Cal State East Bay faculty reflect on what it takes to thrive during uncertainty
Humans are designed for resilience. It’s in our nature. We wouldn’t have survived this far if we weren’t. But much of how and why we make it through times of adversity is a direct result of how we prepare.
“We are the descendants of people who have endured hardship, toil and difficulty,” said Cal State East Bay Assistant Professor of Health Sciences Michael Stanton. “We too have the capacity and the ability to confront crises head on and emerge stronger.”
Cal State East Bay’s motto per aspera ad astra — “through adversity to the stars” — is more than a Latin phrase on the university’s seal. It is a roadmap for how our students, faculty and staff navigate challenges and become stronger and more resilient on the other side.
East Bay Today asked several university faculty to offer a new definition of resilience in light of COVID-19 and the drastic changes our world has seen in the past several months. They offer insight into what it takes in various industries to not only make it through times of uncertainty, but to innovate and thrive.
“The societal and economic strain of the global COVID-19 pandemic is challenging our students as they work to obtain their college degree, a laudable goal under even the best of circumstances. Faculty are faced with a new and uncertain teaching platform that separates us from them. The staff is expected to reach out from home to support the university as it strains under rapid and unpredictable changes. Although I look forward to returning to some level of normalcy, able to engage with the university community less remotely, I realize that it is only under arduous conditions that we are able to truly discover and celebrate our resilience as educators and students. Let us take this as an opportunity to learn what aspects of the unique education that happens at Cal State East Bay are the most important, and prepare to advance and benefit from these as soon as we possibly can.” — Amy Furniss, assistant professor of physics
“What I have been the most touched by is the care and compassion that my students have shown towards me, so many have reached out to check on the health and safety of myself and my family. In this overwhelming time, when everyone’s lives are being upended and changed, it really highlights for me how exceptional our students are. Not only do they continue to be dedicated to their education, but they have maintained their capacity for compassion and kindness. It makes me want to be the very best professor I can be for them, regardless of circumstances, and it gives me hope for our future.” — Nazzy Pakpour, assistant professor of biological sciences
“Resilience is often seen as an individual attribute, but the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the spotlight to the community’s role in resilience. In order to flatten the curve, it is dependent on the community to protect one another by self-isolating and sheltering in place. Technology has taken the blame for a fractured society, but this culprit is now our tool to build community and stay connected. Over the past decade, and more so in the past four years, our society has become increasingly divided. The pandemic has helped bridge these divisions to remind us everyone — no matter race, religion, class — is vulnerable; the only way to build resilience during time is by doing so together. In less than a week, communities formed to create mutual aid networks, donate supplies and resources, and help support local economies. Even in this time of isolation, we managed to build community and make new connections. We need to continue to work together to address the systemic problems COVID-19 has exposed, such as inequities in access to health care, food insecurity, and housing affordability. Together, we rise up. Together, we are resilient.” — Danvy Le, assistant professor of political science
“I know it’s been hard. I know people are not only fighting for their right to struggle through these times as holistic humans but also fighting for their lives. And I know that many of you have been prioritizing life — helping your children, your family, your students, your community. Many of you have been resisting the neoliberal push to be as “productive” as you were before. But we do have to stop wishing to “go back to normal,” because who said that “normal” was good for us in the first place? Right now, we are in a historical moment where our Earth is forcing us to take pause and rethink our existence and sustainability in this world. Right now, we are in an opportunity to not take for granted the ways that being in the physical presence of other humans is and always has been a sacred space to cultivate a culture where everyone is seen as important and valued; where everyone believes they can grow and thrive, as well as work towards healing from the social wounds they have accumulated over time, especially through the project of schooling. We are in a moment of pause. So let us do that with grace and remember that resiliency is not merely “getting through this,” but learning and emerging stronger through this.” — G.T. Reyes, assistant professor of educational leadership
“The 2019-2020 coronavirus pandemic has created great uncertainties and unforeseen challenges that impact the whole ecosystem from individuals to businesses, industries, communities, global economies, among others. In the financial markets, the CBOE Volatility Index, also known as the “investor fear gauge,” closed at a record high in March 2020. The pandemic has changed our priorities, our daily living, and our ways of interacting and work with each other. However, it has also taught us about the importance of resilience – to bring out the best in us in the face of adversity, to carry on our responsibilities, to adapt to new environments, and to find new solutions to overcome challenges. Another lesson learned during these challenging times is that resilience is not an individual effort — resilience can be strengthened by our compassion and ability to help and support each other.” — Scott Fung, professor of accounting and finance
“Faculty who’ve never taught an online class, staff who’ve never had to deal with a paperless routine, and students who’ve never had to learn remotely, have all been forced to dramatically alter their work, school and parenting routines; and I’m awestruck by how quickly members of our community have been able to adapt, fulfilling their responsibilities and achieving their goals with determination and humor. I’m absolutely convinced that this will be our finest hour, and one day, if all goes well, our grandchildren will beg us to stop reminding them of what we achieved.” — Robert Phelps, executive director, Concord campus
“As an educator, I have seen our students, staff and faculty balance a new reality that they did not think would have been possible. The work completed by our students has been humbling amidst job loss, an increase of responsibilities, and concerns about the future. Criminal justice personnel, deemed as essential employees, continue to put their lives on the line daily to provide service and assistance to our community. Resilience training is provided to law enforcement and correction employees for survival in critical situations as well as in situations of vicarious trauma. However, our essential employees in grocery, warehouse, and delivery positions likely have not had the same training. We must practice empathy, kindnessand compassion for others in this challenging time.
