and understand the present. To define and to shape the future, as called for and described eloquently by President Biden in his inaugural address. No matter what your major or field of study, you have an opportunity to be a part of this.
We also have an opportunity to understand our nation has fallen short in our ongoing quest to form a more perfect union. Racism has no place in America, but we all need to recognize our own inherent bias and structural racism that exists. Given the later start to our schedule, next week our campus will celebrate the life and mission of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I am incredibly excited that we will have the opportunity to hear from his daughter, Bernice King, and hope all of you will find an MLK Week activity in which to engage.
We live not just in interesting times, but in exceptionally consequential ones. I hope we all commit to make the most of the life-changing opportunity and privilege to be a part of this university. There is no better place to be in times like this.
Do well, be safe, take care of yourselves and one another, and have a great semester.
And again, I’m so thankful and glad that we are all here together!
Ronnie D. Green, Ph.D.