Until the last several months, I never remembered my dreams or nightmares after I woke. I was always jealous of friends, family, and colleagues who could recount with flare the bizarre twists and turns of their subconscious over coffee the following morning. Lately, and I am not sure why other than…2020…, I am not only remembering every vivid detail of my sleep time imagination, but I am now wishing that I would not. My dreams have not been wild, horror-filled, or infused with my greatest fear (which is falling from very high places), but they have been perpetual mazes without end. Literally, I am dreaming that I am stuck inside of hallways in houses, office buildings, storage units, or shopping malls that have no exits. I think it is safe to say, and time to admit to myself, the effects of the numerous pandemics, quarantines, crises, elections, sicknesses, deaths, worries for the future, etc. have embedded themselves into my subconscious self. Whether this has been the case for a long time or if you’re just now realizing it, I believe this may be the case for many of you as well.
I have a lot of hope for what 2021 may hold: Vaccinations for COVID-19, new presidential (and vice presidential) leadership of the United States reflecting the diversity of the nation who will attend to the actual needs of the people, stimulus relief for those suffering the financial crises of 2020, the overturning of hate-fueled executive orders, experienced leadership in the U.S. Department of Education, and the potential to return to in-person community again in the latter part of the coming year. While hope is a strong and positive motivator, my dreams as of late are making me increasingly aware that I need to do more and better to manage my “now.” In conversation with many of you, I know a lot of you are feeling the same way. In case it helps you too, here are the five things I am already doing to manage my “now.” I would love to learn the things you are doing that seem to be working for you. Although they may seem obvious, they are not always so simple to achieve:
- Go outdoors every day, even for just a little while, and take deep breaths.
- Recalculate your previous definitions of productivity – Set your goals based on tasks or time limits, whichever comes first. I usually say to myself at the start of each project, “I want to do these (3) things today or spend (2) hours on it, and then stop whichever comes first.”
- Create space to check-in with each other before jumping into task. If you feel safe, be vulnerable and open to sharing how you are doing/feeling to reinforce the importance of our human connectedness.
- Find a different song, short story, poem, or something from the creative world to inspire you every week. Start your day taking in the beauty in art.
- Put on shoes with firm, supportive soles at least every other day ☺.
I share my own struggles and journey with you because we have a long way to
go in recovering and rebuilding our lives, our work, our field, and our society. With our colleagues in the American Council on Education and the Washington Higher Education Secretariat, ACPA has asked the U.S. Congress for an additional 120 billion dollars in pandemic relief funding for higher education. This is nearly four times the funding approved in the first round of stimulus support for higher education in May 2020. What does this mean? It means financial recovery on college and university campuses is unlikely to stabilize for at least three or more years unless this funding is approved. Even if this funding is approved, financial recovery is only a piece to the puzzle that is the future of higher education.
COVID-19 has disrupted sense of community on campus. In many ways, our definitions of community needed interruption, particularly those areas perpetuating white supremacy, anti-Blackness, and marginality and exclusion. Like you, I have heard many students and colleagues beautifully share that going “back to normal” should not be our goal because “normal” wasn’t working. With vaccinations and physical health improving over the next few months, I call on our institutional leaders to identify how we WANT to rebuild our campuses and communities – and not just from financial and operational definitions. Can you imagine higher education as a “people first” industry, in which finances, planning, and operations are certainly important to success, but do not define it? I have added this hope to my 2021 list and will commit to providing leadership for our field in centering our humanity in collaboration with other association partners who also share this vision for our campuses.
Let’s use these next few months to ask ourselves some critical questions:
- What did we learn about ourselves in 2020?
- What did we once emphasize as critical that now seems less important?
- What did we observe or grow to understand about student learning and development during this recent period of time, and how should this new knowledge shape our futures?
- What can you change to be “people first” in your world and work?
I am considering these issues daily and admit that it leads to more questions than answers right now. Perhaps that is what all of my dreams involve an inability to escape my circular constraints. I trust that my hope will guide these questions towards metaphorical windows or doors of new opportunities or ways of living and being. 2020 has been painful, but so have many of the “normal” or “business as usual” frameworks we have relied on for centuries and decades in higher education and student affairs. I ask that you join me in a hopeful, yet critical imagining of our future. The chance to be a different industry is ahead of us following this period of unprecedented disruption. Let’s work together to maximize our collective and individual voices, talents, and perspectives in creating new dreams.
ACPA Executive Director