Standing together for our health, wellness and safety

Dear IU Student, Colleague or Friend of the University,

At this point in the second half of Indiana University's spring semester, we have many reasons to feel positive and optimistic. Chief among these is that with each day that passes, more and more Hoosiers are getting vaccinated for COVID-19, bringing us nearer to the time when we can finally say we have overcome this pandemic.

Currently nearly 1.2 million Hoosiers have been fully vaccinated for the virus, while Indiana has administered over 2.9 million total vaccine doses since late last year. To date, more than one-third of eligible Hoosiers have been vaccinated or have scheduled a vaccine appointment.

Furthermore, as of March 31, all Hoosiers 16 and older are eligible to be vaccinated. This is wonderful and extremely welcome news. To all of our students who have been so patient and compliant with our health and safety procedures all year long: It is finally your turn to take your shot! I strongly encourage all of you to sign up to receive one of the free, safe and effective vaccines to protect yourself and all the people you love against the virus.

This is also truly outstanding progress in Indiana's effort to save lives, prevent the virus from attacking more Hoosiers and return to normalcy.

Indiana's public health leaders deserve great credit for engaging in early and decisive action that has led to Hoosiers getting vaccinated at a rate higher than many other states. And we ourselves are enormously proud of the contributions that IU— along with the state's other top colleges and universities— has made to advance the state's rollout of several highly safe and effective vaccines.

Omar Alani, 48, an IU Dining assistant manager, is the first person to receive a COVID-19 vaccine inside the new vaccination site in the south lobby of Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall at IU Bloomington on March 29, 2021. Photo by James Brosher, Indiana University

On Monday, we opened a new COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall on the IU Bloomington campus that is providing free COVID-19 vaccines to those eligible. The site, which we are operating in coordination with the Monroe County Health Department, is open to both the IU community and the public. Earlier this year, our IU Southeast campus launched a vaccination clinic along with the Floyd County Health Department, and soon we will establish a clinic at IUPUI to vaccinate members of the IU community.

As I wrote in a recent op-ed for the Indianapolis Business Journal, the vaccines can only end the pandemic if all who are able to get vaccinated do so as quickly as possible. As part of our demonstrated leadership during this crisis, IU will continue to fully employ its extensive health sciences resources to support our state's vaccination efforts, encourage all Hoosiers to get vaccinated, and address questions about vaccine safety and efficacy.

Of course, IU's leadership in fighting COVID-19 has been inextricably linked to our commitment to preparing students for success through offering world-class instruction, conducting innovative research, and fully engaging in the health and economic vitality of the communities we serve. Our pursuit of these missions makes it natural — and necessary — that we continue to work closely with these communities to get everyone vaccinated and keep Indiana headed in the right direction.

IU will take action in support of anyone who experiences hatred, bigotry, violence and injustice. Photo by James Brosher, Indiana University

Support for our Asian-American communities

While it is a hopeful time, we have been disturbingly reminded of other crucial issues and challenges that threaten the health, wellness and safety of our communities.

The horrific recent shooting in Atlanta, which claimed the lives of six Asian women, has drawn attention to ongoing issues of racial violence and tensions. More specifically, it has further spotlighted a deeply troubling surge in harassment, hostility and discrimination across our nation toward Asian Americans, who have only too often been the target of scapegoating for the COVID-19 virus. Tragically, there have been a reported 3,800 hate incidents against Asian Americans over roughly the past year.

These numbers are abhorrent and simply unacceptable.

At IU, we stand firmly in solidarity with and support of our Asian American and Pacific Islander communities — and all of our international students, faculty and staff. These include the more than 5,000 Asian and Pacific Islander students who attend IU and who are vital members of their campuses and their local communities. We vigorously condemn the rising level of racism, xenophobia, scapegoating and anti-Asian sentiment across our country. And we will continue to underscore that anti-Asian racism and racism toward any groups of individuals have absolutely no place on IU's campuses.

We will also speak out and take concrete action in support of anyone who experiences hatred, bigotry, violence and injustice.

IU's Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs, led by Vice President James Wimbush, recently joined over 20 local organizations and institutions in endorsing the rapid response campaign of the Indiana chapter of the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum to speak out against the spike in anti-Asian violence across Indiana and the nation.

We are continuing to stress the resources we have for those who need help and for those who want to address critical issues facing underrepresented members of our campus communities. This includes encouraging those who have experienced or witnessed a violation of IU's nondiscrimination policy to report incidents of bias and other wrongdoing.

