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Volume 53 Number 3 Summer 2020
Edited by Susan M. Wolfe, Susan Wolfe and Associates, LLC
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all SCRA members throughout the world. At best, it kept some of us home for a time. At worst, some of us have lost friends, colleagues, and family members. It has disrupted our work and our social relationships. The health and economic impact will be felt for a long time. It has highlighted the holes in some of our safety nets. In the U.S. and other countries, the disparities regarding who is affected and how they are affected has clearly displayed racial, ethnic, and economic inequities. Those of us who have been privileged to safely work from home while our refrigerators and cupboards are full can certainly no longer deny just how privileged we are. And this is not over yet.
This special feature includes a collection of articles from SCRA members sharing their experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic, personally and professionally.
Written by Christopher Corbett, Albany, NY
The following Op-Ed by Christopher Corbett is a Community Psychologist’s effort to educate and empower nonprofits at the grassroots level in Albany, N.Y. to research evolving CARES Act funding opportunities. It also applies to other state and national charitable nonprofits. This Op-Ed illustrates the power of designing interventions by combining Community Psychology Core Competencies especially including: # 2, Empowerment; # 10, Resource Development; # 15, Public Policy and # 16, Community Education and Dissemination, as described by J. Dalton and S. Wolfe in The Community Psychologist, 45(4), Fall 2012 (p. 8-14), and as applied at the Sector level of intervention. The implementation agents are nonprofit staff, leadership, and all members of a nonprofit’s board of directors responsible for its governance and fulfillment of Mission. The Op-Ed is also designed to increase awareness of the field of community psychology which is noted in the author’s biography. Reprinted with Permission from www.dailygazette.net. Daily Gazette 4/19/2020, Albany, New York [p.D-1]
In response to the coronavirus pandemic crisis, our elected leaders approved the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). This Act will help our country survive the devastating effects of the coronavirus spreading across the world. The human consequences are profound, and no financial support can address the human tragedy this pandemic has wreaked upon us.
Yet to our elected officials’ credit, they approved substantial financial relief to support employment of many, providing funding not only to for-profit organizations, but also for nonprofits that provide critical community services. Nonprofits provide many essential services neither government nor the for-profit sector can remotely duplicate. While the CARES Act funds opportunities to for-profits, it also supports charitable nonprofit organizations, the primary focus here. While the Act exceeds 800 pages, some provisions apply to charitable nonprofit organizations. Many Capital District nonprofits, large and small, qualify for funding. The act is generous and designed for very small to large nonprofits. Yet this requires significant effort by nonprofits, many understaffed and under-resourced, to fully assess CARE Act opportunities. One goal: Provide cash to charitable nonprofits to retain or re-hire staff, pay operating costs and advance their missions. While some provisions enable low interest loans, if job retention conditions are met, partial or full loan forgiveness applies. The following briefly summarizes three opportunities: Emergency Support (500 Employees or less). This provision, the Emergency Small Business Loan Program, applies to organizations with 500 or fewer employees existing by March 1, 2020. This program has forgiveness provisions, which requires retention of employees for a certain timeframe. This essentially converts a loan into a grant used for general operating purposes.
Such forgivable loans could reach $10 million and be used for payroll, health insurance, facilities and debt service. Charitable nonprofits receiving Medicaid funding also qualify. Loan support for mid-size organizations (500-10,000 employees). This provision guarantees loans for qualifying organizations of 500 to 10,000 employees. No loan forgiveness applies, but interest is capped at 2 percent. This provision has staff retention and compensation requirements to qualify. Loan Support (Any Size). This loan has a fixed rate of 2.75 percent, with a $2 million maximum, and can be used for fixed debts, payroll and bills that cannot be paid due to the disaster. Small organizations (500 employees or fewer) may qualify for checks of up to $10,000 within three days. Given this crisis, many nonprofits, board members and the public might be distracted from discovering CARES Act opportunities. Also, many nonprofits lack resources, administrative support and awareness of this landmark legislation. For details and filing information see: www.sba.gov. The purpose here is to expand awareness and encourage further examination of implications for local charitable nonprofits that could enable or contribute to their survival. For small and other resource-strapped nonprofits, one solution is for small nonprofits to partner with other nonprofits to jointly assess the potential implications, particularly relating to the three primary programs noted above. Also, board members are ideally suited to explore CARE Act opportunities in service of their governance responsibilities.
This legislation has the potential to avoid the failure of nonprofits in the Capital Region and beyond. There is both urgency and opportunity to explore CARE Act provisions—action that could make the difference between failure and survival of nonprofits that deliver many essential services, upon which communities depend. Christopher Corbett, who has a master’s degree in community psychology, is a nonprofit researcher and author of “Advancing Nonprofit Stewardship Through Self-Regulation: Translating Principles into Practice”.
Reprinted with Permission from www.dailygazette.net.
Any questions may be directed to the author at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Serdar M. Değirmencioğlu
Cleaner air. Cleaner seas. No car noise. Safe streets, safe bicycle paths. Dolphins entering canals in Venice or the Golden Horn in Istanbul. The ongoing pandemic has allowed the entire world to see that a better world is possible. All the arguments against change have been proven wrong. The deadly pandemic has, very ironically, ushered in new hope for those who believe in change.
The pandemic paralyzed much of the economy primarily because the economic model that has been promoted over the world for decades was a bad one. Many scientists have long pointed out that a model demanding an ever-growing circulation of goods and people generates ecological disasters and growing inequalities. The pandemic exposed the fragility of the neoliberal growth model. Once exaggerated consumption slows down, large companies start pleading for immediate public support. Precarious jobs are lost or are frozen. Underfunded healthcare services start falling apart under a big demand. And those working in services that have been portrayed as inefficient and not productive, those who are not paid decent salaries have suddenly become “essential workers”, thanks to the pandemic.
The ongoing pandemic has also provided the context for renewed focus on the loss of biodiversity and various ecosystem functions, and the opportunity for viruses to spread across the world. What is called “global economy” comes at the expense of a sustainable environment. According to WHO estimates, 4.2 million people die each year from outdoor air pollution. Climate change is expected to cause 250,000 additional deaths per year between 2030 and 2050. Further severe degradation of ecosystems are a likely scenario with the growth model and so are even stronger virus outbreaks.
The pandemic has also made it possible to see strong arguments against militarism to appear (finally!) in mainstream media outlets in the US. Relying on figures provided by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), Impelli (2020) argued that the $35.1 billion the US Government spent on nuclear weapons in 2019 could have provided 300,000 ICU intensive care unit beds, 35,000 ventilators, salaries of 150,000 U.S. nurses and of 75,000 doctors.
Another opinion piece nailed the argument. Barber and Bennis (2020) argued that the public needed to take over the military's resources to counter the pandemic: Military spending, $738 billion in 2020, is a distortion of priorities. The Pentagon receives 53 cents of every discretionary tax dollar and there is no money to pay for Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, and so on. The solution is obvious: Bring military resources under civilian medical and public health control.
In April, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) released a fact sheet regarding military spending worldwide. Total global military expenditure rose to $1917 billion in 2019, the largest annual increase in spending since 2010. The biggest spender was, as always, the US. But a careful look exposes another painful fact related to the pandemic. Military spending is very high in countries where the response to the pandemic was inadequate and the death rate was very high.
Italy, which was hit very hard by the pandemic, ranked 12th in military spending. Italy is also one of the countries littered with nuclear weapons. Spain, which also had a very high death toll, ranked 17th. The trouble with militarism becomes more obvious if one looks at the countries with highest death rates. The four countries leading in death rate, adjusted for population size, are Belgium, United Kingdom, Spain, and Italy. These are all NATO countries and United Kingdom ranks 8th in military spending. Add France and the US: Six of the eight countries leading in death rate, are NATO members with high military spending.
Not surprisingly, many organizations across the world raised their voices and released statements explicating how militarism robs societies of the services they need in difficult times. The Independent and Peaceful Australia Network’s statement, titled “A People’s Call for Healthcare not Warfare”, was released on May 18. It is worth reading:
We the undersigned, call on the Australian Government to stop funneling billions of dollars into offensive weapons for unjust US led wars, and invest instead in the health and safety of people and the environment.
On 23 March 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the world, the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for a global ceasefire. The UN call highlights the disparity between the huge financial and technological resources invested in wars, and the under-funded and under-resourced public health systems desperately trying to control this deadly virus.
We call on the Australian Government to support the UN Secretary General’s call.
COVID-19 has sharply exposed the dangerous and unsustainable priorities of our society. On the other hand, the vast majority of Australians are co-operating to control the virus. World-wide, there are desperate shortages in the supply of most basic safety and life-saving equipment – ICU beds, ventilators, virus testing kits and personal protective equipment for front line health workers.
At the same time there are vast stockpiles of technologically advanced military weaponry worth trillions of dollars, waiting to be used in endless profit-making wars.
The UN call for a worldwide ceasefire means little unless foreign military forces are sent back to their home countries. To that end we call on the Australian government to bring home our military forces from battle zones in the Middle East, Afghanistan and the Philippines, and to close the Pine Gap function that supports US drone warfare Hundreds of billions of our tax dollars are used to buy military equipment largely to support the U.S. military agenda around the world.
Instead, huge expenditure is urgently needed here in Australia, for health and medical services and to address the climate crisis.
Australia’s immediate priorities should be providing support for millions of people facing unemployment, homelessness and poverty during the national disasters of coronavirus, the climate crisis, drought and bushfires – rather than supporting unjust U.S. led wars.
In spite of this difficult period of physical distancing, people are organising and helping each other and building social unity. We need to make sure we come out of these crises with a more humane, just and democratic society.
We need a society that prioritises the health, education and safety of people and the environment over war.
We need a society that builds Australia’s self-reliant and diverse industries to manufacture and produce for the needs of the people, and an economy that’s not based on multinational profit making.
We need a society that invests in our research scientists, the CSIRO and other public research institutions, not globalised corporations in search of profit.
We need a society that prioritises peace, justice and the health of people and the environment – an independent and peaceful Australia.
Militarism has not declined since the end of the Cold War. Instead it has grown stronger. Conservatives across the world demand more and more spending on weapons and argue that producing weapons is good for the economy. In a very recent statement, Le Mouvement de la Paix shed light on how the Macron government, in the midst of an ongoing pandemic and the associated health crisis in France, is persisting in favor of useless and costly military expenditures, all to the detriment of health and environmental priorities.
