Reflections on the COVID-19 global pandemic

Publication Date

On Wednesday, March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. Union’s winter term was nearly over. An announcement was planned that the College would finish the term and hold finals in person. However, the first two weeks of spring term would be online.

Word art created by the submissions of the Union community to the question - "What are you looking forward to?"

The next morning, Union administrators learned that a staff member had become the first at the College to test positive for COVID-19.

The unsettling news led Union to switch gears, abruptly cancel classes and shift finals online. Following spring break, instruction would be online until further notice. Students were advised to leave campus by Sunday.

Today marks a full year of masks, social distancing, quarantining, regular testing and no large in-person gatherings. It has also been one of resilience.

We asked members of the Union community to reflect on their experiences since the start of the global pandemic.

Here are some of the responses.

What have you learned about yourself since the start of the pandemic?

“I’ve learned how much I took advantage of being around people before. If I had known what the last year was going to bring before the pandemic started, I would have lived my life differently and taken advantage of spending time with my friends and going out to eat and seeing people.” --Student

“Strength can come in many forms both physical and mental” --Student

“It's ok to have a bad day, multiple bad days, bad months. you’re not the only one, and your friends and family want to support you.” --Student

“I need more hobbies” --Staff

“I have learned just how important my students are to me, and how much I miss my colleagues.” --Faculty

“My self-discipline is much stronger than I thought when working from home, once I found a routine that worked for me.” --Staff

“I can be productive alone but I prefer to be with other people and lockdown hurt my mental health. I am an extrovert through and through and being away from my friends and classmates for so long took a significant toll on my well being.” --Student

“Being observant what the scientists are telling us I’ve never really paid attention before as much as I have it now so I would say education on the pandemic.” --Staff

“I tend to let outside forces give me too much anxiety. I've been the kind of person who has the "whatever happens, happens" attitude. However, the pandemic has really helped me look inward more, as cliche as that sounds. I've become more focused on what truly matters to me, and how I can be the person that I want to be now, not later on down the road.” --Student

“Digital learning is difficult for me and communicating clearly is difficult through emails and documents.” --Student

“What's important. Wasted a lot of time in the beginning but I'm starting to turn things around. Exercising and what not.” --Student

“I don't function well when life is unsure and uneasy.” --Student

“I have learned that a completely virtual/remote mode of school was not damaging at all and instead, I excelled because I was able to work at my own comfortable pace, develop a very personalized regimen, and become more disciplined as there were less "distractions" from college and socializing. Although, being back on campus and interacting with friends was still much needed for my sanity and mental/emotional well-being. Furthermore, I have matured, improved on my communication skills, and I have seen that I need structure and organization and productivity to be at my happiest state. Lastly, I have learned that when I can get into a working and almost robotic mindset (not just tackling assignments 'when I feel like it', I can accomplish so much and succeed to my fullest potential.” --Student

“I have learned that my ability to function under pressure and completely pivot plans on a moment's notice is far greater than I ever would have known. I've also been able to evaluate what is really important in my life - family, health, safety, security - and to shut out all of the other "noise" in the world when I really need to. I've developed a better sense of personal balance and am working hard to be the best version of myself I can be.” --Staff

“That I am too hard on myself, most of the time.” --Staff

“It may be a bit cliché to say, but I have never been more proud of who I am than I am right now. This past year living through the pandemic has allowed me to focus on myself and thus, I was able to come up with an actual plan for my life (for the first time ever). I learned to control my nerves and anxiety in overwhelming situations where the old me wouldn’t have been able to handle it, and that’s something I never thought I would be able to get past.” --Student

What are some ways you think the world will be forever changed?

