The following message was sent to all Ohio State students, faculty and staff on Friday, Sept. 18, 2020.
Dear Students, Faculty and Staff:
At the beginning of the semester, I shared with our first-year and transfer students that I feel a special connection with them. I started as the new president just as they began their journey at Ohio State. We are new Buckeyes together.
Moving forward, I will be sharing with you all my “Reflections of a First-Year Buckeye.” These will be weekly dispatches about life on our campuses, our work, our progress meeting the challenges we face, and your successes as students, faculty and staff.
As my “freshman” year progresses, we’ll learn, share and reflect — Together As Buckeyes.
Anti-racism and fighting racial inequities
Our work together in making The Ohio State University anti-racist and more inclusive is especially important at this critical juncture. To that end, I want to share with you that I was very troubled by recent events that involved an assault on several of our students and subsequent public safety notices (PSN) that neglected to identify the reasons behind the classification of the attacks as hate crimes. We are grateful that the students were not more seriously injured. And we also acknowledge that the PSNs triggered unnecessary fear and anxiety for some in our community — especially our Black and Brown students.
We have heard the voices of our students and others, and I have taken the following actions:
The university and the Ohio State Department of Public Safety acknowledged the mistake in the way this incident was handled, and I have directed public safety to write an After Action Report, with immediate recommendations for establishing such processes and policies so that this never happens again.
We are creating an action plan to address the larger cultural issue of how our under-represented minorities, including Black and Brown students, faculty and staff, are treated at Ohio State. I have met with Drs. James L. Moore III and Tom Gregoire, the co-chairs of our Task Force on Racism and Racial Inequities, to discuss the incidents and to ask them to review with the entire task force the recommended processes and policies. The task force is outlining a process to actively engage the university community on these topics and more.
We have a lot of work to do together, and I ask for your help and participation in forthcoming meetings and other information-sharing mediums organized by the task force. We need every member of the Buckeye community to support our anti-racist efforts, and I will share our progress in these reflections.
This past week we received 73 initial proposals for creative projects that address structural or institutional racism; implicit bias and privilege; and racial and cultural disparities in response to a call for proposals for the $1 million Seed Fund for Racial Justice. The fund has a clear call to action: “Ohio State has both the opportunity and the responsibility to lead reconciliation and drive transformational and sustainable change at this pivotal moment in our nation’s history.” We will issue grants of up to $50,000 in two phases over the next two years. Decisions on the Round 1 concept papers will be announced on Sept. 30, with full proposals due Oct. 31 and awards announced Dec. 1. These seed grants give us an opportunity to advance humanity by being a leader in eliminating racism from all aspects of our university, city, state and country.
Calling all students
Last week, we began a new program to connect with students where they live, work, study and hang out. “Pop-Ins with the Prez” will occur each week somewhere on our campuses — mostly virtual for now but in person when we can. I will join you in classrooms, labs, residence halls, apartments, Greek houses — basically all around campus and beyond. I want to hear what’s on your minds. Be on the lookout for opportunities to sign up. We’ll be sure to stay 6 feet apart and keep each other safe. I can’t wait to meet you.
Also, I will be having office hours for students every week. We will share more on how you can sign up to be selected for 15-minute Zoom calls soon.
I want to remind all of our students, faculty and staff about the support resources available to all of us. It’s so critical that we take time every day to take care of ourselves and each other. We must make wellness a priority. As our Chief Wellness Officer and College of Nursing Dean Bern Melnyk says, “You cannot pour from an empty cup.” If you’re not well, you can’t do the things you’re here to do, become your best self and make the world a better place.
Please take a moment to review the resources at the end of this message. For students, we have expanded the Student Life “Let’s Talk” program to occur Monday through Friday, and the university is now offering a counseling group for students who have tested positive for COVID-19 and must isolate as a result. You can also access the Mental Health Strategies Video Series at any time. Links and information are available on the Counseling and Consultation Service website.
For more mental health and wellness resources, visit the Safe and Healthy Buckeyes website.
