Messages from President Roellke

Kindness, empathy and agency are the hallmarks of many of the comments and messages from President Roellke, and you will see many of those themes repeated in his ongoing communications and public statements. Below are some of his most recent appearances.

Open Forums

On Oct. 15, President Roellke hosted the first open forum resulting from the 2020 Campus Climate Survey. This forum was the first of upcoming opportunities the community will have to discuss race and Campus Climate issues and was open to students, faculty and staff. The moderator was Harry Price, PhD, associate professor for the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and faculty director for the Brown Center for Faculty Innovation and Excellence. Participants were encouraged to submit questions, comments and suggestions for the open forum in advance through an online form or the chat box during the forum.

Alumni Open Forum

The second Open Forum with President Christopher F. Roellke, PhD, to discuss race and Campus Climate issues with Alumni and the community is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 29, 6-7 p.m. To participate, register here and please submit your questions, comments, and suggestions for the forum through this online form. 

Stetson University's Response to Social Media Image

Recently, a troubling image of a Stetson employee and her fiancé began re-circulating on social media. The image shows the employee, a white woman, and her fiancé, a black man, dressed for a costume party – an image seemingly simulating a master/slave dynamic.

We find the image deeply distressing. Moreover, as we reflect on the university’s response – or, more accurately, lack of response – when we first learned of the image in 2016, we regret that we did not do more.

The employee apologized, expressing there was no malicious intent. In addition, corrective action, rooted in education, took place. However, as our campus community has more vigorously embraced the social justice movement – as we’ve explored our shortcomings as a campus community through the Campus Climate Survey, and more broadly as a society – we know that intent does not matter as much as impact. A gesture that marginalizes a people, that makes light of our country’s deep and persistent wounds, is simply unacceptable. For the university’s failure to fully recognize the gravity of this issue, and the hurt it has caused, we deeply apologize.

As a matter of policy and practice, and out of respect for our employees, past and present, we do not disclose specific personnel matters. We can assure you that we are taking this seriously, and that we will be carefully evaluating our next steps.

The image does not represent Stetson’s mission or values, and with the racial injustice that still divides us, including the controversy surrounding the recent Breonna Taylor judicial decisions, there is already deep pain in our community. It enflames an already tense situation.

We can’t help but reflect on this image through the lens of our recent Campus Climate Survey. As we indicated when we shared the results, we have much work ahead of us to truly move our institution to be a more inclusive and diverse community, and images such as these cause significant setbacks.

Our work on climate together goes beyond a single image or event. Even tonight as I joined a virtual Shabbat dinner with guests from off campus, our Hillel Zoom account was invaded and a hateful homophobic comment spewed toward members of our community. Again, this is unacceptable and we must eradicate this divisive and hurtful behavior.

We are striving to do better and we must do better.

Next week, we will be announcing a series of virtual meetings, open to the community, to hear your concerns around equity and race on our campus. I plan to host the first one. A meeting time and invitation will be sent out and I hope you will be able to attend. I will also make myself personally available for dialogue between myself and impacted members of our community.

In our context, we want to give specific time and space to address the issues that challenge us and to determine how Stetson may engage in reconciliation and healing.

I want to acknowledge and thank the many people on campus trying to create opportunities for healing. This is hard and often unrecognized work, and I want to dedicate myself to help lead our community through these challenges. I do want to remind you that counseling services is offering a series of Diversity Support Groups.Their schedule begins on Oct 1 at 3 p.m. and to participate or for more information on the Diversity Support Group, please contact Student Counseling Services or the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

We hear you, we see you and we are committed to having Stetson be a community where all members are welcomed, cherished and supported. Though I have only been a member of the Stetson University community for a few short months, I have come to admire our tenacity, our resilience, and our commitment to one another. When we fall short of this commitment, we must respond fully, collaboratively, and with an eye toward building a better future for all.

