Casual conversations in a crowded classroom or on a busy street. Visits to a favorite café or courtyard. They’re the daily pleasures we long took for granted around Harvard’s campus. But they’ll have to wait.
While some students returned to campus last month amid safety protocols, others, along with most faculty and staff members, have been working remotely since last March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Visit Harvard Square these days and it’s a lonely place, with plenty of parking. The University is functioning well, but there’s still much to miss amid the ongoing isolation and social distancing. Drawing from memories, we asked members of the Harvard community what they hope to see and do again, when COVID passes and we’re together again.
For many, the basics that made up our routines come up first. For Eboni Nash, a second-year master’s of theological studies student at Harvard Divinity School, that includes “packing my bag for class the night before [for] the crisp morning walks across campus” to be followed, at day’s end, by “community tea, gathering on the floor and conversing about various topics.” Now learning remotely from Denver, she writes, “I miss the color scheme of Cambridge, from the trees to the buildings: rustic, Gothic, and historically sound.”
For Robert N. Stavins, A.J. Meyer Professor of Energy and Economic Development at the Kennedy School, the thing he yearns for is simple: “The classroom,” he says.
Little indulgences, once commonplace, are now recalled fondly as well. Fatimah Mateen, the American Repertory Theater’s co-company manager, finds herself pining for “the curly fries at Gutman [The Commons at Gutman Library] on a Friday.”
What we really miss are not only these treats, but the spontaneity that made them possible. As assistant director of special events and partnerships at the A.R.T., Sarah Schofield-Mansur names not her own theater — dark for months — but her office’s proximity to the rest of the campus. High on her list of what she feels the lack of, she says, is “the ability to pop into Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East or one of the University’s incredible museums on a whim for a quick visit.”
Most of all, we miss the people. The immersion in a community, almost as much as particular friends or colleagues, comes up when we talk about what we long for. HDS’s Nash recalls “the smell of food and the sound of laughter” in the Smith Campus Center, as well as “late-night libraries, eerie as some may feel but in some way inherently welcoming.”
“The buzz of the Calderwood Courtyard at the Harvard Art Museums,” tops the list for Katherine “Kappy” Mintie, John R. and Barbara Robinson Family Curatorial Fellow in Photography at the Harvard Art Museums. The courtyard, “a central gathering place on campus,” always made Mintie feel “energized by the conversations happening around me in that space,” she says. “From museum visitors gazing up at and admiring Carlos Amorales’s ‘Triangle Constellation’ sculpture to professors chatting with students over coffee in the cafe.”
Minoo Ghoreishi, A.L.B. ’19, an administrator at the Kennedy School’s Mossavar-Rahmani Center, reminisces about “the energy I got from being among people on campus.” She longs to “walk the hallways and see everyone to reinvigorate the sense of community I felt from being on campus.”
Or, as Nash puts it, “I miss surviving with each of you.” A first-generation college student who identifies as a multiracial woman, Nash says what she craves most of all is “the feeling of belonging alongside others like me and unlike me. The scholarly freedom and support.”
Our longing for that support, that community, has only gained in importance as our country comes under attack. “In addition to the simple joy of being with friends and colleagues whose physical presence I have sorely missed, after this past week’s national display of barbarism, I am especially looking forward to the relief and privilege of being surrounded daily by the humane, erudite, and wise scholars, students, activists, administrators, and workers who populate the Harvard campus,” says Kerry A. Maloney, Harvard Divinity School chaplain and director of religious and spiritual life.
“The first thing I’ll do when we’re back?” physics librarian Marina Werbeloff asks. “Probably go on a hugging spree with all the people I miss so much.”