President Rougeau Speaks on the Holiday Season, Finals, Hosting a Playoff Game, and More

Julianna Mariani ‘24


Last Friday, December 2nd, my co-editor Michael O’Brien ‘23 and I had the opportunity to speak to President Rougeau for our monthly interview. As finals are approaching and the semester rapidly comes to a close, we felt it was important to get a sense of the semester as a whole from our President. 

We first opened up by asking him a lighthearted question about the holiday season. The holiday’s on the Hill are truly unlike any other, we have so many amazing celebrations that give students a break from studying for finals and bring cheer to the campus community. We asked President Rougeau: what is it about Christmas time that makes for such a special place on the Hill?

Rougeau responded with a smile on his face, knowing just how magical this time of year is on campus. “Holy Cross has some wonderful traditions like the Christmas tree lighting ceremony, which I really enjoyed last year and unfortunately wasn’t able to do this year, but it’s just one example of something, you know, where everyone gathers outside to watch the Christmas tree be lit. And we have Lessons and Carols coming, which I will be there for, so I’m looking forward to that. I just think the campus is so beautiful, the decorations are gorgeous, and these traditions that bring us all together really send the message of why the holiday season, and why Christmas itself, is important to our community and how it brings us together and how it reminds us of our mission and our values. As Pope Francis says, ‘Christmas without light is not Christmas.’ We live in a place where it gets pretty dark in the winter time, so seeing the lights and seeing people together is really special.” 

With finals ensuing in the next few days, students at Holy Cross have a bad habit of labeling the week before break as “Hell Week.” We asked President Rougeau what his advice is for students as they manage their finals, specifically for first-years who are experiencing them for the first time. He gave some great guidance that we could all benefit from.

“First, breathe. And then, think about this, you’ve been doing this all semester and I know how stressful exams can be, but we all are different when it comes to how we study, how we learn. So, really think carefully about what works for you. Don’t get dragged into looking at other people and seeing what they’re doing and saying ‘why am I not doing that?’ I still remember that from being a student myself, ‘well that person is doing this thing that I’m not doing, maybe I should be doing that thing, but that’s not how I study.’”

“Remember how you study, remember how you learn, and then remember what’s here on campus to help you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Use the resources that we have that support students in their learning. [The Office of Academic Services for example]. If you do see someone in trouble, or if you feel like you’re in trouble, make sure that you reach out. Reach out to help if you see someone who needs it, who is maybe getting a little underwater. And if you’re feeling that way, make sure that you ask for help too. They’re just exams, they’re gonna be over, and then you get to go home!”

On a heavier note, we wanted to make sure we touched on the College’s Transgender Day of Remembrance and the vigil that was held to honor the victims of the shooting in Colorado. We asked President Rougeau if there are any more steps Holy Cross is taking to ensure protection for members of the LGBTQ+ community at Holy Cross.

“Yes. That was a very tragic event and I think it’s important for everyone to remember that the college has very clear policies that prohibit discrimination or harassment on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and that when these policies are violated there are consequences. We have clearly stated, as a community, what our values are in that regard. The people who violate these policies will be held accountable.”

“Beyond that, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is extremely important to us here at the college and we want to make sure that we create a climate that respects everyone. I just want to reiterate that it’s central to our values as an institution that all people feel respected and valued and safe here on this campus. We’ve got a wonderful director of our ODEI Tomicka Wagstaff who is the Vice Provost and Associate Vice President of the ODEI office. Her and her team are available for students and for the entire community for people who need help or more information.”

We spoke to President Rougeau the afternoon before our football team was set to play the University of New Hampshire in the playoffs at Fitton Field. The campus buzzing with excitement, we asked him, what are you hoping tomorrow’s energy is like and how do you think the football team has brought the HC community together this season? His enthusiasm matched ours.

“How exciting it’s been. First of all, I’m fascinated by how almost every football game we’ve had it’s been beautiful weather, gorgeous, lots of people out and now it sounds like it might rain tomorrow. Even with that, it’s just great to see people so excited and so energized by the success we’re having in football and how historic it’s been. The undefeated season, first one in 31 years, that incredible Hail Mary pass with Buffalo, the Fordham game; that was the biggest attendance we’ve seen in 31 years. What’s not to like?”

Although it did rain on Saturday’s game and fans were soaked, the energy remained the same. Rougeau also went on to thank those working closely with the team during our interview. “Our Athletic Director Kit Hughes, of course Coach Bob Chesney, for all the work that they’ve done to provide our student-athletes with this wonderful opportunity…This is one way we see how the gifts of our student-athletes bring this community together, allow them to pursue excellence on the field, but also allow them to share something really special with the entire community. So looking forward to Saturday and looking forward to a win!” As were we all, and we’re happy to report that Holy Cross beat UNH 35-19. 

As we wrapped up our interview with the President, we decided to ask about the culmination of the semester by prompting the question, as the semester comes to a close, what is one thing you feel went well and one thing you feel could have been done better as the President of the College?

“I thought long and hard about that question. I’ve been really pleased to see how some of the vision that we’ve had for bringing in new leadership to some key areas has really started to show its positive effects. I was thinking in particular about Rich Perna in dining and how he’s come in and addressed a lot of issues and concerns that students have been raising about dining. He’s still thinking through what he wants to do and what he’s hoping to build in respect to our dining program, but it was a great opportunity to see how, with a new leader, and giving that person a real opportunity to think creatively about what he wants to do and to bring things from his other experiences, how we’ve really been able to do some exciting things.”

“On the less positive side, I heard during the Calls to Conversation process last year about the difficulties students have been having with course registration and the clunkiness of some of that infrastructure online and the problems with some of that very basic stuff. I was disappointed we weren’t able to get more of it fixed this semester but we’ve got a lot going on to get it fixed. We’ve got a new position coming in the Provost Office that’s going to focus a lot on the structure of registration.” 

Nicoleta Jordan, the Assistant Director of Media Relations and College Marketing and Communications at the College, followed up with us in an email saying that “the Associate Vice Provost position will help improve our processes around class registration. The search for this position will take place this spring.” As a student who has struggled with course enrollment time and time again, this was music to my ears.

It was an honor and a privilege to speak with President Rougeau during our meeting last week. As this is the final Spire issue of the Fall 2022 semester, we will pick up with our interviews in the Spring of 2023. I am also sad to say that this is my last piece for a while as I am studying abroad at University College Dublin next spring. I leave the Spire in the very capable hands of Michael O’Brien ‘23 and Joseph Abrams ‘23.

Photo courtesy of College of the Holy Cross

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