Creating Personal Moments Online

Thomas Walker Headshot

An Interview with Thomas Walker, Director of Inclusion & Equity in Student Affairs & Inclusive Excellence

What ways are you and your department/team trying to build community, connections, and a deeper sense of belonging virtually? 

We’ve tried exploring all the tech bells and whistles to keep screen time interesting, communicating information by email or shared documents so that screen time can be more interactive, and increasingly being more intentional with when, what, and how long we actually meet live (online). Unable to gather and break bread together, we’ve named explicitly that folks can eat “during” our events, including pets/kids, and sought a balance between engaging but not prying into people’s zoom background spaces --hoping all that provides some semblance of that community sharing time.

How have you stayed resilient and still built a community in your work even though it wasn’t online?

For resilience, I’ve regularly reminded myself of the important impact of the work –why it matters, and so I need to push on… I’ve also tried to include and protect off-screen work and break time for myself, and will especially be seeking fresh air/outdoor time as weather permits.

For my own connection/continuation, and for the community, I’m relishing in-person meetings, scheduling that 3D experience with students and colleagues, seeking covered/distance but in-person meetings when appropriate. When talking with others, whatever the platform, I also try to start with an intentional with human-to-human check-in, beyond the rote “How are you?” (I’ve learned some great, new icebreakers and energizers from wise folks on and beyond DU!). And, I appreciate how many people are more intentional now about wondering whether a meeting is really needed, and being clear on the purpose—so we really save time and energy for the connections and strong impact, not just another video call. I hope we can continue that connection, focus, and explicit intentionality beyond this long crisis.

What are some of the biggest successes you’ve seen as the world has shifted to a virtual experience? 

Rather than large-scale events or outcomes, I’ve learned to focus on small moments of connection, insight and celebration. “Me too!” sharings during zoom icebreakers or conversations. Awkward non-hugs or handshakes when we’ve finally been able to be in the same physical space but still need to remain separated. Honest “I’m struggling” confidences with students and colleagues, rather than the expected “fine” and “hanging in there.” And the times we’ve all stuck with it for one more call or agenda item at the end of a long, look-alike day, week, or month. I’ve relished the small connection and brave persistence, vs major project progress.

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve seen as the world has shifted to a virtual experience? 

Beyond general stresses added to by the pandemic, reducing relationships and interactions to 2D zoom interactions has been the hardest. When trying to building community and equity, it’s very challenging to do so with people already tired of flat, physically distant calls, lacking casual, unplanned, and quick conversations of hallways and meals, and the interference of tech issues. Being e-connected isn’t the same as being connected

If you could say one thing to the DU Community right now, what would you say?

Continue taking active steps to keep self and others well, beyond safe: offering the grace and patience we and they need. As we push through the pandemic, make note of what’s been missing and most important through the past year, so that we can apply that learning NOT to return to the way it was before, but can take the opportunity to really improve ourselves, our relationships and our community overall. 

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