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A return to normal?

For the last three months, we have been focused almost entirely on our return to “normal.” How can we bring students and faculty back and help them learn safely? As planning teams have gotten together, we’ve devised elaborate cleaning procedures, guidance for wearing face masks and protective gear, and developed guidelines for social distancing on our campuses. We are working hard to keep everyone safe and healthy so they can go about their lives on our campuses, and return to normal. And then it hit me.

What if “normal” isn’t what we should be striving for?

For many around us, “normal” may mean not going out alone after dark because you may look threatening to someone who doesn’t know you.

“Normal” may mean that you speak your native tongue when you are around family and friends, and people tell you to “go back where you came from,” making you feel as though you don’t belong in your home or chosen community.

“Normal” may mean that you aren’t able to love who you want to love, and that you have to keep your feelings a secret from friends and family for fear they won’t accept you.

“Normal” may mean that you have raised wonderful children that are kind, respectful, witty and smart, but you know that one day, people in society could go from thinking they are cuddly and cute to menacing and threatening. You know that you have to have conversations about how to rise above these sideward glances at the grocery store, but you want to protect their innocence as long as possible.

Your “normal” may mean that you have a fear that one day your child may become a “hashtag” or a cause on social media because an injustice has happened to them. Your normal is praying that never happens, but preparing yourself in case it does.

Your “normal” may mean that you put on your uniform every day and vow to serve and protect, even though you know that people react to you based on what they have seen on the news, rather than on your actions and the actions of your squad. You know that your uniform makes you a symbol, rather than a human with shared experiences. You vow to change perceptions with every action you take knowing it may not make a difference.

Let’s do better than normal.

We shouldn’t view any of these things as “normal” or acceptable. Right now, we have an opportunity to change the conversation in meaningful ways. We can educate ourselves on what it’s like to walk in another’s shoes. We can accept that our sense of normal may not be the same sense of normal for people down the street.

At Iowa Valley, we live by a set of core values. One of our primary values states that we value diversity and inclusiveness and that we will ensure people who enter our doors will be treated with dignity and respect regardless of actual or potential parental, family or marital status; age; color; creed; gender identity; national origin; physical or mental disability; race; religion; sex; or sexual orientation. These aren’t just words on paper for us — we continually review and improve the way we treat one another in our campus communities. We are here because of our students have put their trust in us, and we want to do our best to live up to that trust by creating an environment inclusive to all.

That said, none of us are perfect. But we shouldn’t let our previous imperfections prevent us from making strides in the future. We have the opportunity to call out injustices when we see them, whether online or in person. We can make the choice to defend those who can’t defend themselves, and use our voice to speak for those who have run out of words. We can work to understand that our experiences aren’t always shared experiences, and we can listen with open hearts and minds as others raise their collective voices and tell us how we can be better, both as individuals and as a society.

We can create a safer, more equitable, more fair version of normal for one another. We have to.

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Kristie Fisher is the Chancellor for IVCCD.

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