Instead of announcing an emergency plan for the public health service, new and better jobs for medical staff and a plan to rebuild the domestic industrial medical sector in order to provide sufficient autonomy to ensure the health safety of people living in France, Macron’s government announced the construction of a second aircraft carrier using nuclear energy. The cost? More than 5 billion euros.
Another announcement had to do with the resumption of tests of the M51 nuclear missile. These announcements are part of the “White Paper on Defence”, which stipulates that EUR 100 billion will be spent over 15 years on the only nuclear submarine fleet renewal programme, which is as such a violation of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). Thus, the government in France has declared its commitment to militarism at the expense of health, environmental security and a sustainable world.
The year 2020 will be remembered for the pandemic and how it demonstrated that security cannot be made possible by militarism. Perhaps it will also be remembered for a big move toward de-growth. For that to happen, it is time for all of us to take heed of five key lessons, like those in the manifesto put forth in April by 170 scholars from five universities in the Netherlands:
1) A move away from development focused on aggregate GDP growth to differentiate among sectors that can grow and need investment (the so-called critical public sectors, and clean energy, education, health and more) and sectors that need to radically degrow due to their fundamental unsustainability or their role in driving continuous and excessive consumption (especially private sector oil, gas, mining, advertising, and so forth);
2) an economic framework focused on redistribution, which establishes a universal basic income rooted in a universal social policy system, a strong progressive taxation of income, profits and wealth, reduced working hours and job sharing, and recognizes care work and essential public services such as health and education for their intrinsic value;
3) agricultural transformation towards regenerative agriculture based on biodiversity conservation, sustainable and mostly local and vegetarian food production, as well as fair agricultural employment conditions and wages;
4) reduction of consumption and travel, with a drastic shift from luxury and wasteful consumption and travel to basic, necessary, sustainable and satisfying consumption and travel;
5) debt cancellation, especially for workers and small business owners and for countries in the global south (both from richer countries and international financial institutions).
Impelli, M. (2000) One year of U.S. nuclear weapons spending would provide 300,000 ICU beds, 35,000 ventilators and salaries of 75,000 doctors. Newsweek, 26 March.
Barber, W. & Bennis, P. (2020) To fight this pandemic, we need to take over the military's resources – not the other way around. Newsweek, 23 March.
Manifesto for post-neoliberal development: Five policy strategies for the Netherlands after the Covid-19 crisis. Available at https://ontgroei.degrowth.net/manifesto-for-post-neoliberal-development-five-policy-strategies-for-the-netherlands-after-the-covid-19-crisis/
Written by Azza Osman, Carie Forden, Dina Elbawab, Hajar Khalil, Manar Nada, Nashwa Rashad, Salma Elsaedy, and Yomna Eltaweel, The American University in Cairo
While it is challenging to write a thesis at any time, there are special challenges to writing a thesis during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here in Egypt, the infection numbers have been growing slowly but steadily; as of the end of May, we have had over 20,000 recorded cases with about 875 deaths, and it does not appear that the number will decline any time soon. The government has worked to control the outbreak with strategies such as a curfew, the closure of schools, universities, coffee shops and restaurants, requiring the wearing of masks, and encouraging social isolation. Our campus went online in March and shortly thereafter, we (seven master’s thesis students and one faculty member) started a support group in order to get through this difficult time. We found that our understanding of the value of community deepened as we built this group and came to rely on each other while sharing our common struggles.
There is a certain amount of stress that comes to everyone who is writing a thesis, but we found that the pandemic added to the normal thesis stress in several ways. For example, the sense of isolation, the worry, and the loss of normal daily routines made it especially difficult to maintain our motivation. In addition, the lockdown meant that we were at home with our families full-time, and this blurring of work and home was very challenging. Most of us were not used to working from home, so it was difficult to set up a work routine. Campus was an escape from home in order to work, one with better resources and better internet, and spending limited hours there made us efficient. Now, the campus was not available. At the same time, home was no longer a haven from work, so we had no place to wind down. Furthermore, our family demands interfered with work, and our families didn’t always understand why we needed to work. And of course, some of our theses were stalled or had to be re-envisioned when the possibility of community data collection was put on hold.
Along with these challenges, there were some benefits to the lockdown. For some of us, there was actually more time for work as there were fewer outside distractions and we no longer had long commutes taking hours out of our days. In some cases, time became more flexible due to fewer scheduled activities, or family demands that limited work time led to greater efficiency. Another unexpected positive outcome of COVID-19 was that access to some normally restricted online resources was eased. And finally, like other types of crisis, the pandemic forced us to change; it required us to adapt to new situations, to be flexible, and to try to think outside of the box. One of the gifts of this crisis has been our thesis support group.
In response to the challenges we faced during COVID-19, we formed a virtual support group, meeting once a week over Zoom. This support group grew out of a graduate student What’sApp group, and it now includes a faculty member who serves as a facilitator and mentor. During the weekly meetings, each of us reports on our thesis progress and sets goals for the following week. We address self-care issues and discuss mental blocks and other barriers to working. We’ve also started to meet for Zoom work sessions, where we each read and write individually for short blocks of time and take breaks together. Across all three of these formats, our support group has made us feel less alone. It has helped us better understand and live “sense of community” as we deepen our connections and build a system of mutual support.
Weekly Meetings. The weekly support group meetings are motivating, and have helped us to work for a number of reasons. First, it has been very useful to identify weekly goals because they give us specific, achievable targets to aim for and that makes things less overwhelming. Setting these goals in the presence of others is especially helpful because hearing others figure out their goals has helped us set more reasonable targets for ourselves. We can also relate to each other’s struggles with achieving goals and provide each other with a safe environment where we can confess to lack of progress without shame. We feel less alone in our low moments of annoyance and frustration. Second, the support group is an available and responsive source of information. The questions and answers that come up during each person’s time are sometimes very important to our own research, and we learn a lot from the group. Third, we not only address issues directly related to the thesis in the support group, we also address our overall well-being, which indirectly helps our thesis progress. We share strategies for overcoming COVID-19 stressors, check in on self-care practices and support each other in setting physical and mental health goals. Sometimes the discussion veers to topics unrelated to the thesis or COVID-19, and that provides a welcome relief from the intensity of the current situation. Finally, the group has made us more accountable. It gives us something to look forward to each week, motivating us to keep going until we meet next, encouraging us to pick ourselves up more quickly when we fall, and to stay committed. What we learn from the group every time is to not give up on our theses and on ourselves.
What’sApp Support and Zoom Work Sessions. In addition to the weekly support group meetings, our WhatsApp group has also been a great source of support where we can get immediate help and encouragement whenever we need it. We also use it to share information that we think will be useful to the group members. Our Zoom work meetings are especially helpful for getting into a work mode. These are not necessarily regularly scheduled; if someone wants to have company while working, she’ll text the group on What’sApp and whoever is available may join. It’s really nice to have company while working, a virtual study partner, and most times we don’t speak much at all, but knowing that there is someone on the other end working with you is comforting and motivating.
We have learned that it is vital to have support while doing a thesis, especially from people that understand what you are going through. The positive impact of a thesis support group by far outweighs the time commitment. Here are our recommendations if you are thinking of starting one:
We definitely recommend setting up weekly supportive meetings and using those meeting to set short-term and realistic goals to work toward.
Everyone must commit to attending. We have learned that a support group will only work if there is sufficient consistency to build safety and trust. We discovered that we needed to show up even if we felt bad or had not accomplished our goals.
The presence of an experienced professor as a facilitator in the support group meetings was motivating and strengthened our commitment. The professor knows what it is like to do a thesis and can empathize, but can also be objective and push you when you need it.
It’s also important to have a safe space that is not open to faculty members; in our case the What’sApp group made this possible. This allows students room to discuss issues that they would rather not share with their professors.
Discuss challenges and concerns openly. Remember that if everything was always going well, you wouldn’t need a support group!
Recognize that your support is helpful to others even if you don’t believe it yourself.
Commit to a regular routine with a specific time each day to work on the thesis (even if just for an hour).
As part of your routine, self-care, including exercising, meditation, recreational reading, music, and limited watching of movies or shows, is helpful. Connecting with family and friends through texts and video calls, and cleaning so as to have a pleasant work environment is also valuable.
Co-working online, both scheduled and unscheduled, will lessen isolation and increase work time.
We believe that everyone who does a thesis has to be resilient; they must be prepared for obstacles to appear from nowhere, to adapt to difficult situations, and to be flexible. As community psychologists, we know that resilience is a skill that is facilitated by social support; we don’t learn resilience in isolation. A thesis support group can provide that social support and build individual resilience. Being part of this support group has made us grateful for our community of practice. We have benefited not only from each member’s experiences and knowledge, but also have been inspired by how each person has embodied the community psychology values of humility, compassion, empathy, and respect of diversity. We now understand in a deeper way that reaching out to others to give and receive support is essential to human well-being. Going through this experience of writing a thesis during a pandemic has strengthened our resolve to build and sustain community both in our own lives and in the lives of others.
For further information or support for developing your own thesis group, contact us by emailing Carie Forden at email@example.com.
Written by Massimo Santinello, Marta Gaboardi, Michela Lenzi, Rosario Papale, and Giulia Turetta, University of Padova, Padova, Italy
The COVID-19 pandemic revolutionized our daily lives from endless points of view. In the academia this meant adapting all the teaching activities to an online format, which represented a very big challenge, especially for courses with interactive and practical activities. However, this challenge represented an amazing opportunity to cope with this emergency together and support each other, by sharing emotions, thoughts, and experiences while conducting academic activities. This was the case for the Photovoice workshop “Photovoice as action research”.
The Department of Developmental and Social Psychology (University of Padua) organizes practical workshops for students in Masters’ degree courses, called “laboratories”. Within the Community Psychology master’s degree, a Photovoice laboratory has been included in the curriculum.
Photovoice is a method of community-based participatory research that captures aspects of a context from the perspective of people involved (Wang et al., 2000). Participants take photos that reflect meaningful features of their context, and then discuss the photos in groups. By shooting photos, participants document the reality of their lives; sharing and discussing about their photos, they use the power of the visual image to communicate their life experiences (Wang et al., 2000). As part of the curriculum of the Masters’ degree in community Psychology, students can take part in a “Laboratory of Photovoice”, during which they attend a practical course on the photovoice technique and then are directly involved in a photovoice project as participants.
