Once upon a time, I was a new Graduate Assistant in Housing and Residence Life at the University of Louisville. I remember being handed an Essential Employee card on my first day. In no way did I understand the full scope of what that card meant. I felt important. I knew that card meant access to areas during a crisis, which was cool - I like feeling valued. But, I also felt as though the expectations of me had just skyrocketed, and I had questions! What were the responsibilities associated with that card going to be? What crises were we going to experience that would necessitate such a card? Am I really prepared for that? Am I really that trustworthy? What unexpected and mind-boggling task was going to fall under “other duties as assigned”? What did I sign up for?!
Thankfully, the pulled sprinkler in my 11 story apartment-style residence hall which resulted in a waterfall in the elevator and the relocation of half my residents was the highlight of my crisis management experience at UofL. I never got those questions answered. I never had to use the card.
But, I’ve been thinking about all of you - those of you who are in essential positions right now, and those of you who have been tapped to take on “other duties as assigned” since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. I see you.
To the Recreation Services Director who has recently become an expert in sanitizing keys and processing room condition reports. To the Administrative Assistant who now knows the CDC guidelines for face coverings and physical distancing inside and out. To the Residence Life Coordinator who is delivering meals to students in isolation or quarantine. To the Title IX Coordinator who is now a pro at taking temperatures and conducting COVID screenings. To the Academic Advisor who has stepped in as a conduct hearing office to alleviate the case load in Housing and Residence Life. To the International Student Coordinator who is mourning the absence of their international students and yet is teaching faculty how to utilize Zoom, Blackboard, Panopto, and Canvas. To the Union Director who is trying to figure out how to actively and meaningfully engage students virtually and from a distance. To the Coach whose team is heartbroken at a cancelled season and wary of the possibility of having one in the Spring.
I see you.
Are you doing ok?
What a silly question. Should I have even asked you that? I bet it was insulting for me to ask - it can be such a meaningless question that begs a yes. But then again, maybe you needed to know that I asked… that someone asked. So, how are you?
I think a perfectly acceptable response is “I’m not sure if I need a nap, coffee, a hug, a 12-piece chicken nugget, or a change of clothes more right now… so there’s that.”
It hasn’t been easy. None of us have been perfect through this roller coaster. Self-care means a whole new thing now. Perhaps our creative and expressive vocabulary has expanded, and maybe we cherish isolation sometimes, and maybe we are homesick for the way things were, and perhaps our daily intake of Diet Coke and chocolate chip cookies is abnormal, and maybe our ability to binge watch all of West Wing then Once then Umbrella Academy on days off outweighs our number of steps taken… don’t judge me, okay?!
You’re learning how to build the plane as it’s taking off of the ground.
We’re all learning new jobs at the same time.
I want you to know something - I think you are essential. Your work is more vital than ever now. Your ability to pivot and adjust is crucial. You have the authentic capacity to care deeply about students, and that is essential.
Our students are living in a world of distance, not just physically, but ideologically and emotionally. Change is a norm. Injustice and prejudice are blatant. Uncertainty is certain.
But the fact that you’re reading this, that you’re still moving forward and still trying… thank you. Keep going. Our students need us. Their future may have been altered in unknown ways recently, but their development hasn’t. Our students still need to learn how to be globally minded, how to engage in politics and the community, how to read and write, to advocate for themselves and others. More critical are these skills now than ever. Our students must succeed. They need you, now.