Once again, GW’s slow roll toward reopening dominated this week’s headlines. Restrictions on gatherings and mask mandates are falling away both on and off campus. For the first time in a while, it’s mostly good news this week here at GW. But amid the hope many students are surely feeling for the future, returning to normal life at GW will be challenging for students as we are reminded of the experiences we missed out on this past year and can’t get back.
Here’s the best and worst from this week’s headlines:
GW took two giant leaps toward normalcy this week. First, in an announcement that was surprisingly low-key, administrators finally definitively declared that we will be back in classrooms for the fall semester. The Schedule of Classes has been populated with building and room assignments for classes, and lecture halls are being retrofitted to accommodate the return of students. It’s official: this fall, we will once again enjoy the high honor of cramming into the dismal classrooms of Rome-Phillips Hall or cloistering ourselves in the basement of Gelman Library.
Secondly, the on-campus mask mandate has also become a thing of the past, with officials announcing that fully vaccinated students are no longer required to wear face coverings inside University buildings. As a practical matter, this decision is just plain convenient, bringing GW’s policy in line with most of the District. But its symbolic value is even more significant – for all the talk of a light at the end of the tunnel over the past few months, we’re about to finally feel the sun again.
Generally speaking, administrators deserve credit for how they have handled the waning days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, the response has had shortcomings – which the editorial board and members of the opinions section have written about extensively – but in the end, GW is on track to do what it set out to do: bring students back to campus where they belong.
In other news, now-former provost Brian Blake has officially been named the next president of Georgia State University. Even as administrators and members of the GW community clashed over decisions related to hiring and virtual instruction this past year, faculty reported feeling like Blake actually cared about what they had to say. With departing University President Thomas LeBlanc’s tenure likely to be remembered mainly for his antagonism toward the views of students and faculty, having administrators who are willing to listen in good faith is especially crucial.
As Blake moves on to fulfill his stated goal of becoming a university president, the Board of Trustees should make sure his successor has an open ear to faculty, students and staff like he did.
Truth be told, this week’s GW-specific headlines were pretty good. Things are looking up pandemic-wise, though COVID-19 is still by no means finished. But eventually, once the smoke has cleared, there’s going to be a moment where we have to stop and take stock of exactly what we all just went through. Once we return to campus in the fall, we’ll all be tasked with piecing together the college lives that we, to a large degree, left behind in March of 2020 and reacclimating to a normal university environment.
There’s the silly, simple things like no longer being able to attend a Zoom class in pajamas with the camera off. But there’s also the deeper, more significant considerations of all of the learning that slipped through the cracks as students juggled the stresses of pandemic life. A D.C. elementary school teacher, writing for The New York Times Opinion section, described virtual learning as “flattening the collaborative magic of the classroom into little more than an instructional video.” The same holds true for college students at GW and beyond. Students are going to be in a position of needing to really struggle to recoup all of the foregone learning and living that the last year and a half would have brought.
But that comes later. This week, the thumbs-up category outshines its downward-pointing counterpart. The headlines of the past seven days have given us plenty to look forward to.
Andrew Sugrue, a senior majoring in political communication and political science, is the opinions editor.