Due to the COVID-19 health emergency, this year the workshop was transformed into an online Photovoice workshop; both the discussions among participants and the final exhibition have been transformed in an online format (Volpe, 2019). Considering the dramatic changes that the COVID-19 pandemic brought in our everyday life, we chose to focus the photovoice projects on the students’ subjective experience of this difficult time.
Below we present the process and the main results that emerged during the group discussions. In addition, we present the experience from the point of view of those who led the workshop and students’ experience.
The weekly workshops lasted two months. During seven workshops, students attended online classes on how to implement a Photovoice project, learning about: participatory action research; Photovoice phases; ethical issues of photography; photographic techniques; and how to organize an exhibition.
The workshop included four operational phases for the students.
Step 1: ANALYZING AND DISCUSSING EXISITING LITERATURE. Students working in pairs analyzed two scientific papers about Photovoice projects (one chosen by the professor and one chosen by them). One day was dedicated to the presentation of the different papers, followed by group discussions about how the photovoice method can be applied to different social contexts.
Step 2: CHOOSING A SPECIFIC FOCUS.
The professor and academic tutor for the course proposed four potential topics related to the COVID-19 emergency. Students voted and selected two of them and then were divided into two working groups. The topics chosen were interpersonal relationships and sources of fun during lockdown.
Step 3: SELECTING THE MOST REPRESENTATIVE PHOTOS.
Students took three to five photos representing one of the two topics of the project. Then, they uploaded the photos (with a short caption and title) in an online platform. Two weeks later, the professor and the tutor coordinated the discussion about the photos in two separate groups. After the discussion, students identified more specific thematic categories within the main topics. In the subsequent step, the five most representative photos for each thematic category were selected by the students.
Step 4: THE ONLINE EXHIBITION.
A website was created to host a virtual exhibition of the Photovoice project. The website is organized in two sections: one with all the photos and one with the themes that emerged during the two group discussions. Together with the students we created a flyer and an online event to be shared on social networks (i.e. Instagram, WhatsApp, and Facebook).
For each topic, three main themes emerged during the discussions.
In relation to interpersonal relationships, students mostly talked about:
The role of food in family relationships;
The importance of technology in supporting social relationships;
The relation with their own self.
Regarding fun and entertainment during lockdown, students underlined:
The importance of finding time to take care of one’s own self and others;
The importance to discover new pleasures or routines;
The importance of being connected with others.
Students noted that food is a component of everyday life, which is common to everyone. As such, food has the power to make people more alike. In this period, even more than usual, food became a very important symbol of sharing and allowed students to enjoy family relationships. The act of cooking was experienced with more joy and gained the power to gather the whole family around the table. During this emergency, food allowed students to regain some normality even in this extraordinary.
Students discussed the extreme relevance and advantages of technological tools in this pandemic. They defined technology as a “social glue”. Thanks to the daily use of technology it was possible to not lose contact with loved ones. Also, technology facilitated the sharing of emotions and mutual support, thus helping everyone to deal with this challenging time.
The Coronavirus emergency has forced students to adapt their relationships with others, but also with the relationship they have with themselves. The photos described the importance to take some time for reflection, have a closer look to our thoughts and feelings, which is an almost impossible challenge in our “normal”, hectic routines. Finding moments to nurture the relationship with themselves and cultivate their own passions emerged as critical issues in this situation. The quarantine was also an opportunity to find the courage to deal with problems neglected or put aside for a long time and feel in harmony with themselves.
The students discussed the “rediscovery of time”. They realized that the days preceding the emergency were very busy and hectic. Suddenly, they found themselves with more time to dedicate to what they like and to loved ones. This unexpected, additional time was mostly dedicated to take care of themselves, their well-being and loved ones, as shown in Photo 1.
Photo 1: Alone together
Caption: “I had the opportunity to read all those books that I’ve been promising to myself to read for years, in this case the complete version of Don Quixote. I try to dedicate some time to reading every day. This makes me feel really "full"... and I can share this passion with someone I love; it's really a special gift that this peculiar time has given me” [Giulia]
The students also talked about the importance to feeling connected with their loved ones. The extra time “given” by this emergency was largely used to nurture the relationships with their family, friends, and people living far away to whom they lost contact. Again, thanks to the daily use of technology it was possible to stay connected with their loved ones.
During the lockdown, students noticed that in “normal” times the rhythm of daily life did not allow them to nurture their passions or experiments new activities. This lockdown gave them the time and the chance to discover new and old passions, enjoy the art of cooking or watching TV series, as shown in Photo 2.
Photo 2: Friends
Caption: “TV shows are one of my countless passions. It's never easy to find the time to watch them and often, in the hardest weeks (see exam sessions), I put them aside to dedicate more time to study or other more important matters. This moment of quarantine has allowed me and Maria (girlfriend) to watch them at the speed of light” [Rosario]
During the last meeting, students told us their experiences as workshop participants. Using the words of one of the students: “I was lucky to spend these months with a loved one: days were filled with happy moments, and this Photovoice project became part of our daily life together, and portrayed us while cooking, reading, playing the ukulele or taking care of a seedling. The workshop has been an interactive way to learn and gave me the opportunity to become more aware of the situation and how I was living it. I found it exciting that all the participants became protagonists, working together for a common aim. We joined strengths and diversities, giving importance to each single person and point of view, working together. I am happy that our dedication resulted in an online exhibition, although I would have preferred being physically together. During this project I learned that we are all different persons, living in different cities, with different hobbies and routines, but we lived this peculiar moment in a very similar way. I felt linked to others and photographs overcame the limits of words”.
Another student underlined the importance of sharing his daily life with others: “When I included the Photovoice workshop in my academic curriculum, I didn’t know what to expect, but I felt it would stimulate me. Being stuck at home and with zero social contacts forced us to adapt our needs, our habits, and our academic duties to this alternative daily life. The Photovoice workshop gave me the precious opportunity to reflect about how I was experiencing relationships and fun during this emergency. Thinking and shooting photos made me feel amused and excited, and I involved my girlfriend in this activity; it wasn’t a simple photographic task. Listening and discussing in a group about the stories and the experiences behind each shot made me feel closer to others, despite the physical distance. It helped me feeling part of other students’ lives, of the joys and the absences that characterized our days in this special historical moment. I felt understood, I saw in the other participants’ stories some experiences similar to mine. I remembered that happiness is real only when shared”.
From the point of view of the professor and tutor, this workshop was a challenge. Re-adapting a participatory methodology workshop in online format changed the relationship with the group and the use of the technique. Despite the challenge, we found that the workshop was useful not only for learning the Photovoice technique. Indeed, students had the opportunity to reflect on their lives and support each other through photographs and discussions during the lockdown. So far, the online exhibition has been quite successful, as shown by the 431 views in five days. This result is very satisfying and allowed to find an easy and effective tool to disseminate the findings of Photovoice projects.
For any information please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Website [in Italian]: https://maxbarzon2.wixsite.com/labphotovoicecovid19
Volpe, C. R. (2019). Digital diaries: new uses of PhotoVoice in participatory research with young people, Children's Geographies, 17(3), 361-370.
Wang, C., Cash, J. L. & Powers, L. S. (2000). Who knows the streets as well as the homeless? Promoting personal and community action through photovoice, Health Promotion Practice1(1), 81-89.
Written by Benjamin C. Graham, Zofi Laube and Kristen Ketterman, Humboldt State University
“How do I coach my kindergarten teachers to Zoom with 30 kids?” the vice-principal said. A few weeks ago, this engaged community partner for the undergraduates in my service-learning course was all in. Now, she might as well have been saying “Welcome to COVID-19.”
In late March 2020, things were not looking good. The minor relief that spring break bestows—the chance to get caught up on grading and design minor mid-semester classroom tweaks—had vaporized only a week before. I (BG) found myself, like many, staring at a Zoom window attempting to restore a sense of purpose, direction, and community. It seemed the very existence of the project, a community-based service learning (CbSL) intervention study, hung in a balance that was rapidly recalibrating itself. To add to the weightiness, I was sharing the call with a student peer facilitator on the project who had so adeptly led her team in the first half of the semester. Now, her eyes bolted a question from the corner of the screen: “What now?”
Yes, what now? What came next was not as bleak as it felt at the time. True, the community partner, peer facilitator, and I decided after the Zoom meeting to step away from our original intention. But for the research team (BG, KK, & ZL), the student and her fellow nine peer facilitators, the 85 student service learners, and 10 community partner sites what happened afterward was an experience of redirection, reimagining, and resilience that not only allowed us to persevere in the early months of COVID-19 but also provided new meaning for our intervention and the study anchored to it.
In this article, we describe our experience as a research team conducting a semester-long community-based service-learning intervention study that occurred in Spring 2020 between February and May. The intervention involved two undergraduate courses and 10 community partner sites, each with a student team led by a trained peer facilitator. The study began before the onset of COVID-19 in the U.S. and took challenging but rewarding twists as a result of the changes brought on by the pandemic. We provide a project overview, share our personal narratives as team members, describe how the project was reimagined following the shelter-in-place ordinances, and reflect on lessons learned.
Community-based Service Learning (CbSL) enacts community psychology pedagogy by transforming ivory tower walls into bridges that link campuses to communities (Bringle & Duffy, 1998; Hofman & Rosing, 2007). This praxis between real-world experience and traditional academics can positively impact student development in academic, civic, and personal domains (Bringle, Hatcher, & Hahn, 2017), and its benefits are well-documented (e.g., Bernacki & Jaeger, 2008; DePrince, Priebe, & Newton, 2011; Einfeld & Collins, 2008). While the research on CbSL is primarily positive, some studies have underscored unintended negative effects when models are implemented poorly (Jones, 2002).
Transformational learning theory derives from Mezirow (1991; 2000) and Paulo Friere (1970) and offers a framework for understanding student experience across cultural, intellectual, personal, and other domains (Bamber & Hankin, 2011). The theory includes the notion of “disorienting dilemmas” in the learning process which create in the learner fundamental shifts in how concepts are understood (Mezirow, 1991; 2000). Community psychology’s focus on applied settings may not seem disorienting for experienced practitioners, but to an undergraduate student beginning another semester of lectures and class discussions on campus, working at an actual community organization while exploring course concepts has the potential to enact this core ingredient of transformational learning theory.
