Campus & Community

Bringing (virtual) normalcy to the community

5 min read

Efforts across the University aim to reassure, entertain, connect

At Harvard’s Botanic Gardens Children’s Center, preschool teachers Elena Mancheva and Luka Lemander used to start the day by singing the “Hello” song. It was a morning ritual beloved by the 3-year-olds in their care, who sat in a circle, clapping, singing along, and greeting each other by name. After the center closed last week as part of the University’s coronavirus social-distancing efforts, Mancheva and Lemander joined forces — virtually — to produce a YouTube video of themselves singing the tune, with Mancheva playing piano and Lemander struming an electric guitar in her basement. Sweetly, they call out each of their 16 pupils’ names as they sing, “Hello everybody, so glad to see you.” The video is an attempt by Mancheva and Lemander to bring some normalcy and reassurance to their young charges, said Katy Donovan, executive director of Campus Child Care, which serves 380 children a day in six child-care centers on campus.

And it represents just one of the ways members of the Harvard community are reaching out to offer each other information, entertainment, and support during this period of displacement.

Spiritual guidance

Woman meditating.

Mindful meditation is one of the spiritual practices people can use to remain grounded during times of turmoil.

Rose Lincoln/Harvard file photo

Harvard Divinity School (HDS) is taking online most of its spiritual practices, from sitting meditations and weekly prayer gatherings to the weekly ecumenical Christian Eucharist and campus-wide spiritual gatherings. It has compiled a list of spiritual resources offering guidelines on how to manage anxiety, hands-free sacred greetings, and links to online meetings for support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Several of the religious and spiritual student organizations have also moved their weekly meetings to Zoom. “All of us are in this together, making it up as we go, but also catching up as we go,” said Kerry Maloney, chaplain and director of Religious and Spiritual Life at HDS. “Nearly a quarter way through the 21st century now, digital connections for spiritual practice are not only becoming more prevalent but, even after this health crisis passes, will be increasingly necessary for religious and spiritual organizations to survive and to meet people where they are.”

Mindful parenting

At the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology, is using Zoom to host weekly online forums on how to cope with anxiety, stress, and other mental health issues related to the outbreak. The first of the series, “Mindful Parenting in Uncertain Times,” launched on March 18. The forums will take place Wednesdays at 11 a.m. and are open to the public.

Delivering the arts

The Office for the Arts at Harvard (OFA), which canceled all its in-person programming, is working to launch several initiatives to bring the arts to the community. Among them is “Pause for Art: Creative Moments from Harvard Artists,” which will feature short videos produced by faculty, students, staff, and past visiting artists to bring a daily dose of artistic inspiration. Alicia Anstead, OFA’s associate director for programming, said the videos will aim to reach students, community members, and anyone “looking for a moment of beauty, comfort and connection.”

Figure drawing online

Another project in the works is live distance-learning classes with art instructors such as Heddi Siebel, whose popular “Figure Drawing” class will move to YouTube starting next week. Yet another, #ArtSpring, will help theater students upload short excerpts from shows they were preparing for the spring. The results will be available on Twitter at the @harvardarts account.

Savoring works at home

Two paintings.

Harvard Art Museums displays two works, highlighting American artist Kerry James Marshall’s “Untitled,” 2008 and Flemish painter Nicolas Regnier’s “Self-Portrait with an Easel,” c. 1620-25.

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard file photo

Though the Harvard Art Museums are currently closed to visitors, they still offer a chance to get up close and personal with some selected pieces via the Museums’ website. The website also offers a range of exhibitions to explore, with detailed images. Make sure to use the zoom function to take in all the details.

That’s entertainment

Outings and Innings has been active on Twitter, promoting ways to stay entertained during isolation. Scroll down the feed, and you’ll find a recipe for DIY hand sanitizer, “Frozen” actor Josh Gad reading children’s stories on live stream, and the Silkroad Home Sessions concert series featuring Yo-Yo Ma ’76.

Connecting grad students — and others

The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) Student Center fellows quickly pivoted to virtual programming to allow students to continue to connect and engage with each other. The new virtual events range from a photography class to a knitting and crochet circle, with more programming to come, like podcasts and virtual exercise classes. Events are posted on the GSAS Engage site, which centralizes all student activities for GSAS. Anyone with a HarvardKey can log in.