Sunday, March 29, 2020

In frightening times, let's avoid mocking others

Nearly as soon as the announcements began that many college classes were going to be moving from in-person to online for the rest of the semester to increase social distancing and ideally lessen the spread of COVID-19, the tweets, memes and social media posts began.

The student variety poked fun at teachers clumsy with technology. The teacher variety bemoaned inattentive students. It's hard to know if any of the events recounted really happened or how severe they really were if they did. More importantly, while a good laugh is important during tense times, it's hard to know if such events really mattered.

These are extraordinary times, and in these exceptional times it seems a good bet that most teachers and most students are working hard to try to figure out how to continue working together to give and receive the best education they can.

For many college kids heading into spring break, good reason caused them to rethink their travel plans, and instead many headed home to be with family. For seniors it was likely they would not be having an in-person commencement ceremony and the next time they saw many of the friends that they'd spent the past four years with on campus would likely be months or years away, if ever. Nevertheless, in spite of sadness brought on by disappointment, most students took the warnings of public health experts seriously and recognized there was a greater good at stake.

For many college professors, instead of using spring break to catch up on a writing or research project or to spend time with family, dedication to wanting to deliver what they could to their students for the rest of the semester refocused their attention to learning new online platforms to connect with students and to tearing apart and revamping teaching plans so they had a hope of working in a virtual setting.

At my school, one professor spearheaded an effort for him and other professors to offer several one-hour voluntary online classes as a way of keeping the students connected during spring break and giving teachers and students a chance to work out some kinks in transitioning from in-person to online. At least 40 classes were offered. Hundreds of students participated throughout the week. Sure, some professors forgot to turn off cellphones and some students could be seen making a cup of tea in their kitchens, but that didn't slow anyone down.

As the second half of the spring semester gears up for most students and teachers, there surely will be more snark posted and shared among both groups. If it helps let off steam, fine. But it would be wrong to allow such snark to distract from how massive the effort is by students and teachers to keep connected and to keep learning from one another.

In the book and movie, Bang the Drum Slowly, there's this great line: "From here on in, I rag nobody." No more making fun of those whose stories or struggles you might not truly understand for the sake of a laugh.

Perhaps adopting that sentiment is the right thing to do in such extraordinary times, not just for college students and their professors, but for all of us. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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Sunday, March 22, 2020

Being kind, taking care of others is even more important now

Two things that happened last week reminded me of the capacity of people to do the right thing even while experiencing stress and uncertainty.

Late in the week as it became clear to me that flying to take care of some family business bordered on selfish and irresponsible given the rising concern about the coronavirus (COVID-19), I decided to cancel my flight.

My attempts to cancel my ticket online were met with a message informing me that I had to call Delta Air Lines directly to attempt the cancellation. Call waiting times were estimated to be up to six hours, so I called, turned on the speaker and continued working at my desk while waiting for someone to answer. After about an hour, a customer service representative named Krissy picked up the phone.

The connection was fuzzy, so Krissy confirmed my number, hung up and called back within seconds. Almost immediately we were disconnected. She called back again. This time, I could hear her shout to a colleague "Are we down," but she apparently couldn't hear me. Twice more she called and we got disconnected. But Krissy tenaciously stayed at it, we talked, and she put through the credit without question.

Later that day, while I was in a meeting with a student shortly before she and all students were to leave campus for the rest of the semester because of the coronavirus, calls kept coming in on my cell phone from a number I didn't recognize. Initially, I ignored the calls, but on the fourth successive try, I answered the phone and was greeted by the property manager of an assisted living facility I had made plans to visit.

Tescia was apologetic about telling me that her facility had moved to limit all visitation from outsiders and that they wouldn't be able to accommodate my visit. She continued to be apologetic, but I told her I understood perfectly. She and I then exchanged words of concern for one another's day in dealing with rapidly developing plans that would affect both our and many of our colleague's work.

While it would be nice to believe that every customer service provider would be as accommodating as possible, we all have had experiences where this has not been the case. Both Krissy and Tescia were exceptional in showing kindness, patience and tenacity during what must have been a particularly exhausting and tension-filled day for each of them.

Almost every email I've received from administrators or colleagues at the university where I work (and there have been many emails) has ended with some variation of the sentiment: Please continue to take care of yourself and others.

During times of crisis when people grow exhausted, tense and sometimes short-tempered over the uncertainty of what's to come, such moments of kindness can be calming.

Whatever you happen to be doing, wherever you happen to be living or working from, please continue to take care of yourself and others. It's the right thing to do.

The Centers for Disease Control advice on preparing to respond to Coronavirus (COVID-19) can be found at Harvard Medical School's online Coronavirus Resource Center is here at 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to