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The end seems near. Hazy, but near.
After over a year’s worth of awkward Zoom silences and tops-only dress codes, a return to normal, face-to-face interaction is the closest it has been since the pandemic’s onset. Vaccination rates across America are rising rapidly, allowing for cautious optimism: a timid hope that we might soon go back to our simultaneously riveting and mundane in-person lives.
Harvard also seems optimistic: Two weeks ago, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Claudine Gay announced that the FAS expects “a full return to campus,” complete with in-person learning, for College students in the fall of 2021.
Normalcy is in sight, and we couldn’t be more thrilled. The ability to be real students once again — to indulge in the small wonders of campus life — elicits elation.
This news is also particularly well-timed; a much-needed glimmer of hope for students emerging weary-eyed from midterms, denied a spring break, and stripped of any real opportunity to unplug and connect. Now more than ever, we miss our dearest friends. We miss our crowded dining halls. We miss our libraries filled with hushed laughter and chatter. We miss the people, places, and spaces that have helped turn Harvard into home.
And yet amidst the intoxicating blend of cautious hope and unbridled excitement, we foresee the growing pains that our return will inevitably entail.
When we return to campus, we may feel distant, jaded by a year of uncertainty and loss. Almost all of us will emerge from quarantine as contorted outlines of the people we were just over a year ago, unable to slip seamlessly into the life we left behind.
We will need the College to extend a grace period — both in the literal sense of time set aside to physically reorient ourselves, as well as in a metaphorical sense of being understanding as we mentally and emotionally readjust — and we need to grant ourselves the same mercy.
We must be patient with ourselves and each other as we re-establish rapport with one another, seek to bridge the virtual-physical divide, and rediscover what it means to live in a community. We will encounter massive cultural, social, and institutional knowledge gaps which will take time to fill in.
But all of this is all okay — perhaps even a good thing. Life on campus has always been far from perfect, and as we wrote about last spring, our return may be one of the most opportune moments to re-imagine campus life. We should conceptualize our homecoming not merely as a return to “normalcy,” but instead as a hard reset: a chance to forge ahead with a new, enhanced mode of communal and collective living.
To that end, we all have a part to play as we move forward together.
To our faculty: Reach out aggressively with resources and advising. You will be engaging with juniors who are really freshmen, seniors who are really sophomores, and sophomores who don't know where your department building is. Students will need all of the personal connections, advisors, and sources of direction that they did before, but multiplied by lost time.
To our administrators: Provide opportunities for students to grapple with lingering feelings of grief and loss. We cannot proceed as if nothing has changed, or as if being back together resolves all pandemic-related woes. Continue to communicate with us as early as possible (we appreciated this update), and listen to students’ voices detailing the campus they hope to return to — one where they can heal and thrive.
Finally, to our peers: Embrace and revel in one another. Push against Harvard's busy culture. Take what you’ve learned from the pandemic and apply it; make time for people, be present, and be grateful. Seniors in particular have a responsibility to set the tone for the College’s culture, combining their favorite parts of the Harvard they remember with aspirations for the Harvard they wish to create: a responsibility to preserve the best parts of the student body’s institutional memory.
Let’s make Harvard a place of its own potential. Let’s imbue our campus community with warmth, health, and vitality like it has never encountered before. Let’s make the College a home that students cannot wait to share in, where we can all enjoy unmatched levels of safety, inclusion, and support.
We’re up for the task of reopening our campus. Are you?
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.
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