Harding at a distance

By Hannah Owens |

When I stepped into the office on April 16, 2020, it was like stepping back in time. Campus had been nearly empty for more than a month, but I made the trip to campus to complete this story assignment — I knew writing would be more meaningful in this place. The stack of The Bison newspapers we provide for visitors to our department was still neatly sitting on the coffee table. Before I even turned on the office lights, visible from the doorway were the words “Leaving Florence” under the masthead over a photo of Florence, Italy. The headline on that issue, stamped with a date of Feb. 28, wasn’t breaking news anymore, and so much has happened since that ink first dried. As I locked in on that space above the fold, in that moment it was like time was frozen. For the first time ever, students were not rushing to chapel, classrooms were empty, and we probably made the least amount of chicken biscuits we’ve ever made. Harding was still existing — still teaching, nurturing and providing — for its students, but those students were far away.

The first report of a person who tested positive for the novel 2019 coronavirus in the United States came Jan. 21, sending shockwaves through every industry across the country. But the top of the news hour was reserved for stories surrounding the virus in early January when the World Health Organization identified a surge in “pneumonia of unknown cause” in Wuhan, China. The world watched as this highly contagious strain of coronavirus, COVID-19, spread over city lines, international borders and continents. Words such as “uncertain,” “unprecedented” and “social distancing” defined this experience that tied every human on earth together. Health care workers stayed where they are every day — on the front lines of saving and preserving human life. Almost everyone else was instructed to stay home.

According to the WHO, “Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses which may cause illness in animals or humans. In humans, several coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases.” COVID-19, a completely new coronavirus, was first discovered in a Chinese seafood and poultry market. WHO says person to person exchange of the virus occurs “through small droplets from the nose or mouth which are spread when a person with COVID-19 coughs or exhales.” The CDC and other health professionals communicated preventative measures like avoiding close contact with people, especially those who are sick; frequent hand washing; wearing a mask in public; cleaning and disinfecting surfaces often touched; and staying home.

Harding’s first decision as a result of COVID-19 came Feb. 26 when the announcement was made classes were suspended at its study abroad program in Florence, Italy. The University’s decision to suspend all on-ground classes was reported March 12 during spring break. Faculty began transitioning all course materials into online learning environments, and most students completed their coursework far from within the University’s classroom walls. University administrators monitored movement of the virus in addition to state and nationwide efforts to stop the spread to ensure Harding’s response aligned with guidelines and recommendations.

It was a spring without Spring Sing, sporting events and speakers. As classroom instruction went virtual, the effects of our empty campus reached far and wide. In the next few pages, several different voices of our community reflect on this time in history from their perspective. 

Harding is a beautiful place, but this semester Harding was an experience that transcended a physical space. There were challenges and obstacles to overcome, but chapel on social media was no less thoughtful, classes were no less prepared for, and relationships were no less meaningful. As a writer for Harding magazine, I’ve interviewed many people — students, faculty, staff and alumni. The one question people have the most common answer to is, “What makes Harding so special?” “The people,” most say. Harding operated completely at a distance for the first time ever in spring 2020, but people — faculty, staff, students, alumni — continued to do what they do to make Harding the truly special place it is. It’s great to be at Harding, even at home.

Editor’s Note: Hannah Owens, director of digital media, has been a vital part of the magazine staff since 2011. Her contributions will be sorely missed as she left the University in May for a new position.

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