Professor Eitan Hersh, an associate professor in the political science and civic studies departments, has taken advantage of the pandemic to provide a unique opportunity for the students in his class on U.S. elections by offering their grandparents an invitation to join the class via Zoom.
Hersh first got the idea to invite his own grandfather, who is 96 years old and lives alone, to class. He said he thought it would give his grandfather something to do, especially as he had never had the chance to see him teach before. The pandemic, and the ways academia has become more technology based as a result, changed this.
“Once he was on, I just had the thought that the students should invite their grandparents too, if they like. Obviously, [COVID-19] has been especially tough on older folks, and I thought this was an easy way to honor our elders by inviting them into this academic space with us,” Hersh wrote in an email to the Daily.
Alison Manca, a sophomore in the class, said she believes Hersh saw this as an opportunity to support older people, many of whom are having an especially difficult time in the pandemic.
“I think this was his way of extending that care to the elderly in our society. He understands that they have an entirely different set of difficulties, and wants to do anything in his power to make sure they feel valued,” Manca wrote in an email to the Daily.
The class, which has 55 students, covers election law, voting rights, the Voting Rights Act, problems such as gerrymandering and money’s role in politics, as well as campaigning, party strategy and the 2020 election.
Manca invited her grandmother, who she said has been alone for much of the last several months, to come to class on Zoom.
“I have a grandmother who lives alone in an apartment outside of Detroit … She lives 15 minutes away from her sister, but she’s only able to safely see her sister outdoors, which is not always feasible in Michigan,” she said.
Manca said attending Hersh’s class has been good for her grandmother.
“I think this has been beneficial for her over the pandemic because she otherwise has very little to do. She’s unemployed and alone. This gives her not only something to look forward to but a way to stretch her mind,” she said.
Sarah Kaplan, a sophomore in the U.S. elections class, also took advantage of Hersh’s idea and said her grandparents have come to almost every class. She said it has been great for them to have an opportunity for mental stimulation while they are physically isolated.
“I was super excited, and immediately thought that my dad’s parents … would love it so much. My grandparents are avid CNN and MSNBC news watchers and pay attention to politics very closely and thought it’d be really awesome for them,” Kaplan said.
Donald and Kathie Kaplan, her grandparents, have enjoyed their experience.
“We are always having political conversations with our granddaughters so this class was one we would enjoy and be able to share thoughts about the class with them … we were a perfect fit for this class,” Donald Kaplan wrote in an email to the Daily.
Kathie Kaplan said she has loved feeling like she’s back in college.
“I was always a voracious notetaker in college and found myself in my old groove. I remembered symbols I used for abbreviations and took anywhere from 8-10 pages of notes per class,” she wrote in an email to the Daily.
Hersh wanted to provide a space for his students’ grandparents to be engaged and learn something new, but he also thought it would be beneficial for increasing students’ relationships with their grandparents.
“I also thought it might be a nice bonding opportunity between the students and their grandparents. Grandparent-grandchild relationships are so great … so I thought it’d be a nice thing for students to share with their grandparents,” Hersh said.
Sarah Kaplan explained this has been true for her and her grandparents.
“It’s been a way for us to connect and a way for them to be really stimulated because Professor Hersh’s lectures are really engaging and interesting and topical, and I know they’ve really enjoyed it,” she said.
Kathie Kaplan echoed her sentiment.
“Sarah and I became ‘study buddies.’ It was so much fun. I would go over questions I had in my notes. I also gained an understanding of political science,” she said.
Manca, who identifies on the opposite side of the political spectrum as her grandmother, who is conservative, said she appreciates Hersh’s class as an opportunity for her grandmother to hear another perspective.
“I’m glad that she has some form of information that I know is trustworthy. She sometimes consumes news from outlets that I fear distort reality,” Manca said.
And, Manca said, Hersh’s class might just be working to shift her grandmother’s political point of view. She said that after one class, when a Supreme Court case was discussed, her grandmother texted her that she agreed with the liberal perspective.
“For the first time in my life, we agreed on something political,” Manca said.
Although Hersh was not trying to politicize his students’ grandparents, for Manca and her grandmother it was an opportunity for education and growth.
Likewise, Hersh said he has been happy to see grandparents in his class, and hopes both generations — his students and their grandparents — have gained something from the experience.
“I do love seeing the grandparents log into [Zoom] every [class] and knowing they’re there. Intergenerational contact is so important, and I love the chance to facilitate that,” Hersh said.
Sarah Kaplan said she thinks it would be great for other courses to follow suit.
“If other professors have the capacity to do it, they absolutely should,” she said.
Her grandparents echoed the statement.
“We hope that in the future other professors will consider including grandparents,” they said.