text and photography
by Remy Hogan
“All classes, including those offered at regional campuses, graduate programs, and the College of Law, will remain online through the end of the spring semester or term.”
These words will be ingrained in my memory for years to come. It was a Friday in mid-March, and I had just arrived home from my last class of the week to enjoy quality time with my family during spring break. This was to be my last ever spring break before I was to graduate in just a few months. With the urgency in the news about COVID-19, I knew that the following week would be quiet, and that I would be spending much of my time at home to help flatten the curve. What I did not expect was to be sitting on my bed, knees weak and suitcase untouched, frantically reading an emergency email from President Devorah Lieberman that would seal the fate of University of La Verne students, faculty, staff, and administration for the remainder of the semester. I did not expect for my Friday night to end in hysterical tears, answering calls from friends who felt the same way I did. They and I were heartbroken, frightened, and trying hard to process that life would never be the same for people all over the world.
Students at the University of La Verne are not the only ones who are coming to terms with such a sudden change. “Since mid-March, I have thought about little else other than the coronavirus. Before March, this word was not part of our vocabulary. And, since March, it has dominated our thinking, our behaviors, and our plans for the University of La Verne,” says President Lieberman.
Within the week, University of La Verne students were moving out of their campus housing, and professors were preparing to transition into a fully online semester. Staff and administrators were collecting their belongings from their offices, guessing at the next time they might be able to visit campus. Seniors were bemoaning the loss of a last semester and their graduation ceremonies. Every news network was reporting the death tolls around the world. Nurses and doctors, faces pale and eyes weary, were shown in tears, begging for more personal protective equipment and for people to stay home. Fighting and hoarding took place in grocery stores. Frantic money withdrawals took place in banks. There was deafening silence on once busy freeways and crowded parking lots.
Chaos. Our world descended into absolute chaos.
But from the chaos rose an incredible sense of unity and support in the University of La Verne community. Partial refunds, an emergency donation fund to help keep paychecks consistent, and constant communication from administration helped ensure that. The Counseling and Psychological Services, or CAPS, has remained open to students, and the Student Health Center still takes phone calls. The Lewis Center for Well-Being and Research has encouraged instructors to broadcast at-home workouts for the La Verne community to follow along with, and they have held mental health workshops that allow for students to talk about how they feel and vent about their frustrations. The Office of Student Life has shifted its programming online as much as possible, and the Associated Students of the University of La Verne, or ASULV, continues to stay connected with students and communicate concerns and needs to administration.
“During especially hard times, the University of La Verne has always been on its knees: the Great Depression, World War 1, World War 2, and now the pandemic,” says George Keeler, professor of journalism at the University of La Verne. Keeler’s family has been affiliated with the University of La Verne for generations. His grandfather Kevork Sarafian, La Verne College professor of education and languages, wrote in his autobiography “From Immigrant to Educator,” that in late 1933 a meeting was called by Edgar Rothrock, chair of the Board of Trustees, to tell the faculty and staff that he and the president were unable to finance the institution adequately. “For this reason, they called this joint meeting to make a very important decision. The paramount question was ‘to be or not to be’ for La Verne,” wrote Sarafian. Rothrock said, “This is the question: Should we close the college temporarily during the depression years as many colleges are doing, hoping to reopen it after the financial crisis subside, or shall we keep the gates open for poor students to continue their education, accepting their I.O.U. notes in place of cash and pay teachers’ salaries with I.O.U. notes?” Keeler remembers that his grandfather felt this was his proudest moment, when he answered for the faculty, “If we discontinue our work now, it will be very difficult to start again with the same momentum. I am talking for myself. I will willingly continue my work here even if I do not receive any financial compensation during this financial crisis.” Sarafian’s words inspired a similar pledge of devotion from all the other faculty members. “That faculty decision to work without pay kept the College open during the Great Depression,” says Keeler. “My grandfather said he did not receive any pay for a couple of years.”
Ben Jenkins, assistant professor of history and archivist at the University of La Verne, learned that while the second World War was raging, so many male students were actively serving in the war that the football program had to be discontinued until the war ended and male students could resume their education. The graduating class of 1945 did not have a single male student. Jenkins says that during the Great Depression and World War II, faculty at La Verne would sometimes work for reduced or no pay to help the University. During the Depression especially, some faculty would even help to cover students’ tuition. “The best example that comes to mind is Isaac Woody, the groundskeeper, who paid tuition for a few students who would not have otherwise been able to afford it. He is the man for whom Woody Hall is named,” says Ben.
Now, as the war against COVID-19 rages on, faculty are wondering how we will move forward as a University until the virus all clear moment comes. At a Faculty Assembly meeting in early May, the discussion that dominated the meeting was how severely the coronavirus was impacting both the United States and La Verne. Three plans were drawn up with an increasing number of financial cuts and sacrifices for faculty and staff. One faculty member asked, “Isn’t this a rainy day?” to which Dr. Jenkins responded in the comment section of Webex, “This isn’t a rainy day. It’s a tsunami.”
One thing is for sure: natural disasters and pandemics alike seem to have the tendency to bring people together. “There is no way anyone could have prepared for this situation; what administration is doing is helping us get through it,” says Brooke Grasso, University of La Verne admissions counselor. “For us to be able to spring into action and still access our voicemail and technology from home, and for the coronavirus page on our school website to be updated so frequently… everyone is safe, we are being updated, what more could we ask for?”
During this time of uncertainty and isolation, the life we all knew is no longer available to us and coming together is more challenging than ever. And yet, ironically, the only way to persevere is to stick to a routine and rely on each other for survival and help. Since that fateful email, the University of La Verne has continued to make the best of a situation no one could have foreseen.
