There is no denying that this was a most unusual summer. For us in academia, the season is practically over even though there are several more weeks before it is technically fall. In many ways, it felt like summer never came. We had a long, extended, nightmarish spring semester. Some things got better, but new challenges came along. It’s been one consequential decision after another in the context of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and lots of ambiguity. These decisions also have implications beyond our campuses, like public health and the socioeconomic well-being of our local communities.
In the midst of it all, it’s been remarkable how well our own college and institutions across our region, segment and sector responded to support students, those engaged in the work of advancing our mission and the larger communities of which we are a part. We tried new things. We learned from all and excelled at many. Each day, we are learning to adapt better to what seems to be our new pandemic normal. These lessons we are bringing forth as we embark on the pandemic fall 2020 semester.
When This Became Our New Normal
I can recall so vividly the first week of March, when we thought that we would close the college temporarily for a deep cleaning and that, within a couple of weeks, things would return to normal. But alas! By the first week of May, we were getting ready to announce a remote fall semester. In a matter of a few weeks, the prospect of a safe, complete repopulation of campus in September seemed like a distant dream, an aspiration.
What a strange time and emotional roller coaster this has been! We have felt fear for those that contracted the virus and overcame it. We have lost loved ones whose lives we’ve been unable to properly celebrate in proximity with family and friends. We walk around in masks, distanced from one another. We interact behind Plexiglas and talk through computers. Job losses, furloughs, permanent business closures -- the news is filled with daily records being broken in various parts of the country. This can’t be real, I have thought at times, only to realize that it is all very much our reality and it may go on even longer than we think. But we continue to support one another, our students and our community.
This crisis has also brought out the best of our humanity. Those who support our mission see why our students need them more than ever. Our local community foundation is committed to seeing our students through this pandemic and go on to becoming self-sustaining, contributing citizens. Those who are able have risen to meet the challenges.
Parenting in the Age of the Pandemic
Parenting has been the hardest and most guilt-filled experience of this pandemic for me. Like many working parents, working and homeschooling were incompatible for our family. Our son’s school was able to pivot and adapt to the online environment. The difference in resources at our daughter’s school and the difference in the learning styles of our two kids meant that, with no time for homeschooling, we inevitably neglected our daughter’s education. Worse, we spent so much of the day asking them to stay quiet while we managed our separate Zoom calls.
It took me a while to develop a new routine of preparing lunch and dinner the evening before or in the wee hours of the morning. I have to confess that I underestimated, at first, how much my growing teenager eats in one day. In June, our daughter became a vegetarian. She learned to cook for herself, giving Dad her shopping list as she experimented with dishes, spices and flavors. Announcing that she was renouncing commercial marshmallows, the girl made her own maple syrup marshmallows with no gelatin, as it is an animal product. Our house became baking central as both kids baked cookies and other delectables. Our daughter favors local ice cream over store-bought because they use local milk and no castoreum, aka beaver butt juice. This has been a whole education for me! The kids are adapting and shouldering more responsibilities, like doing their own laundry.
As two educators, and hubby being a former schoolteacher, we have always appreciated what K-12 educators do. This pandemic, however, gave me a much deeper level of appreciation for them, for cafeteria workers, school counselors and school nurses. As a society, let’s not ever forget how valuable they and whole cadre of grade school professionals are.
With Dad as permanent parent-in-charge, pre-pandemic, and me missing dinner most nights for work, I also developed new appreciation for my own spouse and all that he balances. Perhaps one of the silver linings of all of this will be me doing better with helping with household chores.
Getting Ready for the School Year
As we get ready for our kids to return to school, we have a better sense of what to expect. We will create a schedule and more structure for our daughter, hold ourselves and her more accountable to ensure that she is learning. Our boy will check in at the end of the day, though he needs far less supervision as the responsible older and first child. We have the best-laid plans, but who knows what will actually happen? In many ways, this reminds of the interrupted school experiences I had as a child growing up in a country where political violence routinely shut down everything. In many ways, I am just grateful that we are safe.
Yves Salomon-Fernández (she/her/hers) is president of Greenfield Community College in Massachusetts. She writes about women’s issues for Inside Higher Ed’s "University of Venus" from the perspective of a Generation Xer, a mom, immigrant and leader of color. Her social media handle is @PrezYves.