Over the course of the past several months, the strength, ingenuity and resilience of the Lehigh community have been tested—and will continue to be tested—like never before.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a standstill, and in early March, Lehigh’s students, faculty and staff were asked to adjust to an unprecedented challenge: how to teach, learn and run a university as one, all while living and working separately.
As health officials began sounding the alarm at the continued spread of COVID-19, President John D. Simon ’19P announced on March 12 that the university would move to a remote learning environment just four days later for the remainder of the semester. More than 1,000 courses and labs cutting across countless disciplines were shifted to an online format. The university asked all students who were able to return to their homes. All non-essential staff shifted to remote work as well.
In a matter of days, a usually bustling, vibrant campus was all but empty, and a close-knit community, now scattered across the country and across the globe, was left to grapple with a difficult new reality. What may have been taken for granted before—the close personal interactions so inherent to campus life; the communal experience of live theatre and art; playing on and cheering for sports teams; hanging out with friends or colleagues on the UC lawn on a bright spring day—was suddenly no longer an option.
“Togetherness” had taken on an unexpected new definition: The Lehigh family would have to find other ways to remain connected. Faculty, students, staff and alumni around the globe stepped up to play their part in this redefinition of community.
Faculty developed and implemented innovative ways to deliver courses. Students showed great resilience, rising to the challenge not only in terms of their studies, but also in supporting each other and doing what they could to stay connected, virtually. Staff, including the dedicated essential staff who remained on site to keep campus operational, continued their work of supporting the university. Then, on Sunday, May 17, the Lehigh community came together for a virtual celebration of the Class of 2020.
A few weeks later, in the immediate aftermath of the shocking murder of George Floyd, Lehigh was confronted with yet another challenge: how to reflect on past shortcomings, learn from others and build a better university—and stronger university community—at a time when the nation and world were sounding the alarm, louder than ever before, for racial justice.
The Bulletin staff has spoken with faculty, students, staff and administrators about the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis, and documented, too, how members from across the campus community have spoken up to support social justice.
Here are their stories.