“I think we will always wear masks if we have a cold. They will be normalized like in other countries.” --Student

“I feel that the world had to become stronger and unify during these times.” -- Staff

“I think the way we work has changed. I think more people will appreciate the flexibility of working remotely if they are able to do so.” --Staff

“We all took so much for granted, and I think (I hope) that the world has started to place more value on human life and connection.” --Staff

“That there is a global connection, a virus doesn't exist in a single continent. We're all in this together - one world.” --Staff

“I think there will be more leniency for mental health, I think there will be more reluctance to go to school or work when we are not feeling well.” --Student

“I think the world will learn to be a little more kind and loving because life can be short and unpredictable.” --Staff

“I hope that people will learn the golden rule. To treat others how you wish to be treated. I believe this is an important takeaway. If people value not getting covid, then they will act accordingly to not spread it. I believe this principle translates into many, many parts of our lives.” --Student

“In ways both positive and negative, conducting meetings or other gatherings by video rather than face-to-face will be an ongoing feature of our lives and work. The nature of these interactions may be of a somewhat lower quality but there will be so many more opportunities through virtual interactions that they will be unavoidable and even desirable.” --Faculty

“I think about families that are forever impacted by losing loved ones.” --Staff

“Listen to the doctors and scientists.” --Staff

“I think we have learned how to get along without printing hard copies of so many documents, and we will print less in the future.” --Faculty

“it’ll be hard to attend a large gathering (concert) and not be weary of the potential of illness.” --Student

“I think our generation and the one above and below will be so much more grateful for the things we’ve missed this year, and just more grateful for life in general.” --Student

“We will have an extremely heightened perception of infectious disease and will be prepared for anything.” --Student

What are you most looking forward to resuming when it’s safe to do so?

“Socializing!! COVID has made socializing and relieving stress through seeing friends really hard and this has been really frustrating to me.” --Student

“Concerts! And turning over to the stranger next to me and saying “wow, remember the pandemic?” --Student

“Indoor dining. Going to gyms. But most importantly, seeing beloved friends and family indoors.” --Student

“Breathing” --Staff

“Hugging my lifelong best friend.” --Student

“Teaching my classes in person.” --Faculty

“"Watercooler" conversations: the short meetings in hallways or drop-by office visits just to see how people are doing. Also, there are a lot of quick questions that can be answered in these short visits that take much longer with email or setting up a Zoom meeting.” --Staff

“THEATRE!!!!! And also doing crazy college kid stuff.” --Student

“So many things. I can't wait to be able to visit my family without significant precautions and testing. I haven't seen my grandmother in person since we lost my grandfather last March, and I'd love to give her a big hug (and meet her new dog!). I'm also looking forward to meeting with the tour guides for an in-person meeting when it's safe to do so! There is a whole new group of wonderful student guides who I have not yet met in person, and I'd love to make that connection.” --Staff

“I look forward to the freedom to go anywhere without as much anxiety of safety and health risks.” --Staff

“Taking time off, it has been a bear working so much! Having brunch out with other people, seeing plays in person, traveling to see family I have not seen in over a year.” --Staff

“Going to concerts, traveling, seeing my family, and hanging out with TONS of people.” --Student

“To be able to recognize someone's face. To be able to clearly interpret what they are saying and read their facial expressions. To be in a very large crowd of people where everyone is moving and it is not quiet.” --Student

“Flying to FL to visit my mother and giving her a hug.” --Staff

“Eating in Upper with the boys!” --Student

“Just talking to people in person. I have spent more than 20 years visiting campus 6-7 days a week interacting with amazing people from students to employees. I have literally watched my colleagues' children grow up on our campus. I look forward to those really important causal conversations. There is something magical when our campus and community are out and about engaging one another. Union truly is a unique community and the engagement is a big part of what makes us great.” --Staff

“Not wearing a mask!” --Staff

“I’m hoping for spring term, sports and campus events will be somewhat similar to how they used to be. As long as we can work together as a community to keep each other safe, then we should be able to come together for sports competitions and even for Springfest!” --Student

What do you hope people will take away from this year?

“That we are stronger than we thought.” --Staff

“I hope people understand that it is important to be kind and understanding throughout all that is going on. If someone has internet issues on Zoom, for example, not making them feel like their internet quality is their problem, is important. Or, if someone is not mentally stable enough to finish an assignment or attend a class, sending them love instead of more work and stress, is important. Small actions go a long way, and not everything is in our control.” --Student

“I hope people learn not to take for granted all of the small moments in our lives with people we love.” --Student

“There is always a silver lining. Although many people have been faced with extreme adversity and loss. While life has changed forever there is always growth that can occur.” --Student

“This isn’t YOUR world; this is OUR world. It’s not all about you.” --Student

“I think that as much as this sucks, the world needed it. I take it as a lesson to really appreciate everything that we have and can do, and to really appreciate and be grateful for the health of you and everyone that you care about.” --Student

“I hope people will remember compassion. The way the world united around battling this virus is an example of what and who we can be and should be.” --Staff

“How lucky we are if we have escaped contracting it; along with how tenuous this time has been and offer empathy for others who have not fared so well.” --Staff

“I hope people will take away a better understanding of those in need and the importance of helping the less fortunate.” --Staff

“We are much more alike than we think we are, no matter our economic, social, regional, etc. situations, we all have very similar experiences.” --Student

“I hope people will take away respecting other people's personal space and actively washing their hands and staying clean to prevent spreading germs.” --Student

“Don’t take anything for granted.” --Student

“To care for yourself and take time to reflect on the little things. There is no rush and there is no need to be doing great things, but also take care of your mental and physical health. I hope we learn after covid that working while sick is not acceptable, nor is the thought of getting others sick.” --Student

“I hope people reflect on how quickly things can change, and how important compassion is when challenges arise.” --Staff

“Having empathy is important.” --Student

“It takes a village. (Or a college community!)” --Staff

“I hope we have learned that at Union College we are all interconnected and that we can depend on others to do the right thing for the good of the community.” --Faculty

Are there other reflections you want to share?

“I think COVID really took a toll on the mental health of a lot of students. I think this should be a large focus for the future because I know many people that have struggles that they never knew would be a part of their lives until the pandemic.” -- Student

“It has been difficult but it’s looking up.” --Student

“My heart goes out to each and every person reading this.” --Student

“I can confidently say that this year has been the worst of my life. I have never felt less like myself. I have never had lower ambition, lower self-esteem, lower happiness. I can’t wait for this to be over so I can actually resume living my life. Feeling like myself. Playing on a soccer field without a mask. Dancing at parties. Hugging my friends. Being proud of who I am. Worrying less. Smiling more.” --Student

“There were conjoined sentiments of personal relief, civic responsibility, and collective engagement when I was able to obtain a vaccination last week (1 of 2). There was an outpouring of positive energy at the site. There was a communal sense of "we're in this together to make things better." It was a deeply moving experience in a way that was markedly different from previous shots. I have to wonder if there was any parallel when the polio vaccine was initially launched.” --Faculty

“I really appreciate the work Union has done to get us to this point and all the hard decisions that have been made so far. There were times I was skeptical, even doubtful that returning was a safe idea, but I'm glad we persevered through and have gotten to where we are. I am overall really proud of our community and how so many folks have adapted to make this all work. Here's to another 226 years of Union College!” --Staff

“While we all weathered the same storm, each of us were in separate boats. Everyone's experience was different. Understanding, patience and empathy was key.” --Staff

“I have been so impressed with our students and the resilience and creativity they have shown in the face of ever changing guidelines and restrictions. They have done some things they would never have dreamed of doing before in an effort to create space for community and connection, even in a virtual world! I am also extremely proud to be a part of our community and specifically the Student Affairs team. I don't know anyone whose life or job has been made easier by COVID. So many colleagues have had to change the way that they do their work ON TOP of the additional responsibilities they've been asked to take ON TOP of the impact the pandemic has had on their own personal and/or family life. It's been a long year but I am really grateful to have spent the last 12 months working with so many here at Union.” --Staff