Analysis of Impact / Covid-19 Life in Lockdown

Maybe Gaia has sent us to our rooms for a reason?

By Louise Taylor, PhD student in Politics

When I think about COVID and the past year, I think of humanity being put on the naughty step. I envisage mother earth, Gaia or whoever you associate with the planet as sending us all to our rooms. We have been asked (on several occasions now) to go home and think about what we have done. I realise most people won’t think like that, but I enjoy this little fantasy. This image tickles me. The idea that all of this may be punitive makes sense to me. The reason I see it that way is because I am a little disappointed with my species, I am an environmentalist. And hence why I think a few restrictions and being shaken up out of our consumerist slumber would do us no harm.

Whilst the naughty step analogy is my light hearted way of interpreting and analysing events through an ecocritical lens, I am aware this playfulness could be considered insensitive. However, humour has always been a powerful and quite healthy coping and defense mechanism. COVID is a horror and what it has done to many is tragic.

Tragedies and catastrophes change people, they change society, they change collective behaviour. A pandemic has shaped the world and dominated events and whilst I am aware that change is inevitable; rapid, global change is alarming. Change at an accelerated and often uncomfortable rate can devastate and destroy. For many the discomfort has been regarding the uncertainty and the element of not having any control. For me the comfort has been in the uncertainty and the element of not having any control. The truth is I enjoy change, I actually embrace it and most certainly do not fear it.

My year, both on and off the naughty step, has been used to do what you are supposed to do whilst sat on it. I have used these experiences to reflect and think and to try and be a better person. As a third year PhD student, thinking is certainly not alien to me, but really thinking about my life and my choices was unavoidable and it pushed me to dig deep and be better.

I did many things during this past year as a result of COVID. I rekindled my relationship with my children’s father by taking responsibility and swallowing a lot of pride. I moved school to HAPP to complete my PhD whilst staying true to my beliefs and my academic preferences. And I went to a Psychologist and got assessed for Autism/ ASD and finally received a diagnosis in my forties. None of these things were easy, all of these things have helped me move closer to reaching my potential and living a life I feel content with. Would these things have happened without COVID? I very much doubt it.

The truth is pre-COVID I was busy, stressed and getting everything done. I was on the conveyor belt. Children, career, write thesis, go out, avoid discomfort, exist. COVID put the brakes on that life and forced things to slow and to change. COVID changed the world and COVID changed me. It was up to me how COVID was going to do that and I’m grateful for the lessons and the enforced reflection. I needed it, I think the world did too.  

Learning and Researching at QuB

Connecting through documentaries and discussions

Sophia Valente, a Peer Mentor and final year student in International Politics and Conflict Studies, reflects on recent documentary discussions that were held as part of HAPP’s Winter Programme.

As part of the HAPP Winter Programme, I had the privilege to take part in the documentary discussions that ran from the 13th to the 15th of January. Peer Mentors (including myself) had the opportunity to chair the discussions and participate where possible. I first participated in Monday’s discussion of the documentary ‘13th’, which focused on the mass incarceration and systemic discrimination of African Americans in the United States. The discussion involved contributions from a range of HAPP disciplines, giving insight to perspectives beyond my own political focus.

The most valuable part of the ‘13th’ discussion, for me, was focused on what the documentary had taught us. Even though we came from such a range of ages, subject areas, and education levels, it seemed that all of us had learned a lot from the film. There was some agreement that what many of us had not been aware of was the extent to which policymaking in the US is influenced by private companies. The effect this has on mass incarceration is striking, and it was surprising to all of us how much we didn’t know about these systems in place. The documentary, though focused on the 13th amendment of the US Constitution, brought to light the link between Reagan’s War on Drugs and the mass incarceration of African Americans as well as the disproportionately large prison population in the United States. Wednesday’s discussion and documentary were eye-opening and thought-provoking, and very enjoyable overall.

The following day we discussed the documentary ‘The White Helmets’, which focuses on the lives and experiences of volunteers in Syria who risk their lives to save others who have become trapped under rubble or injured in any other way due to bombings occurring in the Syrian Civil War. Thanks to the contributions from anthropology PhD researcher Chrysi Kyratsou, this discussion had a largely anthropological focus, which was refreshing to an International Politics and Conflict Studies student such as myself.  The contributions made by other participants were also insightful and represented the other HAPP disciplines to provide a well-rounded discussion.

The documentary itself takes viewers through some of the experiences of actual white helmets. The emphasis is on the impact conflict and war has on civilians, the lives lost, and the enduring hope for eventual peace. The film is inspirational. The white helmets don’t care who they’re rescuing. Their age, occupation, political leaning, and involvement in the conflict, is all irrelevant to saving lives. While we can learn a lot about the Syrian Civil War from this documentary, we can also learn a lot about human nature, hope, and solidarity.  These topics proved to be significant to Thursday’s discussion.

Highlights of the conversation were related to the way we understand partiality, subjectivity, and solidarity in the context of the conflict in Syria as well as conflicts as a whole. We also discussed questions of how we understand conflict, humanitarian intervention, and peacebuilding, with inevitable links to Northern Ireland and the peacebuilding process here. I think it’s safe to say that we all learned something from these discussions and were able to better understand our own perspectives as well.

With limited face-to-face learning, it can be difficult to interact with HAPP students from disciplines other than our own. These discussions have certainly proven the value of multidisciplinary approaches to learning. It can also be difficult to have the opportunity to interact with students outside of teaching hours. Not only were these discussions a valuable learning experience, but it was lovely to bring people together in a virtual setting beyond the online tutorials we attend as part of our studies. A year ago, I think we all would have doubted the possibility of meeting new people in such a virtual environment, but the documentary discussions have proven what I would have considered impossible. There is this kind of possibility in the environment of virtual lectures and tutorials, which can otherwise feel bleak from time to time.

Finally, I would like to urge whoever reads this to take part in the virtual activities that HAPP is organising in the near future. There will be wellbeing sessions to help with stress and sleep, a quiz, and movie nights. Peer mentors like myself will be attending events such as these, so to any first years, in addition to reaching us by email you can also reach out by attending these virtual events. I personally look forward to the upcoming events and getting to know those who attend.

Life in Lockdown

Invitation for HAPP students to join Boston College’s ‘Global Conversations’

Students at Boston College are launching a new ongoing project called Global Conversations, which connects small groups of students (8-12 total, half from Boston College and half from another university around the world) for informal one-hour conversations about a range of topics that matter to them, and that they choose. Each session will have a specific topic and opening questions drafted by conversation leaders from each university, but can range freely as participants see fit. Most conversations will be held in English, but some will also be conducted in other languages. Initially, conversations will be organized in six major themes: 

  • The COVID-19 Pandemic
  • Racial Justice & Decolonization
  • Protests & Social Change
  • Environmental Justice
  • Globalization & Global Culture(s)
  • Migration & Immigration

This is an invitation for students at HAPP to participate in these Global Conversations. 

Each conversation needs a student leader from each university; together they will determine three main questions for the session, recruit 4-5 other students to join them (or simply take them from a sign-up list), schedule the conversation and confirm the technology (we will set these up using Zoom unless other tools are better in specific contexts). If you are interested, please reach out to one of the Boston College students who are helping to lead the project: