A Day On, After a Few Updates

Although we're doing our best to maintain USN's bubble, there are opportunities to reflect on the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. from home as a family throughout the three-day weekend.
Thanks for finding your way to this message. Staying connected, so important through the entire COVID-19 marathon, now carries even greater meaning, given the backdrop of the alarmingly historic events of this difficult new year already. Maybe we needed this reminder that we’ll have to earn any progress that 2021 brings. Surely this is no time to expect or accept less of one another. So back to school we’ve gone.
First, a big word of gratitude for the decisions great and small that made our re-entry possible. Whatever you did at home to shrink the size of the holes in our block of swiss cheese defenses against this terrible virus seems to be working—here in week 2 of our ever-worried return. We’ve seen mercifully few new cases post-holiday (so far), even as hospitals face record counts and massive pressure on their finite resources. If you opted to stay home, opted to quarantine after travel, or called our Health Team for guidance when you saw symptoms, you helped make USN possible. If you capitulated and wrote yourself a permission slip this time around and relied on everyone else to get it right, be grateful and resolve to tote more of the load from now forward.
Second, an incomplete word on the quest to vaccinate faculty and staff. Conversations began over the break in a very preliminary but determined way, given that educators carry the 1B priority for distribution  — and that got me excited. More recently, difficulties in securing a large supply of doses in the city and state and nation, in addition to creating a mechanism for distribution, dampened some of that excitement. But plans continue to take shape even as I type, and within weeks, not months, we'll most likely need to take a day to get everyone to a vaccination site and likely a day thereafter to make room for the subsequent immune system response. The minute I hear something definitive, you'll hear too. It can't come soon enough.
In the meantime, alas, the pooled saliva study remains on hold, with a promise to return just as soon as circumstances permit. Such is life, I’ve learned, in the midst of a scientific research initiative. We’ve ramped up referral options for testing in response. Again, if you’re worried about COVID-19 in your home, our Health Team is always there for you.
Next, let’s remember, in the hurricane of current events, that the national holiday coming Monday, January 18 calls for action on our part. I heard a certain famed college basketball coach, of all people, say in a postgame press conference, of all places, that what happened on Wednesday, January 6, rather than being "not who we are" as Americans, sadly reminds us that "it is who we are right now.” Scholars like our own Greg Downs ’89 at UC-Davis provide deeper academic context to buttress the same point.
And with threats of renewed violence across the nation next week (leaving me especially thankful for the constant support of Vanderbilt University Police Department in our neighborhood), in addition to COVID-19 mitigation, Martin Luther King Jr. Day arrives this year without many time-honored opportunities. There can be no march down Jefferson Street, no in-person gatherings at Jefferson Street Missionary Baptist Church that morning, no keynote speeches at Tennessee State University's Gentry Center, no volunteer service projects of scale at sites across the city. But we can gather in our homes; we can reflect on the work of revered predecessors and embrace the fact that there’s so much work yet to do, that we must be people of eternal vigilance. The pandemic offers the opportunity to participate in many MLK-related educational and cultural events from the comfort of our living rooms, including hearing from alumnus Anthony Williams '78.
To help galvanize that message, the remarkable Rev. Jim Lawson, one of the beacons of the civil rights movement locally and globally, will offer reflections on Monday, January 18 — what a gift. And it also will be shown on TV30 with a program including parent of USN alumni Shannon Sanders as well. Our friends at VU will also offer virtual events we’re welcome to join, and the Metro Human Relations Commission offers a series of talks inspired by a community read of Ibram X. Kendi’s "How To Be An Anti-Racist," a now-familiar title schoolwide.
All to say that we can’t be too busy to be safe, to be mindful, to be engaged, and to be honest about the challenges we experience so viscerally, together. The children are watching, and we couldn’t ask for a higher calling.
Stay well,
Vince Durnan
    • Director Vince Durnan speaks with Raine Jones '21 and Gemma Jefferson '21 before their college signing ceremony on Wednesday, January 13.

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