Understanding—and documenting—COVID-19

Understanding—and documenting—COVID-19

Charlie Kuski (right), a 2011 CHSS alumnus who serves as coordinator of Orientation and Student Leadership Programs, gets help from sophomore Erwin Lopez Galvez as they pack the University's "COVID kits" for students earlier this semester. A kit is included in Rowan's COVID-19 Archive in Campbell Library.

While Rowan University engineers and scientists are developing ways to mitigate COVID-19 and measure its long-term effects, faculty members in the College of Humanities & Social Sciences are working together to help us better understand—and document—the pandemic.

“Right now, it feels unforgettable. But it will fade,” says historian Emily Blanck, executive director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies

“This is a historic moment. We are looking at Rowan’s pandemic experience and South Jersey’s experience.”

Soon after the virus hit, a committee of scholars from CHSS joined to address various issues related to the pandemic. The group, which includes representation from history, American studiespolitical science and economics, law and justice studies and sociology and anthropology, went right to work collaborating University wide to tell Rowan’s COVID-19 story.

“We knew we had so much to offer. It’s really easy for our kind of work to fly under the radar,” says Blanck.

COVID podcasts

Political Science Professor Anne Pluta launched "COVID Conversations," a series of five podcasts featuring faculty members on a host of topics.

Among them: how countries react to crises and whether authoritarian nations have had more success containing the virus; the responsibilities of different levels of government during crises; how crises reveal structural inequalities; how the government provides for citizens during crises and the consequences of different approaches; and how women have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

“We brainstormed about way that we could provide useful information and share the utility of the humanities and social sciences in a situation like this,” says Pluta.

COVID-19 Archive Project

Sara Borden, head of archival collections and services in Campbell Library, is working with Blanck and historian Mikkel Dack to collect submissions from citizens throughout South Jersey for Rowan’s COVID-19 archive.

Based at the library, the archive will house stories, poems, works of art and materials that help tell the story of the pandemic for future researchers.

Already the archive includes art, first-person narratives and even a “COVID kit”—the bag given to each Rowan freshman at move-in containing information and materials to monitor their health.

“This archive could be used by researchers for generations,” says Borden, who is collecting the submissions. The archivists set up an easy-to-use Google form to contribute items electronically. Submissions also can be mailed to Rowan’s Archives & Special Collections at Campbell Library, 201 Mullica Hill Road, Glassboro, NJ 08028.

“We’re still looking for submissions from anyone who lives in South Jersey,” says Borden. “I would love to have more first-person art and more journals and diaries. More 3D projects also would be amazing.”

“The effects of COVID-19 have changed our world. Future scholars of all ages will want to understand how this illness impacted our daily routines and changed our lives,” adds Dack, who also works with the Rowan Center for the Study of Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights, another sponsor for the archive.

Perspectives from sociologists, anthropologists

Sociologists and anthropologists have played a vital role at Rowan in a host of pandemic-related areas.

Professor Harriet Hartman is working on multiple projects, including a survey of more than 3,000 Rowan faculty, staff and students to learn more about how the coronavirus has impacted them personally and at Rowan. The survey will be repeated toward the end of this month to see how the impact has changed since early spring and what issues remain challenging.

Hartman also is conducting similar research with Rowan engineering students and with colleagues from other institutions. She’s part of a national CONVERGE team of researchers assessing the pandemic’s impact on the persistence of first-generation college students in six different college settings across the U.S.  Researchers are surveying students and analyzing photos from them of their COVID-19 workspaces.

“The pandemic has broken down barriers between home and the academic setting for students, faculty and staff, blending caregiving responsibilities with professional activities, especially among women,” Hartman says.

“The financial and mental health toll has been substantial, especially on already vulnerable populations and has resulted in both tremendous stress and innovative solutions on both individual and institutional levels that are likely to last well beyond the pandemic.”

Meanwhile, sociologist DeMond Miller is working with scholars around the globe on two projects. The first examines the impact of COVID-19 on global tourism and the hospitality industry. The second considers the impact of the pandemic on health disparities in minority communities. Miller expects results from the studies early next year.

Medical anthropologist Seran Schug is collaborating with students on “Pandemic Passages,” an ethnographic solicitation of stories surrounding the coronavirus. Students are conducting interviews to better understand how people’s pandemic experiences are shaped by their cultural, ethnic and social backgrounds.

“All of the students are trained in basic qualitative research,” says Schug. “The pandemic is an existential crisis for some people where they’re going through a kind of rite of self-transformation. It’s an opportunity for students to understand these existential changes and to gain experience with ethnographic fieldwork.”

Three students so far are working on submissions for the site, including junior biological sciences major Tessa Murphy, who is eyeing a career in medicine.

“This project continues to enlighten my understanding of the influences that age, culture and lifestyle may result in a different outlook on such a devastating matter like COVID-19,” says Murphy, who is pursuing the Thomas N. Bantivoglio Honors Concentration in the Honors College.

“I can take this experience into my future as a doctor. I think it’s highly important to understand how a patient’s background may influence their illness experience.”

COVID-19 in the classroom

CHSS courses are addressing the pandemic this semester.

History Professor Chanelle Rose’s service-learning course in Camden requires students to conduct virtual interviews with city residents, who are sharing their rich stories and experiences, including with COVID-19.

“This is a service-learning course that examines the historical, cultural and political origins of the ‘urban crisis’ in Camden,” says Rose, whose students are collaborating with WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, to tell the stories of Black and Latinx residents.

Rose also has applied for a grant to examine the global and local impact of the pandemic on gender equality, health and well-being and quality education, focusing primarily on vulnerable communities and particularly people of color.

In Rowan’s program in Disaster Science and Emergency Management, Professor Tim Luko is teaching a three-credit course focusing entirely on COVID-19 and the global pandemic response.

The course challenges students to identify the social, economic and worldwide impacts of COVID-19. Students are examining the five phases of emergency management—prevention, preparedness, response, mitigation and recovery—as they analyze the countries’ responses to the coronavirus. Students also are studying governmental policies and how the pandemic affects essential workers.

“It’s eye opening when you’re teaching a subject and you’re actually living it and are affected by it,” says Luko, noting that the course challenges students to intellectualize their personal experiences.

Many students in the course are emergency management majors who are seeking careers in that field, in law enforcement, or in governmental agencies. Their scholarly approach to studying the pandemic in real time will better prepare them, says Luko.

“We’re trying to get big ideas across to the students,” Luko says. “The next tragedy, whether manmade or not, is right around the corner.”