Today, fall classes begin at the University of Miami. After months of preparation, the time has arrived for ’Canes to live out our commitment to one another and to our community.
A Message from President Julio Frenk

August 17, 2020

President Julio Frenk on the first day of classes
Below, for your reference, is the full text of President Julio Frenk’s video message (above) to the University of Miami community.

Today, fall classes begin at the University of Miami. After months of preparation, the time has arrived for ’Canes to live out our commitment to one another and to our community.

This semester begins unlike any in our history, but the opportunities and responsibilities before us are an element of the rich tradition of higher education. Last week, as our residential students began arriving in Miami, I noted that over the course of human history, society has made the most progress during and immediately following periods of great adversity.

For instance, tomorrow marks the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the United States. It is not surprising that such a significant victory in the global fight for social justice came on the heels of a horrific pandemic and the First World War. Crises have a way of putting our common humanity in perspective and fueling our search for meaning.

What you may not know is the role that universities played in the struggle for women to have the right to vote. Congress ultimately ratified the 19th Amendment in the United States two decades after students began organizing on campuses across the country. It was the passion of college students who banded together to form the College Equal Suffrage League—which became a branch of the National American Woman Suffrage Association—that helped energize the movement.

A century later, we find ourselves facing challenges that require just as fervent a response. Whether fighting a pandemic or reimagining and reinvigorating the economy, our common enemy is apathy—no matter our background, beliefs, or political persuasion. And just as Black women were not included in the voting rights granted white women 100 years ago, people of color continue to face inequality and racist acts, so we must dedicate ourselves anew to addressing these injustices.

Those who have lived through difficult times speak of their challenges and sacrifices, as well as the amazing memories and friendships they created. This too will be our story today, whether you are joining us in person or continuing your education remotely.

We at the U cannot afford to be apathetic. From our peers across the country and around the world to the business community and neighbors right here in South Florida, others are looking to us as an example. This is true for us as a community and as individuals.

Like all communities and individuals, we must consider that there are factors driving this pandemic that are outside our control. We cannot control the way other people behave, but we can encourage the things we know work. The U.S. Surgeon General has referred to these behaviors as the three Ws—wash your hands, watch your distance, wear a face covering.

I cannot overstate this: the stakes are very high. It would be unrealistic to assume that there will be no cases of COVID-19 this fall, on our campus or anywhere else in the world. Our goal is to avoid the type of broad outbreak that would require us to shut down campus. I described in great detail in recent weeks the reasons we must adhere to the public health measures we have put in place on campus, and I shared the ways we hope to inspire every member of our University community to do their part.

Last week, residential students returned to campus. I recognize we are asking students to make a sacrifice by changing the way they relate to each other, yet I continue to believe our students can be trusted to do the right thing and the smart thing. Just as has occurred for 95 years, I assure you, your sacrifices and commitment now will still give rise to the unique memories and strong friendships that have always accompanied being a ’Cane.

With reports of unauthorized and health-risking behavior on campus already beginning to surface on social media, let me be clear: any student hosting or participating in a social gathering in violation of the measures we have put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19 will face disciplinary charges by the Dean of Students Office. If found responsible, these students will be removed from campus and suspended. Resident students are also subject to housing review, which can result in eviction from on-campus housing. Regrettably, there are already a few cases we are having to address.

I am aware that developmentally, young people are wired to seek new experiences and interact with their peers—and, unless they are mindful about their choices, these natural tendencies can lead to risky behavior. On that point, I implore all of us—students, faculty, and staff—to consider the consequences of taking risks.

When and how we choose to take risks will have a profound impact on our entire community. Taking the calculated risk of being on campus comes with a valuable reward: an exceptional educational experience, including new friendships and a unique set of memories that will last a lifetime. Taking uninformed risks off campus—or worse yet, deliberately ignoring risks on or off campus—comes with huge negative consequences, not only for the person engaging in that behavior, but for everyone with whom they come into contact.

We at the U relish our connection to those around us. From academics to athletics, from arts and humanities to health care, we are a source of unity, pride, and connection for the community. At a time when human behavior has such a palpable effect on individual and collective well-being, the strength of human connection can all too easily become a weakness.

There is an adage that has been attributed to various leaders over the years, which summarizes the impact of consistent action. We are told that actions become habits, habits become character, and character becomes destiny.

Nearly a century ago, our founders envisioned a great destiny for the University of Miami—one in which we would help devise solutions to the world’s most vexing challenges. The time to live that destiny is now.

So, as we begin a historic year, let us engage in mindful action. Let us follow the tradition of the innovators, the activists, and the visionaries who found their calling on college campuses. For all of us, no matter our role at the U, now is the time.
President Frenk signature
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