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Paxson addresses vaccines, political polarization, sustainability in President’s Welcome

Similar to the convocation keynote address in fall 2020, Paxson’s welcome to the Class of 2024 was held entirely online.

By
Senior Staff Writer
Monday, January 18, 2021

First-years tuned into Paxson's virtual address, which officially welcomed them to the Brown community.

In her Jan. 13 President’s Welcome to the Class of 2024, President Christina Paxson P’19 greeted the class of first-years beginning their first official semester at the University, while also addressing concerns surrounding public health, community engagement and recent political turmoil. Similar to the convocation keynote address held in fall 2020, the speech was delivered online via Zoom.

“I know you’ve been waiting for your first days at Brown for a very long time and, to be honest, we’ve been waiting eagerly for you to arrive,” Paxson said in her speech. 

For Alyssa Loo ’24, who watched Paxson’s speech, this week is not only her first time living on campus, but also her first time in the United States. “There’s a lot of things to be adjusting to,” Loo said, “but I think one thing I really appreciate is just how understanding everyone at Brown has been.”

Paxson encouraged students to look for ways to get involved in the Brown community, regardless of the difficulties posed by a primarily online environment. “Brown is a place of collaboration,” Paxson said. “You’ll cultivate your ability to innovate and adapt and think in very novel ways.” Student researchers who conducted research with faculty related to the COVID-19 pandemic through March and into the summer, she said, offer an example of student innovation.

According to Loo, innovation is also found in student efforts to socialize in a primarily virtual setting. “We lose a lot of the organic chances to talk to people,” she said. “We need to be a lot more deliberate about hitting up people and trying to make friends. I think that’s what we are all really worried about, but we’re trying to find ways around it.”

Loo’s residential unit is planning virtual game nights, where she will get to know the other first-year students in her hall, as the campus spends Quiet Period behind closed doors.

“I’m hoping that with those kinds of initiatives, we have more of a chance to bridge the social gap despite the public health situation,” Loo said.

Paxson also addressed recent nationwide discourse on racial justice, in which Black Lives Matter protests brought discussions of race and police brutality further into the spotlight. 

Reaffirming Brown’s ongoing commitment to diversity, she announced that phase two of the University’s Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan will be released in a few months. This plan will serve as “a blueprint of concrete actions that Brown is taking to achieve our goals around diversity and inclusion” during a “long-overdue reckoning with systemic racism,” Paxson said.

Paxson further discussed the political polarization across the country and its implications for the United States. 

On Jan. 6, a mob of supporters of President Trump stormed the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. in an effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. The insurrection led to five casualties and President Trump’s impeachment for incitement of insurrection his second impeachment during his time in office.

“I’m sure that many of you watched the events in Washington last week and were shocked and saddened and angry,” Paxson said. “These events remind us that democracy is fragile. We can’t take it for granted, and supporting goes beyond the voting booth. I believe education is a foundation for democracy — a successful democracy.”

In a question and answer portion of the speech, Paxson addressed the possibility of vaccine distribution on Brown’s campus. The Rhode Island Department of Health recently announced Phase 1 of its vaccination plan, which entails vaccinating approximately 200,000 of the state’s residents. The plan will prioritize medical workers, high-risk individuals and the elderly, according to the RIDOH website.

Some members of the Brown community have already been vaccinated, namely frontline healthcare providers and Brown Emergency Medical Services workers, some of whom are students, Paxson said.

“We would love to have a vaccination clinic at Brown that would support not only members of our community but also members of the local community,” Paxson said. She also mentioned the importance of prioritizing higher risk populations in future vaccination scenarios, such as “frontline people in campus life, dining services, custodians and the older people who are at risk supporting the campus.”

Following questions regarding the University’s engagement with the local community, Paxson mentioned the 2020 fulfillment of a pledge to fund a $10 million endowment to the Providence Public School District, which was established in 2007 following reports of deficiencies within the school system.

Anne-Emilie Rouffiac ’24 expects community involvement to be an especially important aspect of her college experience. Rouffiac intends to get involved with the Swearer Center for Public Service and hopes that “everyone will be able to get back out into the community and have that direct human connection” once public health conditions allow.

Likewise, Paxson expressed intent to have undergraduate students, staff and faculty deepen involvement in tutoring for local public schools once public health guidelines permit..

Paxson also referenced a new University strategic plan on sustainability that would become available to the community soon. She cited the near completion of University divestment in fossil fuels as part of a plan to reach a net neutral, carbon neutral campus.

Reflecting on the past semester, Paxson expressed gratitude for the success of the Brown community in embracing “the public health guidelines and (taking) this situation really seriously.”

“It’s true that it doesn’t give us the normal college experience,” Rouffiac said, referring to the public health measures the University has taken for on-campus students, “but the (University) is really trying to create a lot of virtual” alternatives. 

“I just hope that everyone kind of sticks to these two weeks that might be a bit harder,” she said. Quarantine “is definitely necessary.”

“Keeping each other safe and healthy is an incredible shared responsibility. That responsibility includes your participation in our testing program,” Paxson said. “Seeing how well students have done following these rules has made me so proud.”

Correction: a previous version of the article misspelled Anne-Emilie Rouffiac’s last name. The Herald regrets the error.

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  1. Yeah, yeah, okay, this is all well and good but when you gonna take the Roman statues down Christina?

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