Dear Arts & Letters Community:
Welcome to 2021. I began writing this monthly letter just as the New Year dawned but a year’s worth of history has happened in the week since. A violent mob stormed the US Capitol and the pandemic is still raging through our community. Yet, we persist – because we must. As President Covino wrote in his message to the University community, “we must educate against hate and demagoguery.” In the College of Arts & Letters, we educate for critical thinking, for ethical decision making, and for fact-based communication, three skills that were sorely – and fatally -- lacking on January 6.
As we gear up for the Spring 2021 semester, I have also been thinking about the lessons of the pandemic. Foremost in that thinking is the notion that collective community action is what is most effective for the promotion of individual health and well-being. During this public health crisis, we have seen that we all rely on one another for our health. For example, individuals collectively wearing masks and maintaining physical distance help the entire community mitigate the spread of the virus. We’ve also seen neighbors helping one another to create community cohesion. In my own neighborhood not far from campus, I drop off eggs and fruit to an elderly neighbor and others help her with trash and outdoor chores (masked and distanced, of course). Perhaps you are doing the same in your neighborhood.
In the US, it often seems that our culture and our economy are inexorably intertwined, grounded in the belief that the pursuit of individual self-interest is in the interest of the good of all humanity. But as wealth inequity grows and the planet warms at an unsustainable pace, we are beginning to accept that a shift is needed in the balance between the individual and collective well-being. The pandemic and the recent events in the Capitol have boldly foregrounded the need for that shift.
One of the most important thinkers and writers around these notions of community and citizenship is Claudia Rankine. We are honored that Ms. Rankine has agreed to be our 2021 Jean Burden Poet. The Jean Burden Poetry Reading is a signature event of the College of Arts & Letters and its Center for Contemporary Poetry and Poetics. The event will take place February 25 and is not to be missed!
As we prepare for the Spring semester, I ask that you remember the significance of the skills mentioned above – critical thinking, ethical decision-making, and fact-based communication -- to the sustainability of American democracy. Your education in these areas is important not only to you individually, but also to your family, community, and the health of the nation.
Dr. Linda Essig, Dean
PS. I continue to hold drop-in office hours for students on Friday mornings from 10 a.m. -11 a.m. and for faculty and staff on Monday afternoons from 4 p.m. - 5 p.m. at https://calstatela.zoom.us/j/5109496386. No appointment needed.
Associate Dean Weiss also has open office hours on Tuesday afternoons from 2:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m. at https://calstatela.zoom.us/j/92387087821