Space, grace and resources needed during transition back to ‘normal’


Space And Grace

Eric Love 1

To hug or not to hug? It’s something to contemplate as faculty and staff reconvene on campus.

Sure, you missed seeing friends and colleagues who worked remotely for the past year and a half. And, yes, physical distance restrictions have been lifted since the University required the community to be vaccinated. But here’s the thing: Some people didn’t like hugs before COVID-19.

“I saw this great T-shirt,” mused Eric Love, director of staff diversity and inclusion. “On it was a cactus and the message, ‘I’m vaccinated, but I am still not a hugger.’”

Love, a self-proclaimed extreme extrovert who loves a good hug, suggested, “Get the consent of the person you want to hug before moving in for one.” Same thing goes for shaking hands.

While many of us may long for a resumption of business as usual on campus, nearly 18 months have passed and a lot has happened. It's the same campus, but a new normal.

“We need to be mindful of some of the things that have gone on. We have experienced trauma, some having to do with COVID, and some having to do with racial injustice or maybe a family member being laid off from a job,” Love said.

“I would urge supervisors to be empathetic and be mindful of checking on your people and asking how they are doing.”  —  Sharon Hawkins, associate director of human resources consulting

Others may also be walking through day-to-day issues ranging from managing child care, like finding back-up care in a pinch, to calibrating work-life balance and well-being to finding that their work clothes no longer fit. Simply put, we may be together again on campus, but we have different perspectives about re-acclimating.

2012 Presidential Award Sharon V

Sharon Hawkins and Lori Maurer, associate directors of human resources consulting, recently attended a retreat where HR colleagues discussed what the new normal might look like for some employees. Hawkins shared an exchange she observed between two staff members during a workshop she recently facilitated. 

“One person who had been on campus this whole time said, ‘What’s the big deal about coming back?’ Well, that was an opportunity for someone else to share her concerns, asking, ‘Will it be safe?’ Everyone is coming from a different place. Seek to understand,” Hawkins said.

Seeking to understand each other and even ourselves can make us stronger as a campus community and as individuals.

“Anxiety or depression has probably impacted every single one of us,” Hawkins said. “We’re so fortunate as Notre Dame employees to have work and life resources at our disposal, like therapists Adam Dell and Lesley Weiss at the Notre Dame Wellness Center. There are other opportunities through the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Some EAP counseling is available over the phone or online.” (Here are more resources and ideas to bring about peace of mind.)

“Yes, and be honest with your manager about your situation. Take care of yourself. Be kind to yourself,” Maurer said.

Hawkins added, “I would urge supervisors to be empathetic and be mindful of checking on your people and asking how they are doing.”

Lori Maurer

For those looking for ways to understand racial and cultural tensions and improve the campus climate, there are a variety of diversity and inclusion resources. HR offers workshops, with increasing frequency, on everything from policing and racism to understanding Pride Month. Most divisions also have diversity and inclusion committees that offer discussions and programming for their units. The range of programming offered helps to inform participants and build community.

“We can’t control what happens across the country,” Love said. “What we can control is how we treat each other at Notre Dame, and here, we treat each other with dignity and respect.”

For anyone looking for friends with similar interests, there are Employee Resource Groups (ERGs).

“I’ve done some qualitative research asking participants whether an ERG has affected their experience at Notre Dame, and people have said they felt alienated or disconnected from the community until they joined one. The ERGs — some call them affinity groups — give people an anchor here so they feel connected to Notre Dame,” Love said.

“We need to be mindful of some of the things that have gone on. We have experienced trauma ...” —  Eric Love, director of staff diversity and inclusion

A sense of belonging, of being part of a community, is crucial to human flourishing, Dell noted in his presentation during HR’s retreat. “There is a fundamental longing of the human heart to be known and loved.”

Adam Dell

That sense of belonging is also important to those who wear a mask on campus.

“We don’t know what someone’s story is, and it’s not our place to judge,” Love said. “They may be a caretaker for an elderly parent or they could have someone in their life who has an immune deficiency, so they are taking extra precautions. Even if someone did not get vaccinated they are protecting the rest of us by wearing a mask.”

As we assimilate to a new normal as a campus community, Dell said, don’t underestimate the power of friendship.

Lesley Weiss

“Friendships are not therapy, but they can be far more therapeutic than therapy can hope to be,” he said.

And, as Love noted, don’t underestimate the power of being at Notre Dame.

“This beautiful environment can be therapeutic,” he said. “It can also be good for the soul to see people again who we’ve worked with for years and to get to know the new people here. Some of that excitement will help people through some of the anxiety.”