Enter COVID-19. For our project, if we chose to keep going the stakes for ensuring the work (whatever that would be) gets done well were high. Concern over changes in implementation was magnified by the question the project was trying to answer in our original IRB-approved study: How might a novel, tier-based model for CbSL involving small teams led by peer facilitators increase capacity for service-learning? In terms of implementation, the training module for the peer facilitators had been completed, ten sites had been secured, and site teams of 5-11 students were eagerly looking forward to physically working at their sites. While the model being tested was built for scalability and sustainability, it had not been designed for a sudden mid-semester shift like this!
What the model was designed to address was the reality that large class sizes create challenges to effective CbSL implementation. Scaling up opportunities for CbSL is thus a potentially high-impact area of innovation. Some precedent exists for similar models. For example, Hudson & Hunter (2014) evaluated the specific component of reflection utilizing peer facilitators, and courses at Southern Georgia University utilize a highly developed, multi-semester training program for student leaders (Kropp, McBride-Arriginton, & Shankar, 2015). The focus of the current model is to streamline the structure into a single semester while providing a useable, out-of-the-box model that others can use for teaching CbSL in classes of 35-50+ students.
Specifically, our study sought to address a gap in prior models by developing, implementing, and researching a model for incorporating CbSL through a tiered, small group design. In this model, students gain the benefits of CbSL while more senior peer facilitators acquire leadership, project management, and group facilitation skills. If the model could be successful with large classes across an array of site placements, benefits to community agencies and those served by them could also be increased.
The model, however, assumes that students are able to physically engage with the community and learn in brick and mortar classrooms. Would it work in the COVID-19 era? Transformational learning theory’s concept of a “disorienting dilemma” (Meizirow, 1991; 2000) is typically focused on how the student experiences a crisis. What the coronavirus challenged us to reflect on is how we as a research team must accept this dilemma and the disorientation it created for us across social, structural, and psychological domains.
Our first set of hypotheses stated that students assigned to the CbSL module will demonstrate increased community service self-efficacy (H1), civic-mindedness (H2), and activist orientation (H3) pre- to post- semester, while students assigned to the standard group project condition will not. Our second set of hypotheses predicted no differences in campus sense of community between students assigned to the CbSL module and students assigned to the group project (H4a), but CbSL students would show increased sense of community off-campus while students in the standard group project course (H4b) would not. Finally, we hypothesized that for students assigned to the CbSL module the relationship between pre-post increases in community service self-efficacy (H5a) and civic-mindedness (H5b) will be moderated by the self-reported quality of team functioning.
In this section, we briefly share our original study design before describing how we modified it to adapt to COVID-19. Currently, all pre- and post-semester data has been collected, and analyses will begin Summer 2020.
Participants were recruited from three upper-division psychology courses: two sections of a dynamics of abnormal behavior course and one section of a community psychology course. Class enrollment was 49 and 50 for the two sections of abnormal and 36 for community psychology. Data were collected in Spring 2020 at a mid-sized public university in Northern California. All participants signed consent forms at the start of the study. The pre-semester data was collected in February and the post-semester data in May.
In total, 119 students participated in the pre-test survey, and 105 students participated in post-test surveys. Seventy-five participants identified as female (63%) and 40 as male (33.6%). No participants identified as transgender. Two participants (1.7%) reported not identifying as female, male, or transgender. One participant preferred not to answer the question (0.8%). Ages ranged from 19-57 years (M = 23.8, SD = 5.68). Participants identified as African American (n = 7; 5.9%), American Indian (n = 10; 11.8%), Asian American (n = 6; 5.0%), Latinx (n = 39; 33.1%), White (n = 70; 60.0%), and prefer not to answer (n = 3; 2.5%) (27% reported multiracial/multiethnic identities, so percentages exceed 100%). Thirty six percent of participants identified as other than heterosexual/straight across a range of identities, including bisexual (n = 19; 16%), pansexual (n = 5; %), queer (n = 4; 3.4%), assexual (n = 4; 3.4%), questioning (n = 4; 3.4%), lesbian (n = 2; 1.7%), gay (n = 1; 17%), or other/prefer not to answer (n = 3; 2.5%).
Student participants completed surveys before and after the service-learning period (‘pre-semester’ and ‘post-semester’). The four major outcome measures assessed dimensions of civic engagement as well as psychological sense of community (PSOC) on and off-campus. Our specific measures included the: 1) Community Service Self-efficacy Scale (Reeb et al., 2008); 2) Sense of Community Scale (Jason, Stevens, & Ram, 2015); 3) Activism Orientation Scale (Corning & Myers, 2002); and 4) Civic-Minded Graduate Scale (Steinberg, Hatcher, & Bringle, 2011). The Sense of Community Scale (SOCS) included two versions: one for the PSOC felt as a university member and the other as a member of the broader community in which the university is situated. The SOCS (Jason, Stevens, & Ram, 2015) measure offers the versatility of applying to any community; this flexibility also allows for measuring SOC across logistical features such as predominantly in-person interactions vs. predominantly interactions online.
Our original secondary measures also captured variables pertaining to nonacademic stressors that may be impacted by changes brought on by COVID-19. We asked about current employment and weekly hours, as well as parental status. At the time of the pre-semester survey, 58% (n = 69) of students reported being employed, working on average 19.3 hours per week (SD = 10.78). Among this sample, 7.6% (n = 9) reported having children. These important life domains outside of academics will now serve as valuable variables in exploratory analyses in how students were impacted in their CbSL and general academic experience during COVID-19.
The pre-semester survey was administered for the three courses in the third week of the semester by one undergraduate and one graduate research team members and took 12-15 minutes to complete. Consent was secured for each participant, who were assigned a unique identifier.
The post-survey needed to take a different form given the shelter-in-place ordinances in force in week 15 of the data collection. The surveys were recreated in a Google form which included the additional new items (see below). One undergraduate and one undergraduate research team members attended a Zoom class lecture to remind students of the study and encourage them to take part. Extra credit was offered as compensation to students who participated in both the pre and post-surveys.
CbSL Model and Implementation Procedure
As mentioned above, the CbSL model under study removes barriers typical of classes this size by using a site-based team design. Two teams of 5 peer facilitators (one for each CbSL class) were trained to guide service teams for each site. Each peer facilitator team went through a 4-hour training in the first 5 weeks of the semester to acquire skills for group facilitation, project management, and a social justice lens in understanding community service.
This semester, the community psychology course and the CbSL section of dynamics of abnormal behavior had a total of 10 teams (5 per course) based at sites addressing issues of community mediation, immigration, socioemotional learning, acting to end sexual violence, American Indian Health, harm reduction programming, and a community garden. Students within each class were given options of the 5 available sites and assigned by preference. Before their planned first visit to their sites, students met in class the week before spring break. This would turn out to be the only in-person meeting, as courses went online following spring break.
We were impacted by the coronavirus on multiple levels as research team members. Self-reflection is a central component of both social-justice oriented CbSL (Bamber & Hankin, 2011) and critical community psychology (Evans, 2015). In this section, we [KK, ZL, BG] discuss how the coronavirus reshaped our experiences personally and professionally. Also, at this point we wish to recognize our teammates Danielle Siegel and Cassaundra Wages, who have contributed greatly to the project and have been compatriots on our journey.
The authors in both “Perspectives from the Team” sections are:
KK - I have served on the team as a research assistant for the past two semesters. In Spring 2018, I took the same community psychology CbSL course involved in the current study. From my CbSL experience, I secured a paying job at my site, where I continue to work today.
ZL - I have served as a research assistant on the team for the past two semesters. I was a full-time student in Spring 2020 and before COVID-19 was employed at 3 part-time jobs.
BG - I am the principal investigator and member of the research team. I taught the Spring 2020 courses involved in the study and supervised the two teams of peer facilitators before and after the onset of COVID-19.
On March 20th, 2020, our county in northern California (U.S.) enacted a countywide shelter-in-place order, sending my life [KK] and countless others to a screeching standstill. Simply halting from such a frantic pace left a physically uncomfortable void in my life, and despite never having had more time and desire to see family and friends, such an act was now forbidden. As the shelter-in-place was issued, the gravity of everything that was no-more began to sink in and that is when I realized – Our project is over! I could not imagine how we could recover from such a blow to the structure of our study. Two years earlier, in the Spring of 2018, I was enrolled in the same community psychology course that many of our participants took part in. Reflecting on my own experience with service-learning, one with an engaged community partner and peers, I cannot help but think about how disparate that experience could have been had I faced similar circumstances to this semester’s students.
Because of COVID-19, my [ZL] intended living arrangements were compromised, and I saw my plans for life post-graduation change overnight. My original idea of community engagement was solely through in-person, face-to-face interactions, and discovering that a sense of community is possible through online face-to-face calls was incredibly surprising. The connectedness I still felt to the research team and its weekly meetings helped me find some normalcy in such a consistently inconsistent time. I am incredibly grateful to have had that kind of normalcy to help me.
The scenario at the beginning of this article captures the emotional tone I felt in reappraising my [BG] role as both instructor and researcher. At that point, all 10 of the trained peer facilitators had bonded with their teams and were ready to go, as were the students in both classes. The community partner sites each had unique dynamics in relation to the project and were now being impacted by an emerging pandemic, each in an equally singular way. As a community psychologist, I strive to be an agent for university-community bridging, so I was especially worried about the new community sites that I had convinced to give CbSL a try.
I remember Harvey Milk’s resounding quote, “You gotta give ‘em hope” (The Advocate, 2012) floating into my office, a converted living room whose transformation I’d recently negotiated with my friend-turned-COVID-19 bunkermate. But I was no Milk, and what’s more this project wasn’t mine; in the spirit of CbSL, I knew it was only as powerful as the people who comprised it. In that same 1978 speech Milk spoke of hope “to a nation that had given up”, almost as if to remind us we are each conduits for either hope or despair, whether the pandemic be homophobia as in Milk’s case, systemic racism currently at a necessary flashpoint in this county, a novel coronavirus, or any other social sickness. I began wondering how we could harness hope, let go of what we thought we were about to do, and reimagine the work of the teams as a space to give support to each other while still making a difference at their sites.
