Pandemic Experience Project Chronicles Student Challenges with COVID-19

Image by bluefield photos bp via Flickr.

Students at Diablo Valley College have been asked over the past year to share their voices as part of a collection of written, oral and visual archives known as the Pandemic Experience Project, documenting the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on their lives.

As a result, the project that began in Spring 2021 has published nearly 100 written submissions and recorded more than 40 oral histories, creating an insightful student archive of memory and experience from the pandemic.

Debbie Lee, director of the project and a history instructor at DVC, began the project last spring alongside her colleagues, Bridgitte Schaffer, chair of the Applied Arts and Social Sciences Department, and librarian Amanda Choi from the San Ramon Campus.

Lee said they got the idea to document students’ stories after learning that the California Historical Society (CHS) was collecting written and visual records of the pandemic experience and exhibiting them on its website. At the time, there were no other community colleges involved in the project.

“When we saw what the CHS was doing, we thought we should do this at DVC,” Lee told The Inquirer. “Initially, we started with the written and visual records, then quickly added recorded oral [histories] of pandemic experiences.”

This project is important because it creates a real time historical record, instead of recording the experience years later. Down the road, people’s memories are likely to be less accurate, so recording experiences now makes a more accurate historical record, Lee said.

To contribute to the project, participants have been asked to take a moment of self reflection as they respond to ways the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted their experiences at school and in everyday living. For some people, the break from in-person learning seemed to also affect them in positive ways.

“As a returning student after [over] 15 years, it was quite a challenge to navigate school online,” said Jonathan Gray, a DVC student who participated in the Pandemic Experience Project. But, “ultimately the freedom to work online has been a really useful skill. It taught me how to schedule, prioritize, and hold myself accountable.”

However, for many, the pandemic has also greatly changed what they think of as the “college experience.”

“I have missed out on opportunities not only [to] meet other students, but to create study groups to ensure I keep my 4.0,” said DVC student Sandy Kelsh. “I could have really used it last semester in philosophy. I also didn’t get a chance to participate in student activities or sign up for departments to work with other students. I feel I missed out on what makes college college.”

Even as most classes became suddenly virtual in 2020, many students learned to adapt quickly to a new learning style conducted outside the classroom. To some, the biggest lesson they learned through the pandemic was how to stay self motivated.

“I’ve learned that I need to keep my body and mind active, and that I need to create a structured routine to follow through with my tasks,” said DVC student Brian Coons. “I’ve also largely learned to have an open mind, to be flexible with technology, and to always try and learn something new.”

The project is a great way to practice self-reflection, Lee added, as participants set aside time to think about their experience and what they have learned and improved on.

“This is also an opportunity for members of the DVC community to stake a personal claim in the historical record,” said Lee. “Encouraging our diverse DVC community to submit their experiences to the project now will ensure a more equitable historical record for the future.”

Students can participate in the ongoing project by visiting the SRC Pandemic Experience Project and submitting their responses.