Those who happened to be in Claremont on this day two years ago won’t soon forget the haze of shock and uncertainty when everything changed for good.
March 11, 2020 brought the end of many vestiges of pre-pandemic life. Though they didn’t know it then, students in the classes of 2020 and 2021 sat through their final teary-eyed classes on campus that week. Friends who had planned to ride out the last couple months of the semester together boarded flights, hopped into cars and abruptly went their separate ways.
The pandemic has been the stress-test of a lifetime for every institution, and the Claremont Colleges were no exception. In the beginning of what would become known colloquially as quarantine, students, faculty and administrators clashed over the conditions of basic support, questioning what it meant to maintain community when things got difficult.
This created, at first, a struggle for students who needed the support they traditionally had on campus to demand that same foundation from their schools both here and from afar, whether it was housing, adequate funding or simply empathy. Students across the consortium firmly stood on the side of equity in grading, pointing out the vast disparities in the possibility for academic achievement between those who had the privilege to devote time and energy to their studies in the new reality and those who didn’t.
That alone was revealing: apart from the immense drama that having such a conversation across Zoom and social media caused, leaders revealed their true colors when faced with tangible opportunities to keep those who depended on them safe and taken care of.
As spring turned into summer and fall, it began to become abundantly clear how some community members wanted to expend their time and energy. Some students raised thousands of dollars and drove in-kind support for their peers in need. Some administrators focused on money for a different reason, working to make up deficits caused by remote learning by cutting off hundreds of the colleges’ most loyal and most vulnerable community members from needed income in a crisis. (It wasn’t inevitable.)
Through a year and a half of classes online — accompanied by fits and starts of attempting to return each semester, stymied by the pandemic — students and faculty shouldered the burdens of burnout, screen fatigue, disparate time zones and more, still managing to come together and get through the experience. The 5Cs saluted another class of graduates, almost completely remotely.
And then, at last, the return came, aided by vaccine mandates and tireless efforts to reestablish the campuses for class and life as we knew it — to an extent.
Coming back together has meant obligations to each other that we haven’t known in the past, whether it’s consistent masking or going above and beyond to address the needs for physical distancing and whatever else we could do to keep each other healthy.
It’s meant forgiving each other when our speech is muffled and some of our brains are foggier than usual.
It’s meant patience when the information we needed wasn’t quite there yet.
It’s meant having to relearn what it means to be part of something bigger than ourselves.
So what do we know today, two years after everything changed?
We know, in senses both figurative and literal, that being in community with each other is not an inevitability. It takes every last one of us doing our part day in and day out to ensure we have the continued ability to gather safely, with respect and courtesy, and to ensure that everyone has what they need, even if the things we need to do to make that happen aren’t convenient.
As we start moving into what’s next, the “new normal” shouldn’t look like the pre-pandemic. It shouldn’t even look like a “post-pandemic,” because as eagerly as some of our leaders might suggest that’s a possibility, it ignores our obligations to protect each other from a virus that continues to grow stronger and more transmissible.
It should look like a 7C community that is now fully aware of what happens when we take care of one another, and what happens when we don’t.
We know quite well what both of those states look like. Let’s be mindful that we pick the right one.
TSL’s editorial board is comprised of its editor-in-chief and two managing editors, and does not necessarily represent the views of other TSL staff members.