Executive Director’s Report – December 31st, 2021

Updated: Mar 24

This is an extraordinary time full of vital, transformative movements that could not be foreseen. It’s also a nightmarish time. Full engagement requires the ability to see both.~ Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark (p.xi)i

The world is scary and complex. COVID, held at bay for so long from our citizen towns and campus communities for the past 20 months, has shocked us all with its speed and spread in the past weeks. Many have remarked feeling a jarring sense of déjà vu from March 2020 when we encountered the sudden and disorienting effects of a global pandemic.

Curious about this déjà vu, I started re-reading the Executive Director reports I wrote in the early days of the global lockdown. In there I found a quotation from Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural address (March 4, 1861) that resonates again today. America was teetering on the brink of war when Lincoln delivered a speech that urges radical kindness:

“We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Lincoln invokes the “best angels” of our nature in order to find ways to build “bonds of affection,” in times of great upheaval. It struck me in this re-reading that the relationships we have built in the past 20 months between and amongst the four universities have been based on foundations of trust and kinship.

We see this manifesting in small acts of radical kindness. As the COVID outbreak at St. Francis Xavier unfolds, almost every community of practice has reached out to their Xaverian counterparts to express their support, share resources, and stand with their colleagues in grief and resilience. We’ve seen notes exchanged at many tables, from alumni to IT, athletics to EDI staff, presidents and micro-certificate faculty members. It has been so heartening to see evidence of long-lasting and trusted relationships amongst colleagues of these four universities.

I wanted to share with you a small snapshot of a larger story about the impact of inter-institutional collaborations. In the very earliest of days when the news broke that a few students had reported positive cases of COVID, the VPs Students mobilized quickly to share resources: Acadia offered the services of their occupational health nurse to triage questions from students and parents; Bishop’s shared links with communications on how to support care-givers and parents about the COVID outbreak; and Mount Allison sent along information on a program they deployed amongst alumni networks to provide individualized support to students in isolation.

These acts of kindness and generosity never show up on a spreadsheet as a metric we can point to as we assess the value of this consortium. Indeed, the most meaningful collaborations are often invisible and outside the confidential and trusted spaces we have created; nevertheless they are time-intensive, long-lasting, and have a tremendous impact on the resilience of our four universities.

As Dr. Sandy MacIver, former Dean of Mount Allison, remarked recently, “[my] research and experience points to group-embraced displays by group members of vulnerability and/or leaps of faith are key to upping collaboration from garden-variety (low yield and low trust) to the spectacular, high creativity, incredibly productive/high performing collaboration. The latter is typified by generative dialogue, real brainstorming (rather than the typical boring nominal brainstorming) and constructive, healthy conflict! And often by group bonds for life!”

As we move into uncharted and yet familiar territory once again, I am reminded of bell hooks and her hope work: “My hope emerges from those places of struggle where I witness individuals positively transforming their lives and the world around them. Educating is always a vocation rooted in hopefulness.” We lost bell hooks this month, and it feels like a light has been extinguished. But her life’s work ignites and inspires so many to hope harder and love better:

“…it is the most radical intervention anyone can make to not only speak of love, but to engage in the practice of love. For love as the foundation of all social movements for self-determination is the only way we create a world that domination and dominator thinking cannot destroy.” ― bell hooks, Teaching Critical Thinking: Practical Wisdom

The holiday season – across many cultures and beliefs – is a time for finding light in the darkness. Wishing you all extra light and hope – and the wellness to love and be loved, guided from the better angels of our nature.

~ Dr. Jessica Riddell, Executive Director, Maple League of Universities

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