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NewsSep 9, 2021

Coming together for a new academic year

Convocation 2021 accentuates the positive with virtual speakers program, in-person receptions

From left, Provost Jonathan K. Jefferson, VP for EDIJ Sandra St Fleur, President Janet L. Steinmayer and Dean of Students Nathaniel Mays.

President Janet L. Steinmayer and other university leaders welcomed our new and returning students to the next chapter of their academic journeys, acknowledging social and medical challenges while underscoring a bright, connected future.

In a late-morning virtual ceremony, followed by a pair of small, in-person outdoor receptions on our South and Porter campuses, speakers underscored the concept of connection — both personal and technological — that will characterize the 2021-22 academic year. Highlighted were the “HyFlex” experience of some classes, where students have the option to attend classes in person, online synchronously or asynchronously, thanks to new technological underpinnings; a redesigned General Education curriculum focused on equity, diversity, inclusion and justice (EDIJ) for first-year students; and an EDIJ Student Advisory Committee designed to give students of all backgrounds a greater voice in our present and future.

university administration wearing masks and academic regalia
Masking up for Covid safety are, from left, Provost Jonathan K. Jefferson, EDIJ VP Sandra St Fleur, President Janet L. Steinmayer and Dean of Students Nathaniel Mays.

Challenges ahead

“In planning our 2021 Convocation, we took a more inclusive and flexible approach than in prior years. This mirrors the way we are approaching our return to campus with a mix of in-person, HyFlex, hybrid, and fully remote classes,” said Steinmayer.

The president alluded to the Covid pandemic, treacherous weather events and other challenges that nevertheless have “reinforced how interconnected we are” and the need to think and act globally.

“Global collaboration to address these challenges will no doubt require forging stronger human connections across borders and cultures,” the president said.

“Strengthening human connections is what a Lesley education is all about,” she added. “It is why the work our professors and alumni do — and the work you will do — has never been more relevant.”

Large group of students gathered under reception tent
Following a virtual speakers program, students gather under a reception tent on our South Campus during Convocation 2021.

Student body President Bailey Haines ’22, a senior Secondary Education major and a proud resident of the “small but mighty” state of New Hampshire, said she has taken off her rose-colored glasses to assess the challenges new students and other young people face in an era of racial and political upheaval, as well as the pandemic and climate havoc. But she said togetherness and respect for individuals’ talents and personalities will help young people prevail and thrive.

“I do believe in the importance of banding together in community,” Haines said. “Lesley is a place that exists to celebrate the strengths of every single person.… Each and every one of you will do spectacular things.”

Fostering change

Provost and Chief Academic Officer Jonathan K. Jefferson indicated that the university will help students begin to create a more just and equitable world. One step along that path is our newly reimagined first-year General Education curriculum, that highlights issues of equity, diversity, power dynamics and more.

Students at recpetion getting food
Students partake of the Convocation 2021 fare during a reception on our South Campus.

“This is a very, very enhanced and wonderful General Education curriculum,” Jefferson said, adding that it will give students in all walks of life a greater understanding of societal struggles while equipping them for employment and success in an increasingly diverse and global workplace.

“We’re excited to have you here, and we’re glad to be able to work with you,” Jefferson said.

Sandra St Fleur, vice president for Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Justice, said students are coming to Lesley at an exciting time as we all work to “hold on to the lessons” of recent marches and demonstrations in the wake of high-profile, racially charged incidents of police brutality and other evils of systemic racism.

She announced the new EDIJ Student Advisory Council among the initiatives that show the university is “designing for the experience of belonging,” and added that every community has a role in advancing the cause of equity, diversity, inclusion and justice.

Dean of Student Life and Academic Development Nathaniel Mays expressed the need to be patient during this transition year of returning to campus, and “take care of ourselves and each other.” That can be achieved, he said, through adherence to Covid safety protocols, but also through a forthcoming series of wellness events open to all Lesley community members. Though much of campus life will be different — mask requirements in classrooms, Covid testing, etc. — one thing hasn’t changed from pre-pandemic times.

“It’s fun being on campus, and it’s fun being on campus with you here,” Mays said.