As a full-time student working two jobs, my [KK] life was incredibly full before the pandemic. I was fortunate enough to keep one of my jobs after our shelter-in-place was issued and thus began working and studying from home. At that point, my busy and full life seemed to shrink to the size of my kitchen table. Work became both a thread that connected me to the world and one more thing that kept me tied to the table. I work as a case manager for a nonprofit that provides community mediation through a dedicated team of volunteer mediators. Following the shut-down, there was an eerie calm that gave us just enough time to set up and make vital changes to our operations, but I feared that we would no longer be able to provide services at a time when our community needed them more than ever. Ultimately, my position as both a former community psychology CbSL student and a worker in a community organization allowed me to see how our participants and our community partners were affected and burdened by COVID-19.
Prior to the shut-down, I [ZL] was a full-time student working two jobs and had just secured my third. As a result of COVID-19, I saw that my time and income were disturbed quite significantly; I lost all three opportunities. Through my own experience, when it came time to modify our protocol, I knew it was important to add questions about changes to work and income to the post-semester survey. Understanding people's changing situations and how they can relate to their feelings of community and service-learning are important to consider. However, community was not entirely lost because I still had a good connection with my professors who would email us daily. I felt that definitely boosted my morale while attending online lectures. A professor even included jokes at the beginning of quizzes and exams to help connect with us.
I [BG] felt incredibly privileged to have (and have kept) my job during the onset of COVID-19, when so many had lost theirs or already been struggling without one; especially those impacted by intersectional marginalization. I began speaking with our community sites, having conversation after conversation about how their organizations and efforts were being impacted and how our teams could help. Simultaneously, I started to aggressively fumble my way through Zoom and other online platforms that could create small group interfaces for teams to meet on a weekly basis, and considered how I might coach the peer facilitators to become leaders in establishing a new normality for students struggling with shock and disappointment.
What could we do given the impacts we were grappling with in March and April? As we generated solutions for enduring the impact of shelter-in-place, we realized it might be possible to reimagine the situation, in a way that could support students and sites while deepening our understanding of the model’s strengths, vulnerabilities, and broader potential. It wouldn’t be easy, and nowhere in the vicinity of perfect. But we would try. In this section, we describe how both the implementation and the study were altered in an effort to adapt to a transforming reality.
As the instructor and PI on the study, I (BG) was ultimately responsible for the decisions about how we would alter the design. The first question is how to work with our ten community partners? The answer to each site was different. For a nonprofit mediation center, the leadership asked our students to train volunteer mediators in video conferencing and to create new promotional materials for people in conflict with those now living in close quarters during shelter-in-place. For the Take Back the Night march, we reimagined ways the teams could create online resources for people experiencing increases in domestic violence and online stalking during COVID-19. Our immigrant rights organization asked the team to translate an arsenal of local outreach materials to educate people about tenant rights, food insecurity resources, and general local COVID-19 guidelines. Our partner at a harm reduction center spoke of a need for researching grant opportunities; team members were trained in grans research and helped create a portfolio of opportunities. For a campus counseling center, students remotely edited a library of online student resources to make them ADA compliant. Our school site at the start of the paper was reimagined entirely, the team deciding to create a professional website where students at the university could share resources and support to one another across a range of student needs.
It had become abundantly clear that any meetings, were they to occur at all, would be online. Many questions remained: How often would the classes meet? What about the teams? While weekly in-person meetings were not in the original design, we recognized that regular weekly meetings via Zoom might offer a powerful sense of community for students whose classes had largely become asynchronistic, or if done live amounted to a wall of 40+ attendees and limited opportunities to be heard. The peer facilitators would become essential to this process, and in the peer facilitator team meetings I began coaching them to allow space not simply for reimagining the projects, but to let students check in on how COVID-19 was impacting them personally.
In the weekly research team meetings during late March and early April 2020, conversations were held to explore the various ways team members had been impacted by COVID-19, to generate a list of possible domains for new post-semester survey items. From these conversations a set of items pertaining to the impact of the weekly meetings during COVID-19 were generated including its role in: providing structure, linkage to course material, a space for personal issues, overall satisfaction, and general connection to the university. Two items were negatively scaled and involved whether students felt like the weekly meetings were burdensome and whether they felt the project could have been completed without the meetings.
In the demographic section, new items were added to include assessment of changes in work and housing status. For housing, we included options for moving within the county or moving outside of the county. We also included a set of 5-items appraising the overall impact of a sudden shift to online learning on academic motivation (e.g., completing general coursework, intention to graduate).
Perspectives from the Team: As the semester ended
I [KK] learned a lot this semester about resilience and adaptability in research and the commitment of our community partners. When I discovered that the study would survive, I also learned a lot about the plasticity of our model and the dedication of our team. I was continually impressed by my team members this semester and incredibly grateful that I was a part of this project. As a student, I cannot recommend getting involved in research enough. Throughout the shelter-in-place, this lab and research project remained consistent, offering a small but meaningful connection to my life before the shutdown. Seeing my team members faces each week added some normalcy to my altered world. Having previous experience as a CbSL student, I knew the beneficial and lasting impact that it could have on our students, so even when I felt overwhelmed, my desire to stay involved and see the results kept me engaged and committed.
On May 15th, 2020 I [ZL] graduated with my Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. Attending my final exam, my last classes of the year and my own graduation online definitely hindered my experiences of community at the university since it was all done from my desk at home. Working on this project truly helped support me through these changes. On the research team, I experienced a sense of community and consistency that provided me with a sense of belonging. Our decision to continue the study and not lose hope by using certain impacts of COVID-19 to our advantage helped us as a team to persevere in continuing and finishing our research.
Despite the ups and downs, I [BG] was encouraged by hearing in the final team class presentations that students had found a sense of completion and purpose in the reimagining of their projects. It was not perfect; keeping all team members engaged, ensuring strong lines of communication with sites, and ceding leadership to peer facilitators who were struggling with their own COVID-19-related issues were all areas of concern. I am grateful that our team now has a complete dataset that will help us better understand the diverse student experiences of the model, and we look forward to charting out those strengths and limitations in a future publication. Perhaps the greatest personal lesson I took from this semester was that no one person can lay claim to Milk’s concept of hope. But with the right infrastructure of setting and intentionality in how we approach relationships, hope can manifest as a natural resource that can pass back and forth as needed, and harness in meaningful ways to help one another get through difficult times while fueling innovation.
Our experiences adapting to the COVID-19 era amidst a multifaceted service-learning project taught us valuable lessons in resilience. It also resulted in a deeper awareness of how the concept of reciprocity in CbSL pertains not only to who benefits from CbSL but also in how we can respond to “disorienting dilemmas” collectively. By learning to embrace the challenge brought on by COVID-19, we were able to find hope and create space for our personal and professional adaptation processes, and in the end better ground the development of our model.
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Written by Kyle Hucke and Leonard A. Jason, DePaul University
During this pandemic almost everyone is asking what can I do? The pain and challenge we face is a dizzying mix of the intensely personal and the dauntingly abstract and societal. The carnage and fear are evident in the prejudice that has been unleashed as when we see a person of Asian descent be accused of causing the epidemic at a supermarket. Then we return to our homes and read the headlines. Thousands have died. Millions have lost their jobs. The fragile safety net for so many has been shredded. For many our sense of community has been shattered when we walk on streets with face masks and people avoid us as if we had the plague, and worse, we do not know if we have been infected because of a lack of testing. Here is a challenge for us all including mental health professionals. Certainly, we can extend services to those in need via telemedicine, but the field of Community Psychology suggests alternative ways of helping. The field was founded on the principles of prevention and social justice. As we all feel the pain of having failed to adequately prevent the harm of the current crisis, we must prepare to seek structural changes that better prepare our society for the next challenge. Changes that ensure a more just society and ameliorate the suffering of millions every day.
Rampant economic and racial inequalities have once again caused disproportionate suffering and death for African Americans and Latinx Americans. Once the virus spreads to low income rural Whites, their death rates will be far higher than their wealthier counterparts in the suburbs and the cities due to similar structural inequalities that leave rural hospital and other infrastructure woefully under-resourced. It does not matter if it is a natural disaster like a hurricane, a pandemic, or a fully man- made financial crisis as in ’08, our society is structured such that during disasters those of low Socio Economic Status (SES) die or suffer severe economic hardship while those at the top profit, and, within SES, communities of color are further devastated by racism. However, while disasters put these disparities on full dramatic display it is the quiet and relentless poisoning effects of poverty, fear of poverty, and racism that cause significant suffering in the USA. We must address the structural shortcomings of our society that the pandemic has once again laid bare.
As a field Community Psychology has identified how structural inequities and lack of resources yield systemic wellbeing disparities (Jason et al., 2019). Our colleagues in other areas of Psychology as well as the fields of Public Health, Sociology, Criminology, Medicine, and Social Work have all reached similar conclusions. We have spent decades creating and evaluating many very well thought out and well- managed programs that have failed to overcome these large structural flaws. For instance, the Gates Foundation spent a great deal of time and money looking for a way to improve student academic outcomes by focusing on teachers, but the results were negative because they did not address the root cause of the students’ challenges: poverty.
We, as a society, have spent decades trying to think our way out of facing a simple truth that many of our social problems are directly caused by or greatly exasperated by lack of money, food, healthcare, and shelter. More than that we are trying to avoid the simple solution; give people these basic needs. Opposition to this idea is many things; political, philosophical, or, at times, driven by fear and hate. It is not scientific, and, despite very clever rhetoric, it is not moral. It is not even fiscally sound as preventative medicine is less expensive than treatment, addiction treatment is less expensive than incarceration, and providing housing for the homeless is less expensive than treating their emergency health needs. It is also not due to scarcity. There are more empty housing units than homeless. Today we have food rotting in the fields or being deliberately destroyed because the pandemic has caused demand to crash, but this practice happens every year to a lesser extent. All while children go hungry. Why? Because of the failings of our economic system that places profit motive over humanitarianism. Farmers destroy crops not because they want to, but because it makes good economic sense. The pandemic just makes that more widespread than ever. Our healthcare system was as unprepared as our business sector to deal with the pandemic because it is part of the business sector and places profit under the guise of “efficiency” over adequate preparedness. It also makes the whole system fragile. We should no longer accept the instability and suffering that the relentless drive for cost cutting and profit maximization has wrought.
