Apollo 13’s 50th anniversary and the pandemic

Fifty years ago today, on April 13, 1970, Apollo 13’s oxygen tank ruptured while it was on its way to the moon. Astronauts Jim Lovell and Fred Haise would have been the fifth and sixth humans to walk on the moon. Instead, a catastrophe occurred.

All the Apollo missions were formative events for me in my childhood, from the disastrous landing-pad fire that destroyed Apollo 1 to the night of July 20,1969, when my brother and I ran in and out of the house watching Armstrong and Aldrin walking on the moon on our little black-and-white TV, and looking up at the moon in the sky, and beyond, all the way to the last Apollo mission in December of 1972 when Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt became the last humans–so far!–to walk on the moon. The moon landings represented the potential of scientific and technical achievement for peaceful ends. They were a powerful vision of hope for me, growing up, as I did, with the announcement of the “body count” in the war in Viet Nam on TV every night, the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy and so many others, I thought that the world was made up of violence and death. But then there was space.

Apollo 13 has been dramatized for younger generations through the Tom Hanks movie, but I watched it play out in real time. Two days after launch, the catastrophe happened. I remember watching Walter Cronkite explaining the steps that were being taken to return the astronauts to earth. I felt like I was holding my breath until, on April 17, all the jury-rigged CO2 scrubbers and hand-calculated trajectory changes resulted in a successful splashdown.

Ironically, the anniversary celebrations for this mission have been put on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic. And here’s what I want to say: the Apollo 13 mission suffered a catastrophe, but it was not a disaster. It’s widely regarded as a “successful failure,” because it showed what could be done to recover from a catastrophe. There’s no question that the pandemic is a catastrophe. What happens next depends on all of us. We need to believe the science. Believing the science is what put the Apollo missions into space, and it’s what brought Apollo 13 back to earth. And we all have to be heroic–even if heroism requires inaction, rather than action. Staying home, refusing to participate in the spread of the virus–that’s a far cry from our usual conceptions of heroism, which usually involve a lot of action. When I was thirteen, and dreaming about going to space myself, I could not have pictured a future in which a virus shut down the world, and the best and most important thing I could do is just stay in my house. But here we are. We have to believe the science, we have to follow stay home orders and physical distancing advice. We have to wait. Wait for the science to do its work, to develop a better understanding of this virus.

Jim Lovell and Fred Haise are still alive, ages 92 and 86, respectively. I would like the both to live to be at least 113. For that to happen, we have to fight this pandemic with the only weapons available to most of us right now–patience and compassion.


Change Your Class Zoom Settings ASAP

This message went out to faculty today:

We want to express our appreciation for all you’ve been doing to ensure our students are able to continue their educations while we’re all under restrictions required by Gov. Jay Inslee’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order.

We also appreciate the continued dedication of our campus community to providing an inclusive learning environment which foregrounds equity, safety and a sense of belonging for all members. To protect that, we want to alert you to potential issues with Zoom classes and meetings, and provide you with the tools to protect your classes and meetings.

Zoom-bombing,” is when outsiders jump into Zoom sessions to disrupt them by sharing porn, racial epithets or other vulgar material. What we are seeing nationally:

  • A bot or a student in a class shares a link to a class on a forum such as Discord, Reddit or 4chan, inviting trolls to disrupt the class.
  • The trolls enter the class with screen-recording software running.
  • They use screen-sharing, annotation and audio to disrupt the class, often with material of a racist or sexist nature.
  • They post a recording of the incident to YouTube and other spaces to mock the reaction of teacher and students. The attacks are sometimes even livestreamed to others.

This isn’t just pranks, but in many cases crimes. The attacks expose our students to an unsafe learning environment, and particularly impact students and faculty from marginalized groups. The attacks are prevalent enough that the FBI has issued guidance on the matter.

