To our readers:
Earlier today, I returned to campus to clean out my room and office at The Gettysburgian. Truthfully, it was nothing short of gut-wrenching to pack four years worth of accumulated memories in about 90 minutes and leave campus without there even being anyone here to whom I could say a final goodbye. A semester that was cruising along as the highlight of my college career has suddenly hit a brick wall, and there is nothing anyone can do about it. It sucks. I confess that, for the first time as a college student, I cried. But here we are.
The past couple of weeks almost certainly mark the beginning of one of the most momentous events through which any of us will live. We stand at an inflection point in international relations, and it will be up to all of us to shape what that means for our world’s future. Of course, the coronavirus and its fallout have had massive effects on our day-to-day existence as well, providing fodder for some of the most comprehensive coverage The Gettysburgian has produced on any topic in its 123-year history. I have never felt such a strong sense of purpose about the work we do, and I am pleased to report that — with the unanimous support of our editors — we will continue to do it even as the semester proceeds remotely.
We intend to tell stories about how the campus community adapts to online instruction, how the coronavirus affects students’ and employees’ daily lives, and the financial ramifications of all this for the college and its employees. But, starting today, we also plan to continue with our “regularly scheduled programming,” if you will: spotlights, investigations, and stories about everything from arts and entertainment to sports. Sadly, we will not be able to do so in the magazine format that has been pivotal in our efforts to reimagine how we approach journalism. Fortunately, however, we have a robust website and array of social media platforms that will continue to enable rich storytelling.
It is an all-hands-on-deck moment, and I am pleased to report that our deck has many hands, in no small part thanks to some of our staff members’ premature return from abroad. It is an exciting time at a crossroads in our college’s — and quite likely our nation’s — history, and it is one The Gettysburgian plans to greet with vigor and creativity.
I promise not to write an opus here, but if you’ll indulge me for one more moment … I have spent the past three semesters engaged in research around various aspects of one overarching question: what makes a strong community? Based on an extensive survey of the academic literature, dozens of interviews with civic leaders, and some early quantitative data analysis, the answer appears to be rooted in this idea of “social capital.” Think of social capital as a grease that lubricates the bonds of society that otherwise might leave communities “stuck” and instead empowers them to take action and make progress. The “good kind” of social capital comes when communities are able to build bridges, to bring people together that might not otherwise come into contact, and to facilitate a feeling of belonging and mutual trust.
Gettysburg College is a place, to be sure, but, most importantly, it is a community.
Our goal in the coming weeks, I think, ought to be to tap into Gettysburg College’s stock of social capital, to remind one another what binds us as a campus community at a time when the biggest threat is not enmity, but apathy: a slow, sad drift into loneliness and isolation that is so much more easily avoided when we are all together on campus. The Gettysburgian’s mission statement includes an aspiration to develop content that “informs, inspires, challenges, and empowers” our audience. In that vein, I am pleased to announce a project that does just that.
Over the next several weeks, we invite you to join us in a series of shared experiences as we reflect on what binds us together as Gettysburgians. We will be recording interviews with prominent campus figures and releasing them with the audio so we can remember what people sound like. We will be encouraging you to share your favorite stories and photos from the Gettysburg campus. We will invite artists and scholars to share what they are working on and give you the chance to ask questions directly. The defining feature is that we will do this all together. Gettysburg College is a place, to be sure, but, most importantly, it is a community.
In time, this initiative may have a snazzy name. For now, all I can tell you is that it will start this Monday with a conversation featuring Andy Hughes, Executive Director of the Garthwait Leadership Center, and myself discussing ways that student leaders and organizations can stay connected in the coming weeks. There will be much more to follow.
On a personal note, I wanted to mention that, over the past few days, I have heard some people say that we are no longer going to be getting the liberal arts education we paid for. I must say that I respectfully disagree. In fact, the events of the past few weeks are exactly what a liberal arts education is preparing us for: entering a rapidly-evolving situation with imperfect information, armed with the ability to think critically and adjust on the fly, to anchor our decisions to our core values, and to view times of disruption as opportunities for innovation. Our professors — young and old, computerphobes and tech wizards, scientists and humanists — are confronting a new reality with poise and creativity and appear motivated to engineer an experience that will meet the promise of a world-class liberal arts education. President Iuliano is demonstrating what effective institutional leadership looks like, cognizant that there are no good answers yet determined to find the best one, and providing a steady hand in a turbulent time. Truth be told, this is exactly what I paid for.
The people who know me well know that I tend not to be overly positive, and, in fact, often tend towards cynicism. Nevertheless, three weeks ago, I remember coming to the realization that I was enjoying myself on campus more than I ever have before and that, with future plans falling into place, the rest of the semester might well be a joyous last hurrah. That reality has been turned on its head. The true test, though, is in whether I — whether we — allow external circumstances have the last word. This semester sucks only if we allow it to. The liberal arts have long required our active participation; it is up to us to decide whether we will, separated though we may be, meet that call. We can wallow in defeatism, or we can remember what made us choose Gettysburg in the first place and work to recapture that from afar. I hope you will join us in the latter course this spring.
Benjamin Pontz ’20