The work of second order change is long and multifaceted requiring a combination of efforts in research, advocacy, and direct action. The former Mayor of Chicago, Rham Emmanuel famously said “Never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” Community Psychologists and researchers from related fields have developed a great many ideas that have had scientific, moral, and, in many cases, even fiscal validity. For instance, Oxford House is a self-help housing program that has demonstrated great success in helping people overcome substance abuse through affordable housing and social support (Jason & Ferrari, 2010). Over 20,000 people today live in these democratic houses across the nation, and each is self-supporting and run without any help from professionals. Placing people in a safe community settings that foster the development of social networks of friends and associates who work and are abstinent is of great value for their specific substance use needs, and many of the practices developed by Oxford House to foster a health environment could benefit those who might be most vulnerable to the corona virus.
Yet, the simple and powerful effect of having the basic need of housing cannot be overstated. We do not lack the ability to expand programs like this and many others, just the political will. Here are some of the ways we can help create that political will. First, through our partnerships we have access to a sprawling network of organizations that work directly with the communities most affected by the pandemic. What we can provide is coordination between these networks to craft a common message for letter writing campaigns and, later, collective demonstrations. We can also take on the work of researching the legal and logistical responsibilities to hold demonstrations when the time comes. And when it does our partners will be ready to mobilize. We should join these networks to larger organizing networks already engaged in this process. For instance, The Rising Majority is a diverse coalition of organizations that is continuing to coalesce and build a cohesive movement through shared information, tools, and strategies for fighting for social justice. Likewise, the Poor People’s Campaign had already been planning a significant rally for June of 2020 in Washington D.C. which is now digital due to the pandemic. Both organizations have a commitment to grassroots actions as well as coalition building, and we should embrace both strategies.
In addition, this is an opportunity to identify new potential grassroots leaders. Research by Campbell (1997) suggests that grassroots leaders are driven by passion for justice in their community. The present situation has highlighted many systemic injustices that may have previously been perceived by some soon- to- be grassroots leaders as personal challenges or traumas. For others, this may have been the turning point contemplation to action. The communication networks described above could also reinforce these feeling of collective experience stemming from systemic issues and the sense that the time to act is now. We should be prepared to listen to such leaders when they express their desire for change and action, and we should be prepared to help them find ways to translate that desire into direct action as well as take their advice on what actions will work in their communities.
We have opportunities to speak as experts to present the science in an unbiased fashion with proper scientific caution. As speculative cures and promising results from vaccine tests are presented, we must maintain rigorous discipline to demand adequate evidence before using words like “miracle”. However, it may be time to set clear distinctions between settled science and continued inquiry. It is settled that a comprehensive public health strategy must involve identifying the infected through widespread testing, tracing those who test positive, temporary quarantining of those who test positive. Which test is ideal is not yet clear, nor is how to best implement some of these strategies or how to promote them to the public. Here is where continued study is appropriate. In contrast, the negative effects of poverty and racism on almost every outcome we can measure that matters is settled science. That the contribution of systemic forces and outweighs individual choices and behaviors is settled science. High economic inequality is bad for both individual and social health and that is settled science. Now we must demand the changes that the science justifies.
One final important lesson from the past few weeks that Community Psychologists and activists should take to heart is that the objection “how do we pay for it” is a diversionary tactic. We have never lacked money only the political will to do it. Now is the time to marshal that will. Now we must prepare to bring our networks together as never before and demand an economy that serves the people not the other way around. We must build a society where we value the lives of people we do not know and trust that they will do the same. Universal Basic Income (UBI) has been championed by Martin Luther King Jr. and former presidential candidate Andrew Yang among others and the time to push for it and other changes has come.
Change is occurring, a month ago, we noticed few grocery store employees and customers in Chicago wore masks, but three weeks ago that began to change with about 30% wearing them, and two weeks ago that increase to about 60% and today, it is rare to see anyone without a mask. What a public health victory has been achieved in such a short period of time. At its core this is recognition of our interconnectedness. Our health care heroes are being publicly applauded and praised by homebound citizens appreciative of their efforts. This is or society coming together to recognize that we depend on others and that they deserve our thanks. One neighbor walking outside with a good 6 feet of social distance gives a nod that says, “you might not know me, but I live directly behind you and we are in this together.” Yes, a sense of community can be enriched in even these difficult times. It is important to continue to extend that consciousness to include all members of our community, make the sentiment of connectedness permanent, and have public policy that reflects that sentiment.
We invite readers to contact the authors: Leonard A. Jason (email@example.com) and Kyle Hucke (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Leonard A. Jason is a Community Psychologist and Director of the Center for Community Research at DePaul University. He has spent most of his career working with not-for-profit and community based organizations that focus on substance use and chronic illnesses.
Kyle Hucke is a Developmental Psychologist, former project director at the Center for Community Research at DePaul University, and worked in Louisiana doing community interventions and public health prior to moving to Chicago. His interest is in reducing health and economic inequities and promoting positive youth development
Campbell, D. (1997). Community-controlled economic development as a strategic vision for the sustainable agriculture movement. American journal of alternative agriculture, 12(1), 37-44.
Jason, L. A., & Ferrari, J. R. (2010). Oxford house recovery homes: Characteristics and effectiveness. Psychological services, 7(2), 92.
Jason, L. A., Glantsman, O., O'Brien, J. F., & Ramian, K. N. (2019). Introduction to the field of Community Psychology. Introduction to Community Psychology.
Monique Mahabir, Lynn University, edited by Ali Cunningham Abbott, PhD, Lynn University
As a new decade, and, quite possibly, a new era emerges, we must grapple with the changes that 2020 demands of us. The demand for change was abrupt for me. It uprooted all the expectations I had for my last semester of undergraduate studies. The research projects I planned to conduct and present as a last hoorah for my Bachelor of Science in psychology were suddenly canceled. Opportunities for proper farewells to my peers and the residents I looked after, in my Resident Assistant position at Lynn University, were taken away. However, as my former plans and expectations dissolved, a devotion to priorities and a focus on genuine interests manifested. The routine of college life and obligations shifted to not quarantine boredom, but quarantine enlightenment. An enlightenment guided by my discovery of the power of community psychology.
Some community psychology (CP) research focuses on the importance of connection and its positive effects in the coping process. As I delved into CP, I found that an important practice in this field is the sharing of experiences among colleagues and community members. A study by Arewasikporn and colleagues found that shared positive experiences may lead to an increased level of cognitive resilience and positive emotions (Arewasikporn et al., 2018). Amid a pandemic, CP served as a tool for me to absorb positive experiences and alleviate the negative effects COVID-19 had on my mental health. Through the process of connecting with the CP community and learning about how I could get involved in this work, community psychology healed me. It proved to me how powerful connections are in healing society from the impacts of COVID-19. This period of exploration also led me to explore and learn more about the areas of racial inequities in healthcare and the educational challenges communities are facing; issues I hope to get involved in from a CP approach.
Although I’ve been interested in community psychology for a year, my abundance of spare time in quarantine enabled me to truly delve into the easily accessible resources CP has to offer. Eager to become linked with the CP community and network, I decided to take a deeper look into the Society for Community Research and Action (SCRA) website. There I discovered the listservs and swiftly signed up for the ones that were of interest to me. The Council on Cultural, Ethnic and Racial Affairs (CERA) and Council on Education (COE) both piqued my interest. There, within those listservs, was my gateway to connection. By promptly emailing me much needed assistance and advice, Executive Director of SCRA, Dr. Jean Hill, encouraged me to reach out to the active researchers and changemakers within the CP community. From this recommendation, I joined in on a CERA call. I decided to join incognito and phone in, too nervous to show my face. As I joined in on the call, I heard Dr. Dominique Thomas beginning introductions.
Dr. Thomas mentioned my number, saying he did not recognize it. I unmuted myself, face flushed on the other end, “Hi, my name is Monique. I am actually an undergraduate, but I am interested in community psychology and would like to gain some knowledge from you all”. To my surprise, the meeting was a Healing Circle, far different than their normal general meetings. In response to COVID-19, the interest group decided it was not appropriate to carry on this meeting “business as usual”. A time like this means that an emphasis on personal well-being and self-care is imperative (Dattilio, 2015), especially for active change-makers who aim to make a difference in society. Although working as a psychologist demands caring for others, it is important that psychologists do not neglect their own need for self-care. Self-care can lead to a greater sense of well-being that can promote greater health and increase positive emotions (Dattilio, 2015). Much like the safety instructions suggest before a plane lifts off, in the event of a malfunction one must put on their oxygen mask before assisting anyone else. The same can be said for practicing psychologists experiencing the stress and trauma of a pandemic. Discussing these perspectives with the CERA group demonstrated to me how important well-being is in the field. They welcomed me warmly, listened to my experiences, and included me in the conversation.
This experience allowed me to realize how open people within the SCRA community are to give you advice and steer you in the right direction. With that experience, I gained the confidence to contact more people within the field. I was delighted that Dr. Scotney Evans proposed an informative Zoom call for my CP inquiries. The same was true for multiple CP students I contacted, who were all willing to set time aside from their busy schedules and offer me valuable insight and advice. It was through these meetings, I learned more about the great focus CP has on social justice and reform.
As a black woman, and quite frankly a human being, it pains me to see black communities disproportionately suffering from COVID-19. It also pains me to see Asians around the world facing increased discrimination due to a surge in xenophobia and sinophobia, often exacerbated by media outlets (Arañez Litam, 2020). People of color (POCs) are facing the brunt of COVID-19’s destruction, as the pandemic acts as an additional obstacle to the already disproportionate access to healthcare these groups face. Racial residential segregation increases the likelihood of Black communities to be more significantly impacted by COVID-19 (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020). Black people in the United States have an increased mortality rate due to cardiovascular disease compared to their white counterparts (Go et al., 2014), lowering their chances of recovery from COVID-19 (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020). As a result, the death rate for Blacks and African Americans in the U.S. is at 92.3 deaths per 100,000 population, significantly higher than Whites in the U.S. at 45.2 per 100,000 population (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020). POCs are in desperate need of CP’s support and advocacy. These are not numbers. These are people who need policy reform to ensure their and their posterity’s survival. I hope to join with CP in fighting for these rights as we elevate the voices of marginalized individuals, ensuring they do not remain a figure in the dataset.
