“Brighter Together” is a message you’ll hear and see repeatedly as Lawrence University prepares to launch a new academic year, one marked by the arrival of a new president, Laurie A. Carter, and the much-anticipated return to campus of students, faculty, and staff after 18 months of mostly remote learning.
Those two words—Brighter Together—will be displayed on banners hanging in front of Main Hall and on T-shirts and face masks being made available to the Lawrence community, and will be repeated in conversations, in convocations, and in campus celebrations. The COVID-19 pandemic is not over, but we are together again.
“I think of it as an anthem for this moment in Lawrence’s history and a reminder of our strength as a community,” said Carter, the university’s 17th president since its founding 174 years ago.
Fall Term, beginning Sept. 13, does not arrive without challenges. The spread of the Delta variant has kept us from getting to the finish line of the pandemic. But, the Lawrence community has shown its ability and willingness to work together to overcome pandemic challenges. With a campus vaccine mandate for students in place, once again wearing masks in indoor public spaces, and continuing to Honor the Pledge by following health and safety protocols, we are facing the challenges.
Classes will again be mostly in person. Athletic competitions have resumed. Conservatory ensembles are practicing together. Andrew Commons will be open for meals. Like last year, the university will continue to monitor the health situation and adjust accordingly.
Julia Ammons, a senior biology major from Sheboygan who has spent much of the summer on campus, said she can deal with masks. She just wants to be together with her classmates.
“I have been looking forward to campus getting somewhat back to normal ever since we got sent home in 2020,” she said. “I am really excited to be able to eat in the Commons again with my friends.”
New students set to arrive
Admissions reports a strong first-year class, numbering about 400 students. Welcoming them to Lawrence will be a campus-wide effort, with faculty and staff joining together to greet incoming students who are being celebrated for the resiliency they’ve shown just to get to this time and place.
“For the past 18 months, this year’s class of new students—not just Lawrentians, but nearly every college-bound student on the planet—has been exploring their college options at a distance, with a small percentage of them ever having physically been on their college’s campuses,” said Ken Anselment, vice president for enrollment and communications. “Every year, we are eager to meet our students in person for the first time—but this year’s eagerness is unprecedented given the circumstances.”
First-year and transfer students will begin arriving for New Student Orientation Sept. 8 and 9. For the first-years, it follows a chaotic and often frustrating end to their high school journeys.
Sophomores, meanwhile, are coming to campus—some also for the first time—having experienced their first year at Lawrence mostly from a distance.
It all ties in to the palpable excitement building as the campus begins to fill up. Athletes from Lawrence’s fall sports teams began moving in to residence halls in mid-August. International students arrived this week, to be followed by first-years and transfers mid-next week, and then other returning students on the weekend. It’ll mark the first time the entire campus community has been together in 18 months.
“I often say that I was drawn to the light of Lawrence—the light of knowledge, the light of truth, and the light each member of our community brings to campus,” Carter said. “The points at which light intersect are always brighter than any individual light, and our strength as a community shines when we engage in challenging endeavors, share our talents and strengths, pursue our passions, and enjoy all that this rich and vibrant community has to offer.”
A robust welcome to Lawrence
The New Student Orientation will begin the campus’s slow walk toward a new normal, with pandemic-related adjustments in place, as first-year and transfer students go through four days of orientation. The welcome from the president—Carter’s first—will break from its traditional location in Memorial Chapel and instead become an outdoor gathering in front of Main Hall. A reception for parents of new students will take place on the Hamar House lawn.
“This year’s welcome to campus is an even bigger deal than usual because we are essentially welcoming two classes of new students to Lawrence—the 2021 class and the 2020 class, who arrived on campus last year under very different circumstances,” Anselment said.
Sophomores will get their own assist in acclimating to campus. Some were fully remote last year. Others were on campus but mostly with classes delivered via Zoom.
Once here, the sophomores will get an added assist settling into their residence halls, connecting to the Center for Academic Success and the Career Center, and will be able to participate in sophomore programming focused on belonging, community, and purpose.
“We plan to do even more intentional outreach to the sophomore class knowing that they will in some ways have similar transitional hurdles as our first-year students,” said Rose Wasielewski, associate dean of students and dean of the sophomore class. “Regardless of whether they were on campus last year, I want to provide additional opportunities for these students to connect to the campus physically, as well as to each other socially.”
Finding a balance, together
Classes will begin Sept. 13 with the excitement of being together—the 2020-21 academic year had nearly two-thirds of the student body on campus but with most classes being taught remotely and social distancing protocols in place—balanced with the need to keep one another safe. Fall Term protocols will include masks being worn in indoor shared spaces no matter your vaccination status, the return of surveillance testing on campus (weekly for anyone unvaccinated, randomly for others), and rigid rules regarding campus visitors. Details are being shared on the COVID-19 page here.
The first week of classes will close with the annual Matriculation Convocation, set for 12:30 p.m. Sept. 17 in Memorial Chapel and available via a livestream. It will mark Carter’s first in-person address to all Lawrentians. That day also will feature a community fair organized on the quad by the Center for Community Engagement and Social Change (CCE) at 5:30 p.m. and a men’s soccer game at the Banta Bowl at 7 p.m.
It’ll all be framed by the “Brighter Together” message.
“We will all adjust to new ways of engaging with each other as we navigate the ongoing pandemic,” Carter said. “As I’ve heard many times over the last year, we can’t look to what we knew but, instead, must look to what is new as we live and learn together.”