Reflections on 2020 from the VIU Voices Editor

Aly mask selfie

An askew mask selfie seems to sum up 2020 quite well - working alone with kid art on the walls behind me.

December 18, 2020 - 2:00am

By Alyson Winks, Internal Communications Advisor

One of the things I like most about my role as Internal Communications Advisor at VIU is the variety of people with whom I get to work. As such, we have decided to create an editor’s column that will run in every other issue of VIU Voices, which will hopefully reflect some of our shared experiences. This is my first attempt after a crazy year. Perhaps the only universal experience of 2020 is just how strange it has been.

I know many members of the VIU employee community will be very happy to sweep 2020 into the dustbin of history and leave it there for good. But, whether you want to throw the year out with the rubbish or not, no one can argue that it was an extraordinary year.

The first thing that comes to mind is the many and varied impacts VIU employees had to manage from the start. My own experience included waking up one morning and, instead of commuting to campus, opening up my VIU laptop in a makeshift office space to start what would turn out to be my first day of a very long working from home stint – much longer than any of us ever anticipated.

I remember that first day was very strange. It started very early in the morning and went late into the evening as my colleagues and I scrambled to figure out our new reality, how to accomplish our tasks, and grapple with how our day-to-day work responsibilities had suddenly shifted so dramatically. Simply figuring out how best to respond to the landslide of questions coming in from both students and employees who were all trying to navigate the many impacts they were facing kept us busy from early morning to late into the evening. And for the first little while this was seven days a week. To add to that, as none of us had faced anything like this, the questions weren’t straightforward. Students sought answers on everything from how to best manage their new online learning experience to how they could access emergency bursary funding. Employees had questions about how to set up their working from home office spaces and how they could best do their jobs in this strange new world. And everyone was asking for different types of supports – including mental health supports – to help them navigate the crisis.

Looking back, those crisis days for me had their own energy, however frantic, that helped me get through. Then, as our President Dr. Deborah Saucier has described, we began sprinting a marathon, as we adjusted to the whims of this virus that continually brought up new challenges.

I have no intention of going through all those challenges as there were so many. I will simply say that I am gob smacked by the tenacity with which I have witnessed my colleagues across departments and faculties wrangle this beast and try their hardest to make something good come out of it – something good for our students, for each other, for our community at large.

I, personally, have never worked so hard, and like so many did so facing challenges in my personal life, which heightened and intensified the experience. In working early in the morning or late into the evening, in part to balance childcare, I found myself in situations where our leadership was there before me and finishing after me, trying at every turn to ease the burden. I also know how hard my colleagues across all departments and faculties worked to support each other and our students. I relate this because it shows how communal this (please excuse the cliché) labour of love was – each of us did the work because we care about each other and our community.

There are reasons to be grateful. I think of the VIU employees who were laid off this year. I am grateful that I am in a role that continues, and my heart breaks for the members of our community who are not. I also feel for students who faced financial uncertainty and worry as job opportunities dried up when businesses were forced to close and they needed to reach out for emergency bursary funding to get them through the year.

These are just some of the impacts our community faced. Again, as Dr. Saucier said in her virtual lunch a couple weeks ago, the pandemic has taken a lot from all of us, and some more than others.

I am proud of us, as a community, for what we managed to accomplish during a crisis that did not come with a roadmap, no proof of concept or idea to follow in terms of understanding what was the best way to respond. I am proud of how we came together to figure out how to face this crisis, and how our leadership team, our faculty and our administrative and support staff worked incredible hours to keep us on course and support our students. Reflecting back, it truly was incredible to be a part of this, working together as we faced a crisis that no one on the planet had any experience in handling. We stood up for each other – even when we made mistakes, many of us tried to focus on lifting each other up to get us through.

With the vaccines starting to roll out, I am hopeful that 2021 will bring more certainty.

And, I intend to do my part to bring the good parts and the important lessons learned from this crazy year with me: I will work to support the Black Lives Matter and anti-racism movement in my community; I will actively reduce my impact on air and noise pollution; and I will ensure I spend more time with my loved ones. And, once we are able to gather together again, I will not take for granted a conversation in the line at the cafeteria, the crowds of students in the Quad or the gym; and I will take the opportunity to attend the Colloquium Series talks and the Soup and Bannock Series in person. In doing so, I hope that despite everything that happened this year, I will be able to create some long-lasting positive change in my own life and hopefully in the lives of others, too.

Tags: Teaching and Learning