Reflections from pandemic coverage: write, write, write.

“We need to write out what we are experiencing in order to understand it”

Courtesy+of+Claire+Healy

Courtesy of Claire Healy

By Claire Healy, Assistant News Editor

I entered the pandemic as I was being ushered out of Cuba onto a plane to Miami, where a couple next to me spent a good 20 minutes scrubbing their seats with disinfectant before ultimately moving to another part of the plane. In the weeks prior, disconnected largely from outside communication, the pandemic had come to me through cloth-covered mouths on the bus and morning news broadcasts with my host mom. This buildup of conversations that had accumulated in my peripheral led into the ultimate cancellation of my study abroad program, and by extension, my student visa. Having recently gone through an unrelated trial of my own, COVID-19 felt distant until it wasn’t – I was focusing on the day to day, so the long term felt like a matter for a different time. When that different time came, it knocked the wind out of me.

Writing has always been a way of freezing time for me – of commemorating a moment or saving an image or idea. I’ve written extensive journals my whole life (that I hope no one reads). When going to an event I often feel the companion to the photographer, charged with filling in what’s behind a photo. It’s not an easy task when everyone sees an event differently, from their own angle, and you have no clue how to capture them all so the photo is complete.

Capturing the pandemic as student journalists, the Collegian tried to do this in a way that was not only true to the students, but the record of this time. When we look back at the picture we wrote, I know that readers will see it as an account of dramatic change and incredible resilience. A time where all our fault lines were stripped bare, and the many different UMass-es we knew existed before – divided along class, race and gender lines – went through separate years.

Let’s see … in total, I’m graduating having spent two years on campus. My junior year was spent abroad, and the final year remote in this limbo-education makes it feel like I’ve already graduated and just have a lot of roll-over tasks. I was hired as an assistant news editor right after I came back from Cuba, and it has given me a needed way back to campus. We hit the ground running with an urgency that comes with crises, and among it, I had the pleasure of hearing the varied stories of so many students, trying to make it through the year. I heard about experiences students were grappling with as they took classes from California, Alaska, Lebanon and New York. I spoke with students reeling from the blast in Lebanon, international students threatened with deportation and students protesting police brutality.

For the moments – or years – that feel like one long, drawn out day, reading the writing of others is my needed escape. In a year of personal and global challenge, writing among my colleagues at the Collegian has been both a window into other lives and a door out of my own. At the end of this year, as I prepare for graduation, the Collegian was my tie to campus through students around the world, and that has been a wonderful gift.

In short, this essay is a round-about way of thanking this newspaper for what it has given me this past year, and for what I know it will continue to give to campus. We piloted the new beat system this year, and every week my beat team met for an hour to discuss our topics of politics, social justice and international news at the local level. Many of whom were starting at the newspaper for the first time, beginning their coverage with this challenging year, and the passion they brought to the task before them was incredible. I am so grateful to this passionate team of journalists for rising to the challenge every time, as I am grateful to my fellow editors for inspiring me to write in a year where I truly needed it.

I’m biased, because writing has always been a fun impulse for me, but I believe that in years like this one we need to write out what we are experiencing in order to understand it. I believe this plays out in one’s personal life, and in the larger picture when writing about an experience becomes an invitation to hear someone else’s. I hope that this year encourages everyone to not shy away from doing so, because it is so worth it.

Claire Healy can be reached at [email protected].