President White spreading peace at the 2017 Solar Eclipse: an event that packed the quad on the first day of classes. (Photo By Alexsenia Ralat)
President White spreading peace at the 2017 Solar Eclipse: an event that packed the quad on the first day of classes.

Photo By Alexsenia Ralat

Campus is Changing: Goodbye, President White

July 21, 2020

It’s no secret that Millikin will be different in the fall. We’ll wear masks and social distance, and hopefully, the education and advocacy of the Black Lives Matter movement this summer will result in a change in our campus culture.  

For Millikin, another major change will be the absence of President Dr. Patrick White and the introduction of his successor, Dr. James Reynolds. As we say goodbye to White and congratulate him on his retirement, we prepare to transition into a new era of Millikin, one that is hopefully more inclusive and more responsive to the issues happening both worldwide and locally.

White has set us up for these changes. Now, we look to Reynolds to make them.   

White has had an illustrious career in education. He came to Millikin seven years ago, and since then, his presence has become a staple on campus. For many students, he is the embodiment of the Millikin spirit.

Most of us can remember meeting White on visit days before we even decided to “make it Millikin.” His speech not only helped convince thousands of students that Millikin is where we needed to be, but his faith in us has never wavered.

“You have no idea how good you are,” White has said at every visit day for years. He says it with such certainty that we believe him.

Every day, we see White in the hallways of Shilling or walking through the University Commons, always in his signature blue hat. He often stops to talk to us or ask questions about our classes. In my time at Millikin, White has always been approachable and engaged. It seems that whenever he’s on campus, he’s excited to be there – and that makes us excited to be there, too. 

And we, his students, will miss him. Going forward, I hope that we can keep White’s excitement with us as we charge into the upcoming fall semester; we will need to share his commitment to learning in order to hurdle over some of the challenges of the next few months.

Last semester, colleges across the world had to change their delivery methods to accommodate online classes. As we gear up for the fall semester, there is still a lot of uncertainty.  

Though Millikin has outlined a plan for beginning in-person classes in August, it seems like this plan is subject to change at any minute if (or maybe more accurately, when) COVID-19 cases resurge. And if we do return to campus in the fall, we can likely expect smaller classes, more online work, and masks.  

This pandemic has changed the world. Millikin will have to continue making adjustments to ensure the safety of the Millikin community.

And speaking of the Millikin community, all of us need to undergo personal changes in order to improve our campus environment. In the past month, the Black Lives Matter movement has prompted necessary conversations about inclusivity and race. Make no mistake – racism is alive at Millikin, and a lot of students feel like their university is not really theirs. They feel like Millikin has failed to look out for them.

That is unacceptable. 2020 has been a year of changes, and this change is long overdue. It’s embarrassing that we’re still so far behind.   

A lot of students have engaged in reflection, education, and advocacy. People are sharing petitions and resources on social media in addition to protesting and taking the time to unlearn and relearn. In order to really change our campus, this work needs to continue long after we return to it.

In the past few weeks, Millikin has promised to take action without giving us a clear idea of what that action will be, and students are starting to wonder how many more times we need to ask before Millikin takes a concrete step toward addressing our concerns. 

While the President’s Commission on Inclusive Excellence, established by White in 2016, was a step in the right direction, it’s obvious that this isn’t enough to fix the deep-seated issues with Millikin’s campus culture.  

Now, we’re waiting to see what Reynolds will do to continue the support, education, and advocacy that Millikin needs to move forward. We’re waiting to see what he’ll do to protect Black students on campus and what necessary changes he will implement.

And we hope that these changes will start immediately.

Clearly, the past few months have been full of transitions. The pandemic is a tragedy, and it’s changed the way that the world operates. It’s scary that no one knows for sure what will happen next or when things will resume some degree of normalcy. White has led us with strength, and we respect his leadership during this time. We hope that Reynolds will exhibit the same qualities as we resume in-person classes and adjust to safety measures in the fall.

But even more importantly, we want to see changes in both our university and each other. We want Millikin’s statements of action to come to fruition. I’m proud to see that White’s faith in us was not unfounded; students have been advocating for justice both worldwide and at Millikin, and this needs to continue after the summer ends. 

The fall semester is going to be a reset at Millikin. People are excited to get back to school after months of staying home, but we aren’t returning to the Millikin we know. We want to return to a campus that is genuinely more inclusive and responsive. With any luck, we’re returning to a better version of our school. 

White is leaving Millikin very different than how he found it. Today, Millikin is more aware of its strengths and its faults. We are pushing for changes and starting to see results. White has prepared Millikin for these changes and now we hope that Reynolds will take us the rest of the way.

To President White –  congratulations. And thank you. Millikin will miss you.  

To President Reynolds – welcome. There’s a lot of work to be done. Let’s get started.  

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