Carrying forward, we are stronger from the challenges we have faced and navigating problems that have arisen. We must remember to take care of ourselves, physically, mentally, and emotionally, for us to be available to help others. When we transition back to social gatherings and some normalcy, we need to remember that we have been in this together and continue to be kind to each other.” — Michelle Rippy, assistant professor of criminal justice
“Our current situation is a test, a test of our toughness, whether it be mental, physical, spiritual, etc. This specific test, though unique on its own, brings out our human grit, whether we believe we have it or not. Coping with the restrictions that can break us down emotionally, even when we try to hide or suppress them, helps to build our strength, our inner strength. I have an adage that I use, “the strongest steel bends.” It is in times like these that we bend with the current but always remain strong.” — Thomas Padron, assistant professor of hospitality, recreation and tourism
“My students remind me daily what it is to be resilient in the face of this virus crisis. From my conversations with them, it’s clear that, for many, this virus has wreaked havoc on their worlds — impacting corners of it I cannot even imagine. For some, this crisis exacerbated already precarious housing, labor and food insecurity realities for our students. Others are dealing with the stress of familial responsibilities — taking care of themselves and their loved ones (young and old) as the ground shifts beneath their feet in the midst of the pandemic.
And yet, they face this new (hopefully temporary) reality in a straight-up, head-on way. I see it in their interactions with classmates and with me. They fully understand and recognize what’s before them; there’s no denying that. I’ve watched as many students employ strategies that I know will better enable them to endure this time. They seek out connections with peers and with me — sometimes just a quick email check-in or just a few lines to let me know what’s going on in the spaces they occupy. But there has always been a kind of tenacity about Cal State East Bay students. While COVID-19 has intensely complicated an already complicated world for them, they are, in my view, some of the best at showing us all what persistence looks like and how best to lay a path forward when one doesn’t seem self-evident or secure.” — Rita Liberti, professor of kinesiology
“I am inspired by the flexibility and resilience that Cal State East Bay has displayed in reaction to this pandemic. The university has made major changes to daily operations under the most rapid of circumstances and has demonstrated great unity as a collective body along the way. Not only did the faculty, students, and staff convert from online to remote learning in mid-semester, but several significant adjustments to the spring and summer 2020 grading policy were conceived, proposed, and approved in a matter of weeks in light of these changes. Many administrative procedures have also been quickly modified and redesigned to accommodate our remote work environment. In addition, the announcement of the university’s collaboration with the City of Hayward to provide one of our Hayward campus parking lots as a COVID-19 testing center demonstrates the difference we can make in our immediate community. These achievements bode well for our future as we continue to navigate an uncertain terrain and demonstrate that we have extensive resources that we can quickly bring to bear to help our campus communities and the greater East Bay region we serve adjust and recover from this setback.” — Kevin Kenney, Oakland Center manager
“This moment in time is highlighting the intersection of personal and community resilience, how our individual actions and choices affect others. As we educate our students through and around the challenges facing our communities, it’s imperative we help them to understand that resilience is not about “bouncing back,” but about “bouncing forward.” How do we build upon the lessons we are learning about inequity, health and social responsibility? How do we enable a learning environment that, instead of feeling like a temporary measure, propels students forward as adaptable, critical and creative thinkers? More than ever, we have the opportunity to inhabit education as a living force and “own” the mission of the California State University to enrich and serve our communities.” — Mary D’Alleva, director for the CSUEB Center for Community Engagement; lecturer of English
“We can’t always change the things that happen to us in life, but we can change the way we view them. Reframing is the ability to look at a situation or circumstance in a new way, giving it a more positive or insightful spin. Research shows that those who reframe difficult situations positively will achieve much more success than those who frame, or look at it, negatively. Reframing the situation may help develop the ability to focus time and energy on changing the things over which we actually have control, instead of focusing on what can’t be controlled.” —Toni E. Fogarty, professor of public affairs and administration
“For me, the COVID-19 emergency has highlighted how building resiliency is often connected to activities that have been historically devalued because of their association with femininity, particularly care work, community service, as well as crafting or domestic activities that support our physical and mental health both individually and collectively. It’s also worth noting many of those essential activities that are at the root of individual and community resilience have also been devalued due to their associations with people of color, for example, agriculture and food systems. Often we turn to more masculine traits of bravado, violence, aggression with the assumption that these are what save us or protect us. But in times of crisis, it’s our empathy, emotional literacy, and emotional labor that provide us with the strength to organize collectively for our survival and for change. Developing resilience also entails extending these forms of care work to a macro level in the form of political policies that provide broad social support, particularly for those who are most vulnerable or impacted, something I think the recent bipartisan support for the coronavirus aid package has demonstrated (although how effective efforts by the government will be is still unclear.)” — Amara Miller, assistant professor of sociology
“When I’m asked to think about resilience, my mind goes first to religion. Not because I’m a religious person (I’m not), but because there is wisdom there worth considering. Two figures in particular, from opposite ends of the Earth, come to mind.
Laozi, the great teacher of ancient China, teaches how best to adapt to any situation. The mighty oak, he notes, standing rigid against the storm, breaks. The lowly grass, though, bends with the wind but does not break. It goes with the flow, takes what comes, and persists. There is a strength that comes with the capacity to change unlike any other.
The Hebrew character, Job, stands as another testament to the human capacity to bounce back from tragedy. Job sees himself tested by the loss of family, home, and health. When he finally demands to know the answer to the age-old question of why bad things happen to good people, he is reminded, in no uncertain terms, that his own suffering is not special, it is not personal, and it is not worse than that of anyone else. He learns to recognize that suffering is simply a part of life, and that it is as important to be true to one’s self through suffering as it is in happiness.
We don’t know what trials the future holds, though we can be certain there will be more. We do know that humans are remarkably adaptable beings, though. Ancient wisdom from religions across the world remind us that by being flexible, we cannot break, and by maintaining a perspective beyond our individual selves, we stay strong." — Christopher Moreman, professor of philosophy and religious studies