Online Lecture 2 "COVID-19 beyond Borders"

Farah Yamini, Raymond K. Awadzi and John "Jack" Vertovec; Cindy Smalletz and Joseph H. Eveld; and Anne Hudson Jones

Tuesday, 8 June 2021, 4:30 pm

Farah Yamini, Raymond K. Awadzi and John "Jack" Vertovec (Florida International University)

"Lenses of Compassion: Exploring the COVID-19 Pandemic Through Participatory Photographs Across Borders"


Farah Yamini, Raymond K. Awadzi, John "Jack" Vertovec


The destabilizing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have exposed the seemingly invisible borders compartmentalizing our world; it has brought into focus the extent to which different pockets of society are more or less vulnerable to different health outcomes. The disruption in every sphere of life – from social interactions, global supply chains, to our routine movements around the world – have severely and collectively raised questions about how people respond to, survive, or resist this barrage of  challenges. While a robust literature that identifies these vulnerabilities is developing, less research focuses on recovery and resilience. Drawing from "GREETINGS COVIDIANS," a multidisciplinary participatory photography project conceptualized and implemented from the onset of the pandemic, we analyze from multidisciplinary perspectives how people are facing different vulnerabilities, often times governed by the multitude of borders people face throughout society, in compassionate and empathetic ways. The gallery has already received submissions from a diverse spectrum of more than 70 people from across the world. It shows that while COVID-19 reveals and exacerbates an array of vulnerabilities and boundaries, many are still taking it upon themselves to act compassionately to overcome these challenging times. Through a discussion of some of the gallery's photos – of which the participants were asked to visually present and critically reflect on their personal experiences with COVID-19 - the goals of this presentation are two-fold. First, the images and their captions illustrate the diverse ways that people are attending to their greatest challenges with compassion. Second, the project also demonstrates how interdisciplinary, participatory research – grounded in art and creativity – transcends typical research borderlands such as disciplinary boundaries and finite participant groups. In addition, the project will help facilitate future collaboration between the science of medicine, policy of governance, and the art of compassion.


Farah Yamini is a graduate student in the Department of English at the Florida International University. Farah works on the GREETINGS COVIDIANS research team with nine other researchers from seven different disciplinary backgrounds. Farah Yamini is an original member of this research team and also works on sub-projects with the organizations Pridelines and Camillus House based in Miami, FL, USA. Farah is instrumental in contributing to the artistic and linguistic dynamics of the GREETINGS COVIDIANS project. Beyond the research on COVID-19, Farah focuses on humanizing anti-racist, decolonial, feminist and queer scholarship through multimodality for deeper pedagogical and community engagement and writing the self and interiority through experimental forms from marginal subjects.

Raymond K. Awadzi is a doctoral student in the Department of Global and Sociocultural Studies, Florida International University. His research focuses on identity politics and its ramifications on political, economic, and socio-cultural developments in Africa and the African diaspora. Raymond has done research in the areas of religion and public spaces, church history, and Christian missions in Africa and the African diaspora. Raymond is currently conducting his dissertation field research on transnational networking and ethnic reconstructions among African diaspora communities in North America. He works on the GREETINGS COVIDIANS research team with nine other researchers from seven different disciplinary backgrounds. As a founding member of GREETINGS COVIDIANS, he avails his sharp research and analytical skills to this and other sub-projects with the organizations, Pridelines and Camillus House in Miami, FL, USA. He aspires to address socio-cultural, economic, and political injustices using postcolonial paradigms and through research, teaching, and learning.

John "Jack" Vertovec is a PhD candidate in the Department of Global and Sociocultural Studies at Florida International University in Miami, Florida, USA. His dissertation project ethnographically examined the intersections of structural conditions, inequities and inequalities and income generating behaviors in Havana, Cuba. He also works on other multidisciplinary mixed-methods research projects that analyze relations between health vulnerabilities and social, political, and economic circumstances in other Caribbean spaces (e.g., Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, among others). Jack has an affinity for community-based participatory research (CBPR) to identify local interpretations of complex social and structural factors that are most salient to the well-being of local populations. One such CBPR project is the GREETINGS COVIDIANS participatory photography project – comprising a research team of 10 researchers across many academic disciplines – that sought to provide a cathartic space for community members to reflect on the transformations happening around them during the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Cindy Smalletz and Joseph H. Eveld (Columbia University)

