A Letter to My Students on Our Last Day of Class

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Dear Students,

Since we last breathed the same air in a classroom in Valders, over 290,000 people have died from COVID-19. Over these past 60 days, we’ve seen unemployment soar to historic highs, we've witnessed our nation’s racism and inequity influence who gets sick and who gets blamed, and we’ve watched the world watch the United States struggle to unify around an effective pandemic response.

During this same time, you and I began using “Zoom” as a verb and we no longer have to search for the “leave meeting” button as people trickle out at the end of our virtual class sessions. After seven weeks of distance learning, we’ve met each other's pets, we’ve mastered the KATIE discussion forum, and we’ve all been interrupted by my children. It’s been a strange dissonance to try to make sense of this monumental shift in our world, all while negotiating the mundanity of new routines, norms, and rituals. When we first started, I worried that our learning might feel trivial to you amidst such tumult. But I shouldn’t have been concerned. I’ve been so proud of the way you’ve thrown yourself into our work together.

On the last day of class, usually I can glean some measure of the success of a semester by the energy in the room. But today is obviously different anddue to our distanceI have to say I’m not entirely sure what you all are thinking. I imagine some of you are relieved. I know you’ve deeply missed each other and the irreproducible energy that comes from living and learning in community. At times, I know it’s felt nearly impossible to motivate yourself. Others of you are likely relieved for different reasons; juggling multiple rolesstudent, child, caretaker, wage-earner, family worrierhas been stressful and disorienting. For those of you who travelled across the world to get home, endured quarantines alone, and navigated challenging time differences to continue your educationI’m sure you are looking forward to being more firmly rooted where you are this summer. Some of you, though, may be feeling adrift. Our weekly work provided some purpose and things are uncertain now that your summer job or internship has fallen through. And for you seniors, I can only imagine you feel deep sadness about what you’ve lost and apprehension about what comes next. The fact that you are “here” on this last day of the semester is a testament to your resilience. Thanks for hanging in there with me. In the midst of all of this, I think we have the right to call this semester a success.

I personally end the spring of 2020 with even deeper convictions about the value of who we are as a community and what we do here together at Luther. As I comb through the news, I’m struck by the same moral imperatives and deeply human questions that we explore together in class. As I work to interpret infection curves, I live the importance of bringing science and ethics to bear upon grand challenges. As I wade through social media, I (perhaps unwisely) engage in discussions about our rights and our obligations to each other in the context of our common good. These things are the very mission of this place. In lifting up the value of this institution, though, I do not mean to diminish the very real challenges that you all face. What we do here cannot solve all your problems. But your learning does matter, and it matters even more now. So this summer as you negotiate this next stage of our “new normal”, keep close those big questions. I’ll be doing the same and we’ll talk about it together in the fall.

Be well and keep in touch,

Prof. Brummel

Students in ENVS 250 collaborate on a systems mapping exercise earlier in the semester. (Photo credit: Rachel Brummel)
Students from ENVS 250 and guests from the Career Center during a recent Zoom class session. (Photo credit: Miriam Skrade)

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