BY PHILLIP METRES | March 12, 2020
Editor’s Note: Dr. Philip Metres is a professor of English and the director of the peace, justice, and human rights program at John Carroll University, a Jesuit university located in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. On Tuesday, March 10th, John Carroll announced that they would suspend in-person classes effective immediately until at least Monday, April 13, 2020.
A Letter to Students,
I’d like to share with you a brief word about this situation we find ourselves in because of the COVID-19 virus.
I feel bad for everyone who had big plans (travel, presentations, conferences). At the Peace, Justice, and Human Rights program at John Carroll University, we spent hundreds of hours planning events that have been canceled. (I’ve had about a dozen events canceled for my book release. But this is the sorrow of the privileged.)
I feel particularly sorry for graduating seniors, whose last months will be utterly different from what they imagined. You may feel numbness, confusion, annoyance, anger, or grief. These feelings are understandable.
But knowing how this virus spreads, this decision to cancel classes and go online was a sound one, a public health strategy to decrease a potential spike in COVID cases—as has been seen in Italy, which has swamped all medical facilities and threatened the entire country.
In all likelihood, this will be something that will define your generation. It will be written about in history books and a pivotal moment.
That means that this is also an invitation. While we won’t be together in classes and events, we will gather in online spaces and learn what needs to be learned.
But this invitation isn’t just to adapt to the discomfort of online education. (I hate the idea since I love the classroom as a space for creating community!)
The invitation is also to live our mission right now. Central to our John Carroll mission is to help students become “aware of the interdependence of all humanity; and sensitive to the need for social justice in response to current social pressures and problems.”
We are all interdependent. We need each other. Mother Theresa once said, “if we have no peace, it’s because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” Or what Father Gregory Boyle says about kinship: “Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of that circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased.”
This coronavirus predicament is calling us back to recognizing that we are all connected. I don’t mean simply as virus vectors but as part of a human community.
Some people are using the term “social distancing” to talk about the need to avoid big gatherings—even gyms, bars, theaters, and the rest. Now is not the time for panic. It’s not about hiding yourself in a bubble, in fear of the other, but about reducing risk for the most vulnerable in our society.
However, by avoiding big gatherings of people right now, you could be slowing the communal spread of this virus. You could be sparing the life of your own grandparents or immunocompromised people.
So reach out to each other (by phone, of course!). Check-in with those you love, particularly the elders and the marginalized. Keep in mind that the most vulnerable of our society and of the world will bear the worst brunt of this, as they always do.
Find out ways to be part of the solution. Share those ideas.
We don’t know what’s next, but you’re not alone. We will face this together.
Be in touch (metaphorically, of course!)
In peace and justice,
Philip Metres has written ten books, including Shrapnel Maps(Copper Canyon 2020), and The Sound of Listening: Poetry as Refuge and Resistance (2018). Awarded the Lannan Fellowship, three Arab American Book Awards, two NEAs, and the Adrienne Rich Award, he is Professor of English and director of the Peace, Justice, and Human Rights program at John Carroll University.