As we head into the holiday season and winter break, I want to extend my deepest appreciation for your continued dedication to UC Merced.
This year, we continued to make a difference in students' lives, breakthroughs in our research and connections in our communities. We welcomed newcomers and said good-bye to dear friends.
I’m also proud of the way the campus community pulled together after the tragic events on Nov. 4. I have heard so many touching anecdotes of staff and faculty members going out of their way to help each other and to support our students. The sense of community and caring was palpable and helped to put us on a path toward healing.
But people heal in different ways and at different paces. For some of us, the healing will take longer than others. Counseling resources remain available to staff and faculty members through INSIGHT Employee Assistance Program. Additional options are available for employees who have behavioral health benefits through Optum. Please contact HR Consultant Leticia Aldama for assistance in locating and securing appropriate counseling support.
You may also contact De Acker, director of Campus Climate, if you have other concerns related to the Nov. 4 incident.
Understandably, some campus community members have expressed interest in participating in emergency preparedness training to be better primed for any critical incident that may occur in the future.
Fortunately, a number of programs are already available through our Police Services and Emergency Management Department, such as the Violent Intruder Response Training (VIRT) that teaches students, staff and faculty members how to respond to a violent intruder inside a classroom or office. VIRT introduces concepts and options people need to be aware of before or during critical incidents. It also helps participants understand what a law-enforcement response to such incidents might look like. As of Oct. 8, 20 VIRT training classes have been offered across campus, with more than 220 UC Merced affiliates attending.
Comprehensive safety information is also available on the Police Services and Emergency Management website. I’ve asked Assistant Vice Chancellor for Campus and Public Safety Albert Vasquez to develop a campus awareness initiative to help connect faculty and staff members with resources they may need to be prepared for different types of emergencies. You should receive related information from his office at the beginning of the spring semester.
With the winter holiday season upon us, I am reminded that the stories of festivals and religious observances around the world are rich and varied. They mark the cycles of time and events and stories that are important in people’s lives.
This year, the Muslim celebration of Milad un Nab occurs in December and includes the giving of gifts and distribution of food to the poor as part of the celebration of the Prophet Muhammad's birth. The Jewish celebration of Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights, began in early December to commemorate the miracle of restoring the menorah in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BCE. In early December, many Buddhists celebrate Bodhi Day with prayer, meditations and teachings related to the enlightenment of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha. For some Native American groups, winter solstice marks a special storytelling time with rituals to honor ancestors. Christian celebrations abound in December, from the Christmas celebrations of the birth of Christ to the Feast Day of our Lady of Guadalupe, which honors the patron saint of Mexico.
Regardless of your faith or cultural background, the winter holiday season also holds possibilities for connecting more deeply with family, with hobbies and avocations that you enjoy and with giving to others who are less fortunate in our local community.
Our campus has such a generous spirit, and I invite you to participate in one of several campus giving opportunities: the Chancellor’s Toy Drive and A Home for the Holidays.
The toy drive, hosted by my office and Staff Assembly, takes place from 3:30-5 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 17, at the northeast end of Scholars Plaza, in the courtyard between the Social Sciences and Management and Student Services buildings.
I encourage everyone who can afford to do so to donate a new, unwrapped toy, and attendees can enjoy hot chocolate, cider and holiday treats and capture memories with colleagues in a photo booth during the event. This year’s donations benefit the United Way of Merced County.
A Home for the Holidays — an outreach program that benefits All Dads Matter, a Human Services Agency program that serves families in Merced — is being led once again by the Office of Student Life (OSL) Civic Leadership. The goal is to help 50 families — twice as many as last year —meet some basic needs by providing jackets, underwear, pajamas, shoes and other items.
For details on both giving opportunities, please see related article in latest issue of Panorama.
Please enjoy this holiday season. I look forward to working with you to make 2016 UC Merced’s brightest year yet.