Editor’s Note: Submissions are edited for clarity and length. 130 students read Dr. Joan Ferrante’s “How to Respond in a Pandemic” as part of a Health Innovation grant. Dr. Ferrante shared the award-winning essays with The Northerner. These essays detail how students used the book to cope with the pandemic in their lives.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a weird time for me. Some parts of my life were drastically affected, while other parts remain pretty much the same. I was a high school senior when the pandemic broke out, and many of the activities that we usually looked forward to were canceled, including prom, senior trip, and graduation. This wasn’t that big of a deal to me when we first started online classes. But as the pandemic dragged on, it dawned on me: I wasn’t going to experience any of the things that I was looking forward to. This dealt a heavy blow to my mental state, and I felt extremely disappointed and robbed of any motivation to get through my senioritis.
The pandemic also took away my last season of track, which I had run for three years. I felt like this was my season to shine, but the pandemic put an end to that. Once practice was canceled, I quickly lost my motivation for the sport. I skipped out on runs and workouts we were supposed to do at home. This led to me gaining a significant amount of weight and getting out of shape, which felt horrible.
I finally accepted the changes brought about by the pandemic. It wasn’t going away any time soon, so it was best if made the most of it. I embraced the unique opportunities that I got to participate in, such as an event hosted by my high school at the Kentucky Speedway where all of the seniors drove three laps around the racetrack and received their diploma afterward. It wasn’t what I had anticipated at the start of my senior year, but it was way more interesting than the standard graduation ceremony. I also was able to try out online learning. The start of it was rough, but it has taught me how to manage my time better and stop procrastinating. The pandemic might have taken some important milestones away from me, but it gave me plenty of unique ones in return.
I responded in a very similar way to losing my last season of track. Since I didn’t have practice anymore, I didn’t know what to do. It felt like something was missing. When I snapped out of that mindset, I realized what a great opportunity this was. I could run at my own pace while eliminating the downtime that I had during practice. This led to me create daily workout routines that quickly got me back in shape. The pandemic wasn’t going to stop me. I embraced the changes and came out as a better person.
The ways I responded lined up “Learn How Trauma Impacts Us,” where La Shanda Sugg discusses the flight, fight, and faint reactions. I experienced a little bit of all of these, but the faint aligns most with my responses. Sugg states, “Faint is characterized by absolute immobility, helplessness, or shutdown. . . . Some people exhibited faint responses during COVID-19 that included numbness and shutdown, manifested as sleeping excessively, binge-watching TV, or just staring into space” (p. 92). When the pandemic first broke out and we were put in lockdown, I felt helpless. There was nothing I could do to get out of the situation, so I spent most of my time just sleeping to avoid thinking about how this would affect my future.
The paper “Keep Looking for the Students Who Have Not Connected,” also relates to my response. Donita Jackson states, “The uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 crisis caused paralysis in some students who had previously flourished. The unfortunate reality is that these students lost the motivation and support structure necessary for them to engage” (p. 88). This was one of the big things that hit me when switching to online classes. At first, I was excited to learn at my own pace and work when I felt like it, but as the pandemic dragged on, it became more of a chore. Not being in the classroom stripped me of any motivation to engage with content.
After looking for papers with similarities to my responses, I looked for responses that would be useful to add to my repertoire. In “Turn to Mathematics to Know How We Are Doing,” Phil McCartney talks about a thought experiment, “a problem-solving technique that involves finding solutions to complex questions and pressing issues” (p. 61). The idea of thought experiments can help anybody respond to almost anything. In relation to the pandemic, it can help me come to tangible conclusions about effects the pandemic has had on my community through questions like, What are the health benefits of wearing a mask? Did we reopen too soon? Another discipline’s response that stood out to me was Psychological Science. In the paper, “Imagine How the Pandemic Affects Everyone Across the Lifespan,” Allyson S. Graf goes into detail about the pandemic’s effect on human development. One of the important things that I learned was that everyone reacts to change in their own way. Understanding that everyone has their own way of responding to a crisis can help us and others to cope and come out stronger in the end.
This assignment has helped me be more informed on protecting myself and my community from the COVID-19 virus. The idea papers brought with them a unique perspective that I hadn’t thought of before. They also increased my understanding of the responses that I was already familiar with. Before this assignment, I had thought of the pandemic purely in terms of numbers such as cases per day in the US which wasn’t a complete picture. I didn’t take into account the increase in the availability of testing. Without this, I just assumed that social distancing wasn’t as effective as I thought. I was shocked to find out in the Mathematics paper that social distancing had prevented around 500 million people from being infected. This expanded how I thought of the pandemic mathematically and in terms of numbers. I also had learned about the unequal distribution of cases as described in the Philosophy paper, how the pandemic and public responses were seen and could be predicted by noting how people behaved in past pandemics in the history paper and the Film Studies paper.
I have gained a much better understanding of ways that we as a community can help each other and protect ourselves while protecting others. Even though statistics looks at the huge numbers and thousands upon thousands of people, it doesn’t mean I can’t make a difference. Just following the guidelines when I’m able to can help ease the burden of the community, and giving whatever I can to those in need will also go a long way. Not everyone can work from home or access remote learning. This means that we as a community have to be there to help provide these services. We should do our best to provide masks and hand sanitizer to those who don’t have easy access to these resources. We also need to educate others on taking the necessary precautions to keep our community as safe as it can be in a global pandemic.