In this interview, Sara Matthiesen, Brown University class of 2015, discusses her experiences as a professor and social justice activist in Washington, DC, during the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Matthiesen begins by recalling that she first learned about COVID-19 from an international student who regularly attended her office hours. She explains that she was concerned for her student, but her own involvement with Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in addition to the Donald Trump impeachment trials initially overshadowed any concerns she would have of the virus spreading. Matthiesen goes on to remember that her university’s decision to send students home for a prolonged spring break were sudden and allowed her no time to prepare her students for the transition. She describes the work she did to help her students as much as possible and to continue her courses virtually.
Personally, Matthiesen talks about one of her earlier trips to the grocery store and recognizing the conundrum of feeling the need to stock up on food while also not wanting to contribute to the problem of food shortages. She describes how she felt when DC first enforced a shelter in place order and her efforts to collaborate with other activists in the area to develop ways of safely hosting pre-planned protests for environmental and racial justice. She also details a specific protest held outside of Jeff Bezos’ DC house for Amazon workers’ rights. Furthermore, Matthiesen addresses her take on media coverage of the pandemic, states’ legislation on access to reproductive healthcare, and rights and resources for essential workers.
In closing, Matthiesen encourages those living through the pandemic to embrace their feelings and hopes activists remember that “every political effort and social movement was fighting for a thing that seemed impossible until it wasn’t.” She adds that though much of life in the pandemic can be negative, she has seen more people care for their neighbors.