A Year of Loss and Hope

Dear campus community,

Roughly a year ago, those of us who work on campus—along with millions of others around the Bay Area and around the country—began working from home in adherence to the county’s shelter-in-place order. Many of us thought the order might last for a few weeks, at the most.

A year has now passed since I issued a campus message that reflected on the remarkable resilience of our students, faculty and staff. Though we continue to have much for which we can be grateful, I write today to acknowledge the sacrifices our campus community has made and the hard work we have performed to fulfill our mission over these past 12 months. I also want to recognize the real losses we have felt as a community; COVID-19 has not only claimed many lives, it also has had a profound impact on our everyday lived experiences.

At the same time, I am proud because, as a campus, we came together and responded to the crisis swiftly. Keeping the safety and health of our students, faculty, and staff and others in our community at the forefront of our decisions, one of our first announcements last year was to move to a virtual mode of classroom instruction. We also developed and launched our SJSU Adapt plan, which has remained the platform through which we provide information on our phased approach for responding to and ultimately preparing for repopulating our campus—and offer myriad resources related to campus operations during the pandemic. 

We continued to adapt and change in the ensuing weeks and months, all the while communicating frequently with updates and new guidance. Our campus message archive currently lists 52 different COVID-related messages. We also have conducted numerous Town Hall events, communicated via our social media platforms and conveyed information via a variety of other communication vehicles.

Our campus messaging, however, hardly begins to reflect the breadth of our losses—colleagues, family and friends who have passed; the disruption of civic life and daily community; the financial stresses and economic insecurities many continue to experience; the erasure of important milestones; and the difficult strains on our physical and emotional well-being and health. 

Amplifying these challenges were the nation’s outrage and despair over violent anti-Black racism and racial injustice. As society as a whole addresses these issues, our campus has begun to take direct action to address the historical trauma of our Black community as well as the broader, systemic racism that continues to permeate society; we have seen an increase, for instance, in anti-Asian incidents in communities nationwide and especially locally. Finally, we have had to confront attacks on our own democracy, both before and after the 2020 nationwide elections.

Acknowledging and mourning loss and tragedy is an important part of the grieving process, and I would remind all members of our campus community of the counseling and other resources that are available.

It also is important to recognize and appreciate everything our campus community has accomplished over this past year, and to celebrate the unexpected joys and successes—both large and small—that have arisen. 

We have developed innovative ways to engage and instruct our students in a digital environment, for instance. We have created new ways to manage our offices and departments so that the important work of the university could continue remotely. We have conducted scores of online events, we have hosted important luminaries and guest speakers and we have graduated thousands of Spartans while welcoming new ones. 

Each of these accomplishments should be celebrated and serves as a symbol of resiliency and dedication to our students, our mission, and each other. I am so very proud of this campus community and how we have responded to the pandemic, including our students, faculty and staff, essential healthcare workers, university housing and facilities personnel and all of the others who have helped keep the campus safe and secure these past 12 months.

Looking forward, we have reason to be hopeful. As discussed in two recent Town Halls, we now are focused on a path that we believe will lead to more robust in-person learning in the fall. Our careful, scrupulous approach to the health and safety of our campus community, combined with vaccination rates that are on the rise, continue to move us toward our goal of full on-campus operations. This will require, of course, continued work on our part, more updates and further adaptations, but I am confident we will get there. 

As we look back this week while also looking ahead, I encourage members of our campus community to pause and take a moment to reflect on this past year. I remain deeply grateful for each and every one of you, and I am honored to be serving as President of this university. I look forward to seeing all of you again in person one day soon.

With thanks and appreciation,

Dr. Mary A. Papazian