We are working to get Zoom video defaults for WSU set to prevent such attacks, a practice that would involve a bit more work for smaller meetings but mitigate some of the worst vulnerabilities. In the meantime, we strongly urge everyone conducting course meetings with Zoom set your settings appropriately. The setting advice varies depending on the size of the gathering and the perceived risk. We bullet point our recommendations here, but you can find descriptions and how-tos in this article on the WSU Knowledge Base and on WSU Vancouver’s Emergency Online Blog.
Smaller classes (where all student names are recognizable to the instructor) should:

  • Create a “waiting room”  where the instructor manually grants permission at the beginning of class to students waiting for entry.
    • Use this if your class is small and all student names are recognizable to you, or can be verified from a roster.
    • If you can verify all students in this way, you do not need additional steps.
    • Be sure to look for notification of late-arriving students and let them in as well.
    • For extra protection, you may wish to add a password.
    • Do not use this option if you will be unable to tell if late arriving students are class members.

Failing this, all classes should:

You may also wish to familiarize yourself with how to manage participants in a meeting, including how to remove participants if necessary. And, as always, consider using Zoom for only the aspects of your class that benefit from real-time video delivery.

If you witness a Zoom-bombing incident:

WSU Vancouver has an unwavering commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion. This is a challenging time for all of us, including vulnerable and underrepresented populations, and we have been inspired by the quick action of our faculty in the move to alternative delivery. Thank you again for everything you’re doing for our students. If you have questions regarding Zoom protective practices and Zoom-bombing risks, contact Mike Caulfield.


Renny Christopher, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs

Obie Ford III, Associate Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Mike Caulfield, Director of Blended and Networked Learning


Celebrating International Transgender Day of Visibility

Our statement to the campus community went out today from Chancellor Mel Netzhammer, Vice Chancellor Domanic Thomas, Associate Vice Chancellor Obie Ford III and me:

International Transgender Day of Visibility was founded in 2009 by transgender activist and organizer Rachel Crandall. International Transgender Day of Visibility occurs annually on March 31 to acknowledge successes and celebrate living members of the transgender community.

WSU Vancouver recognizes International Transgender Day of Visibility. The university is committed to making campus a place where all students, faculty and staff, including transgender and gender-variant individuals, feel encouraged and empowered to live openly and authentically. WSU Vancouver’s dedication to validating the presence and amplifying the voices of historically underrepresented communities ties directly to the strategic imperative to promote an ethical and socially just society through an intentional commitment to inclusion, equity and diversity….To continue reading this statement, follow this link.

Reinforcing an important point: Racism is a Virus

In the past few days, a hashtag has emerged on twitter: #RacismIsAVirus. It serves as a great reminder that we all have to do what we can to fight the coronavirus, not to scapegoat, blame, or attack other people.

WSU Vancouver is holding fast to its commitment to equity through this time of pandemic that we are all living through together. Today, I want to share this excellent essay from the Diverse magazine, “Coronavirus is not a ‘Chinese Virus,'” by Frank Ho, a professor at the University of California Hastings College of Law. Please click on the link and give it a read.

Take care of each other–through digital connections and from six feet away–and keep working to defeat the racism virus as well as the coronavirus.

Be well, friends.

WSU Vancouver’s Insight into Diversity HEED Award

WSU Vancouver is one of 94 institutions of higher education being recognized this year by Insight into Diversity magazine for our diversity and inclusion efforts. Our application for this award was put together by a team of folks from across campus led by Associate Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Obie Ford III.

The November issue of the magazine is out, and can be found here. WSU Vancouver is featured on pages 57, 84 and 100. I encourage you to check it out!


A New Academic Year

Dear VanCoug Academic and Student Affairs Colleagues,
We are writing to wish everyone a great start to the new semester. The beginning of the academic year is always a time of promise and renewal as we welcome a new group of incoming students and embark on new projects. We invite you to join us in reaffirming our campus commitment to equity and rededicating ourselves to the work of making this campus one where all students, faculty, and staff feel a sense of belonging, agency, and safety to be their authentic selves.


