As the world quickly adapts to the unprecedented situation connected to COVID-19, it is fair to say that it has impacted every aspect of what we would consider everyday life. Despite the magnitude of change and the pandemic's rapid progress, one thing that makes this unprecedented situation easier to endure is strong leadership. While this title can easily be applied to family members, community members, academic figures, political figures, etc, the one I would like to highlight is that associated with the University of Minnesota: more specifically, President Joan Gabel and her staff.
College is an important, transformational stage for many individuals. For some, it is their first time away from the constant influence of their parents, families and community. It is their first shot at living by their own rules and standards. For many, it is a limbo experience as we are put in a weird position where we are no longer considered a child but also not quite considered a "real" adult. Simply look at how this specific population is categorized by the release of stimulus checks for COVID-19.
That being said, the efforts of President Gabel and her staff have made this experience easier. While I imagine they have an immense pressure for them financially, academically and structurally, President Gabel and her staff have maintained a position of transparency, flexibility and concern for those they serve.
Their efforts fulfill the ethical responsibility of President Gabel and her staff and allow them to lead the University through this situation while providing information related to one’s health and educational opportunities. This approach has made many college students feel better informed about what is happening in regards to their educational experience, and it demonstrates to those outside the university the strength of the community within.
I hope that, moving forward, President Gabel and her staff continue this approach beyond the confines of COVID-19. I also hope that leadership at other universities and those to follow in President Gabel’s footsteps embrace this approach as they lead. Outside the implications of this virus, strong leadership within an academic setting is important for identity.
As college students undergo the transformational experience of college, it is important they feel that support not only on a horizontal plane from their peers but also vertically from their superiors. With a sense of security in the exploration process, students can feel encouraged by the system to be unique and diverse in how they approach different situations, ultimately encouraging innovation.
All said and done, this approach to clear and transparent communication from someone in a leadership position has allowed students to better understand how and why they have been impacted by COVID-19. Despite the disruption to their educational experience, students can now focus on truly learning material and continuing the University’s rich history of innovation. President Gabel is a prime example of why strong leadership is important, whether or not we are facing a novel virus.
This letter is written by Courtney Bishop, a senior studying human physiology at the University of Minnesota.
This letter to the editor has been lightly edited for style and clarity.