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The most difficult times of the pandemic often felt like living in a chrysalis, and for the sake of metaphor, I can imagine a butterfly emerging. With imagination, I can picture the butterfly wondering what happens next. Where will they go? What will they do? How will they avoid the predators that eat butterflies for breakfast?
Butterfly at the Voelker Orth Museum, Bird Sanctuary, and Victorian Garden
Photo by Susan Bernstein, July 27, 2022
That metaphor seems like college right now–all of us, students and teachers, emerging from the chrysalis.
Teachers might remember what college was like before March 2020. A teacher, newly emergent, might feel nostalgia for pre-pandemic classrooms, for the time before the devastating memories of transitioning to online learning in the midst of a global emergency. The chrysalis formed in that transition. The hope of returning to normalcy kept the chrysalis viable.
This is not necessarily the fault of teachers, and especially not the fault of contingent faculty, who exist in a labor system that offers no stability. For contingent faculty, there is no normalcy.
Students who are entering college for the first time also have not experienced normalcy; they cannot find comfort in the memory of pre-pandemic college classrooms because no memory exists, and nostalgia also does not exist. What first-time-in-college students–and especially FirstGen and BIPOC students–encounter in college classrooms is their complete reality of college: College might include pre-pandemic relics that now might not make much sense, including general education requirements, course overloads necessary to complete general education requirements, and expensive unpaid parking fees (on campuses with too few parking spaces, no less) that place holds on registration for the next semester. This list does not include student loans and the astronomical financial costs of college, many of which seem opaque, such as the high costs of required materials for required courses.
This is the only college world the students have ever known. No wonder, then, that many people do not stay in college, or choose not to enroll at all.
Yet these alternatives to college completion are not the same as a chrysalis that fails to develop. The butterfly still emerges, and still searches for the means to launch their flight. College could well have been that means, but a launch pad littered with obstacles fabricated from nostalgia offers precious little space to begin a successful flight.
Success in the wake of this pandemic must be differently measured. But that is not all. College also needs to change. The launching pad needs to be cleared of pre-pandemic debris that served no one before March 2020, and that three years later remains intolerable.
The butterfly emerges from the chrysalis, and in that moment of emergence, the world is made new. In that moment, attention must be paid. This is not a metaphor, but a call to refuse nostalgia and to refuse normalcy. This is a call for change.
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