By Lucy Neubeck and Ty Reinbold
When Wei-ren Murray enrolled in her last term of college, she never expected that she would be spending it isolated in her home, preparing to move to an unfamiliar city for a new job as a software engineer. Over a year later, the Coronavirus continues to impact the world at large, but to Murray, the pandemic “isn’t as horrible as it could have been.”
“I feel like I had a kind of weird experience where I graduated in May and I had already accepted a job and everything and I wasn’t sure at the time how the pandemic was going to go, so I still moved to a new city. We got a dog and for me the pandemic has been weird but also maybe not as horrible as it could be, because of all these new things.”Wei-ren Murray
Murray was one of the five participants to take part in a session of facilitated dialogue hosted by University of Oregon Journalism students in collaboration with the MIT Behavioral Research Lab. The session was one of a series of dialogues with the goal of using a generative dialogue framework, with a focus on deep listening, to understand and report on the lived experiences of a diverse population during the Coronavirus pandemic.
These dialogues included a visual element in the form of MURAL, an online visual collaboration workspace that helped provide structure to the conversations, allowing for more engagement and open communication between participants. The participants were led through a variety of activities including a “circle of trust” exercise that delved into the levels of trust they have for various institutions, including medical professionals, politicians, local and federal government and celebrities.
Murray is fortunate to be able to work from home, even though that requires spending most of her time in front of a computer screen. This doesn’t stop her from feeling isolated and alone and she expresses an urge to begin building the new social networks that were halted by the pandemic
“I feel like the moment I had where I was really worried about this and where it really hit me was…I feel like I was in shock when I found out that we’d be going remote for the last bit of my senior year. And I got all the way to moving to Pittsburgh and feeling like I was kind of riding that high. But after a bit I realized that I was starting a new job in a new place and I didn’t know anyone and I had a little bit of panic there.”Wei-ren Murray
Ashley Kinyanjui, recognizes the horrors of the pandemic, but is also quick to talk about the positives as well. She appreciates how the world has slowed down, allowing her more time to focus on her health and hopes to “come out of the pandemic a better person.” During a part of the dialogue when participants were asked to draw images that represented their experience of the pandemic, she drew a tree. Half of the tree was healthy and half was unhealthy.
“So the healthy side had green and the other side was super exposed to the sun. One side represented the strain which it brought and some opportunities which it brought with it and the middle was calm.”Ashley Kinyanjui
The slowdown has also caused Kinyanjui some pain, as she notes that the travel restrictions have taken a toll on her mental health because she has been unable to visit her family, something that is very important to her. This led her to wish for more transparency around everything Coronavirus related. She suggested more coverage, education and information about the finer details of the virus and vaccine could lead to more acceptance of national guidelines. This could result in families being united sooner.
“Being alone really, really isn’t healthy. I try as much as possible to interact with people. Yeah, and mostly it’s just family. I am a huge family person so when I need to [inaudible] physically it just causes me a lot of stress at times.”Ashley Kinyanjui
Upmanyu Banerjee, a revenue analyst in Massachusetts, worries about the toll anxiety has taken on his life during the pandemic. Thoughts of job security and fears of “catching the virus” come to mind as he speaks about the past year and he finds himself hoping for more stability that will allow him to finally meet his new colleagues, visit his office for the first time and travel again.
“Basically people are facing huge anxiety issues and they are in a lot of, how would I put this? A lot of tension in their head. Be it on the job side, people are losing their job. On the other side they are also scared about the virus, if it comes to them. I mean, there would be a lot of consequences.“Upmanyu Banerjee
He questions the efficacy rate of the current leading coronavirus vaccines and the levels of trust he feels towards the various sources of information available to him. He puts a lot of trust in his local government and seems to engage and respect the effort they have been putting into combatting the pandemic. However, he doesn’t look so kindly on the federal government, particularly not trusting the agenda of U.S. politicians.
“I remember one of my friend’s relatives, he got vaccinated from Pfizer. He got both the shots, but he got that strain from India. He traveled to India and unfortunately he passed away, even after the vaccination. So that is my big concern. Is this vaccination really effective or not?”Upmanyu Banerjee
Shraddha Savlani compared her time during the pandemic to being locked in a cage, but is hopeful that someday soon she will be able to leave it. She feels the U.S. is doing a good job at vaccinating it’s citizens and is hoping to begin travelling again by the end of the year.
“I just keep thinking when everything is going to go back to normal. I used to like going out, traveling, going shopping, going to work, so I’m just thinking about… my hopes are that by the end of this year everyone, the majority of us, will get vaccinated.”Shraddha Savlani
Even with rollouts of vaccines across the country, Salvani’s concerns pivot towards the methods used to inform the nation about the progress of vaccinations. She would like to see more effort being put into giving real-time updates on where the vaccine is being distributed, how each demographic can get vaccinated and more testimonials from people who have received the vaccine.
“What I would like to see in the news is more informative stuff about if you don’t have a vaccine yet, where can you go, which slots have opened up, where do you get which vaccine. And then information about…there is information online of course, but it’s more good to have realtime information, more testimonials of people who have taken the vaccine.”Shraddha Savlani
Sierra, a social media assessor, describes her new life in the pandemic as virtual, spending most of her time staring at a monitor at home. This is a stark contrast to her life before the Coronavirus, when she spent most of her time engaged as a student where she worked and interacted heavily with the community.
“I never leave my house really. This is my only form of interacting with other people. And it’s been like that for pretty much the entire pandemic. My computer is basically my life now. Which is very different from before because I used to spend a lot of time at school, which I also worked at. And I kind of was very involved with the community there. So I was just kind of thrown into this weird online life thing.”Sierra
Even with the struggles the pandemic has brought her, she still is hopeful of the impact this will have on her future, being part of a major moment in history. Before the pandemic, she felt her life was uneventful, and now she feels more connected to the people around her during the shared experience.
With that in mind, she also felt concerned about the uneven distribution of vaccines across the country and world, noting some towns received large vaccine shipments that resulted in fully vaccinated populations, while others, primarily regions with high populations of people of color, continued to struggle to gain access to the same vaccines.
“A lot of people have been not getting it because they’re worried about side-effects and all that, and they think they’re going to die while taking it. I get that some of those side-effects are scary but I think it would be good for people to understand why they happen and that some of them are supposed to happen.”Sierra
She also noted a need for medical professionals to spend more time explaining the vaccine, administration processes and side-effects to the masses, suggesting it may be needed for more positive public approval.
The dialogues revealed many common themes among the participants, including feelings of isolation, uncertainty and scepticism surrounding the federal government and efficacy of the Coronavirus vaccines. They went further to emphasize the unequal distribution of vaccines and called for more transparency surrounding information about all aspects of the pandemic, including a request for more education for the public at large and more clarity about the production of the vaccine.
These participants shared similar demographics, so opinions seemed to be shared through the majority of the dialogue. The one major consensus was a desire for a return to normal life.
This student-produced story was reported and written in Professor DeVigal’s engaged journalism class in the winter of 2021. The course focused on the Generative Dialogue Framework (GDF) to host small-group conversations with folks across the U.S. Learn more about this process in this article: University of Oregon students test a new framework for dialogue-driven reporting.