Dean Lisa Henderson's Message for Alumni

COVID Is Not the Only Story

September 2020

Lisa HendersonTo our Alumni.

First, our sincere wish that you and your loved ones—your friends, family, co-workers, neighbours, community and beyond--are healthy and safe. Here at Western, the health and safety of our community was the priority over the summer, as plans were made to begin a new fall semester unlike any before. Staff, faculty, graduate students and leadership have made enormous efforts to provide the University’s full curriculum, most of it online, though some face-to-face, some synchronous (all on Zoom together at the same time), and some “asynchronous,” giving students flexibility in accessing their course materials. We have students attending classes from as close as right on campus here in London, or as far away as Shanghai.

It is the most demanding and most miraculous semester of my 30-year career.

At FIMS, every staff and faculty colleague has had a role to play in getting us here, and now every student has a role in keeping us up and running. We have reverse engineered the campus, including all our classrooms, workplaces, eateries, residences and study areas, and launched “Take Care Western,” the campaign we need to involve everyone in our collective efforts to complete a successful term. We are testing for Coronavirus on campus and are educating the community about why precautionary measures are needed and how they can best contribute to the well-being of their friends, colleagues and classmates. It is a tremendous work of social participation, and it is going on at universities across the province, the country, and the world. We will keep you posted.

Can there be a COVID-era Homecoming? Yes! We hope that many alumni will join us at the Virtual Creative Coffee House co-hosted by FIMS, the Don Wright Faculty of Music and the Faculty of Arts and Humanities on Friday, October 16, 7-8:30 p.m. Alumni from all three faculties will perform and read, and Alice Munro Chair in Creativity Ivan Coyote will host a live talk-back, joined by the deans from the three Faculties, among other special guests. We know how dependent many of us have been on artists and art to make sense of these times. Come contribute to a community conversation about your experience as a member of the audience or as an artist yourself. A full roster for Homecoming 2020 - Virtually Canada’s Best Homecoming at Western is available here. Watch for program updates.

But COVID is not the only story. At Western and at FIMS, we have also been organizing ourselves in response to anti-racist activism across the city, the province, the country, and the continent. It is a critical moment of recognition as schools at all levels recognize our accountability to becoming a more just and inclusive educational environment. FIMS has joined the University’s broad response guided by the Anti-Racist Working Group. Earlier this summer, we responded to anti-racist marching and calls for solidarity and accountability with a statement against police violence toward Black and Indigenous people in Canada and a growing list of titles to read, watch and hear. We also began conversations with alumni from the MMJC program, who have asked us to strengthen our curriculum and to create a more inclusive community for BIPOC students across FIMS. Changes have begun on that front and the MMJC program committee is working hard to implement remedies and to plan for the future. And though it is not a direct response to the events this summer, we are thrilled to announce that a search has begun for an Indigenous faculty colleague in any area of FIMS scholarship, creative work, and teaching. Consistent with the Ontario Human Rights Code, and with the University’s support, we hope to make an appointment to begin in July 2021. We envision FIMS as a place where education moves toward inclusion and decolonization.

This is something to celebrate.

In my last message to alumni I noted that FIMS would soon be appointing four new faculty colleagues, in July 2020. All four of our newest scholars have arrived safely, travelling across provinces and continents to get here. You can read more about these colleagues in the article “Faculty renewal brings fresh ideas to FIMS.” I also draw your attention to the reflection piece titled “Alumna keeps door open for FIMS interns during COVID,” written by MIT graduate Molly McCracken (BA’13). She describes her experience of both being a FIMS intern while a student, and this summer, of hiring a FIMS intern – even under these challenging circumstances.

In our MMJC program, where students are required to complete an internship, some did so through the launch of the Western Journalism Studio, headed up by award-winning journalist Jennifer O’Brien, and the Western Media Studio, headed up by award-winning communicator Michelle Edwards. In a year when many internship opportunities were suspended due to COVID, the studios—and students—took on professional projects, reporting and preparing non-profit campaigns in London. Check out their work! Our thanks to Jen, Michelle and all the student journalists and communicators.

Join me in congratulating Professor Lynne McKechnie on her retirement from FIMS in December 2019, after 23 years on the Faculty. Lynne is a distinguished scholar of reading and children’s literature, and an international leader in LIS research. She has authored four books and over 40 articles and guided close to 100 graduate students in the program. Lynne, we thank you for your remarkable achievements at FIMS and we miss you already.

Dean’s Office Manager Ella Young retired on September 22nd after 31 years at the University, 19 of them in FIMS. Ella’s leadership in the Dean’s Office, and her enormous skill and range with university procedure, have been organizing us and smoothing our way for a long time. Ella, we will miss your administrative genius, your kindness, your collaboration, and your style. Here’s to your next act.

Please visit our In Memorium section to read about Professor Emeritus Tim Craven, who passed away in London on August 17, journalism alumna Susanne Jones, who passed away in Ottawa on August 2, and journalism alumnus Gary Manning, who passed away in New Brunswick in early 2020. We remember them in this Newsletter and send our condolences to their loved ones.

Alumni, please join us whenever you can. We will post public online seminars with FIMS faculty and related events at the FIMS website, and hope that some of you might join us, your time permitting. We are grateful every semester for your contributions as guests, advisors, donors and friends, and we truly look forward to a safe return to the chance to see you face-to-face. Until then, we wish you health and peace.

Lisa Henderson