CSCH Affiliate Sarah Willen is one of the founders of the Pandemic Journaling Project. Willen recently answered some questions about how it started, the recent inclusion of older adolescents as participants, and how teachers can incorporate the site as a resource.
Tell us about the origins of the Pandemic Journaling Project. What is it and why is it needed?
The Pandemic Journaling Project is two things at once: It is a journaling platform that lets people from around the world record their experiences of the coronavirus pandemic, and also an interdisciplinary, mixed-methods research study that will preserve their stories, for the record, as a historical archive.
Participants contribute by writing, uploading photos, or recording audio. No computer is needed — just a smartphone. The entire project runs in both English and Spanish. Participants can log in securely to download their journals at any time, and they choose whether to keep entries private (for themselves and the archive) or give permission to share them publicly on our Featured Entries page. Anyone 15 or older can join, with parent/guardian consent required for participants age 15-17.
So far, over 1,000 people in more than 40 countries have contributed over 8,000 journal entries.
We noticed that you have a student advisory board – can you tell us more about that?
Absolutely. We’re very lucky to have a Student Advisory Board of about 15 students from UConn, Brown University, Trinity College, and Hall High School who bring their unique perspectives to the project, including their disciplinary training as well as their own personal backgrounds and lived experience to the project. Student Advisory Board members are involved in various aspects of PJP, including brainstorming ways to broaden the project’s reach to include more voices from historically underrepresented and marginalized communities. On this count, two Student Advisory Board members recently led the writing of a blog post that makes this important point.
What are some strategies you are using to encourage submissions that reflect diverse voices?
This is a really important question, for many reasons. Not only do minoritized communities continue to be among those hardest hit by the pandemic, but we know that BIPOC communities and other underrepresented groups often are excluded from the historical record. Encouraging a diverse range of voices — especially from underrepresented and minoritized communities — is a top priority for PJP. It’s also an area where our Advisory Board and Student Advisory Boards play a vital role.
We’re working on this in several ways. First, we’ve made sure you don’t need a computer to participate — a smartphone is just fine.
Third, our online presence — on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram — is fully bilingual. For example, we recently started sharing journal excerpts that participants have shared publicly, in Spanish and English, as a way to showcase the wide range of pandemic experiences among our participants. We also make sure our social media posts represent people of diverse racial-ethnic backgrounds.
Fourth, as noted earlier, our Student Advisory Board is providing leadership in helping PJP increase participation among members of underrepresented and minoritized communities. The recent blog post mentioned earlier is a key example. Finally, we are working with the Student Advisory Board to develop a way for people to participate as members of a group or community organization that wants to record their experiences together.
Recently, the age of participation was lowered to 15 years (with parental consent). What was the goal of doing so?
Teens have had their lives turned upside down by this crisis just as much as adults, but with fewer outlets to make their voices heard. Since we launched in May 2020, we’ve been eager to make participation in PJP available to young people. This took a while, given IRB constraints, but as of February 2021, teens age 15-17 can participate fully, with parent/guardian consent.
As we all know, young people around the U.S. (and around the world) have been smack in the middle of heated debates about how to manage pandemic risk. Now, schools are central to debates about how to “re-open” society, with parents, educators, and administrators all weighing in. Of course, their experience vary widely. Some children and teens haven’t seen the inside of a school since last March, while others attend in-person school every day.
Whatever their experience, we hope PJP can offer for teens a space to reflect on the tremendous disruptions introduced by COVID-19 at a time in their lives that already is so full of change, and so loaded with meaning. Being an adolescent in a world in change, and in crisis, will have a long-term impact on their understandings of the world, the future, and themselves. We’re thrilled to be able to expand participation in PJP so teens too can reflect on their own experiences and be part of how we chronicle and remember this historic time.
How do you think that teachers could incorporate this journaling into their curriculum?
We’ve developed an Educator Resource page that offers some suggestions to teachers who may want to introduce their students to PJP, or even incorporate PJP into their teaching — and we’re always looking for new and creative suggestions. For example, some teachers have used our journaling prompts for in-class writing assignments. Others have invited students to review entries using our Featured Entries page as a way of inviting reflection on the history unfolding around them and sparking discussion.
Because the PJP is a research project, teachers cannot require their students to participate in the project itself. That said, we hope that by incorporating some components of the project into classroom discussions, teachers can inspire students to think about the various ways in which they can become narrators of their own histories.
How can people get involved – either as participants or as researchers?
To start a journal with PJP, please visit our website (Spanish version) and click “Join the Project”. To introduce others to PJP and invite them to participate, you may want to share our brief project overview, which is accessible in English or Spanish. You can also read more about PJP in this recent UConn Today article.
To contact us with questions, or if you might be interested in collaborating, we can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.