It has been more than a year now that we have been living and working in a world where, for the most part, we have been physically separated due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Looking back, it is a remarkable feat that in just a few days in March 2020 we worked together to move more than 3,600 students out of residences in Brantford and Waterloo, 20,000 students to almost 100 per cent virtual learning, and about 2,000 staff and faculty to working from home to protect the health and safety of our communities. Over the months, as we settled into this new normal, many of us wondered how we would sustain Laurier’s thriving community at a distance.
In reflecting on the past year, I am deeply proud of the resiliency of our community and how we have found new ways to connect, care for each other and work together. In this issue of Laurier Campus, you will read stories about people at Laurier who have continued to build community, help others and pursue their dreams, despite the difficult circumstances they have faced. These are stories of resiliency and demonstrate that, even in the most trying of times, we find ways to continue to do good work that makes a difference in the world.
As I’m sure many of you have done during this time, I have often reflected on the many events I am missing, events I look forward to in the normal rhythm of a year. At a university, those special events that mark campus life – Orientation Week, academic and research symposiums, sporting events, musical performances, convocation and Homecoming – strengthen our community through shared experiences. During the past year, staff and faculty have done an incredible job recreating many of these events in a virtual format.
I have been thrilled to see how engaged people continue to be with the university, with hundreds logging in for virtual public lectures, panel discussions and social events. During events such as Homecoming, the virtual setting allowed alumni to connect from coast to coast and from as far away as Australia.
As the months have passed and seeing this engagement in the virtual world, I have developed a greater appreciation for the importance of university events and what they mean to the community. At Laurier, we have begun to think about how we can take the lessons we have learned about creating community in a virtual environment back to our campuses. With vaccine rollout holding the promise of a return to some normalcy this year, we are considering what the university might look like in fall 2021.
As I write this, we are anticipating a segmented return to our campuses, with many engaging in a combination of in-person and virtual work and learning. It seems likely that there will still be some public health measures in place in September. I am hopeful that this difficult period in our history can be used as an opportunity to reimagine how the university builds a thriving community when geography is not a barrier. More flexible work and learning arrangements, as well as a more robust offering of online courses and events, are just some of the changes Laurier administrators, faculty and staff are already thinking about and planning for fall 2021 and beyond.
As we emerge from the pandemic, I look forward to applying the lessons we have learned in the virtual environment to enhance the Laurier experience for everyone and break down barriers of access and distance.
President and Vice-Chancellor
Wilfrid Laurier University