On Resilience: Being an active citizen at a distance

This article by Tevin Monroe, Transylvania’s assistant director of campus and community engagement, is part of a series by the Transylvania community on the theme of our academic year: Resilience. As we face the biggest public health crisis in a generation, we’re digging deep to find what it takes to bounce back, to face adversity with both grit and kindness.

Tevin Monroe takes a photo of Transylvania students volunteering for last year’s Alternative Break back when community engagement wasn’t so physically distant.

This week, April 19-25, is known as National Volunteer Week. It comes at quite an ironic moment. We’re used to being active citizens — voting, volunteering at nonprofits, participating in the betterment of our neighborhoods — but many of those things aren’t currently possible in the ways they usually are.

Earlier this week, in a rather sentimental statement, the World Health Organization began suggesting that the focus should be on “physical distancing,” rather than that worn-out phrase, “social distancing.” The semantics of this do not shock me. We should still be socially connected, though we cannot physically be together. Right now, we need to support each other.

Though so much of our lives have been hyperconnected online, active citizenship typically happens offline. It is the organic relationships you build among your neighbors, attending local town halls and showing up for the marginalized among your community. We use the phrase “showing up” because it matters when your body is physically present. Social movements gain attention when hundreds or thousands of bodies crowd into city streets — certainly, not the same as signatures on a petition.

So, it’s not easy to be an active citizen during this National Volunteer Week, and that’s where the irony comes in. In the spirit of resiliency, we need to change the way we think about active citizenship.

Monroe, right, poses with a group from Transylvania at a Habitat for Humanity build last year.

I have chosen to take this National Volunteer Week to honor the successes in my community. I am honoring a young couple in my neighborhood, who were out picking up trash last week. I am honoring Lexington’s Mutual Aid Network, which has now moved $15,000 in resources. I am honoring my younger brother, who will celebrate his 21st birthday this week and who works in a factory making medical equipment. 

Last week, I created a resource on how to do “virtual engagement” — how to serve your community when you can’t leave your house. People all across the world are discovering how they can still be active citizens, from inside their homes or six feet apart.

Until the answers have been found, or until this pandemic is over, my resiliency lies in how I remain an active citizen — by doing what I can to keep myself and my community safe.