Counseling Center

March 3, 2021

Anniversary Reminder: You are an Essential Element in Our UW Tapestry

Posted by Scott Shiebler, Ph.D., Licensed Psychologist, UWCC

Yes, it’s true, you are vital to the UW community.  Your value is not in what you achieve, not in what you produce, and not in which specific results you bring about.  Even during moments of intense self-doubt, the truth remains that your membership and participation in our UW collective truly matters.

As we approach the one-year anniversary of UW being the first university in the country to shift to remote learning due to COVID-19, we can acknowledge that this year has tested us like no other.  Our lives have been changed due to the tangible losses of life, health and sense of safety brought on by the pandemic.  We have also directly experienced and/ or witnessed the harm to those at society’s margins brought about by systemic racism.  Current practices of social distancing and staying indoors during inclement weather have added to our feelings of isolation and inertia.  Having worked at UW for almost two decades, I know that the tail-end of winter quarter can typically be the hardest for students, staff, and faculty as pushing through in the darkness and cold can feel like a real struggle.  During this unparalleled winter on top of an unparalleled year, many of us are feeling like we are running on empty.  It is in this moment that I want you to know that you are not alone.  You, with all your unique qualities, do truly matter and are deserving of being seen for more than just the sum of your accomplishments.

As a gay man, I come from a community which has engaged in healing practices that may be instructive at this moment.  In the 1980s the gay community was being ravaged by the AIDS crisis as scores of healthy people were stricken with that deadly virus.  In 1987, gay rights activists created the NAMES Memorial Quilt to honor those lost by donating sewing machines, materials, and thousands of volunteer hours to document lives they feared history would forget.  I will never forget how overwhelmed I felt when I first saw the enormous AIDS quilt (now consisting of 48,000 individual panels representing 94,000 people and weighing an estimated 54 tons).  This memorial, the largest piece of folk art in the world, brought tangible support and healing to all those affected by the AIDS pandemic.

I find it helpful to draw on historical references such as the NAMES Memorial Quilt to remind myself how a radical act of grace can transform a struggling community toward healing.  The ongoing pandemic offers those of us with evaluative and supervisory responsibilities an opportunity to release some of the obligations that are placed upon those with less power in our academic system. It also seems appropriate for those of us being assessed or graded to speak up about our current challenges and ask for flexibility and understanding in what is expected of us right now.  We can show how we value one another by acknowledging that we see each other as essential to the make-up of the UW tapestry.

The one-year anniversary of this pandemic invites us to hold up the unique worth we each have and to look beyond our mere output as student, staff member, or faculty.  Drawing on my memory of the NAMES Memorial Quilt, I now take strength imagining a symbol of our collective struggles and resilience this year in the form of a radiant, multi-textured UW community quilt.  Who knows, once the pandemic subsides, perhaps we will create our own physical representation of all we’ve been through together this year, such as releasing balloons or burying a time capsule.  No matter what form our healing will take, I view our collective wellbeing as a critical component of our UW community.  I hope you too can see the power in our connectedness and please remember that you, perhaps weary but ever resilient, truly are an essential element in our UW tapestry.