The pandemic was felt similarly on Arcadia University’s campus as it was worldwide – from cautious optimism at the beginning of the pandemic, to realizing the need for a significant shift in priorities. Dr. Suzanne Redington, assistant professor, who provided vital support to Department Chair Dr. Margaret Longacre, and the broader university response, shares: “Once we all moved past the realization that COVID was happening, there was a continued hope that it would be temporary and be over in a few months at most. The university’s global presence required their swift attention to the rapidly unfolding public health concern in the early months of 2020. Our efforts for the remainder of that semester centered around two main things: (1) supporting our students and (2) supporting each other. We found it important to talk to each other and assist each other as we learned how to teach and work from home during a pandemic, often while having increased caregiving responsibilities or other strains. It was a daunting task for all involved and not without its challenges.”
Arcadia’s programs met logistical challenges head on and collaborated to overcome them. “We realized there was no perfect decision in this scenario,” Longacre says. “The programs within our College of Health Sciences worked collaboratively to know what each program was doing over the summer of 2020 in response, including a guiding document that was regularly updated. This allowed for learning from each other during an experience that was new to all of us.”
Among the academic challenges was the issue of burnout. Redington explains, “The burnout experienced by our students and employees was, and is, incredibly challenging to address. This ebbs and flows, and the experience is different for everyone. Having to constantly adapt and make decisions based on ever-changing information due to the progressing pandemic takes its toll. Mental health resources have been made available to students and employees. We have talked to each other, shared resources, provided opportunities for social engagement (virtual and in-person) and established a culture that values mental health care. But this is the long haul, and we still experience times of burnout. Thus, we consistently go back to some of those previous approaches that have worked. We also continue to learn to prioritize our efforts and ask for help from others.”
“One of the biggest lessons we learned was the importance of adaptability and flexibility. COVID pushed all of us to adapt in ways we never expected. Sometimes this pushed us to accomplish things sooner than we intended, like integrating more variety into how we engage students in our classroom. Sometimes this required us to accomplish tasks differently, like participating in Zoom meetings or teaching while at home with children in quarantine or learning from home themselves,” Longacre says.
Redington summarizes that “Arcadia decided early in the pandemic that they would prioritize the health and safety of the university’s global community. This held true even if an action or response was not the ideal business decision. That doesn’t mean that the university paid no mind to the financial aspects of its response to COVID. They made a conscious effort to put their community’s well-being first and had confidence that they had the wherewithal to accomplish this while addressing any potential financial impact. This created a culture of valuing data and other scientific evidence in the decision-making process. Expectedly, there was never a time when everyone at the university was happy with a decision related to the COVID response, but the university was always clear about its values.”