in community,


Christopher F. Roellke, PhD


Professor of American Studies and Education

President’s Weekly Webinar: Student Political Engagement and the 2020 Election

Webinar Transcript


President’s Weekly Webinar: Student Political Engagement and the 2020 Election

Noel Painter, PhD, executive vice president and provost, guest hosted the president's weekly update webinar on Thursday, Oct. 1, from 4-5 p.m. In preparation for the upcoming national elections, the webinar focused on the critical role young adults play the political process and their potential impact on the 2020 election. Dr. Painter was joined by special guests, alumnus Jim Daughton ’89, president, Metz, Husband & Daughton, P.A., Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, professor of law with a special focus on election law, and Amelia Maulfair ’22, director of Stetson Votes. The guest panel examined Stetson University's unique legacy within the national and state-level political system as a non-partisan advocate, mission of promoting the active citizenship necessary to addressing the many challenges facing our nation and on-going support for racial equality and racial justice issues. Guests also discussed special interest areas including voting in a pandemic, campaign spending, student voter education and turn-out rates, and political involvement versus partisan politics. 


  • Noel Painter, PhD, executive vice president and provost
  • Jim Daughton ‘89, president of Metz, Husband & Daughton, a legislative affairs firm
  • Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, professor of law, with a focus on election law
  • Amelia Maulfair, philosophy and political science ’22, director of Stetson Votes


  • Kevin Winchell, associate director of Community Engagement

Previous webinars are posted by date on Safer Stetson under Latest Updates. 

President's Weekly Webinars

Join President Christopher Roellke, PhD, for his weekly update as Fall 2020 gets underway. The webinars are open to students, faculty, staff and the Stetson community for DeLand and Gulfport. Participants can register to attend the weekly webinars through the links below. Information on additional participants will be provided prior to the event.

With classes starting Thursday, Aug. 13 in DeLand and Monday, Aug. 17 in Gulfport, the president’s webinars have been moved from 1-2 p.m. to 4-5 p.m. to avoid conflict with class schedules for students and faculty.

President’s Weekly Webinar: Student Political Engagement and the 2020 Election

Join this weekly update webinar on Thursday, Oct. 1, from 4-5 p.m. With the national elections looming large, Stetson University will host a webinar to discuss how Stetson students are involved in the political process and the 2020 Election. We will be joined by special guests, alumnus Jim Daughton ’89, President, Metz, Husband & Daughton, P.A., Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, Professor of Law with a special focus on election law, and Amelia Maulfair ’22, Director of Stetson Votes.


• Jim Daughton ‘89, President of Metz, Husband & Daughton, a legislative affairs firm

• Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, Professor of Law, with a focus on election law

• Amelia Maulfair, Philosophy and Political Science ’22, Director of Stetson Votes

• Kevin Winchell, Associate Director of Community Engagement (moderator)

Thursday, Oct. 1, 4-5 p.m. Register for the webinar now.

If you have comments or questions for the President's weekly update please use the form.

Previous webinars are posted by date on Safer Stetson.


Convocation, Aug. 12, 2020

Convocation has a rich and long history at Stetson University. It’s a time when the university comes together to celebrate the beginning of the new academic year, and this will clearly be a time of firsts. This is the first Convocation at Stetson for President Roellke, and for the class of 2024, perhaps it is an appropriate start of their university life. Raised in the shadow of 9/11 and the great recession of 2008, many of them have known and overcome hardships and obstacles to be here.

Just as Convocation started, one of Florida’s well-known evening thunderstorms hit the DeLand area, causing a few technical difficulties for students, faculty and staff participating in the event. For those who have not had a chance to see the entire event, here is the full video with all of the welcomes and commentary from Stetson’s leadership. For those who want to read a copy of President Roellke's remarks, The Importance of Kindness, a full copy is available here.

