By Abby Weingarten
New College Provost Barbara Feldman, Ph.D., studied the sociology of disaster in graduate school. Her research involved learning “how communities fare in the immediate aftermath of a disaster and how long it takes to recover,” she said.
This is undoubtedly topical, as Feldman and the rest of the New College campus deal with the coronavirus pandemic. The administrators, like everyone else, are finding their way—learning how to adapt by helping faculty members switch to virtual education, and maintaining a steady presence amid the chaos.
“We’re living in strange times and we’re all distracted and worried. But, in some ways, we’re a stronger community now that we’re all remote rather than together. This is what happens when something outside is attacking,” Feldman said. “I think, anytime a community goes through something together that’s monumental (a hurricane, a community tragedy), it brings people together and becomes a shared reference point for all of us.”
Keeping that sense of togetherness is paramount. To that end, the Center for Career Engagement and Opportunity, the Writing Resource Center and the Student Success Center are all offering their own versions of student appointments. Feldman’s team is also working to create remote social experiences for both students and faculty members.
“I know student affairs is working on ways for students to get together, because this has the potential to create feelings of social isolation. We don’t want students to lose their connection to the College,” Feldman said. “I know there are a lot of students really grieving that it’s their last semester with their friends; they’re not going to have an end-of-college experience or a regular commencement. It’s stressful.”
But Feldman also sees the move toward online learning as an opportunity to adapt to the times.“Most faculty use some kind of remote learning platforms in their classes already and there are varying levels of familiarity. We have approximately a dozen faculty who we’ve identified as superusers,” Feldman said. “This may be an opportunity for faculty to really develop their teaching and learn new pedagogies and what it means to teach and learn in the future. It’s a steep learning curve for everyone, but people are really stepping up and coming up with innovative ways to do things.”
Feldman has been learning about situations like this for years, starting with her work in graduate school with the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware. She studied the community and media response to hurricanes and other natural and human-made disasters.
“When it comes down to it, we are here for each other, and we are going to be for each other,” Feldman said. “It’s teaching us a valuable lesson about what we can do for each other. And those are lessons I’d like us to continue learning, moving forward at New College.”
Abby Weingarten is the editor/writer in the Office of Communications & Marketing.