President’s Office

President’s speeches, letters, and articles

Subject: The start of this academic year at Reed

photo of the sun setting on campus

August 30, 2020

Dear students, faculty, and staff, 

Tomorrow’s sunrise marks the official start of the academic year, although it feels like a much larger beginning. The year 2020 has been like no other, and I pause at this milestone to acknowledge the pride I have in our community’s ability to face and address the extraordinary challenges that have defined this historic time.

As we begin this new semester, we are in a crisis within a crisis—one that is viral and has been with us for less than a year, and one that is rooted in generations of systemic anti-Black racism. Both COVID-19 and racism require assiduousness. They are both perilous in their assault on our nation’s health and psyche. 

When facing any challenge, I look for what gives me hope and trust. This community’s profound care for one another gives me tremendous hope, and I have deep trust stemming from the countless examples of this community working together to make Reed an ideal environment in which students, faculty, and staff can thrive.

In response to COVID-19, we have had to reimagine Reed’s operations collectively. In less than a few months, working groups and community members have implemented plans that adapt virtually every aspect of the college’s operations. We have executed programs that we have never experienced before, such as COVID-19 testing and a largely virtual orientation. We have had to completely reconfigure how to offer our academic program both in person and remotely. None of this work has been easy, and all of it has been done under time constraints. Nonetheless, we have persevered toward a common goal of caring for our community and attending to equity, while safeguarding Reed’s academic program.

I am seeing a similar sense of urgency in and commitment to propelling essential work to combat racism at Reed. Over the summer, the Office for Institutional Diversity (OID) has expanded to increase its expertise in faculty, staff, and institutional development. Additionally, this year’s Committee on Diversity was appointed early and has been meeting regularly over the summer rather than waiting for the start of the academic year. The committee is currently presenting the faculty with a range of actions they can initiate immediately. Furthermore, we will be establishing a new Staff Committee on Diversity and coordinating the efforts of the faculty, staff, and student committees to facilitate better communication and more effective planning and implementation. 

As I reflect on what feels like a watershed moment, I think of those who have been fighting to gain the basic freedoms promised by the Constitution. Unfortunately, it has taken these divided times and polarized politics for more of us to clearly see the injustices that have been overlooked by so many. In a recent faculty meeting, I appreciated the reflections of Professor Mark Burford, chair of the Committee on Diversity, on where we have been and where we are heading:

“. . . from the vantage point of a thirteen-year Reed career, it seems to me that the needle has moved because we have made choices—hard choices, inconvenient choices, sometimes unpopular choices—that have resulted in a campus culture that is different from what it was before—and that has sometimes introduced new challenges—yet remains Reed. . . . Now, I really do believe that those members of the Reed community who are deeply committed to the perpetual project of racial equity can and should confidently—even audaciously—claim the center of the college, focusing energy on what to do and how to do it, without wasting time trying to change minds about the need to proceed.” 

As we audaciously embark on this academic year, remember to find ways to care for yourself and your loved ones. I find great inspiration in the messages I receive from students and families. A note from the parent of a first-year student shared that “No words can truly convey what it means to us, to be a part of Reed . . . truly, it is a synthesis of a long-held dream and endeavor for our son.”  

This message reminds me of the special responsibility we have to foster our students’ dreams and aspirations. I have never had the honor of working with a more caring, dedicated, inspiring, and compassionate group of people. Take solace, Reedies, that we are all pulling together. The start of this academic year is a step toward a great journey, and there will be moments that will feel hard and exhausting. Let us all promise to draw strength from one another and remember that we are all comrades of the quest!

With love and gratitude,



Audrey Bilger