The Kiosk had the opportunity to interview Academic Director, Disability Studies, Mariette Bates, to learn about the challenges her department has faced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the start of the Spring 2020 semester, no one would have predicted that we would be beginning the Fall 2020 semester still dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed your department, students, if it all?
Our Disability Studies students are dealing with the same sorts of issues other SPS students face – some are working from home and caring for children who are also home. Some have lost jobs. We have some heroic students who are working with individuals with disabilities who, like nurses and other frontline workers, made enormous sacrifices to care for others during this pandemic. Some of our students are parents of children with disabilities who need extra attention or therapies that they weren’t receiving.
Our faculty went out of their way to try to help students through the spring semester. They modified assignments or extended time to complete assignments. Some held special zoom sessions for students just to connect. And they contributed to the emergency fund, too, to help our students.
What are some of the struggles that your department, students have faced?
Like the rest of the country, several of our students lost family members – parents or other close family members. Now, of course, they are worried about sending children back to school in these uncertain times. Or they are worried because they are unsure about employment and how to meet basic expenses. Because our students are all over the country, some are living in states or cities that are experiencing outbreaks of COVID now.
Difficult times show the best in people, who are some of the faculty and or students within your department that have demonstrated great resolve in light of the COVID-19 pandemic?
One of our students who identifies as being on the autism spectrum is in my thoughts. She was living with her mom, who died of COVID quite suddenly last spring. They were very close. She’s due to graduate at the end of this semester and I am in awe of her ability to keep on.
What is your take on the future of this pandemic?
I hope that we will soon have a viable vaccine. But I think that there are some societal changes that will happen. I’m afraid that many small business will be gone, and small businesses were the engine of our economy. Families have lost loved ones and that takes time to cope with. I worry about our neighbors who have lost jobs and now are facing eviction and hunger and how they are going to fare in the next few years as we recover from the effects of this pandemic. Our citizens with disabilities have fared badly during COVID, too, as they do during every disaster, and we need to learn from that experience.
I think COVID may change education in unforeseeable ways. Most of the classes at our School are online, but not all are. In a way our students and faculty are lucky because we’re used to online coursework and we’ve spend quite a lot of time thinking about how to teach online. But some colleges may not survive – I’m thinking here of small liberal arts colleges.