Orange Alert

Making Change While We Wait

Posted on: Sept. 30, 2020

Dear A&S students, faculty and staff,

How long has it been since you’ve hugged your mom, dad, or another cherished family member? I know that it’s been much too long for many of you, something I think of often as I watch students pass outside my window in Tolley. I’m reminded of it, too, because this is the time of year that I usually start to plan a holiday trip to my native Germany. We traditionally spend at least a week of December with my parents, siblings, nieces and nephews at our family farm, but that doesn’t seem likely this year. And wondering how long it will be until I see them again has set me speculating when we will ever get back to pre-COVID normal. Or are we in a permanent new normal?

Yet even as I envision that future day, I am struggling with the concept of “a new normal.” One reason is that it involves waiting for circumstances to resolve that are well beyond my control. Another is that it is folly (albeit a wholly understandable and human one) to believe that any “normal” state of being, whether economic, societal or other, is static or permanent. And as the past year of cultural reckoning has shown us, there are plenty of normalized behaviors and systems that are being exposed by citizen activists and then reimagined as something more equitable and ethical than the status quo.

My point is that although it seems as if COVID demands that we stay in a state of suspended animation, that isn’t really true. We all have opportunities to improve the here and now. Those improvements can take the form of operational innovation, such as the two-way texting service we just launched (the first school on campus to do so!) to help our advisors and students interact more efficiently and effectively. Or they can be more systemic and ideological, like the development and implementation of our strategic diversity, equity and inclusion plan, which includes building an even stronger faculty community through very intentional training, hiring and retention efforts. Either way, I hope that my message is clear. Rather than waiting or wishing for days past, let us seize the present and remake it as it should be, in our own “new normal.”

On a parting note, the College’s sesquicentennial celebration has been a wonderful reminder to me that our current times—though trying and extraordinary—are not the first or last seismic shifts to visit this campus. To put your time here in perspective, I invite you to visit our new 150th anniversary website. You can slide through time via fun “then and now” photos, unearth lost campus buildings, and find a lot of reasons to be proud of your place in this historic community. I hope that it inspires you to find your own ways to make change while we wait.

Karin Ruhlandt
Dean and Distinguished Professor of Chemistry
College of Arts and Sciences