Last week, I joined roughly 600 Dolphin Pod members to be part of CSUCI Picture Day in the Central Mall. All had gathered to take the official “20 formation photo” in honor of CSUCI’s two-decade anniversary. So many smiling and chatting people, along with one adorable campus support dog, came together to secure the latest CSUCI freebie (a bright red 20th Anniversary t-shirt) and enjoy complimentary chips, cookies, and lemonade. Some snagged their swag quickly and then came back a bit later for the official photo, but the majority stuck around and reveled in one another’s company for the bulk of an hour — in the middle of a record heat wave, no less! It was such a happy scene. I felt so lucky to be soaking in that energy, in spite of the heat, that it inspired me to write this blog post.
After the past few years, we’ve had, including the tumultuous transition of last year’s return to in-person activities, it’s been gratifying to see so many people enjoy the experience of being on our vibrant campus again. Things are not all unicorns and rainbows, but the flame of optimism that comes from interacting with others on the campus so many of us call home is being fanned in ways I haven’t seen in quite some time. It does my heart good.
Things are different than they were before we all scrambled into lockdown in March of 2020. People want and need the flexibility that remote engagement offers. Our parking lots and number of online and blended courses reflect that. We are still trying to figure out the secret sauce and (I think) recognizing that it will continue to evolve as our university and the world we live in do. Nonetheless, CSUCI Picture Day ignited me and so many others. It wasn’t just about being in the photo, and I think a lot of us weren’t sure you’d even be able to tell we were there. It was also about being together.
Many of us have been discussing the added value of coming to campus now that we have so many possibilities for remote connection. What does that look like for classes, for events and activities, for meetings? I can’t think of anyone who wants to be in a meeting that could have been an email or a class with no interaction that could have been a recorded lecture. Some continue to thrive in and prefer engaging with the University almost entirely, if not exclusively remotely. Others may not prefer that, but it is the best option for them in their current circumstances.
In the best-case scenario, we continue to explore a variety of ways to participate in the life of our school, academically, professionally, and socially. Polarizing binaries get us nowhere, as the rarely fruitful debates about online versus in-person instruction continue to reveal. Engaging, meaningful interaction takes place every day in various modalities, and modality alone will not determine the success of a class or an event.
Personally, I find I am kinder to myself and generally happier when I come to campus regularly. The critical, anxious, or uncertain voices in my head that seem to get louder when I’m on my own are almost indiscernible when I come to campus. As a faculty member from another university observed recently, other people can be nicer to us than we are to ourselves.
At the same time, the pandemic continues to present logistical challenges to those who plan courses or activities, along with genuine health concerns for several who might wish to participate but cannot safely do so in person. This is especially true as masking requirements continue to shift. I am cognizant of the privilege of my positionality that allows our physical campus to be a safe, encouraging, and even fun space for me. I am committed to the work of making it that way for all and exploring creative and inspiring opportunities for us to connect in a variety of modes. I hope I get to see you.