It’s on the cover and in every aspect of our lives: We find ourselves in a very different world in 2020. A world challenged by a pandemic, as well as by stark examples of – and increasing national discourse on – the ways systemic racism ravages our communities. We find ourselves in a state of “liminality.”
First coined by Arnold van Gennep (1873-1957) and further developed by Victor Turner (1920-1983), liminality roughly translates from Latin to “threshold.” It is the in-between spaces – in relationships, social roles, and organizations, in times of transition and change, between an ending and a new beginning, between knowing and unknowing.
We are certainly in a liminal season. As with many other universities, UNC Greensboro ramped down in the spring, temporarily moving classes online and discontinuing most forms of research and scholarship due to the pandemic. But slowly, with great care and exceptional risk mitigation, faculty, staff, and students began to pick up the threads of their scholarship once more.
Creating an avatar was one way to keep research participants safe so that a critical clinical trial on Alzheimer’s could continue. Others turned their focus toward the pandemic specifically, working on a device that uses magnetic nanoparticles to try to better detect COVID-19 or studying how micronutrients like zinc or selenium can impact the severity of COVID-19 symptoms.
Some stepped into the interstitial spaces widened by the pandemic, pivoting from community-engaged research to leveraging trusted relationships to deliver much needed direct relief, including cleaning supplies, rent supplements to keep families in their homes, or tutoring.
For many, it is the pandemic created by institutional racism that has been the calling. The Centering Black Voices Lab is exploring the trauma of violence on Black men and boys – and disrupting erroneous and limited narratives about them by elevating their voices. In our cover story, we discuss disparities in access to and the impact of mental health services for communities of color. Through a series of grants, UNCG faculty and students are working to develop more effective, culturally responsive mental health interventions, while at the same time expanding and training the future workforce to better meet these challenges as we move forward.
Uncertainty is difficult. We like to know where we are heading. But as Ed Catmull, of Creativity, Inc. says, there is “a sweet spot between the known and unknown where originality happens.” UNCG scholars are creatively stepping into this time of uncertainty, to advance our knowledge and our impact, for the benefit of our communities urgently in need of health and repair.