The Year of Recalibration

On one hand, it seems impossible to talk about themes of campus safety or campus security without mentioning the elephant in the room that is COVID-19. On the other hand, after a year and a half, it seems as though there’s only so much left to say on the topic. Wear a mask? Check. Maintain social distancing? Check. Get the (now FDA-approved) vaccine? Check.

That said, the specter of coronavirus is starting to fade, at least a little. K¬–12 students recently returned to in-person learning full time, and college students are back on campus. Amid a flurry of mask mandates and vaccine mandates—or, in select states, despite the stalwart ban against them—students, faculty and staff seem more than eager to put on airs of normalcy once again.

It’s a little early to declare the pandemic finished. The delta variant is still out there, and as of this writing, it’s too soon to tell how the return to school will affect case numbers nationwide. And in this issue of Campus Security & Life Safety, you’ll still find timely information and resources about indoor air quality and healthy schools. But as the third academic year tinged by COVID begins, even the precautions surrounding the virus are starting to feel old-hat. We’re getting the time and mental space again to be able to turn our attention to other things.

It’s nice to be able to widen the scope, to resume discussions of important issues facing educational institutions that have nothing to do with the virus. There’s bandwidth once again to delve into topics like crime prevention and general campus safety tips, ever-present risks to stay aware of that now seem almost delightfully familiar and mundane. There are also graver dangers like active shooters—no more or less likely than they were two years ago, but still a threat that requires advance preparation and a coordinated response. None of these topics is new. But it’s been a bit since we could give them our full attention.

I like to think of the 2021-22 academic year as the year of getting back to basics. The year when we shook our heads as if to clear them, trying to remember what we were concerned with before coronavirus took over the world. It’s the year of remembering how to make small talk in the hallways; the year of being able to shoot your hand up and ask a quick, casual question during class; and, yes, the year of retraining your body to wake up at 7 a.m. instead of 7:55 for an 8 a.m. lecture. Getting “back to normal” won’t happen with the flick off a switch. It’ll take some time to exhale.

This year of recalibration also gives us the chance to see old problems with fresh eyes. It’s a bit like getting stuck on a crossword puzzle and staring at it for so long that you’re not even seeing it anymore. So, then, you’ll step away to do the dishes, take the trash out, fold some laundry, take a quick mental break. And when you sit back down to the puzzle, more often than not, you’ll find that no sooner have your eyes hit the page than that elusive answer to 34-Down pops into your head entirely unbidden.

That’s obviously an over simplification. But there’s almost always value in returning to familiar problems with clear heads. Fresh perspectives and new experiences often lead to entirely new avenues of problem-solving. And, after the last 18 months, finding new ways to tackle campus crime feels more surmountable than living through a pandemic.

This article originally appeared in the September / October 2021 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.

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