INTERVIEWING FELLOW STUDENTS
One part of our project was interviewing fellow college students who were impacted by the outbreak of COVID-19 and quarantine. We had two focus groups of students, both consisting of undergraduate students from the same urban public institution. Although there was some variety in the answers we received, a lot of common themes continued to crop up.
Topics we covered were social media usage, family interactions, political and medical perceptions of COVID, and general trust in institutions from before and after COVID broke out. Click below to access transcript notes and analyses from the focus groups. Then, guide yourself through the main themes of analyses below.
One of the main topics we asked about was political reactions and shifts in people in regards to politics. For most of our interviewees, young college students, there was a lean towards the left in reaction. When asked about their families, we got a larger variety of outcomes– Many parents shifted rightwards, others shifted towards the Democratic party, and some others became skeptical of both mainstream political parties.
Probably the most common reaction, across the political spectrum, was a loss of faith in institutions run by the government. Regardless of Democratic or Republican leanings, all people reported a major increase in distrust. The only news considered generally trustworthy by all participants was the direct reports of COVID numbers and raw data, almost all other sources were treated as somewhat suspect. Despite this, there were still numerous examples of people essentially trusting Google News or Apple News alerts on their phone or computer to keep them updated on important events.
Another common theme, especially amongst students who were not involved in the medical field, was the idea that no information available about COVID-19 is trustworthy. It was widely reported from our interviewees that they engaged with media for the first few months, and then basically just stopped trying to look for it. If it popped up in their feed, than they would interact with it, but they would not seek it out. Much of the information they came across came from their family and friends, and was often distorted as a result.
In addition to this uncertainty of information was general uncertainty around the future. This most likely extends to the population at large, given the times we live in at time of writing. One participant said that their coworkers had begun purchasing more firearms as a result of this uncertainty.
Although none of the people interviewed reported (or were just unwilling to admit to) unsanitary behaviors and potential spreading of disease, examples of such behaviors from friends were widespread. Examples included people going to parties, having group dinners, or refusing to wear masks despite mandates. The most commonly offered explanations for such behaviors was the idea that younger people felt less risk in regards to the lethality of COVID, feeling like it was their personal decision to meet up in large groups.
When asked to respond to two different examples of people protesting without masks (one for the George Floyd protests, the other for the Liberate Ohio protests) responses tended to break on roughly partisan lines for the first group of students and remained generally uniform for the second group of students. General students believed that the George Floyd protests were necessary, even if not everybody was wearing mask, while the Liberate protests were viewed as illegitimate or unreasonable. The second focus group students, on the other hand, viewed both groups as potentially contributing to further outbreaks, even if they agreed with the political sentiment of said protests.
Although this is a common theme with social media, we didn’t encounter this as much with the people we interviewed. We did hear about some of it from stories of parents who were exposed to certain social media groups or narratives, particularly in regards to the conspiracy that COVID was intentionally spread from a Chinese lab, but it was difficult to pin down a specific method through which these parents were exposed.