The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

Stephanie Rivera-Ithier '21 RGLP Reflection: COVID-19 does not discriminate, nor should we.

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If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us one thing, it is just how deeply interconnected we are to one another. Coronavirus has reshaped not only how we understand ourselves, but also how we think about our world.

In our highly globalized world, it only took a few months for COVID-19 to infect millions of people across the globe. In the past months, we have demonstrated our ability to adapt and understand our role within the collective. We stay at home, we limit our outings, and we wear masks to protect not only ourselves, but also our loved ones from a lethal virus that so far has infected 10 million Americans and killed 238,000 others. Despite our private efforts as citizens, our administration has chosen to attack, belittle, and divide in our time of need.

I am very grateful to have been a part of the Rockefeller Global Leadership Program (RGLP) during this unique moment in our history. We bore witness to how poor leadership and lack of character can reverberate across a nation and eventually, become a matter of life-or-death for human beings. The virus does not discriminate, people do. For our response to succeed, this cannot be the case and this crisis has shown us that leaders should be the ones driving these efforts.

We saw how culture has shaped the habits and mindsets of entire populations during the pandemic. Governments have made executive decisions based on their country’s culture; these cultural effects have been real, and they impacted human lives for better or worse. It is crucial that as future leaders we understand how culture is inextricably linked with policy and how this relationship is entirely reliant on the people’s trust in their government and their leaders.

RGLP made me realize how imperative it is to develop and foster leadership that is open to engagement with people from cultures unlike their own. Leaders must adapt, communicate, and collaborate while actively putting their biases aside.

As we learned in RGLP, you must challenge your own biases; you should lean into your discomfort and explore areas outside of your comfort zone. Most importantly, one must lead fiercely guided by values of sensitivity, empathy, and compassion.

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