COVID-19: The Day We'll Never Forget, as a UofT Fellow-at-Large

COVID-19: The Day We'll Never Forget, as a UofT Fellow-at-Large

Obviously, this represents my own thoughts and is in no way a communication representative of either Massey College or the University of Toronto. The University of Toronto's official Coronavirus information page is here:

I experience life at the University of Toronto with an interesting perspective as a Fellow-at-Large, I'm both de facto a student and a staff member, yet I'm neither, I'm a Fellow-at-Large.

This is the story of my day, today, the day we'll never forget, the day the Government of Ontario issued an order closing public elementary and secondary schools to decrease the rate the COVID-19 virus will spread. Today, the day the Prime Minister's wife tested positive for the virus.

My day started with the mix of anxiety and anticipation so many here at the University of Toronto are experiencing. Anxiety that I don't know what's next with my courses, anticipation and preparation for what many of us expect is a inevitable move to online learning for the remainder of the academic year.

As a Fellow-at-Large, I receive none of the campus-wide emails sent to faculty, staff, or students. Thus I was hearing from others about the various emails they are receiving. All constituencies have started calling them the "wash your hands" emails. This humorous nickname is one of the many coping mechanisms people were adapting this morning.

My day started in the usual fashion, breakfast at Massey College with a faculty member discussing our mutual interests. A hilarious bit of banter with the Junior Fellows (graduate students) here at Massey College at the end of breakfast as we walked in the quad; I don't recall what we joked about but I remember the belly laughter which resulted – ever felt so good in many weeks.

Lunch was the usual Thursday routine for me.

For many of our graduate students there is no routine; they are part of the front line of the COVID-19 response. Whether that be as medical staff in our hospitals, researchers in our medical labs racing against time to find treatments and a vaccine against this new virus, helping plan the various policy responses that are managing the impacts of the virus, or rushing to prepare to teach online, our graduate students here are busy and you can feel it in the halls of Massey College

After lunch, the Director of Fellowships here at Massey College and I discussed various contingencies the College is preparing for. We discussed my anxieties, what supports I may need, how I'm coping with all the pressures of my work and my Fellowship. I didn't realize how much I needed this conversation.

It was very reassuring for me, the College is prepared to take care of our Junior Fellows, and they will take care of me as a Senior Resident of the College, I will not have to leave early. Any anxieties I had about my living arrangement for the rest of term are resolved.

2 PM: a campus-wide email is sent to staff from U of T administration in the name of the Provost, a couple people forward me a copy.

It opens:

Dear Colleagues,
We continue to monitor the development of the COVID-19 pandemic. We know that members of our community are concerned, and we want to assure you that the University is actively planning for the possibility that the current pandemic may affect your work and activities here at U of T.
We hope to be able to complete the term without disruption.

The optimism - I'll generously call it that - is not well received. I'm scheduled to meet a student at 2:45pm, they have to cancel, they are rushing to get on campus errands done, everyone is anxiously preparing for social distancing measures to be implemented. I chat with others, anxious anticipation, this is the phrase to describe our campus today.

The campuswide email includes the following: "As of today, the University of Toronto has cancelled future university activity to international locations for all students until June 1, 2020."

I'm very lucky to be a mentor to students. I'm advising a group of engineering undergraduates on their communications plan for a overseas service trip this summer. We exchange brief emails, they are still preparing for their trip, not at all discouraged. If they don't go this year, they will prepare to do more during summer 2021. I cannot say enough how much I'm inspired by the students.

After 2:45pm, I'm in the law school.

The topic of discussion, what do exams look like, how do exams get conducted. What happens if the virus impacts the Bar Exam conducted by the Law Society of Ontario? It's interesting to observe legal minds analyzing the potential risks, opportunities, and outcomes.

3:55 PM, the Ministerial Order closing public schools is released. This changes everything, how can Ontario's public universities remain open for the rest of the academic year with public schools closed in response to the pandemic? This is a rhetorical question we all know that they cannot.

4:04 PM, Noted higher education expert Alex Usher tweets what we are all thinking, "If the universities and colleges don't follow suit in less than half an hour, I'll eat my hat." (4:36 PM, Usher asks for recommendations on edible hats)

// If you are reading this, go read Alex Usher's blog for the most insightful analysis of post secondary education anywhere //

I'm in my administrative law class until 6 PM. Instruction continues as usual, I sit at the back of this class and can many of the students are refreshing the University of Toronto Twitter account, in group chats preparing for a switch to online classes, and managing to take notes as the professor continues to teach.

6PM, class comes to an end, the professor notes that this may have been our last lecture in the room, he thanks the students they applaud their thanks back. Then everybody leaves the lecture theatre to their next classes, to the library, to all the things they have to do to prepare for what is now clearly inevitable the partial shutdown of the campus to slow down the spread of COVID-19.

I go to the library and check out more books. Online classes will mean more work, and as we all enter into social isolation practices; I will focus on my reading, and more writing.

And I'll close this personal blog post by making a joke, because in these difficult times humour can be helpful. Who knows with people hoarding toilet paper, actually know I value books too much, I can't make the joke I thought I was just about to make.

Until tomorrow, be well, be safe, and take care of each other.