COVID anniversary spotlights resilience of Brock community

NOTE: This is one in a series of articles published by The Brock News to mark the one-year anniversary of Brock University suspending in-person, on-campus classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To read all of the articles in the series, click here.

The buildings on Brock University’s main campus sit silent — classrooms left dark, hallways virtually empty and no air of excitement in common areas once filled with an energy only bright young minds can bring.

Saturday, March 13 marks the anniversary of the day that started what has been the quietest year on campus in the University’s history. And while Brock is not yet able to fully open its doors to welcome back the students, staff and faculty who make the University what it is, that time appears to be on the horizon.

It has been one year since classes were initially suspended before moving online a week later due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The past 12 months have come with unthinkable challenges but have also served as a reminder of the resilience that exists amongst the Brock community.

Faculty adapted their courses — and their teaching style — for online learning, students embraced virtual engagement and staff — both those working remotely and others deemed essential to remain on campus — strived to offer innovative solutions to the inevitable issues that appeared along the way.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“As I look back over the last year and everything we’ve worked through as a community through the pandemic, I have to say, it’s incredible,” said Brock University President Gervan Fearon. “A year ago, we pivoted as a University from our primary activities on campus and in class to being able to support our students mostly online.

“Everyone across the entire University has been a part of the success we’ve seen,” he said. “We’ve been able to maintain the academic mission of the University, supporting our students, making contributions across the community at large, all while ensuring health and safety was core to the way we conducted our planning processes.”

Since the pandemic began, Brock has not only transitioned its classes and many of its services online, but also created digital versions of signature events, including Spring Open House, Fall Preview Day, Welcome Week and Grad Send-off. The University has also delivered two — soon to be three — Convocation ceremonies virtually, helping graduates to mark this defining moment in their lives.

Supporting Brock students remained at the forefront for the University throughout this challenging time, with the introduction of enhanced mental health services, COVID-19 Student Emergency Bursaries for undergraduate and graduate students, and grade option flexibility to support ongoing student success while recognizing the difficult circumstances in which studies were taking place. Brock University, the Brock University Students’ Union and the Graduate Students’ Association also came together to save students more than $4.2 million in the 2020-21 academic year through a reduction in University and student union fees.

Brock also offered a helping hand to the community, donating thousands of gloves, hundreds of lab coats and goggles, and cartons of face masks to Niagara Health’s front-line workers during the personal protective equipment shortage experienced toward the beginning of the pandemic. Staff also stepped up to sew masks, 3D-print face shields and put together care kits for health-care workers, in some cases donating their own time and materials to do so.

With the health and safety of each member of the Brock community in mind, the University established its own Stages for Pandemic Response and Recovery in August. The document lists five stages for campus operations, based on current public health guidelines, and indicates levels of access and activity for more than 20 categories of groups or facilities at Brock.

While Brock is currently in Stage 2 (Red/Control), the University is anticipating a gradual move to Stage 5 (Green/Prevent) by September and is preparing for a return to on-campus activity for Fall Term.

With ever-changing restrictions for the sake of public safety, maintaining regular communication with the Brock community was, and continues to be, a top priority, said Gord Arbeau, Associate Vice-President, Advancement and External Relations.

To keep Brock’s more than 25,000 students, staff and faculty apprised of the latest COVID-19 updates, the University sent out more than 50 mass emails, posted more than 180 pandemic-related stories to The Brock News and created more than 345 social media posts. The Brock coronavirus web pages, containing 181 frequently asked questions from across the University, have received more than 310,000 page views.

“In a time plagued by uncertainty, we want our students, staff and faculty to know we are here for them,” Arbeau said. “We’re here not only as a source of information, but also a source of support — and that does not change in the midst of a pandemic.”

The University, he said, will continue to provide updates as the COVID-19 situation evolves.

Fearon said Brock’s year of “pivot and transition” is one to be celebrated.

“We must recognize the support we’ve seen across the entire University in handling what has certainly been an unprecedented year,” he said.

“I could not be any prouder of the incredible work by our Senate, our Board, our faculty, our staff and our student leadership, who should all be celebrated for their efforts. Individuals have also stepped up to make donations to support our students and, as a result, we’ve increased our services, including mental health supports.”

Fearon said the past year has taught the Brock community “not only resiliency, but hopefulness.”

“We’ve shown great strength as a University community,” he said. “That resiliency has shown we can be hopeful in our capacity to weigh through challenging situations — in this case a pandemic — and maintain the academic mission of the University.

“We are looking forward with a lot of optimism that we will be returning to some normalcy with on-campus engagement this fall.”

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