November 25, 2020
Dear Gonzaga Students, Families and Colleagues,
A year ago at this time, who among us ever could have imagined what 2020 held in store? Students, faculty and staff were working to understand concepts, generate knowledge, and engage as always on myriad projects. We certainly understood that the upcoming year would bring an important national election, which would undoubtedly serve to illuminate the political divisions that have become increasingly more pronounced over time. Many of us were working to courageously engage social justice issues with which our country and community have wrestled. A year ago, we were confident that our basketball and baseball teams would once again go deeply into the NCAA tournament, and that come Spring another generation of Zags would walk across the graduation stage, celebrating the success of attaining their degrees.
The worldwide pandemic which has meant so many changes to our lives – impacting the ways we work, worship, shop, learn, teach, train and gather – and it also has brought frustration, fear, grief and isolation. It has stretched thin the capacity of our healthcare systems and at critical times exhausted those who we depend upon to support and care for those in need. It has also obligated us to shift our focus, to learn new tools and technologies, to innovate and to develop new ways of thinking about time, work, and interactivity. This pandemic has shown us our strengths as well as our weaknesses, presenting us with many opportunities for introspection and a chance to re-visit long-held assumptions about what we need to feel fulfilled or content.
This past summer, the oppressive forces of racism which have for generations impacted the lives of Black Americans boiled into a national rage of protest and civic activism, shining anew a light on the structural injustice and individual acts of violence which have resulted in countless threats, assaults, unjust imprisonment, and deaths in our time. In spite of efforts to combat incidents of injustice on our own campus, the overwhelming and exhausting experiences that constitute the daily realities of many of who identify as underrepresented and marginalized identities and groups among our students, staff and faculty persist, and in fact have been magnified by the economic and social impact of the pandemic.
“Thanksgiving” has historically been a day many of us set aside to gather with family, friends and loved ones, to eat special foods, to enjoy one another’s company, and give thanks for the blessings in our lives. Due to the chaos and many challenges that COVID19 has wrought, this year will undoubtedly be different in many ways, and for many reasons. Some among us have lost loved ones to this virus, leaving a void in our lives that will never be filled. For others, the economic impact of “stay at home” has meant the loss of income through unemployment or reductions in compensation. More people in our country and community will experience this Thanksgiving as a time of hunger, isolation and loneliness.
In light of all the unpredictability and challenges the year 2020 has brought, I believe it is even more important to take time to be grateful for those people, and experiences, that have emerged for us as blessings during this time. Throughout this year, I have witnessed countless acts of kindness, empathy, and selfless generosity within the GU community, which has included caring for children and families in our Northeast Spokane neighborhood. In times of stress and anxiety, people have come alongside one another to ask, “how can I help?” in ways that have made a real difference. Early in the course of this pandemic, our Jesuit community and colleagues in University Ministry began creating opportunities for liturgies and retreats that could be accessed via remote technologies. Many of our students have risen up in solidarity with fellow students to push back against racism and injustice, including incidents perpetrated against members of our Black Student Union. In these and many other ways, members of our university community – students, staff, faculty, friends – have lived out the meaning of St. Ignatius’ prayer: “Teach me, dearest Lord, to be generous. Teach me to serve you as I should, to give and not to count the cost.”
I am grateful that so many of our students chose to commit themselves to continuing their education with us this year, despite the adaptations that teaching and learning during the pandemic required of us all. I am thankful for the commitment and creativity of our faculty, who have remained so focused on student engagement and success. I am so appreciative of our staff and administrators, who have been deeply committed to developing plans, harnessing resources, and finding solutions as we focused on the tasks of enabling this work to continue. I am grateful for the patience and understanding of those who have been supporting our students, and the efforts of this University community, despite the challenges: in particular, our parents, families, community partners and many supporters. Acknowledging the stress, tensions and daunting challenges we face, I am grateful to be a part of a learning community that is willing to commit itself to confronting injustice and struggling together to create a more equitable, diverse and inclusive environment for our students and employees. Such a commitment resonates deeply with our mission values, rooted in hope and animated by Christ’s teachings in the Gospels.
So it is that I want to take the opportunity of this Thanksgiving holiday to thank each of you for all that you are, all that you have done, and all that we will continue to do throughout the coming year. It is in this spirit that I wish you a restful holiday, emerging renewed with the energy we will all need for the final push before the end of the Fall semester.
Thank you, and may God bless you during this holiday weekend. Happy Thanksgiving!
Thayne M. McCulloh, D.Phil.