Students, DCA documenting moment in time during COVID-19

Courtesy Megan Kang

The COVID-19 pandemic will without a doubt make the history books, and as members of a generation living through this crisis while in college, every Tufts student will have a story to share with the people of the future. 

Tufts students are finding unique ways to document these times.

One such student is Megan Kang, a senior who has been documenting this time through photography. Kang first began falling in love with the art of photography while abroad in France through the Tufts in Talloires program and took that passion back with her to Medford upon her return. 

“I started really loving photography and specifically landscapes and nature ever since I studied abroad,” Kang said. “I think just living in Paris really opened my eyes to capturing the nature as the seasons changed … So I brought that into Tufts when I came for my senior year.” 

However, her photography is taking on a whole new meaning with the onset of the COVID-19 crisis. Kang, whose family currently lives in South Korea, has been spending her time since Tufts moved to online instruction in an off-campus house with some friends in Medford. With few students on campus, her photography has become quite different than it used to be. 

 Courtesy Megan Kang

“Currently I’m working on my Tufts in spring project, and it’s been bittersweet because when you walk around the campus, spring is definitely here, but the students aren’t,” Kang said. “It’s a lot of locals and their kids going on walks and picnicking on the Prez Lawn.”

Courtesy Megan Kang

Kang has been working on a series throughout the school year that she wanted to wrap up before the end of the year. 

“I’ve been capturing the colorful phases of this little tree right next to the French House, where I used to live until just a month ago,” Kang said. “I took one in the fall, one in the winter with the snow and I recently got a picture in the spring with the magnolia. Before my flight back home to Korea, I hope to capture its early summer green.”

First-year Olivia Ting has been documenting her experiences during this pandemic in a different way. Ting has been writing — journals, poetry, letters — while at her home in Pelham, N.Y. 

Ting has always loved writing in the form of journals and letters, but her passion for creative writing truly sprang into action during the shift to online classes and the current pandemic. 

“I think [creative writing] was just really intimidating because I’d never taken a poetry class or done any creative writing whatsoever, but poetry was the main form that I wanted to try,” Ting said. “Then, once spring break hit, I was like now seems like a really great time to try it.” 

Ting noted that her writing has been helping her process her new normal of living as a college student during a pandemic and that her thoughts and feelings have been complicated as she tries to do this. 

“It’s been a lot of poems, just kind of like me rambling but trying to make it sound profound or try to make something beautiful out of something that’s seemingly simple or not beautiful, or kind of tragic, like this entire situation,” Ting said. 

Much of Ting’s writing recently has been about missing friends and being on campus, as well as about mental health. 

“Writing about mental health is so difficult. There’s so much,” Ting said. “Something that I’m really struggling with actually is figuring how to articulate whatever my feelings are regarding mental health … or trying to make sense of all of the things that I’m feeling in regards to this entire situation.”

Ting and Kang are not alone in their efforts to document how they are processing this pandemic. Tufts students have been painting, playing in virtual concerts and posting memes and other social media content to acknowledge their feelings of uncertainty and isolation or to try to find the silver lining in all of this. 

The ways in which Tufts students are documenting this pandemic can be remembered for years to come and analyzed by future students through the COVID-19 Documentation Project organized by Tufts Digital Collections and Archives (DCA). 

The DCA is operated by a team of archivists who manage the university’s records and is home to both digital and physical archives.

“We have records of the university that go back to even a little bit before 1852 all the way up through right now,” Dan Santamaria, director of the DCA, said. “So we have the records of the university administration and the president’s office, departments and alums and students.”

Following the announcement that Tufts would be moving to online instruction, the DCA started putting together a program for students and staff to submit their media documenting this momentous time in history from their perspectives. 

“When this all started happening — not immediately, because immediately I think we were all sort of in the same boat as everyone else, trying to figure out what we would be doing for the next couple of weeks — but really quickly, we thought, ‘This is something that we’ll want to document,’” Adrienne Pruitt, the collections management archivist for the DCA, said. 

Soon after the announcement that Tufts would move online, the archivists started searching their records for information on the Spanish Flu. They found minimal records from the Spanish Flu pandemic more than 100 years ago, which marked the last time Tufts closed for a pandemic.

“There’s not a lot of first-person accounts about that, so we didn’t want that gap in the records to occur again,” Pruitt said. 

Pruitt noted that this project could be helpful for students and faculty to document their lives and how they’re feeling at this time. 

“We thought it might be helpful for other students and other people across the university who were maybe looking for a way to process this or who would naturally be keeping a journal anyway,” Pruitt said.

Margaret Peachy, the DCA’s digital archivist, has been working to document the various websites that are putting out information regarding Tufts’ response to this crisis. The DCA now has this ability to document more material than was possible during the time of the Spanish Flu pandemic. 

“We’re collecting official university sites, so announcements from the president’s office, the provost’s office and from all of the different schools, but we’re also crawling specific Tufts Daily articles,” Peachy said. “We don’t usually curate our web collections to this extent, so I think this will be a really interesting encapsulation to look back on to really be able to see the public-facing response from the university that was put out there on the web.”

Currently, the DCA is taking submissions of COVID-19 related content being produced by students and faculty. 

“Right now, it’s really focused digital submission, so that might come in the form of text, whether it’s a narrative or a diary or even email correspondence, photos, videos or really anything that folks are using to document their experiences,” Jane Kelly, the DCA’s records and accessioning archivist, said. 

Nevertheless, the DCA still encourages students to notify them if they are interested in submitting physical content in the future. 

“It would be great if people are working on physical projects, whether it’s a diary or artwork or something like that, to contact us so we know what they’re working on and we can be ready when they’re ready to submit it, ideally when everybody is back [on campus],” Santamaria said. 

Students who are interested in submitting items to the DCA, whether digital or physical, can find more information on its website. 

The DCA is hoping to hear from anyone interested in the project, regardless of how insignificant one may feel in all of this. 

“We really do want to hear from anyone and everyone, and I think giving folks a little bit more of a sense of ownership in the historical record, to me, is a really rewarding part of what we get to do,” Kelly said. 


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