As a student just having completed my first degree, and continuing on to graduate school, I value CP’s involvement in school intervention. Education post COVID-19 has undergone infrastructural changes. With 107 countries implementing national school closures around the globe (Viner et al., 2020), teachers and instructors have quickly adapted their in-person curriculum to an online platform. It is important that students have advocates, including community psychologists on their side. Psychologists are conducting participatory action research, ensuring voices are heard and that community stakeholders are involved in this effort. After attending a virtual symposium entitled Contributions of Community Psychology to Urban Research and Policy and listening to Dr. Mariah Kornbluh’s presentation, “Untold student stories: Examining educational budget cuts within urban school settings”, I learned about the value of participatory research in policy reform and school intervention. Work like Kornbluh’s, and so many other action-based researchers are needed to strengthen our communities and recover from the toll of COVID-19. These valuable efforts within the field, as well as the field itself, must become more visible.
Unfortunately, I did not learn about community psychology in my undergraduate curriculum. However, by tapping into my semi-autodidactic traits, I researched and obtained numerous resources to both discover and learn what this field is about. I appreciate the efforts of the SCRA community for attempting to make CP more visible and accessible. I appreciate the adaptability of the field and how it is utilizing the digital space to create great new projects, such as The New Bank for Community Ideas in collaboration with the European Community Psychology Association. This project will serve as a collection of responses and experiences that communities face amidst COVID-19. I see the value -and I am inspired- by projects such as these.
These last few months have certainly been unprecedented. But when faced with times of adversity, we have adapted. During a recent Zoom graduation celebration with the wonderful psychology faculty at Lynn University, I was honored with the “Most Prosocial Award”. They described me as, “Exemplifying what it means to be a member of the Lynn community. Always willing to lend a helping hand…, supported her fellow leaders in Psi Chi and her professors in conducting research on several different projects. She is considering a career in community psychology, where she will continue giving back to her community.” Receiving this award affirmed to me how much community psychology aligns with my values and aspirations. CP looks at the bigger picture because we are all connected. We are individuals, but we collectively build up a community. We are interdependent. These are the tenets of community psychology I have discovered, whole-heartedly agree with, and excite me to immerse myself in a vehicle of like-minded people motivated to drive institutional and societal reform.
Monique Mahabir is a student at Lynn University. She can be contacted at: email@example.com
Arañez Litam, S. D. (2020, April). "Take Your Kung-Flu Back to Wuhan": Counseling Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders With Race-Based Trauma Related to COVID-19. Retrieved from https://tpcjournal.nbcc.org/2020/04/30/take-your-kung-flu-back-to-wuhan-counseling-asians-asian-americans-and-pacific-islanders-with-race-based-trauma-related-to-covid-19/.
Arewasikporn, A., Sturgeon, J., & Zautra, A. (2018). Sharing Positive Experiences Boosts Resilient Thinking: Everyday Benefits of Social Connection and Positive Emotion in a Community Sample. American Journal od Community Psychology https://doi.org/10.1002/ajcp.12279
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Coronavirus disease 2019: People who are at higher risk. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/people-at-higher-risk.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). COVID-19 in Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/racial-ethnic-minorities.html
Dattilio, F. M. (2015). The Self-Care of Psychologists and Mental Health Professionals: A Review and Practitioner Guide. Australian Psychologist, 50(6), 393–399. https://lynn-lang.student.lynn.edu:2092/10.1111/ap.12157
Go, A. S., Mozaffarian, D., Roger, V. L., Benjamin, E. J., Berry, J. D., Blaha, M. J., Dai, S., Ford, E. S., Fox, C. S., Franco, S., Fullerton, H. J., Gillespie, C., Hailpern, S. M., Heit, J. A., Howard, V. J., Huffman, M. D., Judd, S. E., Kissela, B. M., Kittner, S. J. . . . Turner, M. B. (2014). Executive summary: Heart disease and stroke statistics—2014 update: A report from the American Heart Association. Circulation, 129(3), 399–410. https://doi.org/10.1161/01.cir.0000442015.53336.12
Viner, R., Russell, S., Croker, H., Packer, J., Ward, J., Stansfield, C., Mytton, O., Bonell, C.,
Booy, R. (2020). School closure and management practices during coronavirus outbreaks including COVID-19: a rapid systematic review. The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, 4(5), 397-404. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2352-4642(20)30095-X
Written by Julie Pellman, New York City College of Technology
I believe the first word that I would say about my COVID 19 experience was shock. On Wednesdays, I was teaching three consecutive classes which run from 1-5:15PM. On March 11, 2020, after my second class, a student showed me an email that she had received that due to the corona virus, that this was the last day of in-person classes and that classes would be online for the rest of the semester. I was flabbergasted. I somehow finished my last class, said good-bye to my students as I would not be seeing them again in person, and went to speak to my department chair. There was also another faculty member in the office. The department chair said that this was the hardest day he had ever experienced at the school and explained as much as he could.
When I got home, my school email listed Blackboard workshops for faculty. I signed up for one on Thursday and two on Friday. The Blackboard sessions where somewhat useful. I was familiar with Blackboard but wanted to sharpen my skills. When I got to the sessions, I realized that there were many faculty members who had never used Blackboard. They were in a state of chaos. We were advised not to try to be too innovative this semester, but to concentrate on skills that we already had.
The college was closed for five days to enable faculty to prepare their classes. This was a stressful period because I suddenly had to restructure all of my classes. I also did not know how many of my students knew Blackboard and whether they would participate if the class was online. Spring Break was moved slightly and shortened. Then the college had a recalibration period. The students had another half a week off. During that time, faculty was asked to send an email to students asking if anyone needed to borrow a computer as some students did not have computers at home. I do not know if any of my students received a computer because the email response was not directed to me.
Finally, the courses have gained momentum. I am happy to report that the majority of my students have been participating. During the Spring, 2020 semester, the students will be given the opportunity to choose a credit/no credit option in lieu if their letter grade. They will be able to exercise this option for a month after the final grades have been recorded. The deadline to make up an incomplete has also been extended.
Many school activities are taking place online. I participated in an Earth Day conference via zoom and an online presentation from the Social Science Department congratulating the Class of 2020 on graduation. There will be an online ceremony for graduation. All summer classes will be online. In the fall, my in-person classes will be hybrid with the possibility that they may again be online classes.
With regards to my other experiences with COVID 19, one of my earliest experiences was buying hand sanitizer. The stores had none! Eventually CVS started selling hand sanitizer. The grocery stores had no toilet paper or paper towels. We have since obtained these items. I started buying masks and gradually accumulated quite a collection. My husband has also been making some for us. There are lines at many of the grocery stores. One has to go early to avoid the crowds.
I live at the northwest end of Brooklyn Heights on the border on DUMBO. It is an affluent neighborhood with historical significance. With the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge Park, my neighborhood acquired more tourists than ever before. Normally, there are crowds of people who got off the train to go the park, walk, and eat in the restaurants. There is also ferry service which docks at the park and takes people to various destinations in the city. My neighborhood also houses the Brooklyn Supreme Court. Now my neighborhood is quite quiet. The traffic has decreased, the nonlocals are gone, and there are very few people on the streets.
All New York City’s cultural attractions are shut down and may are providing online programming. The subways are running, but service is limited. Now, in preparation for a very gradual reopening, Governor Cuomo has closed the subways from 1AM to 5AM in order for the trains and stations to be cleaned and sanitized. I have not been on the subway since March. My activities have been neighborhood focused and include grocery shopping and going out for a walk. Governor Cuomo has required that people wear masks in public when social distancing is not an option. I miss the vibrancy of the city and all of my usual activities and am adjusting to wearing a mask and seeing other people walking around in masks.
With reference to the community response, in some neighborhoods, people have been applauding the essential workers every night at 7PM. Religious institutions have reached out to the needy and schools have been providing breakfasts and lunches to the less fortunate. More testing centers are opening to accommodate increasing need. My apartment building has taken up a collection for the workers. In addition, tenants were asked if they wished to help fellow tenants in time of need.
I have retained social connections with family and friends. I am glad that I have a loving husband with whom I have an excellent relationship and two children whom I speak to regularly. I have met with family members on Zoom for holiday celebrations, attended a 90th Zoom birthday party, and look forward to other such events. I look anticipate the day when we can all be together in person and of course, we will all be discussing our experiences with COVID 19.
Contact information: firstname.lastname@example.org
Vernita Perkins, PhD, Omnigi Research
We are living through the worst time in our modern history. Strong statement? Not strong enough. For the first time in the history of these current generations, we are watching the components of the American Dream experiment crumble before our eyes at a time when our social foundation is disintegrating underneath our feet. We are at a crossroads, an intersection of fear, re-traumatization, panic, anger, helplessness, hopelessness, uncertainty, utter mental and physical exhaustion, and a way forward, the community vision. Some of us cannot even remember what day it is. And still so many of us just want to quickly get out of this situation and go back to…what? Most of what we were doing, thinking, and saying before the pandemic is the reason we ended up in the pandemic. We allowed people to move into decision making roles for us, determining every aspect of our lives, from the items we purchase, to vehicles we transport ourselves in, the way we treat our bodies, the way we treat others, the way we feel we need to secure our spaces and things, and how we choose to live with each other. We continued a long civilizational history of lazily doing what they did before with slight modifications, and only innovating or ideating when we could see some profit, power, or personal gain. Many positioned themselves in lives where income and material wealth was plenty, and labor for it was little. Many of these, found ways to separate themselves in places where shared resources belonging to all were hoarded for the few, only allowing the many into these conclaves long enough to labor for free or little compensation, but not permitted to stay and enjoy the stolen shared resources. And these many few soon forgot, in their fragile residences with the false sense of community, they forgot what we agreed.
So not surprising we find ourselves here, at this moment in time, with the civilization invoice of a thousand plus years fiercely stamped past due, and not surprisingly with mounting interest attached. An invoice with increasing interest at a time when our social structure is so dented, damaged, and broken that we not only have no resources to pay the massive debt, but no more excuses left to delay payment. Then the final blow, the enemy we vigorously fought internally, actually came externally. A tiny little, intelligent messenger with indescribable capabilities that will not be stopped, silenced, or understood. No matter how intelligent we thought or think we are, our industrialized tools are ineffective. A tiny little reminder of how a self-described great people with limited problem-solving skills when we work against each other, can be paralyzed and destroyed in an instant. Our only way out of this nightmare is to remember what we agreed.
