Show The Graduate Center Menu
 
 

Waiting to Exhale: Students, Faculty, and Staff Reflect a Year After the COVID Shutdown

Megan Henriquez, Rod Hurley, Tracy Dennis-Tiwary, and Shawna Townsend

It has been a year since COVID altered life at CUNY, and life in general. Once we gathered in classrooms, hallways, and cafeterias. Now we gather largely on Zoom. Too many of us have lost loved ones and treasured colleagues or faced financial hardship and uncertainty, or both. More of us have had to change the ways we work, teach, learn, and spend time with families and friends. 

To take stock of this year and what lies ahead, we invited Graduate Center students, faculty, and staff to share their experiences. A nursing Ph.D. student described how the 7 p.m. cheer made her feel. Our chief librarian helped kids find solace in cats. A student canceled her dissertation research trip and reconfigured her project. 

We excerpt the stories here and invite you to read the full reflections, and, if you’d like, send us yours

Shawna Townsend
Shawna Townsend

Ph.D. student Shawna Townsend (Nursing) was on the front lines at the outset of the pandemic, preparing nurses at the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) to treat critically ill COVID-19 patients. She said,

“One good memory is the 7 p.m. cheer. My heart would become full of emotions as store owners, residents in their windows, and pedestrians on the street corners would set up with metal pots and spoons, cowbells, or simple applause for us as health care workers. There was a time I thought to myself that I could pull over right now and lie in the middle of the street and watch the sky for five minutes before another car comes on the scene. I found peace driving for miles on empty streets and highways. It made me feel good that people were staying home and that they were safe indoors.”

Read her full reflection

Meghan Henriquez
Megan Henriquez

Ph.D. student Megan Henriquez (Anthropology) planned to travel to Costa Rica to collect data for her dissertation on parasitic infections in capuchin monkeys. Stuck in New York City, she altered her plans, and said,

“Initially, I found it hard to set boundaries for myself. I would either be working all day — from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to sleep, or I would take entire days off because I was just too burnt out to do anything productive. I think now, I'm finally learning to pace my work better. I have set hours when I'm online, and I'm trying to set daily routines to give me back any sense of normalcy.”

Read her full reflection


Emily Drabinski

Interim Chief Librarian Emily Drabinski was “eating Ilocos empanada and laughing too hard with students and faculty from the library school at the University of the Philippines, Diliman,” when the pandemic turned serious. Since then, she has been “focused on The Graduate Center library: keeping myself, my colleagues and the community safe while maximizing access to library resources and services at a distance.” She reflected,

“It is very hard to be productive when you don’t know if colleagues who miss meetings might be dead. At the beginning of the pandemic, that was a real and constant fear and it lingers now even as death rates have dropped. 

For the first five months of the pandemic, I ran a 30-minute online Cat Chat! for kids at 8 a.m. each weekday morning. We’d discuss the Cat Chat Question of the Day (e.g., If your cat went to school what would their favorite subject be?) and showed each other our cats on Zoom while their parents grabbed a few minutes without them. If you need a strong injection of joy, ask a kid who loves cats about their cat.”

Read her full reflection

Sandra Lawson

Sandra Langston

Ph.D. student Sandra Langston (Nursing) is a member of the NYC Medical Emergency Reserve Corp (MERC). At the outset of the pandemic, she was on the front lines caring for coronavirus patients. She said,

“I am not convinced that life as I knew it would return to normal after the pandemic. I think that the devastation and loss of life caused by COVID-19 are forever engrained in my memory and will impact my decisions about social gatherings and travel. However, I look forward to vacationing at an isolated resort where I can relax on the beach, enjoy the sunshine, take in the oceanfront view's peacefulness, and exhale from the events of 2020.”

Read her full reflection.

Rod Hurley
Rod Hurley

Ph.D. student Rod Hurley (Psychology) is a social psychologist, recording artist, songwriter, and digital music producer. He’s also co-chair for communications of the Doctoral and Graduate Students' Council (DGSC), and he has taken up baking during the pandemic. “It’s been almost a full year since I bought bread!” he said, and also reflected,

“Seeing how much others have lost and endured, I consider myself very blessed and fortunate through all of this. I’m thankful that nobody in my family contracted the virus or was unable to work. I was able to spend more time with my family at home.

One thing that has definitely surprised me is the resilience of my undergrad students! They’ve been through a lot, and most of them have really risen to the challenge and pressed on.”

Read his full reflection.

Tracy Dennis-Tiwrary

Tracy Dennis-Tiwary

Professor Tracy Dennis-Tiwary (GC/Hunter, Psychology) studies the causes and consequences of stress and anxiety. She shared these “lessons learned,”

“Stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health problems have increased during COVID. I’m particularly concerned about young people. In a recent COVID-19 trends survey, almost 90% of physicians say that the mental health of their patients is their biggest concern for the coming year. 

But there's good news, too. First, we’re more resilient than we think. Research shows that many children who lived through the Beijing SARS lockdown of 2002–2003 emerged with few long-term mental health problems, and even showed increased signs of positive adjustment. The science of adversity shows that, with support, when we face challenges head on we can come out stronger. 

Second, since the pandemic began, we’re more open to talking about mental health, and know that’s it’s OK not be OK, which reduces stigma and helps us seek help when needed. This dialogue will push policymakers, insurers, employers, etc., to prioritize giving everyone access to mental health services. Indeed, we’ve seen digital therapies and tele-medicine truly take off like never before. It’s no longer a luxury. It's a priority.”

Read her full reflection.

Arielle Shanok

Arielle Shanok

Arielle Shanok is deputy director of The Graduate Center’s Wellness Center for Student Counseling Services. When COVID-19 hit New York, she and her colleagues were “awash in uncertainties,” having no experience in tele-health and wondering, “Does that even work?” She said, 

“So where are we? We are all trained and comfortable providing tele-health services, as are our awesome clinicians-in-training. In March, we temporarily paused our groups. Yet, in response to group members requesting to meet, we got all groups back up and running and even added an Academic Support Group for Black Identified Students. It turns out that tele-health services, for the most part, work! We built up our academically-oriented services so that students who moved out of state or country could participate. We are expanding our referral networks across the globe as we partner with students living outside of New York in finding local, affordable treatment. We revamped our workshop series to address pressing needs. … I don’t think any of us could have fully imagined what we’ve been able to achieve. And we are ever learning.”

Read her full reflection.

Luke Waltzer

Luke Waltzer

Luke Waltzer is a Graduate Center alumnus and director of its Teaching and Learning Center. He and his team have been guiding faculty and doctoral students who teach at CUNY as they adjust their practices for the digital classroom. He commented,

“The most generative and fulfilling conversations about teaching and learning center on an ethos of care and a sense of purpose about the work. The pandemic and its disruptions have made those values ever more necessary at CUNY, and I’ve learned how important it is for me to feel at the end of the day that my contributions to my students and to the University have been, above all else, humane. That goal will continue to guide my work well into the future.”

Read his full reflection.

Published by the Office of Communications and Marketing

Submitted on: MAR 10, 2021

Category: Anthropology | Diversity | GCstories | General GC News | Nursing Science | Psychology | Student Counseling Services | Student News | Teaching and Learning Center | Voices of the GC