Spring 2020 Issue

Authentically W&M

By Katherine A. Rowe
William & Mary President

In a Community Conversation this spring, Associate Dean of Admission Tish Canady stated: “There’s nothing else to put out there but what’s authentically you.” She was speaking about William & Mary’s approach to recruiting new students in a time of pandemic. Reflecting on her words in the weeks that followed, I realize that she was speaking to a larger truth.

When confronted with overwhelming challenges, our only option is to respond with our authentic selves. We have witnessed healthcare providers, including many William & Mary alumni, courageously combatting COVID-19 on the frontlines. Essential workers continued showing up, knowing that their work makes it possible for others to stay in. And so many chose to stay home to protect the safety of others.

As we navigate this pandemic, the Alma Mater of the Nation is learning once more what it means to serve with compassion. At the time of this writing, we are in the final week of the spring semester. Our community’s creative adaptation and profound commitment to belonging carried us through the past months. Those same qualities will carry our nation through the next uncertain phase of what it means to “reopen.”

We should all take great pride in how William & Mary has responded. We have shown who we are as a 327-year-old institution, grounded in tradition and committed to changing the world for the better.

Navigating a "Wicked Environment"

COVID-19 exemplifies what sociologists call a wicked environment: an unfamiliar and adverse environment that changes rapidly. Decisions must be made with far too little information for comfort. As we navigate this territory, our mission is our compass.

At William & Mary, we know who we are as a learning community. We convene great minds and hearts to meet the most pressing needs of our world. From that mission, we set out four goals to guide us through the pandemic. We would:

Innovating to Advance What We Value Most

For the sake of these goals, we reimagined every aspect of living, working and learning at William & Mary. A student yoga instructor summed up the challenge in an online wellness video posted in the early days of quarantine. She observed that community exists even when we cannot see each other.

Our students and their families, faculty, staff, alumni and friends approached the task of creating community under quarantine with energy and dedication.

Embracing Duty

As our community comes together to combat the impacts of COVID-19, we do so with a profound sense of duty to each other that befits William & Mary’s long tradition of service. The challenges brought on by the pandemic have illuminated the intense vulnerability of so many in our university community and beyond. Immediately after we announced that learning would be moved to remote platforms, alumni, parents, friends, students, faculty and staff wrote to me directly to ask: how can I help?

So many in our William & Mary community have reached out, with compassion, care and wisdom. Many have observed that while these seismic shifts feel unprecedented, William & Mary has been here before. This university has navigated war, fire, epidemic and economic recession. And we have flourished by holding close our educational mission to learn and to serve in all times coming.

In this time of pandemic — to borrow our thoughtful colleague’s words — the Alma Mater of the Nation is putting out there what’s authentically us.