Reflections on the COVID 19 One Year Anniversary and International Women's Day

Dear WWU Community,

Like many of you, I have been reflecting on living through a pandemic year.  I returned from a short trip to Pakistan on February 28, 2020, with Uzma following a couple of weeks later, just days before international travel was suspended.  While there was talk about coronavirus even before I left on the trip in mid-February, it seemed to be limited to Wuhan province in China.  Little did I know that a week after returning, life as we knew it would change so drastically.  And, I definitely never could have dreamt that we would be continuing to operate in a remote environment a year later.

In the face of so much fear and uncertainty, mounting social injustices, a turbulent election, natural disasters and more, it would have been understandable if we chose to ride out these crises with minimal involvement and maximum insulation.  Instead, we embraced our mission even more fiercely; we found innovative ways to continue delivering a world-class education; we reached out to the most vulnerable among us to offer support.  We collectively chose action and connection.

I could not be more proud of how Western’s faculty and staff have delivered on our mission over the past 12 months.  I feel a deep sense of gratitude to each and every one of you and, while I am afraid to pick individuals and groups, lest I forget some, I do want to offer special appreciation to:

  • The Incident Command Structure (ICS) team that took charge of assessing the situation in real time and recommended critical decisions, particularly during the first few months of the pandemic when so much was unknown and unpredictable.
  • The faculty, who moved all teaching and learning to a remote format at a week’s notice and worked to accommodate the variable personal and technical situations of our students.
  • The first responders, including medical professionals and facilities and custodial staff who have worked tirelessly to make Western the safest environment that it could be, and an envy among institutions nationwide for how we have expertly contained the spread of the virus.
  • The staff, who have remotely delivered support services for students, worked to recruit and retain students, and provided the essential operational services needed to keep the university running.

I know this has not been easy work.  It is also important to recognize that we instituted a freeze on hiring and other discretionary expenditures.  While that action has helped to shield Western employees and the institution from uncertain financial impacts, it has stretched many of you in ways we weren’t expecting.  Yet, you adapted and delivered in difficult circumstances because you believe in the importance of education and the need for us to do the best we can for our students and our state.  For that, and your perseverance in the face of so many challenges during this last year, you have my sincere appreciation.

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge our students, who have been patient, accommodating and supportive during the pandemic.  We owe you all deep gratitude for adapting to a less than optimal learning environment and for adhering to the health and safety regulations required during this difficult time.

It is fitting that on this day, March 8, we celebrate International Women’s Day.  Women stand at the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis as healthcare workers, caregivers, innovators, community organizers and as some of the most exemplary and effective international leaders in combating the pandemic.  This crisis has highlighted both the centrality of their contributions and the disproportionate burdens that women carry.

Our society, including higher education institutions, has made some progress, albeit slow, on gender equity and inclusion.  The pandemic and its economic fallout have had a disproportionate impact on women, from job losses to increased caring demands for children and elderly family members, all of which is now having a regressive impact on gender equality.

As we transition back to an in-person operation in fall 2021, we need to make sure that our policies and practices support women and communities of color at Western who have been significantly impacted by the pandemic.  We need to play our part in helping all our communities to recover from the pandemic.  This recognition of responsibility is informing our planning for the fall, and we look forward to communicating more along these lines over the coming months.

Over the past year, we have tried to be open and honest in assessing an unpredictable and evolving situation, make the best decisions in as timely a manner as possible, and communicate with you often.  In our decisions, we have always put the health and safety of our community and the education of our students at the center.  We have tried to protect employment as much as possible, though it has been challenging in self-supporting areas like University Residences where there has been a significant loss of revenue.  Did we get all our decisions right or made in an optimum time frame?  I am sure, not.  However, I am grateful for your support in helping us effectively navigate a difficult environment.

Time and again, our community has demonstrated that the worst situations tend to bring out the best in our people.  There are countless moments of light—gestures of compassion and connection that allow people to show who they are, how they want to live and what matters most.  I am confident that coming out of the pandemic we will be stronger as an institution because we are committed to the same mission, values, and aspirations.  Again, my sincere appreciation for all you have done over the past year.

 

Sabah Randhawa

President