Today, I join a host of deans across the country drafting statements for their college annual reports and figuring out how to put into words the year we all just experienced. The global coronavirus upended our lives a little more than a year ago. While we all figured out how to create temporary space in our home lives for our work lives, I do not think any of us expected this to last for over a year.
COVID is terrible. It has wreaked havoc on our lives – for some, life will never be the same again because of the loss experienced during the year. In the dawning days of the pandemic on campus, leadership had to make quick decisions based on very little data about this emerging virus. We closed campus, sent everyone home, and moved classes online to stop the spread of the virus. As far as keeping COVID off campus, we all did a pretty good job.
One thing that strikes me as I reflect on the past year is how some human beings are unwilling to make sacrifices for the common good. Having said that, however, I do think that in the solitude of our homes an awakening occurred about serious problems we face as a country: climate change, systemic racism, immigration, a global pandemic. And, I hope, an awakening has occurred to the fact that we must work together to create solutions.
Adaptability is required for success – a willingness to consider change, to be resourceful and determined, to display leadership in every day actions or through acts of grandeur.
In the College of Arts and Sciences, adaptability is one of our core values and the theme of this year’s annual report. At every level in our college, we adapted to the circumstances we faced during the global coronavirus pandemic. Students tested their time management skills with online courses and learned the importance of self-care as they struggled with non-existent social lives. Our staff adapted by working from home full time or figuring out a hybrid approach to working on campus while staying safe. Faculty and staff contributed their expertise and, in some cases, stood on the front lines of pandemic preparedness.
Adaptability did not stop with the pandemic, and in the collection of news stories for 2020, we share a sliver of the work we are doing as students, faculty, and staff in the college to adapt to the cultural awakening of systemic racial injustice. Diversity action plans from each unit show how our various disciplines view diversity and inclusion. Our College Conversations series featured presentations by faculty whose research includes allyship and antiracism. The new Diversity Fellows program will help build bridges between our community and students from underrepresented populations to create opportunities for future Volunteers.
Despite the dark days of 2020, I have hope for our future. When community members across the country masked up and took to the streets this summer to support our Black neighbors and confirm the movement that Black Lives Matter, our nation finally paid attention. Our history is a testimony to these types of actions. The times in our nation’s development when we stood for change, for immigration, for desegregation, for inclusion are the times we became stronger. The melting pot of acceptance is what defines us as Americans.
Finally, I want to say thank you. Thank you to our alumni and donors who answered the call early on to support our students’ basic needs, such as food and shelter, by contributing to the Student Emergency Fund. Thank you to our faculty and staff for your patience, your courage, and your innovation during the past year as we all navigated and adjusted to the “new” normal. Thank you to the students who trusted us to continue providing educational excellence and as much of a college experience as we could muster under the circumstances. I know it has been hard. I know many of you have experienced pain and loss, and I pray that you will find some comfort in the warm memories of those who left us in the past year.
Hope is a small, four-letter-word, but one with significant power. I have hope for the future because I believe in our Volunteer community. I have hope because I have seen what we can do when we put our minds, and our hearts, into every action, every day. I have hope because, like you, I am a Volunteer.
Theresa M. Lee
Dean, College of Arts and Sciences