While we celebrate the start of the new academic year, we also acknowledge that many of us may be feeling unsettled by the recent incidents of violence across our country. This is a crucial time to come together in love and unity. Let’s create space for healing and recognize that both our differences and commonalities are strengths that connect us rather than divide us. Let’s establish meaningful relationship with one another within and across our respective campus units. Let’s continue the work of denouncing white supremacy and promoting an ethical and socially just society through an intentional commitment to inclusion, equity and diversity. These are core values of WSU Vancouver; we hold them closely as we work to build community and foster the success of all students, faculty and staff on this campus.


We are here for you. Do not hesitate to also access additional resources available to faculty and staff should you desire further support, including the Employee Assistance Program and the Office of Equity and Diversity (VDEN 230A). For students, there is the Counseling Center (VCLS 160), the Center for Intercultural Learning and Affirmation (CILA, Firstenberg 104; formerly the SDC), and the Office of Equity and Diversity (VDEN 230A).


Please know that we appreciate all the work that you do for WSU Vancouver. We look forward to working together with all of you to make this campus thrive.




Renny Christopher

Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs


Domanic Thomas

Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs and Enrollment


Obie Ford III

Associate Vice Chancellor of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion


I earned my Building a Community of Equity Change Agent Certificate!

WSU Vancouver’s Building a Community of Equity professional development program was implemented last year, and I am very happy to be in the first class of those who have earned our Change Agent certificates. The BaCE program was developed in support of WSU Vancouver’s Strategic Plan goal to “promote an ethical and socially just society through an intentional commitment to inclusion, equity and diversity.” The program is part of the portfolio of the Office of Equity and Diversity, headed by Dr. Obie Ford III, Campus Director of Equity and Diversity.  I have been a member of the BaCE committee since its inception, and I serve as co-facilitator of the workshop Search Committee Training for Faculty and Staff with Dr. Ford. I’ve learned a lot in working with the committee members to develop the program and to develop workshops, and from facilitating the search committee workshop. I have been a participant in workshops on Universal Design, Microaggressions, and Deaf 101, as well. I think our BaCE program is an outstanding innovation for our campus, and I hope to see Change Agent placards all over campus!


“Why Aren’t There More Black People in Oregon?” asks Dr. Walidah Imarisha

At the NCORE (the National Conference on Race and ethnicity in American Higher Education) conference in Portland last week, I heard Walidah Imarisha give the opening keynote address, “Why Aren’t There More Black People in Oregon? A Hidden History.” Her presentation was enormously compelling as it brought that hidden history into the open for the 5000 people attending the conference. A few salient facts she presented: the Oregon Territory (which included not only what is now the state of Oregon, but also Washington, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming) passed a law in 1844 excluding black people from living in the Oregon Territory. When the state of Oregon was admitted to the United States in 1859, it became the only state admitted to the Union with a racial exclusion law in its constitution. That language, excluding black people from living in Oregon, was not removed from the state constitution until 2002. That’s not a typo. That language was not removed until the 21st century.

I wish everyone from WSU Vancouver could have attended this keynote. Fortunately, Dr. Imarisha has a timeline which she presents on YouTube, from which her keynote address was drawn. I recommend that everyone check it out. It’s good for all of us to know the hidden history of the place we live, so that we can all work toward turning that history around to make the Pacific Northwest a place of racial equity and inclusion, and do it now, not wait until the 22nd century.

Diversity is a fact…equity is a goal

I recently heard a speaker quote something that I really appreciated: “Diversity is a fact, inclusion is a practice and equity is a goal.” This comes from a tweet from  @TonyaMosley. Mosley is the Silicon Valley Bureau Chief for KQED, a PBS station.

Here’s what I particularly like about this quote: in light of the propensity to raise questions over the value of diversity and whether we need diversity, Mosley succinctly reminds us that diversity is a fact, whatever our perspective on it might be.

