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President’s Fall Address stresses resilience and safety

President Robert S. Nelsen delivers his 2021 Fall Address in the University Union Ballroom. The speech, which stressed the strength and resilience of the Hornet Family amid a 17-month campus shutdown, was also livestreamed. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

Drawing on themes from Bruce Springsteen’s anthem about the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Sac State President Robert S. Nelsen on Wednesday delivered a Fall Address that touched on losses, heartache, and resilience.

Springsteen’s album The Rising provided the backdrop for a speech that highlighted the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic, the determination of Sac State’s students, faculty, and staff to overcome hardships, and the University’s plans to push forward in the coming year.

“Come on up for the rising,” Nelsen said with a catch in his voice, quoting Springsteen’s song about a firefighter ascending the World Trade Center following the Sept. 11 attacks.

“Yes,” Nelsen said. “We are coming back.”

Melinda Wilson Ramey, on stage, wearing a face covering, listens to a question from the audience following the President's Fall Address.
Interim Vice President for Inclusive Excellence Melinda Wilson Ramey, center, listens to a question from the audience during a Q&A session following President Robert S. Nelsen's Fall Address. Wilson Ramey and other campus leadership, including Nelsen, left, spent more than an hour responding to questions from both in-person attendees and those watching the livestream. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

As the Sac State community returns to campus after 17 months of working, teaching, and learning from home, Nelsen outlined some of the new campus health and safety protocols, including mandated vaccinations and face coverings in indoor settings.

He thanked groundskeepers and police who “showed up every day” to care for the campus, Nursing students who administered vaccines, technology staff who handed out laptops to needy students, faculty and staff members who “never gave up, who refused to let the pandemic beat them,” and everyone who endured hardships to ensure the University’s educational mission continued.

More than 60% of Sac State’s students this semester will be enrolled in at least one class involving some in-person instruction, Nelsen said. Enrollment has held steady, with more than 31,400 students taking courses.

Students and faculty members will arrive to classrooms that have undergone renovations and technology upgrades. New projectors, screens, docking stations, microphones, and more will ensure that Sac State is “technology ready,” Nelsen said.

Everyone on campus must attest to having been fully vaccinated or claim a religious or medical exemption from the shots. Those who claim exemptions will be tested twice weekly for exposure to COVID-19.

Vaccines, he said, “are the best way to keep the Hornet Family safe.”

Sac State has introduced other efforts to curb spread of the virus, including upgrading HVAC systems and adding outdoor seating.

With these measures and more, “we can and we will be safe on campus,” Nelsen said.

Although the pandemic created serious financial challenges for Sac State and all 23 members of the CSU system, Sac State has prevailed on many levels, he said.

The University will have a balanced budget for the sixth straight year. The On the Rise comprehensive fundraising campaign, which was upended by the pandemic, has raised nearly 95% of its $225 million goal, said Nelsen. And graduation rates continue to improve across the board, with 26% of students graduating in four years compared to just 8.8% in 2016.

The President touched upon the University’s efforts to become a more diverse, inclusive, and, ultimately, antiracist campus. On Sept. 29, Sac State will hold a Convocation to fully unveil its new Antiracism and Inclusive Campus Plan.

Sac State has hired a bias response director to evaluate and respond to allegations of racist incidents on campus. A new director of Faculty, Diversity and Inclusion begins work next month, and the University is searching for a new Director of Inclusive Excellence and Learning, as well as a new vice president for Inclusive Excellence and chief diversity officer.

“We are funding what we have declared a moral imperative. We are not just paying it lip service,” Nelsen said.

While the campus community returns to offices, classrooms, football games and other activities, he expressed optimism and hope that life at Sac State will see better days ahead.

“All aboard this train,” he said, quoting Springsteen’s song “Land of Hope and Dreams.”

“On this train, dreams will not be thwarted. Faith will be rewarded.”

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About Cynthia Hubert

Cynthia Hubert came to Sacramento State in November 2018 after an award-winning career writing for the Sacramento Bee. Cynthia believes everyone has a good story. She lives in East Sacramento with her two cats, who enjoy bird-watching from their perch next to the living-room window.

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