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Resilience and Compassion in Unusual Times

Jul. 01

**Published in the Spring 2020 edition of the Vic Report**

William Robins headshotThe Victoria campus is calm these days, uncommonly so. Since mid-March, when the COVID pandemic shifted students and staff off campus and greatly reduced the number of pedestrians and cyclists passing through, the grounds have had very few people. The flowering trees, so intense in May and June, bring delight to only a handful of scattered walkers. Through the quiet you can pick out the sound from Queen’s Park Crescent of an occasional car. A family of skunks has holed up near the entrance to Pratt library; every now and then a rabbit, or even an inquisitive fox, gambols over the grass.

The stillness of the grounds can be deceiving. Behind the scenes, the faculty and staff of Victoria are remarkably active as we prepare for the start of the school year. In September we will welcome new and returning students, offering courses that combine remote and in-person models of learning. We are starting to make the campus COVID-ready, prioritizing health and safety measures that minimize risk, and reconfiguring our classrooms, residences, and offices in order to assure the success of physical distancing measures.

We are collaborating with colleagues across the University of Toronto as we bolster our technological equipment and expertise, so indispensable for delivering more of our programming and student services on-line. Students in the fall will find a wide range of activities taking place on campus, but also a reduced density of people and new options for participating in the Vic community both in person and remotely.

This June the campus did not see Victoria College graduands lunching in the quad with their families, then gathering together in their robes and processing across Queen’s Park to Simcoe Hall for their convocation. Their graduation ceremony will occur on-line instead. Graduation is a milestone when students inevitably look back over their University career and give shape to stories of how far they have come and what they have achieved. Those stories have an unanticipated denouement this year: the on-campus occasion for telling them has morphed into something else, and their stories will need to be told in new and different ways. But we will make sure the stories of Victoria’s class of 2020 do get told, now and as we move into the future.

This issue of the Vic Report also acknowledges the stories of some of our dedicated staff members. Our faculty and staff stepped up impressively when the COVID emergency struck. The individuals featured here exemplify the tireless concern for the Victoria community that is one of the defining characteristics of who we are as a University.

Several hundred years ago, the Florentine writer Giovanni Boccaccio explored the importance of storytelling during a time of pandemic. As he saw it, storytelling could serve as a therapy for revitalizing weary spirits, as well as a way to bring people together in dialogue, whether in person, through oral delivery, or remotely, through reading a written text. Just as significantly, his collection of 100 tales told during the time of plague was intended to stimulate compassion. “To have compassion for people in distress,” he says in the work’s opening line, “is a human quality which every man and woman should possess.”

I am always impressed by the compassion and resilience that characterize the Victoria University community. We are currently drawing upon these values as much as at any time in Victoria’s 184-year history. The campus may be quiet, yet it is still as beautiful as ever. Most buildings may be dark for the summer, yet they will gradually open again. Many of our programs and operations are being conducted remotely. And yet we are still Victoria. We are an amazing community of kindness, resilience and compassion. Whatever the coming year brings, we will continue to be present for one another and to listen to each other’s stories.

William Robins
President
Victoria University in the University of Toronto

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