A Retrospective on The Future of…Return to Campus

Erica Barreiro, CNM's Future of Work Strategist, will be writing guest columns throughout the year to help spark discussion at CNM about how we prepare for the future of..
April 22, 2021

We’ve learned over the past year that CNM is more than our physical campuses—it is us. It is us as parents, as grandparents, siblings, children, and pet lovers; it is us as colleagues and as friends; it is us as survivors; and it is who we are and what we do for CNM wherever and however we do that work.  So now, we begin the work of unlearning some our survival patterns of the last year and figuring out how we reintegrate and reimagine “us” for the future of work and learning.

The last year has been an exercise in building emotional resilience: as we grappled with our lives disrupted in a period of just days, wrestled with uncertainty, and answered the call for transformation. It has been exhausting, and as much as many of us might long to return to some semblance of certitude and stability, “Return to Campus” is one more change we are going to have to navigate together.

I haven’t stepped onto a CNM campus in over a year. I know this is true for many of you, just as I know there are many of you who, throughout the coronavirus pandemic, took care of our campuses every week while I was working from home. In between these two vastly different work situations with “modified operations” is a wide range of on-campus and in-person engagement that our faculty and staff have experienced.

So the concept of Return to Campus means different things to all of us. It also evokes different emotions. For all of us who had to normalize social and physical isolation over the past year, it would be surprising if we didn’t have some emotions of fear and anxiety. Some of us are still navigating personal health vulnerabilities, balancing childcare or eldercare responsibilities, and even grappling with pet separation anxiety. On the other hand, there are many who are giddy about getting back to campus, physically reconnecting with colleagues, students, and the spaces in which we created as ours—as the heart of CNM.

This transition of Return to Campus won’t be linear, nor will it be easy. We need to gage and respond to the temporary and enduring impacts of the pandemic and navigate the disruption to higher education and work which was heightened by the pandemic. On either front, there is no “going back to normal,” nor should there be, as one legacy of the pandemic is that we cannot afford to ignore the deep and long-standing fault lines that existed beneath the surface of what we called normal.

While the future is still uncertain, while it still may be months before most adults are vaccinated and before leaving the house may feel less like a gamble with our health even long after it is a reality, Return to Campus plans signal that a post-pandemic life IS visible on the horizon. I find this gives me hope—hope for the joys of reconnecting in person with colleagues and students in more appreciative ways; hope for organizational changes that will engage our CNM community in more equitable, empowering, and personalized ways; and hope that that we lead and lean into these changes with humanity, empathy, and grace.