In mid March my students gathered in our classrooms in Main and in Olin to prepare a plan for how we were going to move to two weeks of online learning after spring break. The faces of the students were marked by intense vulnerability not knowing what was to come, sadness for the loss of not being on campus, but more significantly, not being together.
The change in how we connect with each other has been one of the most challenging parts during this time of quarantine. Our Luther bond is built on connection, so how do we create that connection when we are dispersed and separated in our homes instead of residence halls, and around the world instead of in Decorah? Luther’s mission calls us to examine the ways we can come together, from all backgrounds, discern our own place in the world and work on behalf of the common good. What can we learn from this time, and how do we do that in a distanced community?
In May, the Torgerson Center for Nordic Studies reached out to alumni and current students in the Nordic (formerly Scandinavian) Studies program, and to friends of the program. We asked:
- What do you think are the most important Nordic values and social norms?
- Do you see them being used to address the coronavirus crisis? How and where?
We wanted Nordic Studies alumni and students to reflect on how their field of study—one that is not immediately thought of when studying infectious diseases—connects to addressing a global pandemic. Responses emphasized the value of nature and outdoor living, the idea of koselig (coziness), social trust, and equality—a value more important than ever given the ample evidence of racial inequality in the United States. I encourage you to read the responses on the website for the Torgerson Center.
As a college founded by Norwegian immigrants to the United States, Luther’s historical connection to the Nordic region is important. However, our current study and work focuses on the contemporary modes, values and norms that shape the Nordic region today, and how we might learn from these global neighbors. The coronavirus project was one attempt to do that.
While our world is fragmented, and the way we have known the community at Luther College has changed and is changing, the connection between people remains. I appreciate Luther alumnus and world-renowned epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm’s categorical rejection of the concept of social distancing. “It’s physical distancing. I hope we never social distance, ever,” he says. Based on the online connections I’ve had with my students and colleagues, it is clear we are not socially distancing. The bonds of the Luther community remain very strong. May we continue to learn with global neighbors the ways to create and sustain human connections for the healing of the world.