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Message Sent To:All Faculty, All Staff, All Students
Message From:Message from the Office of the Provost
Date Sent:Tuesday, March 24, 2020 08:30 AM CDT

The Power Within

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff,

This past month, tears have rolled down the faces of students and professors. Emotions like fear, anxiety, and frustration, as well as nervousness around change, have been evident in the expressions of the people who help these students and professors achieve their academic goals. In 35 years as an academic, I have not seen this much disruption and distress in a university community as that caused by COVID-19 rearing its ugly head. At Loyola, of course, this has meant that most students have had to move. Most faculty, administrators, and staff are working remotely. And we have transitioned classes to online for the rest of the semester. Our lives, our work, and our educations have been disrupted.

With COVID-19, we are afraid of both what the disease may do to us and its impact on dear ones with compromised immunological systems. Beyond fear, we are grieving for the sudden loss of our daily human connections. Most students–be they undergraduate, graduate, MD, JD, or RN–love and value their time on our campuses. The in-person exchange between teacher and student lies at the very heart of the university experience. Its abrupt interruption has elicited emotions of loss in the hearts of many students. Good teachers develop a strong bond with their students, and the sudden shift leaves everybody with feelings of things left unsaid. How could bonds like this built from so many mutual accumulated experiences be severed with such indifferent fleetness?

The thing about tears is that they may blind you at first, but then they wash your eyes. We do not know yet when COVID-19 will subside, but we have already seen through our washed eyes the strength of our community. Many of the emails that we have received from its members have shown unconditional love and care for others. Some of those emails are from students imploring us to protect Sister Jean from COVID-19. They care more about the Great Dame of Loyola than about themselves. A note from a mother who, through her great love, wrote that her daughter was suffering distress over the loss of campus life touched me deeply. Her daughter was a senior, her mother said, and wanted to savor every minute of her last few months on our campuses. And there was more, much more. Students in a dorm gave gifts and cards to their RA to thank them for the help and comfort in this stressful time. An international student and her family offered to host another international student just so that she would not feel alone.

Our washed eyes have also seen many such examples of unconditional love coming from faculty, staff, and administrators. A group of staff has been working nights and weekends with students and community at the center of the decision-making. The goal of this work is making the unavoidable transition imposed by the COVID-19 challenge as seamless and intentional as possible. In turn, faculty members who know how to work online are volunteering to help others that still must learn. Finally, administrators are working indefatigably to make some of the toughest decisions of their careers and to coordinate a massive operation. One cool administrator even brought a dog to campus to comfort students.

For my part, my washed eyes have glimpsed a surprising beauty. For all the talk that the current crisis demands social distancing, now more than ever, we need the beauty of human connection. I am not saying that social distancing is not necessary. On the contrary, it is now a form of human solidarity. However, Loyolans have shown more: when we care about each other at the deepest human level, together we can overcome any hardship.

I am immensely proud of our students. They have been patient, conscientious, understanding, and considerate throughout this ongoing and still evolving situation. I am also immensely proud of my colleagues for the selfless heart they have put into the process. Sudden, drastic change like what we are facing now is never easy. We have faced many bumps in the road and have not always dealt with them perfectly. We are imperfect, but the Loyola community has tried to do its best, because we both love what we do and love the people that we serve. Therefore, my prediction is that Loyola students, faculty, and staff will continue to connect with each other in this new, seemingly impersonal format. They will show empathy and flexibility as we navigate these uncharted waters. Loyolans have shown me that we all are deeply interconnected and that our highest blessings are contained in the ripples of the selfless, kind heart.

And you know what this beautiful lesson has taught me? Although things may look bad now, I have learned that the Loyola community will emerge stronger than ever. As scary and disruptive as this pandemic has been, it is one of the tests of our lives, and how we choose to manage through it can make us stronger individuals and global citizens. Strength does not come from the victories in our battles. We develop strengths from struggles, that is, by going through hardships together and never capitulating to indifference, grief, or despair. I am new to Loyola, but I have already seen a community whose resilience stems from its core vision of caring about each other fully. I believe that a community that shows such power within can steer its destiny towards any bright future that it wishes. Together, we will go there.

Together in Loyola,

Norberto Grzywacz, PhD
Provost and Chief Academic Officer