“My Pandemic”: Centering CUNY Students’ Experiences Through Digital Autoethnography (Event Recap)

This post was written by Contributing Author Nerve V. Macaspac, Asst. Professor of Geography, College of Staten Island; Doctoral Faculty, Earth & Environmental Sciences, Graduate Center.

On March 11, 2021, I organized a film screening of “My Pandemic” (2020, 6:55) and a conversation among students from different CUNY campuses centering on student experiences of the pandemic. This day was significant as it was also the 1st-year anniversary since New York City went on lockdown and CUNY transitioned to online learning in response to global COVID-19 pandemic. Over 65 participants including students, faculty and HEOs from CSI, BMCC, Hunter College, John Jay College, Queens College, and St. John’s University attended the event.

“My Pandemic” is a short autoethnographic film that captures a day-in-a-life of the students and reveals their unique and shared experiences across the uneven geographies of the pandemic. The film was co-produced by my students and myself in my Urban Geography course at CSI in Fall 2020. As part of their fieldwork project, students were asked to capture a 1-minute autoethnographic video of their daily lives shot on the same day. Each student was then asked for consent to include their submissions in the short film and sharing of the film for educational purposes.  From staying at home, helping family members with remote learning, packing 3D-printed hand sanitizer containers for shipping, or walking through the rain to start a work shift at a homeless shelter, the autoethnographic vignettes in the film highlight the shared and unique experiences of the students during the pandemic.  

Click below to watch the film:  

https://youtu.be/VFPzTMQ91uE

After the film screening, a student panel consisting of Leyla Matkarimova (Science, Letters & Society), Kamelea Torres (Liberal Arts), Isidro Zacarias (Liberal Arts) who participated in the film and Aurora Collado (Geography) who participated in the previous cohort of the Urban Geography course in Fall 2019 started the conversation with their personal reflections. I also circulated a few open-ended questions to ask participants to reflect on the film. Here are some of the responses: 

“It was truly an accurate description of the pandemic. It was very relatable in a sense that as a New Yorker in the middle of a pandemic I can show other non-New Yorkers that this was what my life was like.” 

“It really gives you a first-hand experience of different perspectives of the lockdown. I was able to see how people lived their lives during lockdown and view people’s opinions about the pandemic in ways that were different from mine.” 

“The online learning. The empty streets at night. The trapped-at-home kinda feeling.” 

“How one of the students had his job shut down and it was the same for me with an after school program.” 

“It feels good to talk about the pandemic. I feel a lot of professors do not talk about it as much as they should, especially with us still going through it at this moment. I felt better within myself because I felt like a bum not working or going out most days, but then I saw that almost everyone is doing the same because that’s all we can do right now. I learned a lot and really loved this zoom call.” 

“It was great. I love the CUNY community. I wish there were more inter-campus relationships.” 

“We all have different lives and perspectives. But we are all going through the lockdown together so we need to make sure that we understand each other.” 

As many CUNY students and their families and communities are some of the most impacted by the pandemic, there is a great need to better capture and understand the students’ individual and collective experiences. The film screening succeeded in creating a space and providing an opportunity for students across CUNY campuses to talk to one another about their shared and unique experiences.  

Acknowledgements 

Thanks to the Transformative Learning in the Humanities (TLH), specifically to Dr. Shelly Eversley, Dr. Cathy Davidson, Dr. Christina Katopodis, and Khanh Le, for co-sponsoring the event. Special thanks to the student panelists, my students in Urban Geography at CSI, and everyone who joined us at the film screening and those who contributed their reflections of the film. 

To learn more about the film and GeospatialCSI, please visit https://geospatialcsi.commons.gc.cuny.edu/. Follow us on twitter, facebook or instagram @GeospatialCSI. For questions, please reach out to me at nerve.macaspac@csi.cuny.edu.

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