During the week of 2 March 2020, I did as I had done countless times leading up to an RIT Spring Break. I encouraged students enrolled in my Rhetoric of Race Relations class to have a wonderful and enjoyable break and “be safe; be well.”
That same week, I was honored to be joined by Deans, faculty, staff and students from across the university as the Division of Diversity & Inclusion (DDI) recognized DDI-affiliated Dean’s List recipients for Fall 2019 at a gathering in the SAU Fireside Lounge. It was during this event that confirmation came that the faculty-led study abroad program to Dubai for DDI students had been cancelled due to mounting travel concerns related to what the World Health Organization (WHO) was now characterizing as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC)—the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
One week later, the world watches as “WHO made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic”. The days and weeks that follow are met with many tough decisions being made in the interest of public health, safety and well-being. RIT makes tough decisions to extend Spring break and prepare to move its courses to alternative delivery. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends against gatherings of 50 or more. Monroe County (NY) public schools close indefinitely. Places of worship modify practices in this time of social distancing. RIT makes the heartbreaking decision to cancel 2020 commencement ceremonies scheduled for May 8 and 9.
Ready or not, our “normal” way of dealing changed . . . and, ready or not, we were forced to adjust—to meetings and classes via bluejeans, zoom; sharing screens effectively during sessions; employing electronic signatures more often; welcoming (or not) others into our virtual spaces; side chats; and, even as one colleague, Professor Mike Johansson, shared, how “to have fun with your next large Zoom meeting—play Zoom Bingo! - https://mechler.dev/bingo/.”
Although I, like many others, have found effective ways to adjust amid the COVID-19 pandemic, I acknowledge the pain of loss in this season. For me, I grieve the loss of (1) connecting in person with students and colleagues, (2) driving to and from RIT and enjoying the varied stops to Wegmans and other shops/stores in between, (3) gathering with others for various community activities and ceremonies, and (4) enjoying quality times to discover new things with family and friends via museums, theatre, libraries, events and travel. Yes, I grieve these losses.
In this season, all of us, ready or not, have been invited to grieve and grow through the loss we are experiencing and adjustments we’ve been forced to make—small or great. One writer, Peter Scazzero, explains how such grief and loss provides opportunity for one to “pay attention, wait in the confusing in-between, and allow the old to birth the new”. For me, paying attention involves “pausing” to acknowledge and talk through the losses I feel with my family and friends, recognizing that such is healthy for both me, my family, friends and colleagues. I’ve learned to exercise greater patience in the confusing in-between, accepting that although I desire answers “yesterday” regarding when things might return to the normal, familiar past I once knew, the reality is that a new normal is here and evolving—one that I must help mold, adjust to and embrace as we discover new paths together. Key, in this season, is that—#WereAllInThisTogether!—as we “pay attention, wait in the confusing in-between, and allow the old to birth the new”.
So, collaboratively, the Division of Diversity & Inclusion continues to support students, faculty and staff in various ways—whether partnering to address student housing, access, and emergency needs; collaborating through the Office of Faculty Diversity & Recruitment with the Division of Academic Affairs Office of Faculty Affairs to establish Best Practices for Online Interviews for Faculty Searches; soliciting feedback from student leaders as we explore ways to celebrate graduates this year; continuing Diversity Education online; partnering through the Multicultural Center for Academic Success with Counseling & Psychological Services in the Division of Student Affairs to offer weekly sessions of “Real Talk” for students; and/or planning for alternative delivery of summer programs such as the Summer Experience, just to name a few of the ongoing activities.
I applaud daily, not only Division of Diversity & Inclusion staff and faculty but all RIT faculty, staff and students, as we reshape our normal in this season of COVID-19 amidst a backdrop of working and schooling remotely; attending to and addressing needs of family members and friends who might be ill; adjusting to employment status changes that impact us directly or indirectly; and encouraging others who might feel totally overwhelmed with our present situation—all with enthusiasm, outstanding professionalism and hope. Yes, in the midst of all we face and adjust to, we do so with hope.
#WereAllInThisTogether! And we will make it through this . . . together.