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OPINION: Community matters, now more than ever

What is community? When one performs a Google search for the meaning of community, the first results to appear are:

  1. “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common”
  2. “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals”

As many of you know, I spend much of my time working in the Office of Admissions. Whenever I have the opportunity to meet with prospective students and their families during visits to campus, I am consistently asked two questions: Why I chose to attend Westminster, and what makes Westminster different from other institutions. 

My answer to both of these questions is community.

From the moment I first set foot on our campus as a high school senior, I could tell that there was just something about Westminster that I had yet to find at any other school I had visited. Though at the moment I could not quite pinpoint what that was, it is exceptionally clear to me now that what I was experiencing can overwhelmingly be contributed to the associations and bonds I was witnessing between everyone I came in contact with including students, staff, and faculty. 

To put it plainly, the sense of community was infectious— I felt like I already belonged here.

At Westminster, we have something special. We have a university that strives to not only support us in succeeding academically, but also in all other aspects of our lives. This is through the variety of organizations, student clubs, and mentorship opportunities available to us. 

As Griffins, we have been afforded an experience that few other students across the nation will experience during the four years of their undergraduate studies, and for that we are truly lucky.

Even now, despite the COVID-19 pandemic that has forced us off of our campus, away from our friends, professors, and mentors — our campus community must remain stronger than ever. 

We no longer have the common areas of campus to congregate and catch up with friends. Now we have Zoom and Microsoft Teams calls. 

We no longer have late night trips to Dee’s with friends. Now we have FaceTime calls and delivery. 

Brendan Sudberry is a junior at Westminster College. Sudberry says he chose to attend Westminster because of the strong sense of community.

We no longer have the ease to connect with and receive mentorship from that professor who we ran into at Griff’s Roost. Now we have email chains.

The sense of community that we have become accustomed to has changed drastically over a very short period of time, but do not be fooled. This community is still alive and it is important now — more than ever — that we continue finding ways to enrich it and develop new, meaningful opportunities for connection with our peers.

Even as states begin towards reopening their economies and loosening stay-at-home orders, we must continue to practice physical distancing guidelines. I use the term physical, rather than social, for a very important reason. 

Although we will still not have the opportunity to return to complete normalcy, and must continue avoiding in-person socialization, at least for the time being, we must not allow ourselves to become socially distant. We must ensure that we continue building community and socializing with those who matter to us through whatever safe means necessary. 

Even in uncertain times, our Westminster community remains strong. Organizations like the Office for Global Peace and Spirituality and the Student Diversity and Inclusion Center have continued providing virtual programming for students to connect through.

ASW has continued to host virtual events to provide students with relief from the stresses of our uncertain world. President Dobkin has hosted a virtual forum for students to share their experiences transitioning to remote learning, and their questions and concerns that come with that. 

While these are only a few examples of how we have remained resilient, I would implore you to explore the many other ways our students, faculty, and staff have been working to maintain and grow our campus community, off-campus.

Although the academic term has come to a close, and many of us are now in a summer break mindset, it remains ever important for us to continue maintaining and developing connections within our Westminster community. Without the accountability of remote classes to ensure we are checking in with individuals outside of our households, we are at an even greater risk now of losing our connection to the outside world — and experiencing the mental, emotional, and physical implications that come with that.

So make a phone call to that alum you’ve been meaning to catch up with since they graduated. Send your favorite professor an email to see how they’re adapting to this new normal. Make time for a FaceTime movie night with your best friend. It doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you ensure you’re continuing to maintain those connections that mean the most to you, and keeping our Westminster community alive.

Throughout time the Griffin has been a symbol of strength, fortitude, and resilience. Our Westminster Griffins are no different. You all have faced these unprecedented times with willingness to adapt, empathy for one another, and a conviction to the many qualities that define a Westminster student. 

It is times like these: seeing the strength of, and being inspired by my peers, that makes me proud to be standing alongside them. While times remain uncertain, there is no question that we will make it to the other side of this crisis stronger than ever.

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