The message below was sent to Columbia College students on March 25, 2020.
This week marks a bend in the road for all of us — students, faculty and staff — as we step back into the spring semester, inhabiting a vastly different world than the one we knew at the start of 2020. We are all settling into a new rhythm of life, no matter where we are. In that sense, we are united in this act of establishing new norms and discovering new tools for both survival and success, and I write today to affirm my support for you all.
A particularly difficult adjustment is accepting our community’s dissemination around the world, with the majority of students departed from campus, but faculty, staff and several hundred students here in New York City. We are understandably disoriented as the physical distance between us grows, but I have been moved as I watch thousands of people across the nation give up the opportunity to distance because they must treat sick patients, deliver food to those in need or report to jobs that maintain our daily necessities. Social distancing has been hard for us all, but it is also a privilege and therefore, a sacrifice I hope we will all undertake with grace. I’ve been encouraged by stories of people around the globe initiating creative and original ways to unite, support and inspire one another, through virtual modes and mediums. These activities demonstrate an insistence by so many to maintain human connectivity despite physical distance and the pressures of this trying time.
At the College, there has always been an expectation that our students be community-minded and empathetic towards the experiences and vulnerabilities of others. Our diverse student body, and our location in a great city with its own set of diversities, has continually asked each of you to consider yourself in the context of others and to allow that to guide your thinking, your words and your actions. Now, more than ever, let this core value of Columbia College help to guide how we will reshape our community, one distanced by space but united in our commitments to be creative, engaged and deliberate.
As you begin classes this week through new modes of communication, I hope we will move forward together, carrying with us many of the ambitions, intentions and hopes that were with us as we started this academic year and semester. In light of this changed world, some of us may discover new ambitions, redirected intentions and different hopes. Be open to it. Use your Beginner’s Mind. This is an ideal moment to further embrace the competency of individual responsibility. Contribute to your classes, share your ideas for virtual community-building and find new and creative ways to stay connected to teammates, classmates, faculty, friends and advisers. In the same way, Columbia College will be working as quickly as we can to enhance our support for you, to reimagine important activities and traditions of the spring, and to find creative and meaningful ways to sustain the connective tissue of our community.
Much has already been asked of you, and I have appreciated your resilience in packing your rooms, transitioning to virtual classes, foregoing the joys of campus life and adapting to a new academic environment required by this global pandemic and its rippling effects. Many of you are dealing with additional challenges: attending to loved ones, adjusting to new environments and, importantly, caring for yourselves.
The College is also reorienting itself, as we help prepare faculty to teach the same subjects in different ways, and as we encourage staff to take on new student needs and priorities that have emerged. I know we will all do our best to adapt but it is also likely that some things will not go as smoothly as planned. We are, all together, learning to do new things quickly and in unstable conditions. Empathy, patience and perspective may be some of the greatest tools we’ll use in the months ahead. This is an opportunity for all of us at the College to face this new world with imaginative approaches and determination of spirit. Challenging times can bring out the best in us, especially if we each think beyond ourselves.
I wish you all a good first day back from Spring Break. Even though we cannot be together in person, I know we will remain united in spirit.
James J. Valentini
Dean of Columbia College and
Vice President for Undergraduate Education