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Students reflect on struggles, silver lining of pandemic

Published on June 02, 2020

Students reflect on struggles, silver lining of pandemic


To help make sense of the “new normal” of COVID-19, English Professor Miriam Chirico and History Professor Anna Kirchmann used the spring 2020 semester as an opportunity for their students to reflect on the personal and societal impact of the pandemic.

Chirico’s first-year students were asked to document their experiences as their final class project. “Dispatches from the Pandemic” was modeled after a series of short essays in “The New Yorker,” where writers shared their imaginings about social isolation during the pandemic.

The students wrote 800-word reflections that reflected on their emotional response to the unrelenting daily news of the global health crisis. “Their dispatches took the form of a blended essay, where they were asked to thread together several lines of thinking into a thoughtful inquiry about themselves and the pandemic,” said Chirico. “Students reflected on where they found themselves, back at home, across the state and separated by distance, but connected to each other by the crisis and by their computers. The range of responses was striking, from worry and depression to happiness.”

In her essay, “This April,” Liz Bartoshevich wrote, “I have never felt a colder April before. Some days I worry all day. At least, we can remain comforted, knowing that we are not the first to fear our world is lost. If human beings overcame the wasteland of World War I, then we can overcome COVID-19.”

In her essay titled “A Friend Called Apathy,” Chloe Brzoska writes, “There’s been a few mood dips. A twinge of sympathy when my mom tells me that an entire family died. But just as suddenly as they come, they’re gone. I don’t dwell on sadness, or anger, or even missing loved ones . . . The world revolves neither around my happiness nor anyone else’s suffering; it revolves around the sun, and that is a very comforting thought.”

Several of Chirico’s students’ essays were published recently in the Manchester Journal-Inquirer and the Connecticut Mirror; all can be found on Eastern’s website at

Students in Kirchmann’s freshman course “Recent American History” provided eyewitness accounts of life during COVID-19. “Twenty-One Voices” emulates the primary historical sources utilized in class and will be deposited in the University’s library archives. “It is a gripping read,” said Kirchmann. “The authors are thoughtful and honest. Their stories are sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes heartwarming, and always poignant.”

“My dorm made me so happy,” wrote one student who’s struggled with returning home. “I could walk out of my room and chat with my friends as I passed them in the hallway… I was free to be myself and was growing as a person. I even miss the things I disliked and complained about — long walks to the campus dining hall, hard workouts from coach, waking up for early morning in-person classes.”

Another student felt guilty over not seeing her grandmother: “We had the opportunity to see her through a window at her facility, but I chose not to go. She would not know what was going on and it would have made me more upset to see her and not be able to hug her and tell her how much I love and miss her.”

“Both of my parents are nurses and work at a hospital,” wrote another student. “Every day my mother comes home from work exhausted, stressed and overwhelmed because of this horrible situation... It’s awful to see how a virus like this can break people down and tear through their sense of security.”

Kirchmann’s students also showed wisdom and optimism in their reflections. “My perception of society as a whole has changed,” wrote one student. “The world is so much grander than we take it to be on a daily level. We all have our own problems and events going on, but COVID has made me realize that we are all really the same.”

“Living through this experience is teaching me a lesson that every day is a gift and it shouldn’t be wasted,” wrote another. “After this pandemic, I believe people will show much more gratitude, especially for the little things.”

Written by Dwight Bachman and Michael Rouleau

Categories: History, English