Upstate students preserve their COVID-19 memories in real time.
Adjunct instructor Stephanie King had been thinking about the commemorative speech assignment for her fall public speaking class when it hit her – why not have students talk about the impact of COVID-19 on their lives? An experienced television and radio journalist, King knew how powerful firsthand storytelling could be, and wanted to give her students the opportunity to reflect on a major historical event as it was happening.
“I knew that if I did not stop and do this, we would lose it,” King says.
While looking online to see if anyone else on campus was doing something similar, she came across the “Write It Down” COVID-19 Community Archiving Project at the USC Upstate Library. King reached out to archives coordinator Ann Merryman, and offered to contribute her students’ oral projects. Merryman enthusiastically accepted, and offered guidelines on how to prepare the audio files.
Those student histories have now been catalogued and added to the university’s pandemic archives, where, King says, her students’ children and grandchildren may one day hear what it was like during this difficult time. “I see USC Upstate becoming the hub, the repository, of the tears and the fears from these years,” she says. “The school has opened up its heart to receive these.”
When you think of college, you think of going to class, meeting new people, and getting involved on campus. Instead, I'm in my dorm room on the computer for most of the day, trying my best to teach myself and complete assignments on time. Luckily enough, I have a roommate, but my social life has drastically decreased due to this pandemic.
I work in a very small HR department and so having to get sent home ... I was home for several months, I think March, April and May. Part of May, maybe? And so I did not have a paycheck or very much of a paycheck during those periods, which was obviously stressful. And then when I went back to work, it was still very different than it had been before. I was at a different place where there was less people.
Before the pandemic, I can't say I wasn't already a homebody, because I was. I didn’t really go out like that. I always focused on my education and focused on my books. … I can't really say it bothered me that much to stay at home, but it was more of the fact of — I couldn't, I didn't have a choice. I like having the choice to be able to go out and do this and go see something, but once the pandemic started, I didn't really have a choice because we were in quarantine and you couldn't go out and see anybody.
So, the first impressions of the lockdowns, like most students, I was just excited for a break and we were more upset that we didn't get another week of spring vacation … that was our first concern, that we were not getting an extra spring break. Seems like so long ago, and now it's such a minimal issue. And once that reality set in, that we were out of school, and indefinitely, the daily routine started changing for everyone. And virtual school became the biggest challenge for every student and professor.
Quarantine has affected me a lot emotionally. I'm a very extroverted person. I enjoy being out in public, hanging out with my friends, and doing anything social. With the new quarantine restrictions and social distancing, I wasn't able to be my true self. This caused me to become a little depressed, because I tend to experience a lot more sadness when I'm alone for too long.
The things that I found that really helped me out with online school was, one, I would put my phone up. So if I had a class at 12, I would go plug my phone in, into the charger in my bedroom and turn it on silent and come up and out like I was in class … Another thing was I made myself a schedule. So I would plan out my classes, plan out where my tests were … And then I was able to get into a flow of things.
I haven't been on campus a lot. Which is very sad, because that's one of the experiences that college is all about. Seeing something different, being somewhere different, meeting new faces, seeing the diversity, seeing the different things that come in life that we don't see on a normal basis before we do hit college.
Recording transcriptions courtesy of USC Upstate Archives.
Photos courtesy of assistant professor Bridget Kirkland and students in her spring 2020 digital photography class. “I felt it was important to document a day in the life of COVID-19 for one of their assignments,” says Kirkland. “They were feeling confused and wanted to express themselves. From buying the last pack of toilet paper at Walmart to shopping with masks and traveling through eerily empty airports, students posted weekly photos of their lives to Instagram, and critiqued each other’s work in the comments section. It turned out to be very successful.”