A new data-visualization project is collecting information from faculty and staff members about how many of their students have contracted Covid-19 or are quarantining, and about how those workers feel about the state of affairs on their campus.
The visualization is the latest effort from the Visionary Futures Collective, which since the spring of 2020 has been documenting colleges’ responses to the pandemic and individual workers’ experience of Covid-19.
The project began when members of the collective noticed that their Twitter timelines had been flooded by campus employees writing about the number of students they work with who had come down with Covid-19. As Hannah Alpert-Abrams, an independent scholar and collective member, wrote on Twitter, “The numbers don’t seem to match up to what universities are reporting.” (One respondent endorsed that theory, writing that “I have more students telling me they have Covid than appear on our dashboard.”)
So far, 90 people have responded to the Google Form where Alpert-Abrams and her collaborator, Elizabeth Grumbach, a digital humanist at Arizona State University, are collecting information. Forty-two percent of respondents reported that they had no students with a Covid diagnosis, but Alpert-Abrams noted that number includes librarians and other staff members who may not work directly with students. Sixty-two percent of classroom instructors who responded to the survey had at least one known Covid case among their students, and a handful said they had at least 10 students with the virus.
A third of respondents indicated they were feeling “exhausted” by the situation, with “anxious” as the second-most-commonly reported emotion.
Written responses to the form, which are recorded anonymously, also provide insight into campus workers’ thoughts on the return to campus. Among them:
- “I am fully vaccinated and have now tested positive for Covid. The health department is pretty sure I contracted it on the first day of classes. I feel like as much as I am trying to do right, the university will only do the minimum to keep anyone safe, and it isn’t enough.”
- “I’m 28 weeks pregnant, and although I’m fully vaccinated, I don’t want to experience a breakthrough case. I see plenty of students walking our hallways unmasked, even though facial coverings are required indoors for everyone, regardless of vaccination status.”
- “I have two students who have reported an exposure and attended online out of an abundance of caution. I am grateful for their thoughtfulness, but I’m sure there’s more I don’t know about. The reporting setup and support is far below what it was last year at this time and a lot of my anxiety comes from the lack of any real information we can rely on.”
- “I am working at an institution that is implementing more restrictions than most universities … Yet I still feel like I am taking a massive risk with the increased knowledge about the Delta variant, but I am not financially in a place where I can quit. Meanwhile, my tenured counterpart is teaching the same course online from the safety of her private office or home. I am terrified of catching Covid in the classroom and am beyond furious that I am forced to risk my health to get paid at a rate that won’t even cover my half of our rent each month.”
- “Watching/living through a slow-motion car crash. And it’s only the second week of classes!”
Alpert-Abrams and Grumbach hope their visualization, like other work by the Visionary Futures Collective, provides real-time documentation of this fall’s campus reopening, they wrote to The Chronicle. “It does feel important to capture what’s happening as some sort of record — the past year and a half has happened fast, decisions have happened so quickly, and as workers in the systems, we haven’t had time to pause, share information with each other, and build solidarity.”