Higher Education & Student Affairs

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HESA in the Time of Corona by Jessica James

A month ago I was sitting in class with my cohort eagerly anticipating Spring Break. I needed rest and wanted to see my family. I figured that after a week apart I would be ready to come back and finish off the semester well. I had a meeting with some of my students where we laughed and planned for the rest of the year. I got Torchy’s and ice cream with some friends in the cohort. The Coronavirus was the punchline to a joke.

And then it became our reality.

With every email and GroupMe message, life as I knew it shifted. Extended Spring Break. Two weeks of online classes. I could handle that. The rest of the school year online. Students not to return to campus. This was not what I signed up for. Summer classes online. Are you kidding me?

It is easy to mourn what we have lost in this time. I think of my students in the School of Education who won’t get to finish out the year in their fieldwork classrooms. I think of seniors who won’t get to say their last goodbyes on campus or are awaiting a postponed graduation. I think of first-year students who have to return home after just experiencing their first taste of independence. I think of those in the middle who are often overlooked but may have lost their much- anticipated summer internships. I think of student workers who have lost their jobs. I think of students who may not have a home to go to or are not sure where their next meal will come from. I think of administrators who are working to make decisions in unprecedented times.

And I think of my expectations for graduate school and work. I think of how important the cohort model is to my graduate program. I miss how a month ago I could come into a classroom and within ten minutes feel at home. I miss the joy I would feel as another member of my cohort would walk in. I miss knowing that Alyssa would likely have an iced “No Bull” half sweet in one hand and the bus would likely be running late for Balee. Or that if I pulled out a snack Paapa would give me a side eye and a grin (because it is always snack time). I miss trying to follow along as Sam would list several authors I had never heard of or listening Andy would show his passion for an underrepresented group of students. I miss how Sarah could so eloquently advocate for a middle ground position because she could see both sides to the argument. I miss Tina’s jokes and Kat’s silent, but fierce, presence. I miss Madelynn’s (few, but memorable) passionate rants about football. I miss Luke’s ability to see the Lord in all situations. I miss Kelsey showing us pictures of her niece and nephew. I miss my cohort.

I recognize that my recollection of these quirks may mean very little to anyone outside of our cohort. But they show how key the cohort model is to our learning and our experience. We know each other, we learn from each other, we love each other, we refine each other, and we support each other. I had no idea that when I was saying “see you soon” to my friends for Spring Break that I would not see some of them again until an unforeseeable date. I think I would have done a few things differently. I would have hugged them again. I would have told them how every day in class is a gift and how I could not make it without them. I would have told them that I would sincerely miss them.

While the world has changed in a month and I ache for the days when I can once again sit in person with my people, I also know that I now have a deeper appreciation for the ways that they are gifted. A month ago I may have known Alyssa’s coffee order and Madelynn’s passion for the Vikings and Tina’s affinity for experience at MCC. But what I didn’t fully appreciate was how each and every member of the cohort is a resilient, passionate, and fierce advocate for their students. They are creative and hungry to do this work. They grieve for what our students have lost, and still have managed to show a greater desire for work in student affairs now that our reality has shifted. They have adjusted as students to online coursework and as professionals to online programming.

If there is one thing that I am certain of, it is that the Lord is good and He has a plan. He brought this cohort together for a reason. Selfishly, I think that one of those reasons was to open my eyes to the needs of the world, the creative ways we can solve problems, and the many ways to show that you care. There is a unifying nature to this shared experience. We are all grieving the loss of something. We are all shifting the ways we have done our work, studies, or friendships. Zoom calls are our new hangouts. We interact through screens during class. We have made friendships quizzes to stay connected. We persevere. We create. We connect. The spirit of these aspiring higher education professionals’ shines in these hazy times.

While I do not know the next time we will be together in person again, I know that the eleven other people in my cohort will change the world. In the time of the coronavirus, Students still matter, education still matters, people still matter, and this work still matters.

tori_guilford1 • April 3, 2020

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