The fall 2020 semester: what we know and what we need

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David Budnick/The Muhlenberg Weekly

The French poet and journalist Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once famously stated: “What makes a desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.”

In this barren, mid-quarantine world, a broadly lingering question on the minds of so many Americans as the world has grown accustomed to this seemingly endless, restrictive lifestyle, is a desperate wondering as to when and how life will return to its prior state of normalcy.

As the community of Muhlenberg College and the national communities of higher learning institutes reflect on the cherished time of learning and growing on campuses, the concept of what our home-away-from-home will look and feel like in the future radiates uncertainty. Can anyone truly know the answers definitively at this point in time? What are the steps that we, as students, must follow to eventually ensure the safety of such a high volume of faculty, staff and students confined in the space of a few short blocks?

Though doubt spreads like wildfire, President Harring and Dean Gulati, amongst others involved in the college’s administrative team, have been in close contact with students, families and informatively within the faculty network to ease the challenge of this trivial time. The Dean of Students ensures the Muhlenberg Weekly that the goal is furthermore to make certain that people remain as informed as possible within an appropriate time frame, and that the college is building a communication model raised specifically within a pool of integrity and interpersonal values.

“I wish I had some superpower to look into the future and give students an answer…give my staff an answer…give our prospective students and their families a definite answer,” explains Gulati. “I believe in being as transparent as possible, so the most transparent I can be is to say that the senior staff of the College, under President Harring’s leadership is doing as much due diligence as possible to review factual, epidemiological-based information and to talk to unbiased, expert sources to inform our planning and decision making.”

Dean Gulati goes on to discuss that hope is the current binding that keeps the community forged together, and that it is indeed the enduring hope of the senior staff to reopen Muhlenberg for the fall semester. However, with the state of the nation abruptly and abrasively changing at a moment’s notice, she affirms the college’s stance of malleability and constant willingness to be flexible, and adapt to the unstable wavelengths of the crisis. President Harring explored the specifics of  the options currently open to the educational system, and has worked with her colleagues to divide the plan into several potential solutions based on a number of variable exterior factors.

“In terms of the fall semester, we are in the midst of planning for a variety of scenarios given the current public health projections on the trajectories that the COVID-19 pandemic could take.” states Harring. “Many other colleges and universities across the country are doing the same type of planning.  We hope we can return to campus in the fall with some level of normalcy but we need to develop contingency plans for a fall semester with social distancing guidelines in place or one that starts with remote learning for the first half of the semester or for the entire semester.”

To students wondering precisely what the future holds for them, the major theme emanated from the words of the administrative team was that a keen grip on perseverance is the key to success during the uncertainty of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“I would say, “Holdfast…holdfast to your loved ones, to your health, and to all the things you hold dear.  Holdfast to Muhlenberg College – the bonds you have forged, the relationships you have built, the knowledge and experience you have gained, the memories you have made and will make in the future on our campus,” says Gulati. “None of this is what we planned and we are living in absolutely unprecedented times. You have lost much, have had to adapt in ways that we would never have wished upon you, but you are strong and together, we are MULESTRONG. We are growing through this pain, heartache, and complexity in ways that will forever shape our ability to lead, nurture and transform our families, communities and professional pursuits.  Muhlenberg stands with you and we promise to keep this community and everyone in it at the forefront of our planning and decision making and we will work our hardest to have our community back on campus as quickly as we safely can.  And for however long we must remain remote, be it the rest of this semester and summer or beyond, we will work our very hardest to keep our community connected, cared for and to offer everyone the very best remote learning experience possible.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry seems to have weaved exactly the underlying idea of what Muhlenberg’s response is conveying; No matter how desolate this moment in time may seem, and even in spite of the hardships staring the world in the face every single day of this monotonous, dystopian cycle, the small shreds of hope do exist, and they alone have the power to ignite the sparks of a future worth waiting for.

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