Creative and scholarly response to COVID-19 focus of Union symposium

Publication Date

The coronavirus pandemic has tested the limits of higher education over the past 19 months as faculty, students and staff have navigated a series of extraordinary challenges to achieve an optimal college experience.

The pandemic has also tested the limits of society, with lockdowns, social distancing, vaccine mandates and mask requirements.

The creative and scholarly response to the pandemic is the focus of a symposium on Thursday, Oct. 21, from 4 to 7 p.m. in Karp Hall 105. It is free and open to the campus community.

A sign saying that face masks are required in all common areas

Union faculty across disciplines will offer their insights on topics ranging from “Faculty Work-Life Strain in the Context of COVID” to “Moral Decision-making and Support for Safety Procedures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.” There is also a reading of several pandemic-related poems.

The event concludes with a discussion led by Robert Baker, “The Academy Strikes Back: How We Respond to a Crisis.” Since the pandemic began, Baker, the William D. Williams Professor of Philosophy Emeritus, has provided the campus with regular email updates on the latest COVID news and research.

In taking an interdisciplinary approach to the symposium, organizer Lewis Davis, professor of economics said, “COVID isn’t some narrow phenomenon. Its impacts have been incredibly broad, so it makes sense to have a broad scholarly response.”

The idea for a symposium has its roots in the research of two students from the Class of 2021, Justin Esposito and Sophia Zacher. The pair wrote theses on social disparities and social distancing, and COVID infection rates on U.S. college campuses. The research ultimately produced two papers that are under review at economics journals.

“These papers are a testament to the social focus of our students and their desire to do important timely work,” David said. “I'm deeply involved in other research projects, looking at things like culture and gender inequality, and without these thesis projects, it's hard to imagine I would have done the work necessary to get up and running on researching COVID.”

The symposium is modeled on the interdisciplinary “Symposium on Religion, Social Conflict, and Social Cohesion” organized by Davis in 2017. It featured a dozen Union faculty who addressed the ways in which religion unites and divides us, as individuals and societies, and fostered discussion of how different disciplinary approaches to the study of religion inform, complement and challenge each other.

Encouraged by financial and logistical support from the office of the Dean of Academic Departments and Programs, Davis recruited faculty volunteers to share their expertise on COVID.

“I think in some small way, the whole thing is about fighting back,” Davis said. “We've all been affected by this in ways large and small, and at some point, you want to ask, ‘what can I do to make it better?’ I have a 5-year-old who started ‘big boy school’ last year wearing a mask. I am not a first responder or a medical researcher, but I can crunch numbers to try to make sense of the world. So that's what I'm doing.”


3:45 p.m.: Refreshments

3:50 p.m.: Opening remarks: Lewis Davis (Economics)

4 - 5 p.m.: Session One: Covid in the Academy (Chair: Conor O’Dea, Psychology)

  • David Cotter (Sociology): “Faculty Work-Life Strain in the Context of COVID”
  • Dan Venning (English/Theater and Dance): “COVID and Deferred Research”
  • Nicole Theodosiou (Biology): “Silver Linings of the Pandemic Classroom”
  • Stephen J. Schmidt (Economics): “The Determinants of COVID Infection Rates at U.S. Colleges and Universities”

5 - 5:15 p.m.: Break

5:15 - 6:15 p.m.: Session Two: COVID in Society (Chair: David Cotter, Sociology)

  • Conor O’Dea (Psychology): “Moral Decision-making and Support for Safety Procedures amid the COVID-19 Pandemic”
  • Lewis S. Davis (Economics): “Social Disparities and Social Distancing”
  • Carol Weisse (Psychology): “End of Life Care During COVID”
  • Jordan Smith (English): “Lockdown Poems”

6:15 - 6:30 p.m.: Robert Baker (Philosophy): The Academy Strikes Back: How We Respond to a Crisis”

6:30 - 7 p.m.: Refreshments