By Abby Weingarten
How do you sustain a long-distance relationship during a pandemic? How do you tell someone you’ve tested positive for COVID-19? New College students are answering these questions—and raising awareness about much more—by making their own original Public Service Announcements (PSAs) this fall.
The assignments are part of a “Sexual Politics” course with Nick Clarkson, Ph.D., assistant professor of gender studies.
“The uncertainty and fear of this moment are so much to deal with,” Clarkson said. “I hope that knowing you’re not alone in what you’re feeling will be at least a little comforting to students. And I hope these projects offer some frameworks and strategies to think about how to safely connect with others.”
The 18 students in the fully remote class covered issues like identifying and communicating personal boundaries, acknowledging feelings like grief and loneliness, and implementing strategies for engaging in safe social activities. Most of the students created two-to-five minute PSAs, but one group also made a zine.
“I had to scale back my plans for this course given the strangeness of this semester, but we’re talking about topics such as sex education, sexual violence, policing and sexuality, the HIV/AIDS epidemic and its connections to and differences from COVID, and practicing a politics of care,” Clarkson said.
The PSA assignment was inspired by Clarkson’s observances about cultural and social behavior during the pandemic.
“I noticed that discussions about COVID ‘pods’ required a lot of the same negotiation skills that people use to determine boundaries and guidelines for polyamorous relationships,” Clarkson said. “I also noticed that the kinds of conversations we’re used to having about consent, risk assessment, harm reduction, and STI testing in feminist and queer spaces, were really helpful in sorting out how or under what conditions to socialize in person.”
Clarkson was impressed with the quality of work the students displayed in their projects, as well as their overall emotional maturity. Some of the pieces are entitled “Friendship in the Time of COVID,” “Boundaries and COVID,” “COVID-19: Let’s Talk,” “Long-Distance Relationships and COVID-19,” “Assessing COVID Risk Tolerance in Friendships,” “Socializing During COVID-19: How to Protect Yourself,” and “Finding Hope and Creating Joy [In the Current Moment].”
“During our class discussions, students were able to clearly name the grief and loneliness they’re feeling, and the projects tackled these difficult feelings with gentleness and care for their peers. I’m not sure I would’ve been able to do this when I was an undergrad,” Clarkson said. “The emotional maturity and care my students have shown through these projects, and during our class discussions, have really helped me be more hopeful at a time when it’s been difficult to be hopeful.”
Clarkson hopes the messages will be useful not only to other college students experiencing the difficulty of the pandemic, but also for anyone else who decides to watch or read.
To view all of the student projects, visit ncf.edu/student-psas/
Abby Weingarten is the editor/writer in the Office of Communications & Marketing.