Life is a series of wonders.
My PT Cruiser’s clock shows the time: 3 am! I huddled with friends to stay warm and watch a lunar eclipse, chattering tundra swans in the darkness behind us. Our eyes momentarily catch starlight that has traveled great distances to reach us. At the edge of our field of vision, the ominous silhouette of cliffs and bare trees makes the whole scene beyond anything I could have imagined. It is a moment of wonder.
From once-in-a-lifetime experiences to empowering acts of kindness, La Crosse, Wisconsin, and the University of Viterbo have been homes of wonder for me and many others. To illustrate, at retreats and within campus organizations, I observe the renewal of kindness from one “generation” of students to the next. Students, who balance a busy life with school, work, service, and personal life, always find opportunities to support each other. In these moments, I marvel.
Similarly, many cases of fear are experienced in the classroom. Many times I have seen peers speak bravely about topics that are deeply embedded in who they are, unsure of the response they will receive. They advocated respect for lived experiences rather than outdated principles. Our students push for change so that future students don’t face the same obstacles. With great admiration, I am moved by the strength of their voices and the power of their messages. I am constantly in awe of the young people of La Crosse speaking out, standing up, marching and coming together for what is important to them.
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Pandemics, international conflicts, hatred towards each other – they all crumble the solid ground on which we find solace. Our community continues to feel the impact of the events of spring 2021. The leadership of the University of Viterbo has taken steps to create a more welcoming environment and culture for students to be who they are and thrive.
To build trust between students and Viterbo leaders, I hope that the restorative practices implemented will continue as a method to prevent future incidents of harm. Practices such as inclusive decision-making, equity of voice, value for all members, and authentic listening and sharing give all Viterbo members a chance to be heard.
The restorative model, rooted in Indigenous teaching, emphasizes connectedness. We have learned with the pandemic that what affects us, affects us all. As a community, Viterbo students, faculty, and staff have done their part to mitigate COVID-19 cases on campus and our impact on the greater La Crosse community. The Viterbo COVID-19 Task Force’s recent announcement that masks will now be recommended on campus – not required – is a long-awaited sign of hope and progress.
While I also want a sense of normalcy, it would be a missed opportunity if we didn’t reflect on how the pandemic has shaped us as individuals and as an institution. A word of caution for those who want to quickly dismiss the impact of COVID-19 on people’s mental health, physical safety and sense of belonging. As a student leader, I find myself in many conversations about how to support students who may feel isolated, physically or socially.
While these efforts do not resolve all tensions on campus, it is a privilege to provide opportunities for discernment and community engagement. I believe that sparking curiosity and creativity are two ways to give meaning to students’ lives. In other words, how could we inspire more wonder and awe?
In more ways than one, the student body, faculty, and staff at the University of Viterbo have seen our sense of security challenged. How we move from reaction to recovery in the next phase of the pandemic and the continued work towards social equity will determine our resilience in the face of future adversities. There’s no better time to turn to wonder than now.
Laura Weidemann is a senior at the University of Viterbo studying nutrition and dietetics.