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Open Mind: Living, learning and working while implementing social distancing

Mar. 16, 2020, 8:57 AM

Day-to-day life at Vanderbilt looks significantly different today than it did last Monday. In the past seven days, we have made multiple complex decisions to further respond to the global coronavirus outbreak. I acknowledge that these are extraordinary preventive actions and assure you that each was guided by the advice of public health officials with the goal of doing our utmost to protect our community from the coronavirus pandemic.

I am grateful to all of you who have responded calmly and rapidly to the tremendous amount of change we are experiencing and will likely continue to experience.

Many of the steps we have undertaken are directed at promoting “social distancing.” Public health officials advise that social distancing is one of the best ways to protect yourself from COVID-19, and that social distancing is essential for our community and nation to “flatten the curve” of the coronavirus disease spread.

But taking a step back, I also see the extraordinary actions our universities, government agencies, health care providers, businesses, organizations and individuals are undertaking so rapidly as a tremendous act of solidarity, resounding evidence that even in these fractured times we can and will come together to protect the greater good.

Our recent actions, including shifting to online and alternative education, moving nearly all residential students off campus, suspending university-sponsored events and implementing remote work for many employees, are some of the ways we are implementing social distancing directly on campus itself.

However, social distancing is also something we all have a responsibility to pursue as individuals in all aspects of our lives, whether on or off campus. I ask each of us to play a critical personal role in flattening the curve by bringing social distancing into effect across our entire days—be it living, learning or working with social distancing.

According to the CDC, social distancing means:

  • Remaining out of congregate settings
  • Avoiding mass gatherings
  • Maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible

What does this mean for each of us?

  • Avoid large gatherings, such as big parties, and other places where you would be crowded together with other people.
  • Use technology to keep up with your studies, work and larger groups of friends.
  • When in public or shared spaces, keep a distance of approximately 6 feet from other people.
  • Find safe ways to get physical activity—consider exercising by going for a walk outside or using videos at home to do your favorite workouts.
  • Frequently check your email and the Vanderbilt coronavirus response website; this is how you will receive critical updates from Vanderbilt.

Social distancing does not mean social isolation or cutting yourself off from people. We should all still communicate regularly, check in on colleagues and friends, and encourage an ethos of civility, open communication and well-being in our Vanderbilt community. Indeed, our Vanderbilt values and culture of cooperation and collegiality matter more now than ever.

With additional care and good judgment, we can continue to live, learn and work productively. Moreover, acting now and doing so in a thoughtful manner will help shorten the time that these measures need to be in place. Social distancing actions not only protect ourselves, but just as importantly, they help to protect others.

Susan R. Wente, interim chancellor and provost (Vanderbilt University)
Susan R. Wente, interim chancellor and provost (Vanderbilt University)

When I reflect on our mission, our efforts are fully aligned with it, wherein “Vanderbilt University is a center for scholarly research, informed and creative teaching, and service to the community and society at large.” The social distancing and other steps that we are taking now indeed go toward fulfilling our service to our community and society at large.

I know that some or all of these actions might seem purely disruptive and upsetting, and they certainly can be. But taking a step back, I also see the extraordinary actions our universities, government agencies, health care providers, businesses, organizations and individuals are undertaking so rapidly as a tremendous act of solidarity, resounding evidence that even in these fractured times we can and will come together to protect the greater good. We, each member of our Vanderbilt family, will make a difference by making difficult decisions and choices.

My sincere appreciation for your dedication to our mission, to our people, and to our broader community.

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