We are also accentuating the work of IU's cultural centers and institutes that support diversity and cultural awareness across all of our campuses and create safe environments for members of their respective communities. These include the Asian Culture Center, which has actively responded to the killings in Atlanta and, with the assistance of other IU units, has provided valuable information about ways to stand and fight against racism all throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sadly, anti-Asian racism, violence and discrimination have deep roots in our country, dating back to when the first Chinese immigrants came to our country in the mid-1800s to seek opportunities for a better life.

This further underscores the important work taking place at our cultural centers and institutes, as well as in units all across the university, to expose the roots of racism, educate members of its communities about the complex issues underlying recent violent events, and facilitate important dialogue that can help increase racial empathy and cultural understanding.

The enormous energy that members of the IU community are putting toward this work gives me great confidence that we can have a major impact in stopping the scourge of racism in our society.

President Michael A. McRobbie, IUPUI Chancellor Nasser Paydar and Vice President for Capital Planning and Facilities Tom Morrison tour construction of the IUPUI Health Sciences Building on March 1, 2021. Photo by Liz Kaye, Indiana University

A commitment to Hoosier health

IU's initiatives to ensure the success of the state's vaccination rollout reflect its broader strategic investment in health sciences education and research to improve the health and well-being of residents of Indiana and beyond.

Several weeks ago, I had the pleasure of joining IUPUI Chancellor Nasser Paydar on a tour of several construction projects that demonstrate the scope and depth of IU's efforts in the health sciences and the impact it is having — and will continue to have — on the Indianapolis community.

Among them were IUPUI's Health Sciences Building, which is undergoing major repairs and renovations as part of IU's Bicentennial Repair and Rehabilitation Plan, including the installation of new study and lounge spaces for our students and faculty. Chancellor Paydar and I also had the opportunity to get an up-close look at the new Innovation Hall, where in-person classes recently began for students of three schools on the IUPUI campus: the School of Science, the School of Engineering and Technology, and the School of Informatics and Computing. In the months and years to come, this building will have a major impact on IU's efforts to provide for the future of education in the vitally important STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics — fields that increase the base of highly skilled workers who meet state and national needs in a wide variety of industries.

Work on the Health Sciences Building is taking place as IU continues to expand its already vast footprint in the health sciences and medicine with several other new facilities around the state, including the Stone Family Center for Health Sciences in Evansville, which was dedicated in 2018, and the Regional Academic Health Center in Bloomington.

IU Health President Emeritus Daniel Evans joined me in March for a tour of the Regional Academic Health Center, which includes the new IU Health Bloomington Hospital and IU Bloomington's Health Sciences Building. The academic building is designed to bring most of the health sciences programs on the IU Bloomington campus together into one place.

Combined and integrated, these two facilities will make up an academic health center of over 700,000 square feet, one that will serve the health needs of the surrounding region by educating students to become new health care professionals in the state, applying and testing health sciences research in a clinical setting, and serving as a major employer. In fact, when fully complete, the Regional Academic Health Center will be the most comprehensive academic health campus in the state outside Indianapolis.

The Health Sciences Building now houses the IU Hearing Clinic, IU Speech-Language Clinic, School of Medicine and School of Social Work, and it will soon include the School of Nursing. The first students started attending classes in the state-of-the-art facility in February. The building provides new space and modern facilities that will allow IU to considerably increase the number of students in these programs, thus helping to address an acute shortage of health care workers in the state.

Having the academic building next to the new hospital, which expects to start treating patients on site later this year, allows students studying different disciplines to train alongside each other in the same way that they will work together when they graduate. They also will have the opportunity to learn with IU Health professionals in the new Simulation Center. The center will be fully functional by the fall semester; it includes patient and doctor rooms and a home environment for training exercises.

The center's proximity to IU's technology park will also allow IU to leverage one of the most advanced information technology environments in the world to support health sciences faculty research, and to offer state-of the-art training technologies to students.

Plans are underway for an even larger project in Indianapolis. IU Health will construct a new Academic Health Center to replace its two existing downtown hospitals. This project will cost in excess of $2 billion and will provide an outstanding, state-of-the-art facility south of 16th Street for highly advanced medical services and hospital care. It will also include a major new $200 million-plus facility for the education and research programs of the IU School of Medicine, the largest medical school in the nation with nine medical education centers throughout the state on IU's regional campuses and at other locations.

A massive investment in new hospitals by IU Health, along with the associated IU buildings, will ensure that — at the dawn of IU's third century — the university's clinical and health sciences education and research programs will have access to superb facilities to rival the best in the world.

I invite you to watch this new video showcasing IU's continued role — of which we can all be immensely proud — as the health sciences powerhouse of our state.

