Today the news alert from Inside Higher Education carried a story on faculty stress levels at American universities arising from, among other things, the pandemic, teaching on Zoom, as well as prolonged levels of social isolation. Not to come off as whiney (as, really, we all have jobs and dodged some of the worst impacts here), it did drive home the stresses that those of us working in higher education are facing personally, in addition to other concerns relative to the mental health of our student body and the efficacy of our teaching methods and student learning in this environment.
At UVA we’ve been pretty lucky, in that, our leadership has been really organized and methodical, our medical system is highly competent and talented, and our student body has been very committed to staying on grounds (AKA “campus”) and has followed, for the most part, mask mandates and other behavioral asks the university has made. The great migration home for Thanksgiving has begun and we are hopeful, with our widespread testing, that students won’t be carrying the virus home with them.
I’m stressed and tired, but the end is in sight and I have a big backyard to roam around – in keeping with the advice of my great colleagues who think about the built environment and nature (i.e., Beatley and Roe). Bird watching is relaxing; crunchy piles of leaves smell good!
More mundanely, I’ve played around with different ways to present myself on Zoom. Should I use the fake background? It does have the disconcerting effect of having parts of your body disappear (that right ear due to the dangling earring) if you move around. Or should I let them see my home office, which is, by and large, presentable? (But do they realize what lurks under that kanga on my other desk?)
I’ve had the most fun with the personal images. My dog is really photogenic, if a bit demanding. But perhaps my colleagues would find it immature to rely upon her image when I can’t be present? I’m dabbling in photoshop—all those images on the walls in the A School do make me want to learn the program better. I rather like my sepia selfie … but … maybe not. So I rely upon the normal stock photo.
There is a really big silver lining to Zoom, namely the talent we have been able to get in the room for our classes. We’ve had some really great guest lectures for the School. And in the classroom, we have had guest speakers who might not normally have time otherwise. Today in our Real Estate and Affordable Housing class, we had a guest speaker (iPad 6). Senator Tim Kaine shared his insights into affordable housing departing from his time as a civil rights lawyer fighting discrimination under Fair Housing, through being a mayor and then, of course, his time as a Lieutenant Governor, Governor, and now Senator. Great succinct presentation and generous sharing of his time and insights with a talented and inquisitive group of students! Thanks to Tim Chapman, my co-instructor, for this terrific opportunity,