The magazine staff went to one of our assistant deans, Chad Joice, to find out his perspective on student life this past pandemic year as well as his hopes for the fall.
What do you do when your position is thrown a curveball by a virus? How do you adapt to what seems like an unadaptable situation? When can we get back to “normal?” I wrestled with these questions in March 2020 when the University asked our students not to return to campus after spring break. To be honest, I still wrestle with these questions a year later even though we are closer to normal.
I came to work at Harding in Fall 2013 in the Office of Student Life. How do you work at a job that revolves around students when those students are not on campus? There always are times when our campus is empty during holidays and between sessions. Even though it is nice to recharge for a few days, or maybe a week or two, there comes a time when I am ready for students to return. Our students are our lifeblood. March to August was way too long to be without them, and I was tired of emails and phone calls from my recliner. I needed face-to-face interactions. I entered a career in education 17 years ago to make a difference in the lives of our youth, and, for me, that means interacting with students and developing relationships. That is hard to do when no one is around.
I was thrilled when our students returned to campus this past August, but I knew things would not be normal. There were difficult decisions that had to be made, guided by the CDC and the Arkansas Department of Health, in order to keep our community safe. While masks were becoming more commonplace in our lives, distancing was accepted, and elbow bumps were the norm for hello, our lives on campus were anything but normal.
Due to the nature of my specific role, it is not uncommon for me to have face-to-face meetings with 400 students during a typical semester. I quickly realized this would not be the case; in fact, most of my student interactions in the fall were conversations guiding students through the isolation and quarantine process. Delivering information of isolation from peers is difficult to give, but every student was gracious and accepting. While my face-to-face interactions decreased, my ability to connect and support students through difficult situations increased the number of relationships I was able to cultivate. I still get text messages from many of these students or a fist bump from student-athletes when watching them practice. We are bonded by COVID-19.
Besides the loss of face-to-face interactions, I have missed Harding activities. I love Bison athletics and am fortunate to be the public address announcer for several of our teams and keep the official book for others. It is hard to go several months without watching our student-athletes compete in their chosen sport. For me, it does not stop with athletics. I’ll tell you a secret; I love musicals. I hated not getting to watch our students share their gift of performance through the Homecoming musical. I missed the sound of instruments from the Thundering Herd. Our campus started out void of these extracurricular activities. However, that has now changed. Our bands have given front lawn performances. Students joined social clubs. Spring Sing happened. Almost every sports team had a season during the Spring semester. We have even been able to worship together, in person, during chapel. Through it all, I have been there supporting, encouraging, elbow and fist-bumping, all while smiling through my mask.
So, what do you do when your position is thrown a pandemic curveball? You adapt to the situation and show students that you care and love them through your actions. You scream that COVID-19 will not win. I have learned more than I ever wanted to know about practices and guidelines related to this virus, but one thing I know for certain is we are getting back to normal. It may not be what we remember, but isn’t that the same with life? We adapt and overcome. We are Harding, and we will continue to move forward.