All of us have experienced unprecedented uncertainty over the past months – unknown risks of COVID-19; economic threats; political instability. At times, it seems the salience of these uncertainties have eliminated our ability to appreciate good news when we do receive it.
The uncertainty of the global pandemic has not disappeared, but there is some good news that we should all allow ourselves to enjoy, for a moment.
First, Georgetown, along with many universities, has returned to a largely in-person environment. It took important decisions to facilitate that mode. The university mandated that all faculty, staff, and students be fully vaccinated. It mandated that documentation of the vaccination be presented before returning to campus. The cooperation with these mandates is overwhelming, with over 97% fully vaccinated, and the remainder having approved accommodations for health or religious reasons. The latter group is fully masked at all times and receiving routine testing. We have produced a campus safer than the public spaces we all frequent in our day-to-day lives.
Second, within buildings all members of the community remain masked. The compliance with this protocol seems very high during the high-density times of classes. Outside, of course, masking is not required in the same way. Increasingly, students are discovering the outdoor tents, with tables and chairs permitting studying and conversations. It’s a vibrant scene.
Third, the protocols seem to be working to protect the health of the community. The positivity rates of those tested remains low, tending below 1% routinely. The number of students in isolation on any given day is quite small among the over the 6700 undergraduates, generally less than 20, far less than our capacity in the conference hotel designated for isolation.
Fourth, and most wonderfully, excitement abounds among our students. They love being among one another and taking in-person classes together. For many, the remote learning led to feelings of isolation. As we first saw in the Summer Hilltop Immersion Program in June, the students deeply value the social interaction outside the classroom, the group study possibilities, and the greater closeness to faculty.
Fifth, our early surveys of students report higher engagement in classes than comparable surveys in the fall, 2020, semester. They feel more engaged. Anecdotal reports from faculty members describe a similar phenomenon. The classrooms are more vibrant than their zoom equivalents last year. One of our colleagues reported that the students are so engaged that he has decided to revise the syllabus, reflecting their fuller and quicker absorption of the material. Nothing is more energizing to a faculty member than a class that is filled with visible engagement in the material of the course.
We are all fully aware that the global pandemic remains ongoing. We are aware that some speculate another surge in the Northeast over the coming weeks. We understand that new variants are likely to arise. We understand that we cannot let down our guard.
However, isn’t it wonderful that we have achieved protection of our community and enhancement of our learning environment and return to our research activities thus far in the semester? We all deserve a brief moment of collective enjoyment.