May 10, 2024

Dear members of the Connecticut College community,

Over the past several months, we have been in conversation with many of you about the ongoing war in Gaza and Israel and its impact on our campus and in our communities near and far. On our campus, our conversations have been centered on finding ways to address community concerns and enhance support in key areas. Some of these areas were recently noted in campus petitions. As we close out the semester, we would like to note progress in our work to address needs identified by our campus.

1. Increased support spaces: Beginning this fall, we will have two new centers in Knowlton House (the global village house) — an international student cultural center and a Muslim student cultural center with a dedicated prayer space. We will also have a new student disability advocacy center and student accessibility services office in Smith House. We have been talking with students about these spaces for the past few months. Student leaders affiliated with these groups toured the spaces earlier this semester and we will be taking steps this summer to prepare the spaces for the fall.

2. Muslim chaplain: Earlier this semester, we launched a national search for a full-time imam. We have started to receive applications and hope to fill this position for the next academic year. We also identified an office space for this chaplain in Knowlton adjacent to the Muslim student cultural center noted above.

3. Increased transparency on College investments: We have been talking with students who are calling for the College to be more transparent about Conn’s investments. Last week, when the Board of Trustees was on campus for its May meeting, Board members met with students twice to discuss the College’s investments – once as part of the trustee-student liaison committee meeting and separately with student organizers and SGA leadership. These conversations will continue into the summer and fall.

4. More dialogue across differences: Dean Hamlett has taken the lead in working with a professional group called Mediators Beyond Borders International to facilitate discussions among students, faculty and staff. Several trainings took place on campus over the past few weeks, and students and others involved in these sessions received introductory training in mediation skills. Planning and implementation will continue through next semester, in accordance with the next steps in the Presidential Task Force work. We look forward to more discussions in partnership with Mediators Beyond Borders International in the fall.

5. Clarity on academic freedom: Faculty and students have asked for greater clarity on the College’s commitment to academic freedom. Conn is committed to the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression as documented in College policy noted in multiple parts of Information for Faculty (IFF) and on pages 38 and 39 of the Student Handbook. The Student Handbook also notes in the Student Bill of Rights the right to individual beliefs and expression (page 8). The College must also comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 19641. Last week, several senior administrators met with a number of faculty and staff for a town hall discussion about academic freedom. During that session, it was helpful to hear people’s perspectives and we are continuing to review, with faculty, some of the feedback we received. We also intend to work with the Dean of Faculty, FSCC and Staff Council to identify a small group of faculty and staff to work with senior administrators and make recommendations for addressing campus concerns related to this and any future conflicts in the world that affect the Conn community directly.

We are committed to maintaining a campus community where people feel supported, where reasoned dialogue flourishes, where we share in the free exchange of ideas and inquiry, and where we learn, discover and advance our community together. We have also realized, during discussions with students, faculty and staff, the power and promise of engaging in dialogue and civil discourse more regularly. There is more work to be done to build on the dialogue project and the initial commitments we have outlined here. It will also be important to orient President-elect Chapdelaine about the steps we have taken to advance our goals.

We invite questions, comments and continued discussion.


Leslie Wong

Les Wong, Ph.D.
Interim President

1. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance. The Department of Education has issued consistent guidance reminding schools of their legal obligations under Title VI to provide all students, including students who are or are perceived to be Jewish, Israeli, Muslim, Arab, or Palestinian, a school environment free from discrimination based on race, color, or national origin, including shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics, or citizenship or residency in a country with a dominant religion or distinct religious identity.

Katherine Bergeron