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Saint Mary’s event highlights South Bend’s Covid-19 Struggles

Monday night, Saint Mary’s looked to highlight the struggles of the height of the Covid-19 pandemic with a program titled, “Listening to Pandemic Narratives: Selections from Covid-19 Oral Histories in the South Bend Area”. The oral program featured audio clips from interviews conducted with members of the South Bend community to get different accounts of what pandemic life was like for residents.

“No one’s collecting our stories here in South Bend,” Jamie Wagman, a history and gender studies professor said. “Julia and I had noticed that other oral historians were doing these collections but no one was documenting South Bend. So we thought, would the stories of people here be mirroring national trends?”

The program was started a year ago by Wagman and Julia Dauer, an English professor, as well as her students from the spring class ‘Doing History.’

This course focused on different historiographical methods and students put their new knowledge to use by interviewing South Bend residents about their pandemic experiences.

“We were thinking a lot about what humanities perspectives can offer in times of Covid-19 as we continue to process the events,” said Dauer. “We were also thinking about how we could better understand and record and preserve some accounts of experiences in our specific local community of the past two years.”

The unusual presentation took its shape from the audio medium. “It’s so powerful hearing people say things in their own words,” said Wagman.

Jaden Daher, research and administrative assistant, concurred, saying “You can hear the emotion in everybody’s voices of like going back to this time and having to almost relive it by retelling it.”

The presentation started with two minutes of photography from the New York Times that highlighted pandemic life, with pictures of hospitals, social distancing, the Black Lives Matter protests and other sights associated with early pandemic times. “I feel like we’ve forgotten so much of what happened,” said Daher. “This makes it all come back to the front of our mind like, ‘Oh my gosh, we did live through that.’”

The audio program began with people recounting the early days of the pandemic, with messages of realization of the horror to come. It then moved on to different people relating how they had to change their lives once the pandemic hit South Bend. A nurse talked about changes in the healthcare field and starting with the Covid unit. A teacher talked about sending children home, not knowing that they were never going to be back in that classroom, as well as the adjustment that came with virtual teaching.

The program continued with sessions called ‘Caretaking and Equity’ and ‘Sociality and Isolation’. The people in these audio clips talked about the struggle and loss of community that came with isolation. A few parents in these clips expressed concern for not only their child’s physical but also mental health. 

If you were not able to attend Monday, the program will be publicly displayed for free at the Civil Rights Heritage Center on Tuesday, October 11 at 6 p.m. Additionally, Saint Mary’s students and staff contributed to an exhibit at The History Museum in South Bend. ‘Fight Fear: Pandemics Past and Present’ addresses historical illnesses and the fears that came with them as we experienced Covid-19. The display is open until July 2023.

You can contact Katelyn Waldschmidt at kwaldschmidt01@saintmarys.edu.

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