Convocation Presenters

  • President Christopher F. Roellke, PhD: Welcome
  • Pastor Demetris Pressley, Executive Pastor at Tabernacle of Praise and University Chaplain: Invocation
  • Chair of the Board of Trustees Maureen Breakiron-Evans ’76: Board of Trustees welcome
  • Student Government Association President George Alderman '21: Address to Class of 2024, Litany for the Community, Hatter Community Pledge
  • Executive Vice President and Provost Noel Painter, PhD: New Academic Year, New Realities
  • College of Law Dean Michèle Alexandre, JD: Welcome
  • School of Business Administration Dean Neal Mero, PhD: Welcome
  • du-Pont Ball Library and Learning Technologies Dean Sue Ryan, MLS: Welcome
  • School of Music Dean Tim Peter, DMA: Welcome
  • College of Arts and Sciences Dean Elizabeth Skomp, PhD: Welcome
  • Associate Professor of Music Craig Maddox, DM, 2018-2019 McEniry Award: Announcement of 2019-2020 McEniry Award winner
  • Stetson Honors Council President Isabelle Ghofrani '21: Honor Pledge
  • President Christopher F. Roellke, PhD: Importance of Kindness
  • Pastor Demetris Pressley, Executive Pastor at Tabernacle of Praise and University Chaplain: Benediction
  • Alma Mater

Fall 2020 Faculty and Staff Meeting

With Lee Chapel in the background, President Christopher F. Roellke opened the Fall 2020 Faculty and Staff meeting. He was joined by members of the Stetson community to welcome faculty and staff back to Stetson University for the fall after an unusual COVID-19 spring term and long summer of planning and preparation.

Fall 2020 Faculty and Staff Presenters:

  • President Christopher F. Roellke, PhD: Welcome
  • Sensei Morris Sullivan, University Chaplain: Invocation
  • Chair of the Board of Trustees Maureen Breakiron-Evans ’76: Board of Trustees welcome
  • Executive Vice President and Provost Noel Painter, PhD: New Academic Year
  • Vice President Lua Hancock, EdD, CLaSS: Safer Stetson
  • Associate Vice President Bonita Dukes, Facilities Management: Safer Spaces
  • Dean of Students Lynn Schoenberg, EdS: Co-Chair, Safer Campus Task Force – DeLand
  • Professor Terri Radwan, JD: Co-Chair, Safer Campus Task Force – Gulfport
  • President Christopher F. Roellke, PhD: Planning & Principles for Moving Forward

Message to the community, July 7

Dear Members of the Stetson University Community,

First and foremost, I write today with the hope that you and your loved ones are staying safe and well during this exceptionally challenging time.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on all of us in a myriad of ways and the virus has been especially difficult for the most vulnerable members of our community. We are also living in a time of tremendous socio-political unrest, and we have much work ahead of us to promote a diverse and inclusive community. We must be vigilant in our commitment to eradicate racism and injustice at every turn, and to ensure that the lived experience at Stetson is one that is fully aligned with our stated mission and values. Recent decisions by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have further complicated our pursuit of equality of educational opportunity for so many highly valued members of our community.

Though I have been your president for less than one week, I do want you to know how much I appreciate the virtual welcoming I have received. Universally, you have reaffirmed for me that Stetson University is filled with caring, thoughtful, and insightful people—all of whom want to make a positive difference in our community and in the world.

Robust presidential transition plans, led by Board of Trustees Chair Maureen Breakiron-Evans, have been necessarily altered due to the pandemic. However, I am grateful that I was afforded the opportunity by President Emerita Wendy Libby to be actively engaged with so many of you over the last four months in much of the hard work associated with planning for Fall 2020 and beyond. I do feel as though I know Stetson better and more fully because of my participation in this unexpected series of intense dialogue and problem-solving sessions.

Our Safer Stetson Task Force has worked tirelessly to put in place smart, common-sense guidelines to promote the safety and well-being of our community. Our budget prioritization working group in DeLand, and committee at the College of Law, both composed of broad campus constituencies, quickly and diligently made recommendations for necessary reductions in our 2020-2021 budget. At both campuses, our deans and faculty have worked, and continue to work, to reimagine our academic calendar and modes of instructional delivery. This is just a small sampling of the meaningful and important collaborations that have taken place over the last several months. These efforts have been extraordinary and have been conducted under very trying circumstances in a highly evolving context. I thank you for this work. 

Regretfully, the pandemic continues to wreak havoc, particularly right here in Florida. Infection rates and hospitalizations are increasing at an alarming rate, including here in Central Florida where ICU beds are quickly reaching capacity.

I know you join me in expressing concern for all of those that have fallen ill and in extending our deepest condolences to those members of our community who have lost loved ones. Many in our community are essential workers and have put their own health at risk while striving to serve others. It is both our individual and collective responsibility to do all that we possibly can to mitigate the spread of this virus. We must act quickly, judiciously, and compassionately.