We are witnessing the result of thousands of years of neglect from the moment when our civilization turned against itself. That moment when some of us decided that they should dominate and control the shared resources by manipulation and violent force, while realizing they would also need lots of submissive, free labor to do so. When a few unworthy humans decided only they and their kind, should keep the shared resources in their familial groups. That they should be the only ones who deserve to live labor-free, while other dominated and domesticated beings, should spend their short lives in all-consuming service; failure of which was punishable by torture, trauma, bondage, dehumanization, and violent deaths. That moment when those unworthy individuals betrayed the living being contract we all signed with our essence at birth.
Conceived by individuals we have come to learn, who did not even love or honor their own familial groups, this one horrible, selfish, self-serving decision, that went viral over days, weeks, months, and years. This thought spread, fueled by fear, panic and an unwillingness to face and relinquish the fear. A co-conspired plan to unhinge the community vision, the agreed human contract.
Little did they know, the dream seeded from the exhaustion of this devastating viral thought would spark in the souls of many, but due to their inferior status in society, would be theorized and mildly implemented by those beneficiaries of the original viral thought, and ultimately imposed on a people in a land far away. There, the dream would take on a new life, with the hope of finally healing the wrongful, viral outcome.
A dream of a meaningful, purposeful life lived in collaboration, education and understanding, and unlimited opportunity. A dream of a new space, and in this space, a cohesive government where the three branches of leadership, community representatives, and mediation advocates collaborate and make decisions solely on behalf of the inhabitants of this space, as well as what benefits inhabitants in the greater space. The dream of a widely diverse group of inhabitants, celebrating and honoring various ancestries, with a passion to exist and collaborate together for daily survival, for liberty in thought, beliefs, words and actions, knowing and agreeing that those four elements would each be expressed by every inhabitant no matter the age, ability, sex, gender or lifestyle with courage, kindness and compliance towards a society that empowers all to be their very best, while supporting us in healthy competition to meaningfully improve ourselves and the lives of others. The pledge, while occupying spaces previously occupied by other ancestral residents, that this space and its resources would be respected, shared equally, honored, and used gently, so there would be identical, plentiful resources for generations to come. The commitment to be loving supporters of those innocents that newly entered this space, not yet capable of fully existing in this space; and to honor all living beings that roamed the greater spaces inherent and free as we learned from them, appreciated them and honored them, especially in consumption that nurtures human life. A commitment to recognize our human existence is a mere moment in the universal span of existence and agree to make valid and valuable each and every moment. To appreciate the sun, wind, and water elements in all their manifestations, and not to contest these natural actions, but to learn to live within them. And most important, to value everything, find meaning and purpose in everything and everyone, and collectively celebrate the most phenomenal, yet simple moments and majesty about our world and our place in this magnificent existence.
We each took a solemn oath the minute our tiny eyes opened at the inhale of our birth. Remember?
Dr. Perkins can be reached at email@example.com. Omnigi Research is on the web at www.omnigi.com, and for quick connects with our community work, on Instagram @omnigi.research.
Written by Rahamim McCarter-Ribakoff, Jessica A. Lawrence, Sarah R. Zhou, Audrey J. Nunez, Delayna J. Reeve, and Erin Rose Ellison, California State University, Sacramento
We are a group of undergraduate students and one professor from California State University, Sacramento (CSUS) who participated, among 40 classmates, in a Photovoice Project on COVID-19. CSUS is a diverse institution, recognized as an Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institution (AANAPISI), and a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI). CSUS is committed to providing accessible, high quality education for all, serving many students from communities historically underrepresented in higher education (“Sacramento State demographics & diversity”, n.d.). Over half of the CSUS student population is considered low-income/Pell eligible. Health disparities based on race and class persist (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2020), and thus are a concern at CSUS, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Moreover, COVID-19 was at the forefront of city and regional news. In February, a patient transferred to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento and became the first case of COVID-19 in the U.S. with an unknown origin (“Sacramento State demographics & diversity”, 2020). California Governor Gavin Newsom mandated a temporary statewide shelter-in-place directive in March, so in-person lectures at schools were moved to virtual lectures (CSUS, 2020). Students and professors were required adjust plans to accommodate the changes.
When CSUS suspended in-person activities, existing projects of our research team (the COLLAB), as well as the final projects for both the Community Psychology (CP) class and the Qualitative Methods class, needed to be replaced. Therefore, our faculty mentor offered the option of a Photovoice project to document and examine experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photovoice aligns with COLLAB goals and approaches, including to promote social justice and healing by using a desire-based framework: an alternative to trends in social science research of depicting marginalized communities only in terms of damages sustained by an unjust society (Tuck, 2009). A desire-based framework orients researchers to understand oppression as one of many aspects of a community’s collective experience.
Students were prompted to document their experiences and desires using Photovoice, drawing upon participants’ imagination to craft a vision for the future that instills hope, promotes healing, and honors our collective histories and agency. We aim to present our stories of lived experience to expose the role that power asymmetries have contributed to our struggles, yet, we also include more positive aspects of our experiences, and our desires (i.e., hopes and dreams), to represent our lives in a way that is multifaceted, true-to-life, and affirming of our collective identity. In this way, we hope to avoid the psychological damage and social stigmatization that can be inflicted by well-meaning researchers who solely focus on oppression (Tuck, 2009).
You may have noticed that we are communicating about this project as both participants and researchers, because this is a Participatory Action Research (PAR) project, using Photovoice. Photovoice is a participatory approach to knowledge construction in which participants photograph and reflect upon their experiences according to one or more prompts (Wang & Burris, 1997). After taking photos, participants take part in group discussions focused on identifying commonalities and differences among the respective experiences of individual group members, and how these experiences are linked to structural causes (Langhout et al., 2016). The intended outcome is for participants to develop social bonds and a common understanding of structural issues facing a community (Wang et. al, 2000). For this project, participants undertook an additional step of reflecting on their experience by writing expository essays to accompany their photos.
Photovoice builds upon the idea that the people living an experience know what is best for themselves and their community. In this process, people can identify, represent and enhance their community through photography along with three primary goals: (a) to enable people to reflect their community’s strengths and concerns, (b) to promote critical dialogue and knowledge about important community issues through group discussions of photographs, and (c) to reach policymakers (Wang & Burris, 1997). Photovoice also serves as a window into people's lives through their own perspectives.
The faculty member leading our research team chose to offer Photovoice as a final project option largely due to its ability to promote collective empowerment and healing, because students (and faculty) were struggling in the COVID-19 context. Students were experiencing the impacts of the pandemic, ranging from unemployment to illness and loss. This assignment was offered to the CP class because it related to course concepts, such as conscientization. Conscientization, the process through which groups learn to connect their experiences to societal structures, allows individuals to make sense of their struggles without self-blame (Nelson & Prilleltensky, 2010, p. 29). This can create an atmosphere of mutual support. Through critical dialogue and shared knowledge production, it can also support the start of collective action to redress injustices faced by the group (Wang & Burris, 1997). Additionally, the Qualitative Methods class could no longer conduct their community-based research as planned, and thus needed a way to generate some textual data to analyze using a Social Constructivist paradigm in order to meet course goals.
Students took photos in response to the following prompts: (a) What is your experience of life during the COVID-19 pandemic? What is your life like in this context? (b) How is your experience shaped by your social location/the social groups you belong to (i.e., based on gender, race, class, migration, sexuality, religion, ability, etc...)? (c) What are your hopes and dreams for life during, and after, COVID-19?Once photos were taken, students participated in facilitated discussions, and wrote essays. In the CP class, participants incorporated understandings of their choice of 3 community psychology concepts to fulfill course requirements (i.e., students should apply CP frameworks and approaches to real world problems). In the Qualitative Research Methods class, students shared their essays with a small group of students so they could conduct qualitative data analysis using Thematic Analysis, fulfilling the course learning goals (Braun & Clarke, 2012). In the following section, we briefly highlight some of the work presented by participants. There were 40 participants, resulting in a total of approximately 200 essays. We identified a few photos to share, along with excerpts from the essays, and then sought permission to share them in this article. The first of our two photos is a self-portrait by student Chrystal Wilhight, depicting her from behind, holding an electronic tablet. Chrsytal writes:
"It is no shock that many people have been laid off from work since the beginning of this pandemic…this is my final paper of my senior year. I have a lot of different feelings about being educated and unemployed. I feel upset and mad that I put so much hard work into my education and now there is no work for me within my field because I am not considered an essential worker. I know many people around the country are frustrated because of the same reason and yet I feel guilty for complaining when there is something way bigger than my two years at Sacramento State, [it] couldn’t compare to me being educated and unemployed. I do however feel glad that our country is finally starting value [sic] minimum wage workers and to help people who cannot afford an education see that there is value in their work."
Student Delayna Reeve captured the second image we present. It depicts her husband in the foreground, taking in a beautiful outdoor scene in front of him. Delayna writes:
"I have been really struggling recently with a lot that has been going on in my life. With being stuck in the house I have lost a lot of my motivation to do the things that make me happy...So we set out and discovered a new hobby. Now whenever I am feeling down, my husband and I look up a random campground that we can go drive to and check out for another date. We started this a few weeks ago and it has really lifted my spirit. I don’t just feel trapped in one place for a month. It makes me feel like things are normal again, even just for a little while….I am grateful for this time to give me a new perspective at life, as well as an avenue to discover what really brings joy into my life."
In the coming semester, we plan to follow-up with all former student participants for an opportunity to join our research team, and/or for permission to display their work on our COLLAB website. We may continue with the Photovoice process with CP students in the Fall, as instruction will be online again. Many students reflected on how supportive and positive the experience with their Photovoice group was in their final presentations. We plan to undergo human subjects ethics review to conduct an interview study to understand student experiences of collective and deep engagement with their life under COVID-19. Finally, we plan to complete a Thematic Analysis of all Photovoice essays (Braun & Clarke, 2012). We look forward to continuing this work, and hopefully to disseminating our research to the broader community, at conferences, and in an academic journal. For more information about our process, please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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