What does GV’s “new normal” look like?


Courtesy / MiBiz

The pandemic elicits a lot of conversation about “the new normal”, and what everything will look like in the aftermath of COVID-19. Now, in the back half of the second year of the pandemic, COVID-19 is still very much a public health crisis. But for students at Grand Valley State University, there is a new normal, one that’s been in the making since before the pandemic began. GVSU has been in a state of flux, for a few years now. 

Upperclassmen who started classes in the fall of 2018 have seen many changes in life at GVSU in the past few years, ones that freshmen in 2021 might take as given. These changes encompass how students on campus can vote, individual and cultural consciousness of systemic issues, and the influence that students and faculty have on the university. 

In the same vein, students and faculty have secured more platforms, to have a greater influence on the university’s policy decisions. Last year, faculty formed GVSU’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors. Since then, they’ve organized multiple responses to strengthen COVID-19 guidelines for the sake of the GVSU community’s health and safety. 

The passing of Michigan Ballot Proposal 18-3 is an event that even some upperclassmen might have missed out on. In 2018, Michigan residents voted to approve the proposal, and the changes were just recently instituted in the 2020 election. Voters can now request an absentee ballot without having to provide a reason, making it easier for GVSU students who don’t live near campus to make their voices heard in national and statewide elections. This had a big impact on the 2020 election, and if the wave of voter restriction laws doesn’t undo the proposal, it will have a lasting impact on the campus population. 

But these positive steps have been taken by students and faculty, and the university administration itself has had some trouble moving towards a more inclusive, engaged culture. For example; professors took the initiative to request a vaccine mandate, but GVSU decided to not follow the recommendation that faculty issued by a majority in the University Academic Senate, and set the deadline for the mandate over a month after the Pfizer vaccine was approved by the FDA. 

Raising a counterpoint to GVSU’s recent progress, or recent attempts at progress, are the 4th and 5th Climate Surveys from 2015 and 2019, both of which indicated that a significant amount of respondents experienced a negative climate. In response to 2015’s survey, and anticipating the results of the 2019 survey, President Mantella promised to take action. 

However, due to concerns regarding questions about sexual orientation in the 2019 survey, data from the survey is not publicly available. Sometime in fall 2021 and winter 2022, the university is carrying out a revised, sixth iteration of the survey, alongside focus groups with the LGBTQ+ community. The task force also recommended instituting other focus groups around different areas of discomfort. This is a somewhat notable response, given that Climate Surveys at GVSU typically happen every 5-6 years. 

Incoming freshmen are entering a different campus than the one that juniors and seniors entered a few years ago. But GVSU doesn’t have a “new normal”, nor can we expect one right around the corner. GVSU has been and will be, constantly changing. There are still glaring problems that new students, alongside faculty and the administration, will be responsible for solving.