Creativity and Community in COVID-time

I wrote the short piece for our Provost’s Newsletter. Though a little in-house for broader dissemination, I do think it’s important that people know how hard and how well faculty and students and working during what has been an extraordinary 9 month period. And also important to recognize that creativity and community aren’t reserved for times of leisure. Now more than ever we need to be artists with our own lives and be committing ourselves to community with others and common good for all.

Mundanely titled: “Good News Around Campus”

In the mad rush we have come to call “COVID-time,” I’m used to describing my own life or hear others describe their lives as “busy” or “frantic.” We’re all “dog-paddling” or keeping our collective “nose out of the water.” Always rushed during the school year, COVID seems to have added an extra gear that gets the wheel of our days spinning yet more rapidly, even as we wait endlessly for a Thanksgiving, a day that the seems, like a point in Zeno’s paradox, to be ever closer and yet just as far away as ever.

Even so, when I’ve had a minute to pause and observe in the middle of all piles of things I must get done, I’ve also been struck by the ways our lives seem to be continuously marked by two other, less frantic words: creativity and connection. Although COVID has been an experience of tremendous and widespread loss—of our normal ways of doing things at which we excelled, of our usual times of rest or worship, and even for many of us the loss of friends or family–it has also given opportunities for newness and, surprisingly, for connection. As I observe faculty and students at work I am constantly impressed with adaptability and creativity in their finding new things to do or their efforts to do old things in new ways. In the Department of Communication, faced with the inability to cover sports events in his photojournalism class, David Dixon, co-chair of the department, has assigned his students to cover seasonal changes and campus beauty as a different form of journalism. In English, students in Young Adult Literature are using digital tools to explore the moral universe of Young Adult texts, and in Writing for Social Change students are developing digital writing campaigns to promote learning about issues such as mass incarceration, immigration, and gender in the church.

I’ve perhaps been most impressed with the ways in which faculty and students have creatively promoted human connection and community even in the midst of a world of social distancing. Kudos to Valerie Lemmon, Professor of Psychology and Assistant Dean of Business, Education, and Social Sciences for working with Stephanie Patterson to develop and alternative form of a school meeting so that faculty to greet each other, talk with each other pray for one another outside the normal confines of a business meeting. The Department of Education has celebrated the new book just published by Obed Mfum Mensah via zoom. The Messiah Council on Family Relations from HDFS sponsored a cooking show featuring student Tariah Rozier demonstrating her skills at cooking Halloween treats. The COMM department bridged the curriculum and social connection by having the Event Planning class create virtual events for students and faculty that would promote community in the department. Education students have been stepping up to fill critical substitute teacher needs in the region, an effort that helps our local schools and their students and teachers while also enhancing their experience as teachers.

There are, to be sure, so many ways in which we may find COVID-time constraining, preventing us from doing what we might otherwise prefer to be doing. But I also discern enabling constraints, all the ways in which the difficulties of our moment are pushing us to a creativity, and to a community, that we might not have otherwise realized. In all these ways and many, many more, I see faculty and students responding to constraints with creativity that sustains community. A blessing even in the midst of busyness.

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