In typical Stetson fashion, we have not remained idle. Many of you advocated so effectively to urge the passing of a mask ordinance in the City of DeLand. You have adjusted to remote work with creativity, patience and ingenuity. You have joined me in making considerable sacrifices in compensation, benefits, professional travel and other expenditures to enable our students to make progress in completing a Stetson education. For all of this, I again extend my most sincere appreciation and admiration.

As we move forward in this rapidly changing and increasingly challenging context, I also want to acknowledge that we will be required to make additional adjustments in the coming weeks as we prepare for Fall 2020 and beyond. Most certainly, there are divergent perspectives on how best to proceed to promote the very best form of education Stetson can provide within the context of a pandemic that is not being contained. Our decision-making must be inclusive, collaborative, nimble, and timely.

Toward this end, I have established a much accelerated “listening and learning tour” to garner perspectives from a wide range of constituents, including virtual meetings with faculty senate leadership, students (including the leadership of the SGA and MSC), the staff advisory council, the academic deans, the dean’s advisory committee at Stetson Law, members of the board of trustees (most of them alumni), vital community partners and others. In addition, I am committing to conducting weekly live and interactive webinars every Thursday beginning on July 16th with the goal of engaging our entire community as transparently and consistently as possible. In short, I thank you for your patience and understanding while we work on these critical issues in a very compressed time frame.

Over the next several weeks, there will be emergency meetings of presidents of both the Atlantic Sun Conference (ASUN) and the Pioneer Football League (PFL). In addition, I am fortunate to be selected as part of the Educational Advisory Board’s (EAB) first cohort of over 50 new college and university presidents who will meet virtually for two hours every week for the next six weeks. I am certain that these and other forms of engagement will be very instructive and reaffirming to both me and to our University as we navigate this unprecedented context.

I know that this introductory communication with you is inherently incomplete and lacks the clarity we all desire at this moment. You are also eager to learn of the longer-term priorities your new president would like to establish. Articulating these longer-term priorities and aspirations must be postponed as our energy and intellectual capacities must be directed to our most urgent challenges. In the spirit of transparency and with a call for collaboration, these are the key short-term goals I shared with the Board of Trustees at their meeting on June 25th:

  1. To promote the health, safety, and well-being of our community in a period of considerable uncertainty, anxiety, and risks to public health.
  2. To listen carefully to members of our community to garner multiple perspectives on our current context, with special emphasis on public health, racial justice, and the University’s finances.
  3. To operationalize a presidential communication plan so that the community is informed regularly on our COVID-19 response.
  4. To sustain and enhance the positive relationship Stetson enjoys with the broader DeLand and Gulfport communities by fostering additional collaborations during this pandemic.
  5. To consider appropriate mechanisms for productive, collegial, and sustained interactions among students, faculty, staff and senior leadership and the board of trustees.

As I indicated in my first address to the Stetson community back in November of last year, “I certainly don’t pretend to have all the answers to the challenges and opportunities facing higher education more broadly or for Stetson more specifically. What I can pledge, however, is that I will always be committed to working with you collaboratively, with openness, with honesty, and with steadfast integrity as we seek to educate our students to lead society judiciously to good ends.”

It is with all humility and with full acknowledgment of my own limitations as an educator/leader, that I accept the challenge to move our beloved Stetson University forward. I accept this challenge with optimism, with confidence, and with tremendous excitement about Stetson’s future.

I'd like to close my first official correspondence to the Stetson community with one additional remark I made during my introductory speech upon being selected as Stetson’s 10th President. I think these words, which were inspired by childhood educator Fred Roger’s claim that “the way to ultimate success is to be kind,” are particularly relevant today:

Kindness not only matters, it enables us to listen, to engage with others unlike ourselves, and to consider paths we can forge together to make our community, in fact, the world-- a better place.

Difficult, and in some cases painful, decisions lie ahead for Stetson. I am convinced that kindness will go a long, long way to ensuring as positive an outcome as possible for all of us.

Stay safe, stay well, and stay strong.

Sincerely yours,

Chris Roellke, PhD