On March 6, students departed campus for spring break, anticipating a week of rest and a reprieve from academics and extracurriculars. Four days later, the semester as they knew it was over. In a dramatic institutional response to the burgeoning coronavirus pandemic, Duke turned on a dime, shutting down campus, extending spring break and digitizing the entire university experience. That transition has not been seamless. Yet we have never loved Duke more.
The abrupt upheaval of our campus life has come at great cost. In the wake of Duke’s closure, many students feel isolated and adrift, suddenly severed from the friends and engagements that make college so meaningful. Seniors have had their waning days of college unceremoniously ripped away. International and low-income students are ensnared in a logistical nightmare, with many facing legal and financial hurdles that impede their efforts to return home. Even the indomitable basketball team has been brought low, unable to be the uniting force that Duke so desperately needs.
But students are not the only ones struggling. As the pandemic spreads, Duke’s faculty, staff and administration are facing unprecedented challenges. Yet despite bewildering, rapid, and unpredictable change, this loyal cohort has been charged with upholding the same mission as always: ensuring the wellbeing and edification of thousands of students.
During the best of times, this is a difficult, often thankless, endeavor. These are not the best of times. As we speak, thousands of students are scattered to the four corners of the earth, across various time zones and sundry states, countries, and continents. Amidst these daunting logistical hurdles, employees must support and educate these students all while the looming spectre of a deadly virus wreaks havoc on their own lives.
At this time, it is imperative that we students display understanding and compassion for Duke and its employees. We are accustomed to the University having all the answers, all the resources, all the contingency plans to match and surmount every conceivable problem. This is not a normal moment. Just like the rest of us, Duke has had to improvise, adapt and overcome, to make the best of what’s possible. Despite such difficulties, we are thankful for and impressed by what Duke has been able to do, for the services and support it has provided us despite the tremendous difficulties imposed by the moment.
Globally, Duke has made vital contributions to the fight against novel coronavirus. In the face of a global shortage of masks, Duke has developed a process to decontaminate used N95 respirators, prolonging the lifetime of a critical healthcare resource. Duke scientists have also made vital contributions to ongoing COVID-19 vaccine research, expediting the end of the global pandemic. In doing so, Duke will help save many lives and prevent further social disruption, exemplifying its commitment “to help those who suffer, cure disease, and promote health…”
Within the local community, Duke has focused on supporting as many people as possible. For employees, the administration has committed to paying full-time faculty and staff indefinitely and to pay full-time contracted employees until May 31st. For students, the university has whipped up an online educational infrastructure in the blink of an eye, creating numerous resources to promote learning and recreation virtually. Through a collaboration of Duke Student Health, CAPS and TimelyMD, Duke has even launched a virtual mental health service so that students can receive mental health counseling no matter where they are. Housing and Residential Life devised a plan to reunite students with their essentials, and over 100 employees volunteered to pack and ship these items to 861 students around the world. Are any of these arrangements perfect? Of course not. Nonetheless, they are emblematic of an institution that is undertaking a good faith effort to support the communities that depend on it. For that, we should all be thankful.
It is easy to treat Duke as a brand, as a soulless entity devoid of any personal touch. But if this crisis has proven anything to us, it is that Duke is made up of individuals–wonderful, supportive, and caring people. In the wake of a friend’s tragic death, the Duke community has emerged with arms spread wide, ready to comfort us and so many others. We have received condolences and support from professors, staff, administrators, and fellow students alike, revealing that the ties which bind Blue Devils together remain strong.
Duke is a special place and it's the simple things we miss most: passing under gothic archways on the way to class, greeting familiar faces during the to and fro of the day, and admiring the grandeur of our chapel backlit by the Carolina sunshine. But more than just a place, Duke is a people, a community of scholars and strivers who rely on each other. In that spirit we want to express our profound appreciation to that very community––particularly to the faculty, staff, and administrators who have spearheaded Duke’s institutional response to the pandemic.
To President Price, thank you for projecting calm confidence and for providing the steady hand of leadership this moment demands. To our Deans and faculty, thank you for your commitment to quality scholarship and education, no matter the circumstances. To those still servicing Duke’s facilities; the wellness, recreation, food-service and caretaking staff members, thank you for preserving, physically and spiritually, the university that we all so cherish. To our fellow students, thank you for your commiseration and companionship as we navigate these troubled waters with resolve. Now more than ever, we love Duke, and we cannot wait to return when the time comes.
Reiss Becker is a Trinity junior whose column, ‘roused rabble,’ normally runs on alternate Thursdays. He co-wrote this piece with Trinity junior Joseph Touma.
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