Reflections from the Frontlines

Author name
Evan Heisman

What started as a whisper in February, quickly became our new reality by March. 

Now, with only finals left in the fall semester, we can all reflect on the decisions and actions of students, faculty, staff, and the entire Duke community and know that we came together and made it work. It was not easy, and it certainly wasn’t without issue. Will everything go back to normal this spring? No. However, with impossible odds and improbable measures, we completed an in-person semester during a Global pandemic.

It would be irresponsible of me to not acknowledge the loss and heavy burden that has befallen so many because of COVID-19, and this reflection is by no means suggesting that this fight is over or that we have somehow succeeded.  

In Spring of 2020, with most students away on spring break, no one could have predicted that the university would soon be making an announcement that there would be no return to campus. Just days before we were together on Julian Abele quad celebrating a Duke men’s basketball game home win versus UNC-CH with a traditional bonfire. However, here we are, eight months later, having navigated this new reality, preparing to send your students home for a long winter break. How did we get here? The countless hours, planning, dedication, and assortment of individuals from across the university that made this moment possible is truly inconceivable.  

As challenging and at times cumbersome as the guidance, policies, and safety protocols may have seemed, they served their purpose, and enabled the university to remain open with an on-campus presence. We can’t thank you enough for trusting in us, our methods, and for placing your trust in the most important stakeholders, your students. The willingness of your students to commit to not only adhering to the policies, but adapting to this new and at most times unsettling normal by supporting one another was truly remarkable and will secure a place in Duke’s history.  

On-campus junior, and Duke Women’s Lacrosse player, Veronica Hineman, stated, “I feel extremely grateful that Duke University and Duke Athletics has provided me with the resources and protocols necessary to continue excelling in the classroom and on the field. I believe the protocols were for the good of the student body and without them, we would not have been as successful this summer and fall.” 

In his welcome video to parents over the summer, Associate Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students, John Blackshear, said, “I am extremely confident that together - you, your students, and this university, will usher in a new normal, where our worst day in this new normal, will outshine our best day in our old normal.”  

The conclusion of this semester is a testament to what the entire Duke community has been able to achieve; and although we still do not know what lies ahead, we hope that winter break will serve as a time for community, a time for support, and a time for reflection so that we can all find our new normal, together.  

-  Evan Heisman, Dean of Students Office