By Published: April 4, 2022

It’s no great pleasure to discuss long-term stress and trauma, and that’s surely a big reason why people tend to avoid such topics. Sometimes, however, hard conversations are necessary.

One important takeaway from the messages I have received recently from faculty, staff and students is that frustrations are still festering, if not building. Faculty and staff tell me of their struggle to teach well and advance their research and creative work effectively while also trying to manage the obligations of home life. Students relate their frustrations as they’ve gone from in-person classes to fully remote, to hybrid and back to in-person classes, sometimes while struggling to remain financially stable.

James White

Above: James W.C. White is acting dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Frustrations can be deep, tempers short.

It is, again, worth placing these conversations in context: In the past two years, the pandemic has claimed millions of lives globally and upended many more. More prosaically but no less importantly, it has changed the way we work and care for children and other dependents. The evidence is clear that women and faculty of color have borne a disproportionate burden in this regard.

And here, close to home, we’ve seen extraordinary devastation, with a mass shooting in south Boulder last March and in December the most devastating wildfire (as measured by destruction of homes) in Colorado history. With the recent NCAR fire, our community was threatened again, though blessedly spared. Globally, we watch in deep sadness and dismay as Russia wages a brutal war against the people of Ukraine.

This is all a lot to bear.  

There are things the university can do, and we would be wise to focus on them. A good place to start is to have open, clear and explicit conversations about coping with and recovering from long-term stress. It is tempting, of course, to skip conversations about recovery and instead to talk about “getting back to normal.” In tough times, normalcy doesn’t just reappear.

There are, of course, resources on campus for those who need help, advice or counseling. Today, I’d like to ask you to tell us what you need: If the university could help you recover from the extraordinary efforts, losses and stress of the past two years, how would that support look? Feel free to share; we are listening.

Beginning such a conversation might not be comfortable, but it is necessary. As the poet Robert Frost once wrote, “The best way out is always through.” There’s no getting around what we’ve faced and where we are. Getting through this requires that we acknowledge, understand and discuss the challenges we must overcome to fully recover. Let us begin.