Life is a series of wonders.
The clock in my PT Cruiser indicates the time: 3 a.m.! I huddle with friends to stay warm and gaze up at a lunar eclipse, talkative tundra swans in the darkness behind us. Our eyes momentarily capture starlight that traveled great distances to reach us. At the edges of our sight, the ominous silhouette of bluffs and barren trees makes the whole scene beyond anything I could have imagined. This is a moment of wonder.
From the once-in-a-lifetime experiences to empowering acts of kindness, La Crosse, Wisconsin, and Viterbo University have been homes of wonder for me and many others. To illustrate, at retreats and within campus organizations I observe the renewal of kindness from one “generation” of students to the next. Students, balancing busy lives with school, work, service and personal life still find opportunities to support one another. In these moments, I find wonder.
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Likewise, many instances of awe are experienced in the classroom. On several occasions I have witnessed peers courageously speak about topics deeply integrated with who they are, uncertain of the response they will receive. They were advocating for respect of lived experiences rather than outdated principles. Our students push for change so future students will not face the same barriers. With great admiration, I am moved by how strong their voices are and the power of their messages. I am constantly in awe of young people in La Crosse who speak out, stand, march and assemble for what is important to them.
Pandemics, international conflicts, hate toward each other — they all crumble the solid ground we find comfort on. Our community continues to feel the reverberations of the events from spring 2021. Viterbo University leaders took action toward a more welcoming environment and culture for students to be who they are and thrive.
To strengthen trust between students and Viterbo leaders, my hope is that the restorative practices implemented continue as a method to prevent future incidences of harm. Practices like inclusive decision-making, equity of voice, value for all members, and authentic listening and sharing provide all Viterbo members a chance to be heard.
The restorative model, which is rooted in indigenous teaching, emphasizes interconnectedness. We learned with the pandemic that what affects one, touches us all. As a community, Viterbo students, faculty, and staff have done our part in mitigating COVID-19 cases on campus and our impact on the greater La Crosse community. The recent announcement by the Viterbo COVID-19 task force that masks will now be recommended on campus — not required — is a long-awaited sign of hope and progress.
While I also desire a sense of normalcy, it would be a missed opportunity if we do not reflect on how the pandemic shaped us as individuals and as an institution. A word of caution for those who want to quickly dismiss the impact of COVID-19 on people’s mental health, physical safety, and sense of belonging. As a student leader, I find myself in many conversations about how to support students who may feel isolated, physically or socially.
While these efforts will not resolve all the tensions on campus, it is a privilege to offer opportunities for self-discernment and community engagement. I believe sparking curiosity and creativity are two ways to bring meaning to students’ lives. In other words, how might we foster more wonder and awe?
In more ways than one, the Viterbo University student body, faculty, and staff members have had our sense of security challenged. The way we transition from reaction to recovery in the next phase of the pandemic and continual work toward social equity will determine our resiliency toward future adversities. There is no better time to turn to wonder than now.
Laura Weidemann is a senior at Viterbo University studying nutrition and dietetics.
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