Hauenstein Center discusses America’s “New Normal”


Bela Golden

Speakers Tina Freese Decker, Winnie Brinks, Jeff Polet and Paul Isely answer audience questions alongside moderator Gleaves Whitney. (GVL/Ysabela Golden)

Autumn Pitchure, Staff Reporter

The Hauenstein Center at Grand Valley State University works to advance knowledge and build community through their Peter C. Cook Leadership academy and Common Ground Initiative. When the stay at home order was put into effect in March of 2020, Program Manager Jakob Bigard realized quickly that the pandemic was going to be history to reflect on someday. Now, at the end of one of the most eventful years in living memory, he organized the event “America’s New Normal” — a unique look at the strange circumstances surrounding our world.

“I didn’t want to include just the medical professionals or economists, I wanted a wider variety of perspectives,” Bigard said. “I wanted to approach the conversation from multiple angles.”

The panel discussion took place Thursday, Nov. 19, through a Zoom webinar. Although the event was virtual, there were many people to tell their story and provide unique insight. Joining on Zoom were medical professionals, economists, elected officials and a philosopher. They shared struggles and steps moving forward through COVID-19. The discussion provided a space for experts in West Michigan to share how COVID-19 has personally impacted their industry and lives.

“One word you hear people use in reference to the events of 2020 is ‘unprecedented,’” said Jeffery Polet, a professor of political science at Hope College. “Maybe that’s true. It is, in any case, an unusual year featuring a deeply contentious election, government-imposed shutdowns, a wobbly economy and racial unrest.”

The panelists at the event included: Polet, Tina Freese Decker, Winnie Brinks, and Paul Isely. Each of them have a vast wealth of knowledge and experience in their field. They were able to use it to their advantage when speaking.

Bigard’s job includes creation of public programming with the aim of bringing diverse voices together on stage. He saw America’s “new normal” as the perfect opportunity.

“’America’s New Normal’ helps us gain clarity and perspective with regard to the events of this year,” Polet said. “I hope attendees come to better understand the interrelationships and complexities in addressing a global pandemic.”

Students registered online and others went to The Hauenstein Center Facebook page tuning in through live stream.

“The Center puts on programming that seeks to understand the issues of our day, and engage the Grand Rapids community,” said Bigard.

America’s “New Normal” dove deep to uncover valuable personal lessons and experiences. It provided a sense of community and connection that everyone is so desperately craving in this day and age.

All Hauenstein Center events are free and open to the public. They strive to engage students, faculty, staff, and members of the center and greater community.

“I hope that attendees walked away having learned something valuable, an insight to share with friends and family, or even better a discussion with them,” said Bigard.

Colonel Ralph W. Hauenstein’s life was an extraordinary example of leadership and service. The Hauenstein Center is trying to follow in his footsteps.

“The center is dedicated to raising a community of ethical, effective, service oriented leaders for the twenty-first century,” said Bigard.

In addition to their discussions and educational programming, Hauenstein encourages mentorship through their Cook Leadership Academy. Applications for new members will open again on Monday, Dec. 14.