A sculpture of Elinor Ostrom sits outside Woodburn Hall at Indiana University Bloomington, in the Ostrom Commons. Photo by Alex Kumar, Indiana University

Celebrating women's history

In March, IU once again joined in the nationwide celebration of Women's History Month, honoring the women who have played — and continue to play — a vital role in the life of our university.

Over the past several weeks, we reflected upon the women who have furthered IU's reputation for excellence as acclaimed scholars, pathbreaking researchers, world-renowned artists, influential administrators and cornerstones of the IU community.

Though their names may not be as widely known as their male counterparts, and though their major contributions may not have been fully recognized by their contemporaries, these are women with remarkable stories that deserve to be told.

I am immensely proud of the work that took place over the past five years as part of preparing for the IU Bicentennial to recognize the women who have had such an extraordinary impact on the university. One of the signature Bicentennial projects, Bridging the Visibility Gap, has diversified IU's historical narrative with the stories of women, underrepresented minorities and other individuals who have not always been adequately acknowledged. This project is also diversifying IU's physical environment, with the addition of historical markers, named spaces, portraits and statues honoring groups and individuals who have often been overlooked for this type of recognition.

Among these new additions is the commons area and centerpiece statue dedicated in the fall in honor of the late Elinor Ostrom, IU distinguished professor and, in 2009, the first woman to ever receive the Nobel Prize in economics. The statue is the first sculpture honoring a woman on the IU Bloomington campus.

Additionally, several weeks ago in Bloomington, we unveiled the beautiful new "Spirit of Indiana" sculpture, created by Italian-raised artist and IU South Bend faculty member Dora Natella. The more-than-4,800-pound bronze artwork is now installed in Miller Plaza on the south end of Memorial Stadium, just outside the entrance to the IU Excellence Academy facility. As such, it will serve as the centerpiece of the reimagined southern entry to the IU Athletics campus, as well as a wonderful addition to one of the nation's most beautiful campuses.

Indiana defeated NC State in the NCAA Women's Basketball Sweet 16 at the Alamodome on March 27, 2021 in San Antonio, Texas. Photo by Justin Tafoya, NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

A 'sweet' showing for the history-making Hoosiers

Fittingly during Women's History Month, IU's women's basketball team gave us an unforgettable season for the record books.  

Led by head coach Teri Moren, the Hoosiers advanced to the regional finals and "Elite Eight" of the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history.

The fourth-seeded Hoosiers reached the Elite Eight in dramatic and true "team" fashion, with all five starters scoring in double figures to upset No. 1 seed NC State, 73-70, on March 27 in the regional semifinal.

And though their season ended Monday with a hard-fought 66-53 loss to Arizona, the team's tournament elimination felt like anything but an ending.

With its Elite Eight appearance, second-place Big Ten finish, sixth straight 20-win campaign and top-10 accolades this season, Coach Moren's formidable squad — which will potentially return every player next season — has established itself as a major player on the national stage and is primed for even greater success.

Indeed, we can look forward to exciting times in the months ahead for both our women's and men's basketball programs, as we enthusiastically welcome former Hoosier and NBA standout Mike Woodson as IU's new head men's basketball coach. One of the most respected individuals in the game of basketball, Mike comes home to IU with enormous experience after playing in the NBA for 11 seasons and serving as a coach in the league for well over two decades. We look forward to him returning IU basketball to a level of success that our loyal and passionate fans have come to expect.

Starting March 29, IU Bloomington began operating a COVID-19 vaccination site inside the south lobby of Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in coordination with the Monroe County Health Department, providing free vaccines to those who are eligible.  Photo by James Brosher, Indiana University

A final word

Around this time last year, we were facing the beginning of one of the gravest public health challenges that IU, our country and our world had faced in a century.

Back then, the operational changes and decisions we were making to mitigate this previously unimaginable and rapidly evolving crisis — the likes of which we had never attempted before — seemed to occur at breakneck speed. At times, it felt like an orderly response might be impossible and that no planning efforts would ever go uninterrupted, even as we maintained our focus on the health and safety of the IU community and the continuity of our instruction, research and clinical operations.

A year later, thanks in large measure to your extraordinary efforts in support of our comprehensive public health strategy, we have managed to stay safe, healthy and together.  

And though we cannot yet claim victory, we start spring with a renewed sense of hope, optimism and confidence that better days are ahead and that we can get back to the business of the university as it is meant to be.

With my deepest thanks and appreciation for all that you have done and continue to do for IU,

Michael A. McRobbie

Indiana University