With widespread videoconferencing burnout and extended quarantine practices, the effects of social distancing are reaching a stressful stage among many. With social media being more or less the singular window through which many are viewing the world, there is a sense of both solitude and solidarity in working remotely through the coronavirus.
GREETINGS COVIDIANS — an interdisciplinary project helmed by the Research Network for Health and Society (REACH) — is providing an outlet for that social limbo and the possibility to reach South Floridian policymakers.
“We’re trying to look at the way that social experiences are impacted by COVID-19 and not just necessarily from one particular department or disciplinary framework, but with the broadest possible [group] in order to pull analyses out of this,” said John Vertovec, Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Global & Sociocultural Studies.
To participate in the project, users visit the GREETINGS COVIDIANS site and submit an anonymous photo with a caption that documents how the participant is experiencing the impact of COVID-19. It can be from inside the home or in a public place; what matters most is the documentation of this critical time in modern history. The submissions are then incorporated into a digital gallery.
GREETINGS COVIDIANS began as a class project in a course called “Visual Methods in Social Science Research” taught by the Department of Global & Sociocultural Studies’ Nelson Varas-Diaz and Mark Padilla, said by Vertovec to be the mentors of the project. They started with what would end up being the current project’s three goals: to create a platform where people can engage in critical dialogue surrounding issues of changing social experiences and COVID-19; to contribute to academic conversations; and to contribute to policy changes.
The project is an adaptation of the PhotoVoice methodology, meaning, at its essence, each of these points are to be showcased by the anonymous submissions of those participating in the project.
Vertovec explains that sometimes researchers can be too central to their own research — they’re driving the research agenda as opposed to letting the community members speak for themselves.
“It’s a community-based participatory research framework,” said Vertovec. “What that means is that you’re working with the community in order to develop a research project that benefits the community as they see fit.”
“We’re sending out the call for submissions and hoping that people understand it and pursue it, and you can see with the photos that are already up on the website — I think the people understand it pretty well,” he added.
As of right now, the GREETINGS COVIDIANS project is supported for a year but may very likely stay up for longer as it receives further entries. Its current focus is on South Florida, but it is also welcoming submissions from across the United States and the world and will consider expanding to other visual mediums.
“We definitely want to leave it open-ended, and we want to collaborate with as many people as possible because I’m sure other disciplines are looking into this from a different angle as well,” said Evan Marcus, Ph.D. student in Global and Sociocultural Studies. “By doing this project and creating that infrastructure in order to receive the data (photo submissions) in the way that we need to, we’re also learning and contributing to the methodology of how visual projects can be viable going forward.”
For some, the project has been just as therapeutic as educational, granting both participants and researchers a moment to connect with each other and re-framing their mindset in the time of COVID-19.
“I hope for a lot of people [as it was for myself] that it is cathartic. There’s a lot of things that are happening and a lot of changes that are taking place that are difficult to understand and it can become really frustrating,” said Vertovec. “It was a moment of catharsis to take a photo, sit down with that photo, to think about the photo, and then to submit it somewhere that I knew that other people could see it and hopefully engage with it.”
The project also allows for others to see eye-to-eye and fully realize the commonalities in the South Floridian COVID-19 experience. For the Department of English’s graduate teaching assistant Farah Yamini, a member of the research group, this was their primary motivation.
“[For me,] the whole process of this project has already been transformative and healing,” said Yamini. “There’s something magical about seeing a photo with the only framing device being a title and a paragraph and you can connect. Even though we’re not in this nice little nest of a classroom, we were still finding — in this crazy time of this upside-down pandemic — common ground, connection and stability.”
The REACH Network is a collaborative effort between the Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center and the Department of Global & Sociocultural Studies that “explores the definition of health care and attitudes about health in societies, while advancing policy-relevant research and promoting community engagement in this area.”
Meet the Researchers
From left to right: Mark Padilla, Professor, Global & Sociocultural Studies; Nelson Varas-Diaz, Professor, Global & Sociocultural Studies; Matthew Marr, Associate Professor, Global & Sociocultural Studies; John “Jack” Vertovec, PhD Candidate, Global & Sociocultural Studies
From left to right: Farah C. Yamini, graduate student, Department of English; Evan Marcus, Ph.D. student, Global & Sociocultural Studies; Raymond Awadzi, Ph.D. student, Global & Sociocultural Studies; Kaila Witkowski, Ph.D. candidate, Public Affairs