On March 11th, the Holy Cross community received the news that, because of the global pandemic of COVID-19, the College would be moving all learning online, in-person events and activities would be canceled, and that essentially everyone had to vacate campus as quickly as possible. This decision was made so as to minimize physical contact between people in order to slow the spread of coronavirus. For the Donelan Office of Community-Based Learning, this decision had particular implications, as contact is at the core of every single thing we do: contact with community partners and a variety of Worcester community members, contact with faculty and their courses, and contact with a variety of other community engagement programs on campus.
Our leadership program, the Community-Based Learning Intern Program, also felt the drastic impact of the College’s decision. This is because, again, a highlight of the CBL Intern program is the contact the Interns have with our community partners, with our courses, with our office space, and with each other. An example of this is how the 16 Interns utilize the Donelan Office space itself. If you have ever passed by the Donelan Office when walking along the hallway of Smith 3, you likely glanced into the Donelan Office and saw two, three, four, or five people in there at a time, eating cookies, getting work done, and laughing so much that at least one person had tears in their eyes. The Interns would fill the office to the brim, not only with themselves and their stuff, but with their hearts and minds, with their ideas and emotions, with their leadership. This contact, certainly, has not been possible in the past ten weeks as we have been in dispersion, away from campus.
Despite losing the physical space of the office and the ability to be in physical contact with so many, the CBL Interns have persisted in their leadership, helping to continue the work of community-based learning. Their leadership has proven that the work that we do is really about connection more so than about contact. Sure, the physical contact can help with making connections, but connection can be made in dispersion, too.
When we moved online, the Interns hardly missed a beat. They helped to move the CBL Intern selection process online, interviewing Intern candidates on Zoom and meeting as a group for several hours to make the very difficult decision about who would be selected for the 2020-2021 CBL Intern cohort. They held virtual in-class reflection sessions, assisting many CBL students with reflecting on how the move to remote learning was impacting their CBL experience. They wrote blog after blog sharing their thoughts about how they were continuing to be in communication with their community partners, what they missed about in-person CBL and being on campus, how their learnings from CBL have assisted them during this time of dispersion, how saying goodbye was difficult, and reflections on CBL after four years in CBL courses and about their time as CBL Interns. They put on a virtual dialogue session featuring four Holy Cross alumni who shared about living a life of service and justice beyond the Hill; this dialogue session was our highest-attended dialogue session ever! The younger Interns helped to celebrate our Senior Interns with a virtual send-off featuring a TikTok-style video, messages from faculty, community partners, and the CBL Intern community, and highlights of their numerous achievements. The Interns contributed to a social media gratitude campaign for our community partners during the last week of classes, recording videos of speeches they would have made in person and sharing messages they would have shared during their final days at their sites. The list goes on.
While these virtual times are no replacement for the in-person times we have had in CBL and that we hope to have in CBL as soon as it’s possible to safely gather again, these virtual times have been fulfilling and meaningful in their own unique ways. They would not be as fulfilling and meaningful without acts of great leadership. The CBL Interns’ work over the past two months has proven that when you put your mind and heart to it, connection is absolutely possible even when contact is not. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” These times that we’ve experienced while physically distanced from each other most definitely have been challenging and controversial times. The CBL Interns, though, have faced these challenges and controversies head-on and shone brightly because of their leadership in dispersion. This leadership has inspired us and so many to persist in making and maintaining connections.
Thank you, CBL Interns!