The Evergreen State College’s new Pandemic Academy has something to offer anyone with an interest in thinking critically about the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. A series of eight lectures led by an interdisciplinary group of Evergreen faculty form the backbone of the Academy and are available on YouTube for public viewing. Lecture topics include food justice, the biology of viral infections, implications for unsheltered, undocumented, and incarcerated individuals, and the ethical challenges of large-scale crises, among others.
“The premise of the class is to create a written record of how people are living through the pandemic and what they are thinking about it,” Nancy explains. “It was designed to generate thought and leave a record.” Nancy hopes to compile and publish a collection of some of her students’ writings once the quarter is over.
Over 50 students are enrolled in the Academy’s formal two-credit course led by faculty member Nancy Koppelman. Planners of the course originally anticipated enough enrollment for one class, but that expectation was doubled. Nancy leads two different 90-minute seminar-style Zoom classes per week. Her students watch the lectures live on Tuesday afternoons, then engage with the content of the lecture by writing response paragraphs and engaging in weekly discussions of the topic at hand.
Before the first lecture, Nancy asked Pandemic Academy students to write a paper reflecting on their own lives in the first two weeks of the shelter in place order. “Evergreen students are used to being unfiltered in their responses,” says Nancy. “In this moment, that is so valuable.” She explains the inherent worth of memoirs over the course of history, and how much they’ve contributed to our historical understanding. “These students might be articulating experiences others are having but might not be able to describe for themselves,” Nancy goes on.
At the end of the quarter, students will be asked to read their original paper and all of their lecture response papers. Their culminating assignment will be to write a paper about how their thoughts and feelings have changed over the course of the quarter. They will also be asked to articulate one effort they feel is worth their energy as they move forward into a world recovering from the pandemic.
Victoria Wendel is a junior who recently transferred to Evergreen to round out a pre-nursing degree with an understanding of socioeconomic injustices present in our healthcare system. She enrolled in the Pandemic Academy course so she could study how the pandemic is impacting our healthcare system as well as food and other social systems. “By taking the class I’ve gotten to know how the systems that I’m involved with have been affected by the pandemic and also how to move forward,” Victoria says. “It’s also taught me how to develop tangible solutions, how to work with others, and how to take care of myself despite what’s going on.”
Evergreen faculty member Carolyn Prouty offers a lecture on the social epidemiology of COVID-19 that asks, “Who is getting sick and why?” Carolyn was part of the group of faculty who manifested Pandemic Academy. “We realized we had at least two groups of people who have already been thinking and talking about pandemics, as well as resilience on community, individual and planetary levels,” explains Carolyn. “We knew we needed to bring them together to help our students and our broader community make sense of the pandemic and all the changes it would bring.”
Carolyn is an example of a faculty member incorporating the lectures into the year-long course she and her co-teacher, Joli Sandoz, started teaching in the fall called “Irrepressible Bodies: Hope, Health and Resilience in a Turbulent World.” Pandemic Academy lectures are helping their students make connections to deepen their learning. Many other programs are doing the same thing.
Countless Evergreen students are intentionally framing their learning in the context of the pandemic this term with the help of Pandemic Academy. Any Evergreen student interested in continuing their pandemic-related study into the summer may enroll in an independent study course and work one-on-one with a faculty member.
Carolyn explains that the seeds of Pandemic Academy grew from a broader movement among some college leaders and faculty towards framing their curriculum and operations around resilience. By leveraging an interdisciplinary team of thinkers, Evergreen is uniquely suited to delve into the tougher issues the pandemic presents. “We all knew this pandemic was going to reveal inequities, disparities and truths that have been there all along,” says Carolyn. There was no time to waste in engaging students and the community as a whole and challenging them to confront some of our society’s most pressing matters.
Many of the lectures are well over an hour long. They are a gift to the community. “Making the lectures available to the public is an expression of Evergreen’s mission to provide expertise in a way that’s down to earth and meaningful to the concerns that many people have right now,” says Nancy.
Take advantage of the opportunity to think critically with the faculty and students at The Evergreen State College by visiting the Pandemic Academy YouTube playlist.