Sunday, August 29, 2021

Should our anxiety keep us from safely moving on?

A few days ago, I returned to my office at work for the first time in 17 months. To get there I took the subway, also for the first time in 17 months. During my time away from campus, I was fortunate enough to keep my job and to keep working with students and colleagues via Zoom.

The return to campus has not come without some concerns and challenges. While I and 65% of others in Massachusetts have been fully vaccinated (74% have received at least one dose), there has been a bit of an uptick in COVID cases. Thousands of college students will be returning to campus from all over when classes begin in less than two weeks.

We know more now about COVID-19 and its spread since the first cases hit, but there’s still a great deal we don’t know. If there remains a healthy dose of free-floating anxiety, is it time to return to in-person settings or should we remain as sequestered as possible?

The college where I work is requiring all faculty, students and staff to be fully vaccinated before entering campus buildings. Once a week, we will be handed a self-test that we must administer and deposit the same day for analysis. Once in the buildings, we are required to wear a mask, unless we are alone in our offices with the door closed. As of now, we are permitted to meet with a student in our offices as long as we are each masked and the door remains open. We will be teaching and the students will be learning while wearing masks.

We left campus somewhat abruptly 17 months ago, using the one-week spring break to design online versions of courses we were in the midst of teaching. A good deal of last summer was spent rethinking how to teach well online and to prepare for courses where students would be Zooming in from various time zones and in locations with various incidents of COVID.

But now we are returning to in-person teaching. Students seem eager and excited to be returning to campus. Any anxiety about the safety of students, colleagues and staff is surpassed by the efforts being put in place to proceed cautiously without losing sight of our main goal of providing as strong a learning environment as possible.

That’s the same goal we had when we shifted to Zoom. Any success we had was because we were fortunate to have students eager to learn, teachers eager to teach, and tools and support provided to us to aid in successfully continuing our efforts throughout this 17-month interregnum.

Many people will be returning to in-person school and work this fall. That a sudden surge in COVID cases might relegate us back to our at-home Zoom stations rests uneasily in the backs of our minds.

Certainly, there remains a lot we don’t know about COVID. But the right thing seems to be to embrace that which we do know, act as responsibly and safely as possible, and to do our jobs as best we can given the circumstances we’re dealt.

Here’s to your health and mine and to the year ahead. May you muster the courage and determination to be kind, curious, and determined to embrace the challenges and possibilities ahead.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues.

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

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin.


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