As we began planning the first issue of Footnotes to be produced entirely from home, it was self-evident that we should focus on the COVID-19 pandemic. I feel confident in saying that not a single member of ASA has been unaffected by this crisis, and some in profound and heartbreaking ways.
The Sociology and Anthropology Department at my institution has been doing what so many others have done over the past couple of months – finding a way to keep our classes moving forward through the abrupt and unexpected shift to virtual teaching, the weeks that have followed, and the months ahead.
My first visit to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) archive in Geneva, Switzerland was demoralizing. I had corresponded with an ICRC archivist and perused the catalog, but upon arriving I discovered that the boxes I had believed held the material needed for my dissertation thesis were gone. The archivist speculated those boxes may have been lost to fire or rats decades ago. But he also understood the questions I was pursuing, and provided boxes filed close to where the boxes I was looking for should have been.
If there is one thing that can be said about ethnography, it is that social intimacy, and not social distancing, is crucial. While we are to remain a six-foot distance from each other, not meet in groups of more than 10 (or of two in Berlin), or to shelter at home, what are the possibilities for ethnographic research? What is its future in the world that follows?
Personal experiences and anecdotal accounts from others have demonstrated to us that departments are frequently ill-equipped to provide adequate resources, support, and mentorship for graduate students. Current graduate students often feel that tenured professors are out of touch with increasing demands on graduate students. Publishing, classes, assistantships, internships, conference presentations, and association leadership roles are expected.
As I am writing this, we are in the midst of a global pandemic. Everything has changed. I haven’t been to campus in weeks. My daughter in high school has had weeks without any word from her teachers. My daughters in college have come back home and have all of their instruction online. My home office has become my permanent office.
This spring semester began better for me than past semesters. As a contingent faculty member in my department for many years, I am familiar with spring semester’s looming fear: “Will my contract be renewed for next year?” The majority of contingent higher education faculty are on annually renewed contracts or paid on a per-course basis. We become accustomed to our job insecurity, or as accustomed as one can be when raising a family or paying off student loans (or both).
I am a User Experience (UX) researcher leading projects for three product experiences at Yahoo — Yahoo Fantasy Sports, Yahoo Sports, and Yahoo Sportsbook. During this unique historical and social moment, I know that fans everywhere are sorely missing games and other sporting events. There are not many days in a typical year when there are no major sports to watch, and now we have months of such days. With a major source of entertainment removed, what are sports fans watching, reading, and discussing? How are they filling their time?
“If people need help and I’m here, it's my fight.” – Riri Williams, Ironheart, Issue 9
If faculty are intellectual capital for a doctoral-granting, research university, what are the graduate students? What do faculty communicate and recognize as valuable during graduate education? As Harvard doctoral candidate Nadirah Farah Foley (2020) recently argued, “Our labor sustains colleges’ educational missions. Now it’s time for universities to sustain us.” In what form does sustenance, and dare we say relief, come from these institutions?
When I saw the snaking line of people standing in the rain and cold outside Elmhurst Hospital I found myself thinking, “the huddled masses yearning to be tested for COVID-19.” Situated in Queens, in one of the most diverse zip codes in the nation, Elmhurst Hospital is part of New York City’s public hospital network and serves a population similar to that of LaGuardia Community College, whose student body originates from 150 nations and speaks 98 languages.