Crucially, though, she then takes us farther, to inclusion and equity, which are important concepts for WSU Vancouver. I think it’s worth thinking deeply about the idea of inclusion as a practice. A practice is something that is customary, habitual, and expected. I call on us all to work to make our behaviors toward others inclusive as a custom and a habit. We can develop these behaviors consciously so that they then become habits. And I would love for our campus to become a place where people from underrepresented and historically undervalued identities can expect inclusion as a practice.

Finally, equity is a goal. We have incorporated equity as a literal goal in our campus strategic plan, and it is a goal that we need to work seriously and mindfully to achieve. As one step toward that goal, I invite all campus community members to take part in the Building a Community of Equity (BaCE) program. Information about BaCE can be found here.

Finally, I want to echo what Chancellor Netzhamer said in his campus update last week when he called on us to do the hard work to improve the ways in which we “call out, condemn and address instances of white supremacy, racism and discrimination on our campus.”

Diversity is a fact. Our campus community is becoming increasingly diverse, and will continue to do so as we move forward into the coming decades. Inclusion is a practice that will make a stronger campus community, as well as a stronger nation and world as we create the circumstances in which all people can develop their talents and contribute to their highest potential. Equity is a goal. It’s a goal that we must commit to and continue striving towards through the hard work and re-learning that it will take. I’m committed. And I hope each of you will commit, as well.

Chancellor’s Award for Advancing Equity

Thanks to the work of our Campus Director of Equity and Diversity, Dr. Obie Ford III, WSU Vancouver has established a new Chancellor’s Award for Advancing Equity. This is a high-profile award that will be presented at Commencement. Here are the details:

The Chancellor’s Award for Advancing Equity honors a full-time WSU Vancouver faculty or staff member for excellence in building and expanding a community of equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging on campus. The award recognizes this individual’s outstanding and impactful service to WSU Vancouver through contributions to realizing one or more of the following objectives from Goal 4 of the WSU Vancouver strategic plan to ensure equitable opportunities and outcomes for all student populations; infuse equity-mindedness throughout the fabric of the campus structure and create capacity to work toward equity in all aspects of campus endeavors; and/or build and maintain a safe and welcoming environment for all students and employees.


Nominees will have established specific procedures, practices and/or initiatives that advance equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging at WSU Vancouver in relation to any one of the following Goal 4 objectives. The award committee will rate each nomination based on the criteria below. It is crucial that nominators submit thorough nominations that describe how the nominee meets the award criteria. While completing all three categories of criteria is not required to submit a nomination, nominators should be aware and mindful that each category is interconnected. Therefore, the quality of the nomination is improved by providing as much relevant information about the nominee in each category as possible. The committee for the Chancellor’s Award for Advancing Equity will rate nominations on the following criteria:

  1. Ensure equitable opportunities and outcomes for all student populations.

(Any of the following meets this category)

  • Practices/initiatives that support equity of outcomes in outreach, recruitment, retention or graduation.
  • Partners with culturally specific organizations to increase student access and understand needs of underrepresented students.
  • Identifies/obtains grant funding to increase capacity for services to underrepresented students.
  1. Infuse equity-mindedness throughout the fabric of the campus structure and create capacity to work toward equity in all aspects of campus endeavors. (Any of the following meets this category)
  • Provides ongoing professional development related to equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging.
  • Ensures equity and diversity values in campus-wide activities.
  1. Build and maintain a safe and welcoming environment for all students and employees.

(Any of the following meets this category)

  • Develops and supports initiatives that promote dialogue around climate, equity and diversity issues.
  • Participates in the BaCE professional development program.
  • Implements campus supports to improve retention of underrepresented faculty and staff.

For more information about this award and to nominate an eligible WSU Vancouver faculty or staff member, visit the website.

If you have questions about this award, please feel free to contact the committee chair, Obie Ford III: obie3.ford@wsu.edu.