New Year: Renewal of Hope
Dear Wisconsin Union community,
What a year it has been. Thank you for sticking with us through it all. We couldn’t have asked for a more resilient, patient and understanding group of people to depend on during these times.
To celebrate the end of 2020 and to give the scoop on what to expect from the Union in 2021, we sat down with Wisconsin Union Deputy Director Susan Dibbell.
Below, you can read our insightful conversation with Susan, who remains grateful for and humbled by all of you this year.
What does the Union look like right now in December 2020?
Susan Dibbell: We are still open and supporting the academic mission of the campus. There are some virtual classes being held in the building, so students can attend their virtual classes on campus, if needed, and we’re a study space and dining source for campus community members.That is our focus: to continue supporting students, faculty and staff as they finish out the semester.
We are always looking for new ways to serve the community. We started our food delivery program recently and that’s really taking off, and we’re expanding the radius of where we will deliver food, which is currently within one-mile of Union South and Memorial Union.
How has this fall 2020 semester been for the Union?
Susan Dibbell: Like everyone, everywhere, we’ve been adapting and adjusting as we go. What we knew about COVID-19 in March is very different from what we knew about the virus in July, and it’s very different from what we know today. We try to think and plan ahead, and we pride ourselves on that, yet this is a pandemic that makes it really hard to do that. We are responding and reacting as quickly as we can.
There’s been a team of staff meeting weekly since March trying to figure out how we can best serve our community safely. Our number one priority is to keep our employees and our patrons safe. There’s no playbook for this, but our staff have done an amazing job thinking outside the box, and the opening of the Terrace this past summer is a great example. It was a very safe space for everyone using our facilities.
So much of what we do we do as a team. The Terrace has historically been a space that is open at which Wisconsin Union members and guests could come and go as they wished and stay as long as they wanted. We knew it was important to open the Terrace this summer but that we would need to do so differently. It is an iconic, comfortable space, and it just means summer in Madison. We had to think outside the box to open the Terrace. The fact that there was only one way to enter, reservations, the way food was brought to tables and the COVID-19 cleaning protocols — that was all new for us. But we embraced the changes and the challenges, because providing this service and space safely to our members and guests was important to our team.
What is the Union spirit like right now?
Susan Dibbell: It hasn’t dampened. The Union staff are resilient, always looking for new opportunities and trying to figure out how we can do things differently. We know what our mission is, and we are here to serve our Union members, students, staff and faculty. But because we don’t get state dollars, we also know that we have to generate revenue. So we are constantly trying to balance those two things.
What has surprised you about this year?
Susan Dibbell: I’m really pleased at how people are responding to all the changes. There’s so much change coming at us, but people get it and are being responsible. It makes me really happy that people care enough about one another to be safe and to understand why we have to make these changes.
What can we expect from the Union this winter?
Susan Dibbell: We’re working with public health officials and campus partners to determine what’s safely possible. There have been more restrictions put in place, but we were hoping to have some members events.
We have a group of staff looking to make use of the outdoors, especially when the lake freezes. There might be an opportunity to arrange a physically distanced hike along Lakeshore Path or to get out on the ice. Members and guests can visit our calendar for updates on events.
What are you looking forward to in 2021?
Susan Dibbell: I think we are all looking forward to an end to the 2020 chapter. I’m hopeful that we can reopen to our members again soon, and I believe we will be able to do that. But I can’t imagine that life is going back to normal — there’s going to be this new normal. I’m looking forward to just some sense of whatever this new normal is going to be. No matter what, we will always prioritize health and safety above all.
What’s one thing you think the Union community should know?
Susan Dibbell: Every year, we select students to lead Wisconsin Union Directorate (WUD) committees and the Wisconsin Hoofers clubs. This year, they’ve had a really different experience from applying for positions to creating events, but they are doing an amazing job building community and are still doing amazing programs. They didn’t have a predecessor that had done this — they didn’t have any files on how to do this. And they are providing social and recreational activities for the campus during this time.
One WUD leader in particular, Liam Granlund, who is the WUD Games Committee director, has done a fabulous job building community and getting students to meet one another during this really strange time.
Thank you for your continued support as we work to make a difference and provide you with virtual experiences for a lifetime. We cannot wait to welcome all of our Wisconsin Union members and guests back soon.