IMAGINE a more humane society. The COVID-19 pandemic has seriously affected health and economy worldwide; and Chile has been no exception. Higher education institutions have made huge efforts to handle the emergency in the most appropriate and effective manner, while at the time caring for their community members – students, faculty and staff.
We have witnessed how, during the progression of the pandemic, concerns and questions arise. We ask ourselves about the future and how we will relate both personally and as a community. Many questions arise about what the future will look like. On the one hand, there are those who affirm that we will be supportive, austere and concerned with the needs of the most vulnerable population. Others believe that this will only be a parenthesis and that at the end of the pandemic consumerism and individualism will reemerge.
A possible answer to these questions lies in observing how we have responded to past situations, such as wars, institutional breakdowns and natural disasters. Unfortunately, no fundamental changes occurred, at least in regards to increasing solidarity or valuing human dignity. Nonetheless, it is impressive how this pandemic has brought a different perspective; it has pushed us to assess deep aspects of our existence. The pandemic has provoked a strong feeling of uncertainty and now we must recognize that we do not know what will happen in the future.
What we indeed know today is that our personal attitude will be the foundation for building this new global community we are a part of. We have been forced to be physically separated with the consequential feeling of vulnerability that distancing entails. This time has been an invitation to reflection and personal change. Whether we accept the invitation or not, our future depends on it.
What will our post-pandemic life be like? It is not an easy question. The answer lies in how we relate to each other, how we solve our conflicts and how we handle social demands. Universities and higher education institutions have much to say in this respect, as a university community is built on personal encounter, the valuation of diversity and the free exchange of ideas. We thus expect dignity and respect to guide our actions. This pandemic has stressed the relevance of teaching, developing new knowledge, doing research and carrying outreach programs.
This global crisis has given us all an opportunity to reflect on what is essential and this reflection must be put into action in our daily chores as faculty members, researchers, students and staff. Our knowledge and capabilities must focus on valuing people above other things. Fields such as science, economy, urban design, medicine, and many others must consider the needs of people for a better quality of life. Universities can contribute greatly in the challenge this pandemic has posed.
“We are to guide our students and researchers into new routes to develop better, healthier and kinder living conditions. It is this message that we must transmit to our students and our communities.”
These collective efforts must be put at the service of common good. It is possible to imagine a more humane society.
Ignacio Sánchez is a Full Professor at the School of Medicine of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. He is part of the Council of Rectors of Chilean Universities and of the Coalition of Traditional Non State Chilean Universities. He is Chair of the Chilean Chapter of Catholic Universities of the International Federation of Catholic Universities, and Vice-President for the South Region of the Organization of Catholic Universities of Latin America and the Caribbean – ODUCAL.