For Elizabeth Galioto, a senior sociology major, the reassurance that the University is trying to retain some sense of normalcy has helped her accept the many changes that she has had to come to terms with in so short a time. “I feel the University is doing the best it can. I appreciate the social media campaigns they’re running, and that they’re trying to make sure people still feel valued and seen and included. I also appreciate that they are trying to maintain a sense of normalcy by continuing events like Greek Perfect, student life awards and town halls.” Nevertheless, she definitely feels the stress of keeping up with class work while simultaneously acclimating to living during a pandemic. “I just wish there was more clarity on how professors are evaluating our work because I know this transition has hit me hard and affected my quality of work,” Elizabeth says.
For many students, some of whom are essential workers and unable to dedicate as much time to their studies as they once may have, keeping up with classes online is a big, oftentimes uncomfortable transition. In a post on Instagram on May 7, ASULV shared the following caption: “We created a resolution to speak on behalf of [traditional undergraduate students] and encourage faculty and instructors to take into consideration the current climate when planning and administering our finals. ASULV is simply asking the Provost, Faculty Senate, UGAP, and other academic affairs committees to support this resolution, seriously encourage each faculty member to re-evaluate how they are administering finals, and respectfully remind faculty members to be accommodating and flexible with their expectations.”
Mike Laponis, professor of communications at the University of La Verne, taught three courses this semester that were never intended to be taught online due to the hands-on nature of the classes; he taught Radio 230, a beginning radio production class; Radio 240, an intermediate radio production class; and finally, Radio 426, which is an advanced level radio station operations class. Mike has been trying to acclimate to online teaching the best way he knows how. “Obviously it’s the most serious situation I think I’ve ever experienced as far as it being a global situation. I felt like it was important to try to have a little bit more normalcy, and so far most of everything I’ve done has been synchronous.”
Synchronous classes, or classes that meet online at the same time they would have met in person, have helped Mike stay in tune with his students. “As we were still getting the hang of online classes, we did a round-robin on Zoom where everybody could share how they were doing. We spent about 20 or 30 minutes just discussing challenges, how students were acclimating, how their families were doing.” The few hours that he gets to interact with his students in a quasi, face-to-face manner has really helped Mike navigate such an unprecedented life change. “The thing that I hadn’t thought of before going totally online is that, even though I am an introvert, I’m a social person. I miss walking around and seeing people. It honestly made me realize that maybe I should never retire,” Mike jokes.
As this semester’s finals week approaches, and students no longer have the opportunity to partake in an age-old tradition of pulling all-nighters studying together in the library, it has become very clear that the lack of social interaction for everyone at the University of La Verne has made living through a pandemic even more grievous. For President Lieberman, life has changed a great deal. “My favorite part of my day was walking around campus, attending student events, and being with our students and hearing about their La Verne experience. That feels like an enormous loss to me.”
“Mid-April would have been Spotlight Weekend, where I could meet and talk to students who are planning on attending the University in September. Now, Spotlight is virtual,” she says. The onset of the coronavirus disrupted so much for the University of La Verne, and the Office of Admission has certainly faced the challenge of working around physical distancing head on.
“Spotlight Weekend is the reason I decided to attend the University of La Verne,” says Brooke Grasso, who earned her Bachelor of Arts in Journalism in 2018. She led at Cal State Los Angeles as an admissions counselor before deciding to join her Leo family once again and work in the Office of Admission. “Knowing how important Spotlight Weekend and other admissions events are for helping potential students decide to join our community, our team brainstormed and really made it happen. We each had the same mission in mind: we want what’s best for students.”
Thus, mere days after the announcement that all University classes and operations would be virtual, the admissions team set up online webinars via Webex for students to live video chat with representatives at the University of La Verne. General informational sessions were held Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and students who tuned in listened to presentations from Housing and Residential Life, Financial Aid, and current students. Tuesdays and Thursdays were reserved for one-on-one meetings with admissions counselors so that every single admitted student is followed up with. “It’s so fun to still be able to connect with students. We get pretty great turnout for video chats, so it makes our full days that much more rewarding,” Brooke says.
But no matter how productive the one-on-one meetings are, nothing can replace the excitement that high school seniors had for finishing out their high school careers and visiting institutions. “We recognize that high school seniors are missing so much, so we want them to know that their future is not cancelled,” says Brooke, who is helping put together confirmed student care packages and dropping them off at the Mail Center to be delivered to each confirmed student. “They can still have a great experience, and we want to help them through this so they can move on in confidence.”
The sense of moving on and trying to make the best of a complicated, unexpected situation is something the entire University of La Verne community is no stranger to. “My biggest lesson has been to cherish my family more than I ever thought possible. Professionally, I feel more purpose than ever before in making sure that we prepare the University to be strong, healthy, vibrant and well-positioned during the post-pandemic recovery period,” says President Lieberman. “My advice for all students is to stay focused on the importance of investment in your education. Post-pandemic college graduates are going to be needed in our workforce more than ever before. My advice is to dedicate yourself to making that a reality. To the faculty and staff at the University of La Verne: continue to believe in our mission and the quality of our education. Much will change post-pandemic, and we must change with it.”
As life goes on and the devastating impact of COVID-19 is felt far and wide, we can always depend on our community to see us through. “Generosity of spirit, patience, and belief in each other will be the key to moving through the pandemic and moving beyond it. I always say, ‘We are Leos for life.’ This is the time that ‘Leo’ must stand for ‘Love each other,’” says President Lieberman. “Community cannot be quarantined. We truly are one community and Leos for life!”