Life on campus — with Charles Altman, Elana Bloom and Anna Barrafato
Life on campus is a series profiling inspiring faculty and staff who have been working on the Sir George Williams and Loyola campuses throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. To nominate someone you know, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
After close to 16 months working at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Charles Altman, Elana Bloom, Anna Barrafato and their colleagues at Concordia’s Access Centre for Students with Disabilities began a gradual return to their Guy-De Maisonneuve (GM) Building offices on July 5.
To ensure there aren’t too many people on site at once, the staff are divided into “bubbles,” one for each day of the week to start and eventually switching to twice weekly for the rest of 2021.
‘I love coming to work’
Altman, an advisor with the centre, is unequivocal about his return to campus. “I love the process of coming to work. I like doing the work as well.”
He acknowledges that while there are some advantages to working remotely, being alongside others provides subtle benefits.
“A colleague recently told me that when they walked down the corridor and saw a door open a crack, they knew there was a human being on the other side of that door, which was a real comfort,” Altman says.
He adds that students also appreciate having others on campus.
“When the pandemic started, many students contacted me saying the university felt abandoned. But when they found out there were a few people working there, that made quite a difference for their morale,” he says.
As an access centre advisor, he recognized that some students felt more comfortable discussing their health and other issues from home. “The virtual environment was a big win for a lot of our students,” Altman reports.
Yet there was a downside, too. “In a workshop I ran a few months ago, one student described his experience: ‘I’m 20 per cent more productive, but 30 per cent less happy.’”
While Altman acknowledges that the move back to partial in-person activities will be challenging for many at first, he’s confident they’ll adjust.
“We made the transition to online and we will make the transition to mixed,” he says. “We’ve done pretty well with these transitions.”
New to Concordia
Because Bloom began her role as manager for the Access Centre in September 2020, her experience on campus will be all new.
“I met Charles in a grocery store, but I’ve never met anybody else from the team. I’m really looking forward to meeting them in person.”
Bloom echoes Altman on the advantages of sharing office space. “There’s something intangible about being with somebody in a room that you cannot replicate on Zoom,” she says.
“It’s not only good for motivation and engagement in the workplace, it’s just good for one’s mental health and well-being to be with people.”
She believes students have missed campus life as well. “There are benefits to remote learning, but not for the whole student experience, which is really part of what university is about.”
Bloom expresses no reservations about working in the office.
“I’m excited. I think that we are a good team and have taken all the necessary measures for respecting rules put out by the government and Environmental Health and Safety,” she says.
Bloom adds that she took care of herself through the pandemic partly by exercising and, along with her family, “just trying to really laugh and make light of something that is hard to make light of.”
‘I’m very excited to reconnect’
How was the first day back at Concordia for Barrafato, disability accommodation specialist? “Fantastic! It’s a very, very busy day,” she says.
“I’m a social person. That’s why I chose to work in a university setting when I started my career, because I wanted to interact with students,” Barrafato notes.
“I’m very excited to reconnect with colleagues, to reconnect with the building, the energy that we get from the university and being in downtown Montreal.”
One bonus to learning to work remotely relates to how the university accommodates people with disabilities.
“We’re not just talking the talk in accessibility services,” she says. “We want to be flexible and provide students and faculty with options on how to meet. Now we will be able to do so, whether online or in person.”
And Barrafato points out that the option of meeting virtually makes it easier to bring together large groups of faculty and others.
She found connecting with close friends key to getting through the past year. With post-pandemic life on the horizon, Barrafato anticipates getting together with others in person soon, too.
“And I’m looking forward to a real proper vacation. Next summer, I am planning something special — maybe to go to Sicily — for my birthday.”
Visit Concordia’s COVID-19 information page to keep informed of latest developments.