This editorial was originally Published in the Journal-Gazette & Times-Courier March 27, 2021.
Last spring, the Eastern Illinois University community joined the nation…watching and waiting as the novel coronavirus began to spread globally. As it made its way into the United States, we began to understand that COVID-19 would dramatically change our lives for an unknown period of time. In fact, a year ago this week I was preparing a message to our students informing them that all classes would be completed remotely after the Spring Break for the rest of the Spring 2020 semester. Uncertainty was the rule.
That’s when something remarkable happened at EIU. The “All In” motto of our campus community pulled us together in a shared desire to provide our students with a safe, yet in-person university experience for the new Fall 2020 academic year. Various teams assembled all across campus to create strategies for any contingency. Our faculty developed and offered multiple learning modalities to reduce congestion in academic buildings and classrooms. We effectively reimagined our housing and dining accommodations, as well as our student life activities. EIU administrators, faculty, and staff literally spent hundreds of hours working collaboratively to prepare EIU for welcoming our students back to a residential living and learning campus.
It was also necessary to reach out beyond the confines of the university to create essential partnerships. We joined with our local hospital, Sarah Bush Lincoln, as well as the Coles County Health Department and Illinois Department of Public Health to assist in testing and to monitor the health and safety of our EIU and local communities. In turn, we provided our community with trained contact tracers to slow local transmission of the virus and a central physical location to facilitate mass testing for our students, employees, and broader community. With traditional supply chains strained, we worked to provide our hospital with desperately needed COVID testing medium. Throughout it all, EIU continued to educate our future teachers, entrepreneurs, scientists, healthcare workers, artists, public leaders, and more with eyes toward the future.
That future, it seems, is now. With the vaccine becoming more widely available and warmer weather on the horizon, we know brighter days are ahead. The selflessness and compassion of EIU’s students, faculty and staff during and throughout the pandemic make me more proud of this institution than I had previously thought possible. EIU’s ability – and agility – to continue providing our students and community with necessary programs and services during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic is a testament to our institution’s enduring strength and resiliency. It is also a testament to the dedication and ingenuity of our people.
We are proud to be a campus community serving the broader Central Illinois region. Neighbors look out for neighbors and we root for each other’s success because we can only move forward together. Never before have we had such an appreciation for how interconnected we all are, and just how important it is to create personal, meaningful connections with each other. Those personal connections have always been a hallmark of what we offer at EIU – exceptional instruction in small classes where faculty know their students by name. Perhaps in some small way, the people who continue to make Eastern Illinois University such a wonderful place to listen, live, and learn might inspire others to do the same.
We have so much to be proud of, and we thank everyone for all they have done to help us through these trying times. When eligible and able, please register for your vaccine. We want nothing more than to put this terrible pandemic behind us. We will continue to move forward, together. And please know we truly are all in at EIU.
President, Eastern Illinois University