Eduvation Blog

Catastrophe, Scarcity & Compassion

Good morning!

I hadn’t intended to carry the Giving Tuesday theme over to Wednesday, but of course many institutions released moving videos and launched campaigns yesterday, and you deserve to see some of them, even belatedly!

While I’m at it, let’s dig a bit further into the responses of individuals and societies in times of crisis: does a shared catastrophe like this pandemic inspire more collective compassion, or does the scarcity mentality spark more selfishness?


PS: Giving Tuesday

From Capilano to Cape Breton, CdnPSEs from coast to coast engaged with their donor communities yesterday for the 8th annual “Giving Tuesday.” Yesterday I shared examples of social campaigns that launched pre-emptively, but here are a few more from the day itself…

Athabasca U has been teasing us with the number 10 for days on social media – and finally launched the “Power of 10” initiative yesterday. The goal is to attract monthly donations of $10, so that “your gift, combined with nine others, will help a learner take that next course, or upgrade their technology to meet the demands of digital learning, or simply support their basic living costs.” The community can “transform a life through its kindness.” For the launch, AU offers 10 reasons to give, from the psychological (and income tax) benefits of giving, to the growing needs of 45% of AU students.  AU

Bishop’s U released a lovely 2-min video for Giving Tuesday, to encourage donations to support the Bishop’s Community Cupboard. “We’re seeing students having to choose between eating, and paying for rent, tuition and textbooks.” The video includes some beautiful drone footage of campus, and compelling messages about ending the stigma about food insecurity and mental health. “Some students are experiencing levels of trauma and PTSD seen in survivors of natural disasters.”  YouTube

Cape Breton U launched their “12 Days of Holiday Cheer” social campaign yesterday, “to help spread the joy of the holiday season” from Dec 1-12. Each day has its own challenge (primarily on Instagram), and members of the community are invited to collect entries to win the grand prize. The first challenge was to like and share any of CBU’s #GivingTuesday posts. Today it’s an ugly sweater contest, tomorrow favourite decorations, next week favourite recipes and facemasks.  CBU

Capilano U’s #WeBelieve campaign to empower women shared a moving 3-min testimonial from a recent grad, Emily Solomon, who comes “from a long line of strong women” and young mothers. “In order to provide my child the stability and structure I never had, I needed to pursue the education that was inaccessible to the mothers in my family before me.” CapU offered generous bursaries, on-campus daycare, and other supports that provided Emily with “a healthier outlook on life.”  CapU


Pandemic Generosity

Sociologists, psychologists, political scientists and others have been assessing the impact of the COVID19 pandemic, and the mega-recession (some might say “depression”) it sparked, on kindness and generosity in society. Many people are more cautious and even suspicious of strangers. Skyrocketing unemployment and widening inequality has many facing unprecedented financial challenge.

In the 1947 novel La Peste, which was prescient of 2020 in many ways, Albert Camus wrote: “What’s true of all the evils in the world is true of the plague as well. It helps [people] to rise above themselves.” But without a doubt, it also brings out the worst xenophobia, scarcity and selfishness in others.

“What’s true of all the evils in the world is true of the plague as well. It helps [people] to rise above themselves.”Albert Camus, La Peste



A Charity “Double-Whammy”

The WE scandal this summer encouraged Canadians to be more skeptical of charities, while the pandemic has left them less able to donate, according to a September poll from Angus Reid. At all levels of charitable activity, 57% of Canadians say the WE scandal “raised questions about governance, transparency, and management” of all charities, and 38% say it has changed how they feel about giving – particularly among casual and non-donors.  National Post

Less Empathy in a Pandemic

Back in August, preliminary results from psychology research out of Brock U suggested that stories of COVID19 hardships actually discouraged others from lending a hand. “When there is an explicit mention of the pandemic… people were not as willing to help.” Research participants seemed more able (or willing) to put themselves in the shoes of people struggling with everyday hardships than pandemic ones. Perhaps they had difficulty imagining such novel circumstances, and they certainly perceived helping out as more dangerous. Donating, volunteering, or even complying with social distancing rules are all prosocial behaviours encouraged by empathy.  Brock

Catastrophic Compassion

So, “is the pandemic making people more generous – or more selfish?” The Gates Foundation observes that, despite the economic challenges of the year, the overall trend in charitable giving so far this year has been up, particularly driven by small gifts and new donors. 56% of US households gave to charity or volunteered in response to COVID19, and new donors rose +12.6% in the first half of the year. Hunger relief and health care generally have seen increases of +30% or more in giving, and in particular Doctors without Borders was up +131%, and “Feeding America” almost +2,000%!  Other charities are definitely feeling the pain, and ~1 million American nonprofit workers have lost their jobs this year. Crowdfunding pages like GiveDirectly are seeing a huge upswing in donor interest in giving directly to individuals in need, worldwide.

So, does a crisis “unleash an amoral free-for-all” of scarcity mentality and selfishness, or inspire more altruism and prosocial behaviour than normal? News media tends to emphasize examples of the former, but according to Stanford psychologist Jamil Zaki, “catastrophe compassion is widespread and consistent; it follows earthquakes, war, terrorist attacks, hurricanes, and tsunamis, and — now — a pandemic.” Arizona State U psychologist Athena Aktipis points out that crisis raises people’s perceived interdependence with their neighbours, and all of humanity. “When people are most in need, that’s when most of the giving happens.”  Vox

“Catastrophe compassion is widespread and consistent; it follows earthquakes, war, terrorist attacks, hurricanes, and tsunamis, and — now — a pandemic.”Jamil Zaki, Psychologist, Stanford U

COVID on Campus

Since yesterday, CdnPSE has reported 29 more cases of COVID19:

Durham College reported 3 unrelated new cases of COVID19 yesterday, at the Oshawa campus. (31 cases so far this fall.)  DC

Loyalist College reported 3 new cases of COVID19 on Sunday, bringing the total to 6 this fall.  Loyalist

Mohawk College reported 4 student cases on Nov 29, and 2 more Dec 1, bringing the total to 8 cases this fall (by my best count).  Mohawk

uMoncton reports a 3rd case of COVID19.  CBC

NSCC reports 2 cases of COVID19 at the Lunenburg and Akerley campuses.

Western U’s University Hospital reported 14 additional cases yesterday, and a 7th death, driven by “an abundance of transmission within staff.” The hospital is investigating claims that a “staff potluck” might have been a superspreader event. In all there have been 83 cases, and the PHO reports 93 linked cases. London has seen record-setting new cases this week, and appears headed to rezoning as “Orange.” UH flags are flying at half-mast.  London Free Press

CdnPSE Updates

We see scarcity and generosity play out in many ways on higher ed campuses, from tight budgets driven primarily by enrolments, to more compassionate academic policies…

Brandon U is on track to post a surplus of $628K this year, although much remains uncertain between now and Mar 31. First-time students are down just -5.5%, overall domestic enrolment is down -4.2%, and international students are up +1.5%. Revenues are down $304K, mainly due to a $1.7M decline in ancillary revenues. Residences are operating at 40% capacity. Something as unpredictable as internet outages in Nigeria could impact 42% of BU’s international students, and have a $1.4M impact on the budget.  Brandon Sun

Concordia U reported to Senate that Fall 2020 enrolment was “roughly on par with fall 2019,” although there was a drop in professional masters enrolment.  Concordia

Mount St Vincent U announced yesterday that undergrads will have a pass/fail grading option for each of their courses during the Fall 2020 and Winter 2021 terms. MSVU



It’s midnight so I’m going to stop writing – thanks for reading!  I’ll see you tomorrow, meanwhile be safe and stay well!


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