Shows silhouetted figures with green or white or orange eyes massed together like they're part of an ink blot. They're standing underneath green virus-like figures. Written on top of the inkblot are the words "Are you OK?" in orange letters.
Robby Poore, Are You Okay?

Oral histories collected by students from the capstone course of the Duke University 2022 Science and the Public certificate program.

The COVID-19 pandemic upended campus life.

Much has changed since Duke University suspended all in-person classes, extended spring break in March of 2020 and abruptly left students in an unusual limbo.

The virus that led to more than a million deaths in the United States and more than 27,500 deaths in North Carolina pushed students, faculty, staff, researchers and others from university communities into isolation at a time when many would be gathering for traditional end-of-semester rituals.

Over time, though, they and others tied to Duke, a private, research university in Durham, found ways to bridge the social distances forced upon them.

There were Zoom calls, small outdoor meetups, mental health check-ins, online concerts and performances.

Duke University seniors Tyler Edwards, Shrey Majmudar and Xuanyu Zhou are students in the capstone course of the Science and the Public certificate program taught by Misha Angrist, a professor of the practice at the Duke Social Science Research Institute and senior fellow in the Initiative for Science & Society. They spent their last semester of their undergraduate experience delving into how an array of artists, administrators, students, and musicians created and found community during the pandemic.

They collected oral histories for their class and North Carolina Health News that give a panoramic view of how individuals lost and found fellowship amid COVID-19 and what impact that will have on post-pandemic.

Tyler Edwards, a biology major from Apex, North Carolina, spoke with artists. Those creatives included a fiber artist, a print maker and a ceramicist, all of whom are instructors at the university. Her interviews centered the experience of trying to teach a hands-on discipline when life was relegated to phone calls and Zoom.

Shrey Majmudar, a public policy major, sat down with Duke’s two most senior leaders in charge of the undergraduate experience to talk about how to build and maintain community, even as the student body was scattered to the four winds.

Xuanyu Zhou, a Biology major and classical voice student from Beijing, China, had conversations with performing artists who shared how the pandemic pushed them to become even more creative in sharing their art.

We hope you enjoy hearing these voices from the pandemic.

Tyler Edwards

Robby Poore. Cough, 2020.

Visual artists long for a pre-Zoom world, while creating new skills to take into the future.

“All these people kept asking me, ‘Are you okay?’ And I’d ask other people, ‘Are you okay?'”

Robby Poore

Interviews:

Robby Poore: Visual artist, graphic designer, painter

Anna Wallace: Fiber artist, weaver

Amber Mooers: Ceramics artist

Enter Tyler Edwards’ interview page

Xuanyu Zhou

Performing artists, worried about losing their audiences. They spoke about how they educated themselves on transmission of the virus and how to keep themselves, their students and eventually, their audiences safe during a time when many craved exposure to the arts. That meant going where the people were instead of them expecting audiences to come to them.

“As the months wore on, people’s interest really kind of started to wane. I think people got tired of watching clever Zoom videos of musicians. So it became a little bit less fun to do.”

Eric Pritchard
Members of the Ciompi Quartet (l to r): Hsiao-mei Ku, second violin; Caroline Stinson, cello; Jonathan Bagg, viola; Eric Pritchard, first violin. Credit: Contributed photo

Interviews:

Carla Copeland-Burns: flutist, music and orchestra instructor at Duke

Eric Pritchard: violinist, Professor of the practice at Duke and member of the Ciompi Quartet

Jules Odendahl-James: Director of Academic Engagement for the Arts and Humanities at Duke who also works with actors at the university

Enter Xuanyu Zhou’s interview page

Shrey Majmudar

University officials and student leaders worked tirelessly to make sure that students felt connected and heard. But sometimes it wasn’t enough.

“I think we understood students’ need for community, especially with the first years – they’d never seen Duke before. I can’t imagine how hard that year was for them, making friends and not having avenues that Duke usually creates for you to meet people.”

Ysanne Spence
Duke University Union on the west campus of the school Credit: Matt Walter

Interviews:

Gary Bennett, Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education and Mary Pat McMahon, Vice President of Student Affairs

Amy Powell: Associate Dean of Students/Director of DukeReach

Ysanne Spence: Student leader

Enter Shrey Majmudar’s interview page