Additionally, the University Senate voted to provide undergraduate students with additional flexibility to request Pass/No Pass grading for General Education and elective courses this semester. Individual colleges and schools will determine whether to consider Pass/No Pass options for required courses that are part of an undergraduate major, minor or program.
We continue to focus on our community’s health and safety by wearing masks, staying 6 feet apart and practicing good hygiene, and our adherence to these practices is evident in our test results. We’ve improved from a 24-hour on-campus positivity rate of 5.7% on Aug. 31 to 0.9% on Wednesday, and our cumulative positivity rate is 3.6% for all students based on results from almost 71,000 tests. We must remain vigilant to continue this trend. Following our COVID-19 guidelines is critical to us remaining on campus together through the end of the autumn.
Every day I convene a team of Ohio State leaders and scientists to determine how we can make our defenses against the virus even stronger. We continue to expand our testing and beginning Sept. 21, graduate and professional students will be included in our surveillance testing program. Students tested as part of this program are not required to quarantine while waiting for test results, and more details have been provided to those eligible for participation.
Let’s also remember the importance of continuing to reach out and support our friends, colleagues and family members who are in quarantine or isolation at this time. This period can be very difficult, but they are helping to keep us all safe. We want them to know that we are here for them, and provide them with whatever support we can.
Meanwhile, we continue to see Buckeyes distinguish themselves as they change the world.
Hopefully, many of you have had the opportunity to meet Dr. Rattan Lal, recipient of the 2020 World Food Prize. He is a 1968 Ohio State alumnus and joined our faculty in 1987. Over the course of his career, he has supported and mentored thousands of undergraduate and graduate students, postdocs and visiting scholars while his research has led to more sustainable farming and greater access to nutritious food for 2 billion people across five continents.
A Distinguished University Professor of Soil Science in our College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, Dr. Lal was honored this month with the naming of the Rattan Lal Laboratories at Punjab Agricultural University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree. It was a personal honor for me to participate in the ceremony to recognize Dr. Lal’s astounding worldwide contributions. He is an exemplar of Ohio State’s impact in the creation of new ideas and the application of research and scholarship that benefits humankind.
Last week, we learned that Opportunity Port, a project to help eligible Ohioans seal their criminal records and improve their lives, has been provisionally awarded $500,000 in the 2020 Alliance for the American Dream competition sponsored by Schmidt Futures. Ohio State’s Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity partnered with Columbus City Council, Legal Aid Society of Columbus, Smart Columbus and Buckeye Interactive to develop the project.
Finally, our Wexner Medical Center recently received an LGBTQ Health Care Equality Leader designation from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. You can read more about this outstanding recognition here.
Listening to the Orton Hall Chimes ring out across the Oval each day, I am reminded of the storied history that we share as Buckeyes. In fact, this week we celebrated Founder’s Day for our university. On Sept. 17, 1873, 24 students attended the first classes at the Ohio Agricultural & Mechanical College, which would become Ohio State.
If you have a moment, check out the Carmen Collection, which shines a spotlight on students, faculty and staff from across the decades who have shaped our university’s history, and whose stories have been lost or seldom told over the years. I think you’ll find them inspiring.
Have a great weekend and stay safe and healthy.
Kristina M. Johnson, PhD
- Safe and Healthy Buckeyes information and guidance
- Testing resources for students
- Resources for faculty
- Resources for COVID-19 research
- Resources for students
- Resources for staff
- Safe and Healthy Buckeyes: Mental Health and Wellness
- Faculty and staff can use the Human Resources Keep Well website, the Chief Wellness Officer Health and Wellness page and Your Plan For Health.
- Students can use the Counseling and Consultation Service (CCS) and the Buckeye Peer Access Line (PAL), which operates Monday through Friday from 8 p.m. to midnight.
- CCS also provides guidance for ways for faculty and staff to support students.
- The Ohio State: Wellness app is designed for students but offers tips and guidance useful for all members of our community. It is available for Android and iOS devices.