As an Associate Dean in a college that’s committed to helping build a better future, it’s a pretty inauspicious end to what has been an incredibly tough year.
Yet beyond the challenges, the misery, and the pain that we’re all grappling with–and not only from COVID–there’s hope that in 2021 we’ll turn a corner and begin working together toward a future that’s substantially better than the past 12 months have been.
It’s perhaps ironic that in this of all years, Arizona State University decided to launch a new College of Global Futures. Just as the future seemed to be unravelling, we forged ahead with establishing a new college that was determinedly built on the premise that we have the capacity to build a more just, sustainable and vibrant one. And not just one future, but futures plural, as we each have a hand in creating our own unique journeys moving forward.
When the college officially launched back in July, we were already living the new reality of social/physical isolation and virtual working, the Black Lives Matter movement was raising a tsunami of self-reflection around embedded racism in academia, and our students were facing a semester where so much that brings value to being in college seemed to be in question.
Coming in as the new Associate Dean for Student Success, the challenges were enormous. I still haven’t met most of my new colleagues in the flesh, and I can’t remember the last time I had an in-person meeting with our students. More than this though, COVID robbed us of the social, intellectual and cultural “glue” that is foundational to vibrant and impactful academic institutions.
And yet, thanks to our amazing staff and faculty and our incredible students, we’ve survived. The college is intact. We have a purpose. And we have a plan.
And thank goodness we do, because as we enter 2021 it’s more important than ever that we learn to be better builders of the future in ways that transcend the limitations of established disciplines and conventional thinking.
Of course, 2021 is, without question, going to be another tough year. Even with the new coronavirus vaccines, we’re not going to see widespread immunization until the middle of the year at the earliest, which means we’ll still be wearing masks in public and keeping our distance from each other for some time yet. And as a result, the 2021 college experience will not be what many hoped it would be.
Sadly, there’s no way to completely replicate the experiential side of going to college under COVID that traditionally makes this such a transformative experience for so many.
And yet, it’s never been more important that we continue to provide our students with an education, experiences and opportunities that will provide them with the knowledge, abilities and insights they need to help build a more equitable, just, sustainable, and vibrant future.
As we accelerate into a future that’s increasingly precarious, we simply cannot afford to take time out from developing the knowledge and skills necessary to navigate it. Just as we discovered to our cost that delaying responses to COVID amplified the impact, so delaying our responses to just, equitable and sustainable future-building threatens to amplify the impacts of inaction. And this means that, challenging as it is, we need to continue to ensure that our students get the best education, the best experiences, and the best opportunities that are possible, so that they are equipped to be the best possible builders of a better future.
Fortunately, by working together, we can achieve this. And this gives me hope that, hard as 2021 is going to be, we’ll look back in 12 months and see that we’ve turned a corner.
That is, as long as we continue to look beyond our own needs and work together to build a future that truly is better than the past.