The phrase “because of COVID” may have started out as a 2020 subordinate clause but it quickly evolved, sometimes devolved, into a standalone sentence. It became shorthand for cancelling travel plans, scrubbing hands obsessively and wearing pyjama bottoms while Zooming work meetings from home.
At Western, it also translated into a whole new way to teach, study, work, play, celebrate and graduate. All of us became experts in the art of the pivot – and there was as much art as science in it all: in the way instructors, staff and 300 work-study students redesigned more than 3,000 courses for a mix of remote and in-person learning; in the intricate dance of emptying classrooms and residence halls, then filling them again with new safety and sanitization protocols; and in the hundreds of ways students – who could be excused if they’d had only exams and a global health crisis on their minds – creatively helped each other and their communities.
Students donated personal protective equipment, organized food drives, offered remote tutoring to homeschooled kids, assembled hygiene kits for marginalized people in their hometowns, grocery-shopped for homebound seniors, performed music at long-term care homes, and delivered more than 1,000 care packages to Londoners living in poverty.
Their concern for others was reciprocated as Western allocated $2.6-million to help 3,400 strapped students who lost summer jobs or had to fly home unexpectedly.
Yes, there were stumbles. Western students were involved in a small number of outbreaks. But positive results were a tiny fraction of the several thousand COVID tests performed on campus over three months.
With its myriad challenges and uncertainties – not least the experience of having a nasal swab explore the inner reaches of one’s head – 2020 is unlikely to invoke nostalgia. But surely there will come a time, however hokey it may sound now, when we will marvel at how much went right that could have gone so wrong: how we took care of ourselves, each other and our community.
Because of COVID.
Part of the ‘2020 pivot’ included messages to take care of ourselves, each other and our community.