Shortly before the holiday break, I received a parcel from UTM’s Department of Biology: thanks! Inside was a drinking glass, which I think is intended for whiskey, but which I have filled with my drink of choice instead: Kombucha. I’ve been enjoying drinking from it, not least because of the expression engraved on its side: “So, that happened: Happy 2021!”
The message always makes me smile. No kidding: that happened. But – without wishing to spoil the joke: such a professorial thing to do – I also think the message expresses a deeper truth. 2020 was tough. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a tremendous toll on everyone. It has also affected some people more than others, exacerbating existing inequalities and bringing injustices in sharper focus.
The New Year provides new opportunities for change. We still face challenges ahead, ones that we will confront with the same care, compassion and resilience that have long characterized our community. So we can also look to 2021 for hope, optimism and collective progress.
In 2021, our campus will continue to grow. We have advanced construction on the new Science Building, which we plan to run sustainably as the greenest lab space in North America. As the future home for more world-leading research, alongside Maanjiwe Nendamowinan, the UTM Library, and elsewhere, the new Science Building will propel a heightened effort to think creatively about campus space: we aim to provide scholars and staff in all disciplines with the support necessary for ongoing success.
We define success through a commitment to equity. U of T has launched a task force on anti-Black racism; a working group to combat anti-Semitism; and a collaboration with the Centre for Addiction & Mental Health. At UTM, in particular, we will continue to benefit from the leadership of Rhonda McEwen, Special Advisor on Anti-Racism & Equity, as we work to create more meaningful change. Most immediately, I look forward to enacting recommendations that emerged from our campus’s EDI retreat, including efforts to make UTM a more deserving home for Indigenous peoples.
The vaccine rollout promises positive change, too—in time. As we look forward to that future, I encourage everyone to remain vigilant in implementing public health guidelines. We can help support and protect our community by following U of T’s mask policy; maintaining physical distancing; washing our hands; and using the UCheck self-assessment tool before visiting campus.
Alongside public health measures, the university will also continue to offer resources that reach you where you are. Students can access wellness supports, including My SSP, through the Mental Health Website, organized by UTM’s Office of Student Affairs & Services. Faculty, librarians and staff can find similar resources through the Employee & Family Assistance Program. I encourage you to use these services without hesitation: we’re isolated, not alone.
Looking back on the previous year, I remain hopeful for the future. I have seen what our community can accomplish together, even in the most difficult of circumstances. The creativity, kindness and dedication that saw us through 2020 will guide us through a safe and successful winter term.
I wish you all a happy and safe 2021,
Vice-President & Principal
University of Toronto Mississauga