Who would have thought that the week before spring break would be our last week of traditional lectures for the entire academic year? Our last time visiting the bustling campus Starbucks, studying in the library, and enjoying the beautiful scenery that Texas Woman’s has to offer? An extra week of spring break seemed fun, until we couldn’t come back.
Across our TWU campuses, many Pioneers have collectively felt anxiety, frustration and a desire for normalcy.
Through this sudden change, President and Chancellor Carine Feyten has continued to provide consistent and hopeful messages, even as she copes with the effects of social isolation herself.
“I think my first and most sustained negative emotion has been of loss and grieving that loss,” Feyten said. “Over the years, I have enjoyed the abundance of cheer, smiles, and bustle of life around me. With that gone now, I have had to adjust and make do with virtual social interaction.”
While social distancing, Feyten, has been appreciating what comforting human interaction she does get and using the newfound silence to navigate her negative and positive emotions.
“I am grateful for my husband, who has been my one IRL friend and companion through these changes,” Feyten said. “One positive emotion has come from these times of intellectual connection and intentional quietness. These meditations have incited a feeling of joy from learning—especially seeing the newfound compassion and resilience of the human spirit.”
As Pioneers and students across the nation have had to do, Feyten has also adjusted to the system of working from home virtually.
“Work has definitely been—how do young people say it?—extra!” Feyten said. “Leadership in times of change requires time for listening and synthesizing all the voices to find patterns and connections between the past and present.”
With a job that centers around constant in-person interaction with the students, faculty and staff and living close to the now seemingly-barren campus, extroverted Feyten has attempted to pull energy from a new source— online interaction.
“I am trying to recreate that energizing feeling from reading email, writing, connecting on social media and through video calls with colleagues, students, family and friends,” Feyten said. “I am more motivated than ever to evolve the Texas Woman’s experience for students as well as faculty and staff, to keep the ideals of higher education paramount in whatever new normal we build as we emerge from this ordeal.”
As a kind of connoisseur of communication, through her thoughtful emails, Feyten aims to provide a feeling of community, unity and encouragement.
“[Inspiration] arose from my lived experience and as a reaction to what I saw coming—a period of isolation,” Feyten said. “I know the messages are not a substitute for the in-person nuance of nonverbal communication—some 93% of communication is nonverbal—but I hope they served as the next best thing in helping share my privilege of hearing the inspiring stories from others. My intent was to give each of us a glimpse into the lives of those we wouldn’t see around us anymore because of confinement.
“By sharing stories about students, faculty, staff from different parts of the university, I hoped we could develop empathy and a sense of real community.”
Feyten has also been witness to heartbreaking loss and said she understands the severity of our world’s current state and the difficulty many face adapting to this new normal.
“One international student told me about the passing of her father back home, but since she was unable to travel, she had to experience the last rites via Skype,” Feyten said. “That has robbed her of essential steps in the grieving process. I recognize that many of us are under stress from being overworked, but that is an entirely different ‘ball of stress’ from those of health and not having our basic needs met.”
Feyten continues to offer her empathy and support, even in this stressful and painful situation and is working to provide financial support.
“So my heart goes out to everyone who is feeling a sense of loss, but I am particularly concerned about those who have lost income or health,” Feyten said. “To those, I send my deepest sympathies. I am working on trying to raise funds and channel federal stimulus to help keep them afloat and able to access healthcare.”
Moving forward, she hopes the TWU community can evolve from this experience and strengthen the community connection we have across campuses.
“It will be easy to fall back into old ruts and ways of addressing the hardships that life throws our way, but I hope we will emerge more connected and more mindful—mindful of our connectedness with each other and our environment,” Feyten said. “In one of my first messages to the Texas Woman’s community, I mentioned the philosophy of ubuntu—I am because you are—that originated in Africa. If we take anything away from this terrible time, I hope it is a more visible manifestation of that philosophy.”
Look out for Chancellor Feyten’s words of encouragement in your TWU email inboxes and to keep up with her, follow her Instagram.
Joanna Simmons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.