Dear Students Of Fall 2022

In a few short weeks, students will return to campuses across the country. And while I’m sure there is a lot of excitement about the return, I think it’s important to consider the situation in which this return will happen. The COVID-19 pandemic is not over, monkeypox is spreading quickly across the globe, and the news is rife with all manner of stories that likely keep more than just me awake at night. With that in mind, I thought it made sense to once again share a letter to the students who will be joining me in class this fall.

Dear Students,

As I write this letter, Ontario and many other regions around the world are experiencing another preventable wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this, many leaders have decided to abandon the recommendations of top experts – favouring “individual responsibility” over public health. As a result, many folks have abandoned masking in crowded and/or indoor spaces. Fewer are receiving boosters despite waning immunity. At the same time, evidence indicates that COVID-19 negatively affects the brain, and repeated infection may have long-term negative impacts on our immune system. Each infection also brings with it a chance of long-term illness.

Why does this matter? As of July 1st, the administration at the University of Guelph made the decision to no longer require folks to wear a mask when inside any buildings on campus. This includes our classrooms. As of May 1st, we also no longer need to provide proof of vaccination to be on campus. And even though these policies may change before the semester starts, it’s absolutely necessary that we consider how our actions will affect the health of our classroom, our colleagues, our family, our friends, and our broader community. For my part, I will continue to mask up with an N95 or KN95 mask whenever I am indoors, and I highly recommend you do the same. Cloth masks just don’t cut it anymore. I have also made a point of making sure that my vaccinations are up to date (including boosters), and I will definitely be in line whenever the updated COVID-19 vaccines are available this fall.

In addition to this, we are faced with the very real threat that monkeypox will spread more than it already has. I do not know what protocols are or will be in place should this occur in residences, elsewhere on campus, or in the broader Guelph community – but this shouldn’t stop us from doing whatever we can to protect the health of those around us. I recommend practicing proper handwashing techniques, isolating if you are sick, and being aware of the various safety protocols that you should consider to keep yourself healthy – or to prevent the further spread.

Of course, we don’t just have the threat of disease affecting us on a day-to-day basis. So much is going on these days that it is difficult to keep up, let alone process it all. Racism, violence, civil rights violations, residential “school” atrocities, missing and murdered Indigenous women, the genocide of Indigenous peoples, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, antisemitism, climate change, biodiversity loss – the list is long and often overwhelming. It absolutely makes sense if you feel uneasy or helpless with everything that is going on. It also makes sense if you are tired or worried about your ability to succeed before the semester even begins.

So how do we learn with all of this going on? That’s a great question, but I believe it begins with how we treat ourselves and each other. With that in mind, I am going to ask each and every one of you to begin the new semester with the following promises.

Promise to look after yourself:

  • Promise to take care of yourself first. Your health and wellness are more important than your work, so please do whatever you need to do to get whatever help you might need when you need it. Reach out to a friend, a family member, or a health professional.
  • Promise to chat with me if ever you are worried about being able to succeed in our classroom – especially if this worry stems from you doing what is right for your health and wellness. I don’t need to know the specifics of your situation to be able to help you develop a plan of action to succeed.
  • Promise that if you, your family, your loved ones, or people you live with are showing symptoms of COVID-19 or monkeypox or any other communicable disease, you will do what you can to limit the spread. If you are too sick to work or study, promise that you will reach out to me as soon as you can so that we can develop a plan for success. Again, I don’t need to know the specifics of the situation – just that you need accommodations.

Beyond all of this, please let me know if you are in a different time zone, have limited internet, or are dealing with any other situation that will affect your ability to succeed in the class. I will work with you to determine how best to approach the semester.

Finally, the semester may prove to be challenging so let’s also promise to look after others:

  • Promise to approach everything we do with empathy, patience, and kindness for ourselves and for others. It’s important that we remember that everyone at some point in time needs extra help, care, compassion, and/or flexibility. We need to respect that each of us has different needs, different demands, and different stresses that will affect our ability to learn together.

Having said all this, I am confident that this semester is going to be amazing. I’ve done my best to restructure our classrooms in a way that is supportive and flexible. We also have great community partners to work with and learn from. Will it be perfect? No. Will I mess something up? Probably. Will we experience some growing pains and bumps along the way? Undoubtedly. But whatever happens, be reassured that I will do my best to make the fall semester as positive and successful as possible.

Sincerely,

Dan

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