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of young adults are commonly marginalized, and this was no different during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. The goal of our project was to collect stories and perspectives from young adults relating to the pandemic. Because we conducted this project during the pandemic, interviews were conducted over video calls through Zoom in addition to weekly surveys. After the interviews and surveys, it was clear that there were several consistent themes from person to person, most of which could be summarized within the greater themes of loss and resilience.

Introduction

This project documents the experiences of young adults living through the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic began in late December of 2019, when the first cases started appearing in China. Within 3 months, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 to be a global pandemic (CDC, 2020).

  

 

 

 

 

In order to slow the spread of the disease, society had to change rapidly: stay at home orders, quarantines, social distancing measures, and supply shortages all became realities.

Young, college-aged adults have had to make these changes and deal with these realities along with everyone else, but their perspective has often been overlooked. In order to redress this and to make sure these young adults’ experiences were recorded, we documented their stories about the COVID-19 pandemic through interviews and surveys. To summarize our findings, we identified ideas or rhetoric shared across multiple interviews. We then took our research and created a video/multimedia deliverable to present our findings in an easy-to-understand format.

Literature Review

COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus, which may have spread to humans from bats

(CDC, 2020). (Hereafter, the term “Coronavirus” refers exclusively to COVID-19.) The respiratory illness caused by COVID-19 ranges in severity, with age being the biggest risk factor. In the United States, around 80% of fatalities are people older than 65 (CDC, 2020). This age discrepancy has been a large focus in media coverage of the pandemic. Because of the high risk to a significant portion of the population, immediate action was necessary to limit the spread as much as possible.

 

  

 

 

This strategy was termed “flattening the curve,” with the curve being the number of active cases, as seen in Figure A. 

 

With the adoption of this new mentality of flattening the curve, big differences in sanitation and protective measures arose. The CDC recommended masks, or, at a minimum, cloth face covers in public places to avoid individuals unknowingly spreading the disease 

 

(CDC, 2020). Many businesses temporarily closed or were required to close by national or local orders. Businesses that remained open started taking their own measures to protect their workers by putting up barriers to separate cashiers from customers and requiring frequent handwashing by employees.

 

 

Approach

The goal of this project was to document the stories and perspectives of young adults during the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) pandemic of 2020. To pursue our goal, we identified three essential objectives of this project:

  1. Collect and document narratives from young adults (18-24) relating to their experience of the pandemic.
  2. Identify shared and changing perspectives in real-time as the pandemic develops.
  3. Create a film and/or multimedia platform to document the stories and experiences of young adults during the coronavirus pandemic.

The identification of subjects to interview was the first key step in the project. We identified and subsequently interviewed forty young adults, ten by each member of the project group. For this project, a young adult is defined as someone between 18 and 24 years of age. Due to the difficulties of establishing new connections during the COVID-19 pandemic, the team used samples of convenience. Consequently, each interviewee was someone that a team member personally knew.

 

 

This personal connection made it easier for the interviewee to open up and give detailed answers.

Our ideal range of participants included individuals of varied backgrounds: students from different colleges, as well as young people not in college, and essential workers who continued working in lockdowns. We also decided to source internationally, ensuring a diversity of perspectives, and so we took these characteristics into consideration when selecting our interviewees. Each participant was interviewed twice, once near the beginning of April and once near the end. This allowed for enough time for their answers to qualitative questions to change. We designed these questions to capture the full stories of the interviewees, including their predictions and hopes for the future. To obtain more quantitative data, participants filled out a brief survey four times, once a week throughout April. This survey consisted primarily of scaled questions from 1 to 10, asking about participants’ personal situation as well as their thoughts on the global situation. This allowed us to document changing perspectives in real-time as we could compare survey data week to week.

Results

The interviews and surveys we collected contributed many interesting stories from young adults all over the world, with many shared patterns in the perspective and rhetoric of our interviewees. Outside of this shared rhetoric, there were several responses which were unique due to the idiosyncrasies of each interviewee’s situation. Both the similarities and the differences demonstrate the varying circumstances experienced by young adults in this pandemic.

We collected narratives from thirty-eight young adults ranging in age between 18 and 24, and from countries including China, Denmark, Germany, India, Indonesia, New Zealand, Russia, Sweden, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Those in the U.S. hailed from twelve different states and the District of Columbia. Figures B and C display these locations. The first round of narratives showed many commonalities, highlighting fear, uncertainty, and personal decision-making. Each interviewee had to navigate a different situation: with lockdown dates and regulations varying by region, some were able to stay where they had been while others had to change location, in some cases even leaving their country of residence. Among the most salient themes were the losses associated with educational disruptions, economic difficulties, feelings of restlessness as lockdowns lengthened, and unknown futures.

Conclusion

Our end goal was to organize the stories from these young adults in a way that would lend credence to what they had gone through and provide an easy point of understanding for anyone looking back at this time. Both the similarities and the differences we uncovered needed to be highlighted. In order to create something coherent, we took the various themes isolated above and underlined one connecting factor:

losses of various sorts and the consequent adaptations to them. What was lost varied, from educational to career to recreational opportunities, but every interviewee had lost something in this pandemic. Notably, no one we interviewed was despondent: everyone was continuing to move forward with their lives and make the best of a bad situation. Consequently, we chose this theme as it aptly illustrates the courage shown by young adults as they begin to launch their own futures amidst a global pandemic.
Student Interviews Anna (Germany// Left) & Jiepeng (China//Right)

Advisers: Uma Kumar & Ingrid Shockey

Students: Scott D’Attilio, Jeremy Gagnon, Chenxi Li, Andrew Ressler

COVID-19 Platform