Night Vision, Part Two

From the President's Desk

Exactly one year ago in this column, I suggested that living during a pandemic is like being lost in a forest at night. If you are calm and patient, your eyes can adapt. You begin to “see in the dark” and find your way.

Twelve months have passed since then. It goes without saying that it’s been a hard year, during which we have all made sacrifices, faced fears, and confronted the tiring grind of social isolation and lockdown orders. At Grebel, most faculty and staff have spent the year working from makeshift offices alone at home. Others (frontline office staff, cooks, custodians, librarians, and our student services team) donned masks and continued working on campus as essential workers. All of us are worn out and longing to return to a more normal life.

But we also discovered our resilience and creativity this year, as we adapted to our new reality and learned how to “see in the dark.” Despite the hard times and the difficulties, there have also been things to celebrate. I thought it might be appropriate to consider our successes this year and reflect on the ways that Grebel has adapted and innovated during the pandemic.

• Moving to online learning increased the reach of our graduate programs. Our two master’s programs (PACS and Theological Studies) included students situated in Africa and Asia, and the Theological Studies program enjoyed near-record enrolments.

• Our Music Department met the challenge of delivering remote music instruction, including singing in virtual choirs.

• Our Conflict Management Certificate program maintained steady enrolments and welcomed participants from six provinces, one territory, the USA, the UK, and Nigeria. Many participants expressed a preference for continuing online workshops and seminars in the future.

• More people attended our public lectures, forums, and noon hour concerts this year than ever before.

• Online committee meetings (which were awkward at first) now feel like a natural, normal, and effective way to conduct our business.

• We moved to virtual Chapel services and transformed Community Supper into an online Weekly Wave.

• Residence students presented an ambitious online musical production, Big Fish.

• We made lasting physical improvements in the residence building to augment health and safety. We installed a new fresh air intake system in the student lounge, several UV air purifiers throughout the building, and three new fully accessible “universal” washrooms.

• We found ways to maintain connection and community through virtual coffee breaks and (when it was permitted) carefully organized outdoor activities.

We have much to be proud of and celebrate this year.

In listing these positive outcomes, I don’t mean to gloss over the difficulty and stress involved in making them happen. Nor do I suggest that all of these adaptations should be permanent and total. The pandemic forced us to embrace online technology but it also revealed its limits. We are social beings and we need the physical presence of others in order to thrive. (Singing into a computer is a poor substitute for raising your voice in an in-person choir, and you can’t really share Community Supper bread with friends via webcam.)

As we enter the post-pandemic world, we will need to carefully discern how and when to integrate online tools into our more normal patterns of work and learning. I expect this will be a major topic at Grebel (and most workplaces) in the months ahead.

Whatever losses and difficulties this year brought for you, I encourage you to take a moment to reflect on how you’ve adapted, shown resilience, and endured through these strange times. You may discover some things to be proud of.

I wish you a refreshing summer, good health, and a renewed spirit as we look towards the end of this pandemic.