"Narrative Medicine Without Borders"


Cindy Smalletz / Joseph H. Eveld


Narrative Medicine is an interdisciplinary field that fosters powerful narrative skills, including radical attention, analytic response, and intersubjectivity. Practitioners connect with their capabilities to attend to themselves and one another through close reading, deep listening, and concentrated witnessing of texts and art. This enables patients and caregivers to witness, recognize, and value both others and themselves, therefore improving the delivery of healthcare by transcending the borders of bias and misunderstanding, and providing the therapeutic potential for introspection and relief for difficult and complex experiences.

The Division of Narrative Medicine at Columbia University Irving Medical Center immediately recognized the urgency to respond to COVID-19 and the global needs for connection, stress-reduction, and remedies for isolation in the face of the pandemic. While narrative medicine traditionally occurred in physical groups, the Division expanded its approach by offering Virtual Group Sessions (VGS) on Zoom, open to anyone in the world looking for connection, respite, and an outlet for their experience through close-reading and reflective writing with others.

With the initial response of up to 200 people per session, this format bridges physical, national, and personal borders by providing solace, reflection, and collaboration for participants worldwide. One participant wrote, "I have been working in the Emergency Department, sometimes numb, sometimes terrified, sometimes hopeful and grateful. Tonight was the first deep breath I took in a while." What was initially a temporary response to COVID-19 is now an ongoing offering that has committed participation for sessions held in English, Spanish, Greek, Polish, Italian, with more languages to come. By creating the VGS, narrative medicine has brought together a global community of practitioners who transcend borders of space, time, nationality, and language. We plan to continue exploring the potential of this work at the frontlines of medicine and the humanities moving into the future.


Cindy Smalletz, MS, MS, MA is Program Director for the Division of Narrative Medicine in the Department of Medical Humanities and Ethics at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center. In addition to an MS in Narrative Medicine and an MA in Instructional Design and Technology, she joined the Division with a career background in education and technology in both corporate and medical education and currently teaches and designs programming at the medical center. She is also the creator, designer, and director of the first online Certificate Program in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University, envisioned as a way to globally connect practitioners to study narrative medicine. Most recently, she completed an MS in Occupational Therapy and plans to further bring together narrative medicine with clinical care, burnout prevention, and education, with the hopes of changing healthcare around the world through improving advocacy, education, communication and action.

Joseph H. Eveld, MS, MFA, is Program Manager for the Division of Narrative Medicine at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, holds an MS in Narrative Medicine from Columbia University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Boston University. His passion for medical humanities first arose through the experience of surviving bone cancer as a teenager. He studied Narrative Therapy and creative writing as applied in counseling for patients coping with trauma and terminal illness, and healthcare inequities and environmental racism represented in the literature and activism of indigenous cultures in the United States. He has presented workshops on disability awareness, teaches creative writing for the Certificate Program in Narrative Medicine, and leads fiction workshops as part of the required curriculum for Columbia University medical students. He was a finalist for Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers, and his poetry appears in the Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine.

Anne Hudson Jones (University of Texas Medical Branch UTMB)

"Bryan Doerries' Theater of War at the Frontlines during COVID-19: How Greek Tragedies Can Help"


For more than a decade, translator and director Bryan Doerries has brought Greek tragedies, such as Sophocles' Philoctetes and Ajax, to Veterans Affairs (VA) Hospitals across the United States to help veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) break through borders of silence that have impeded their healing and find a way to reintegrate into a civilian society that does not fully understand their experiences or the depth of their suffering. Now that the major war in the world is against a coronavirus, Doerries has expanded the focus of his work to reach out and help sustain medical warriors on the clinical frontlines. Their physical, emotional, and moral distress is very similar to that experienced by soldiers returning from their respective frontlines. In each session, Theater of War at the Frontlines opens with skilled actors reading scenes from one or two Greek tragedies, then turns to a few panelists to make some initial remarks about the readings, and then invites the audience to engage in discussion, prompted by a few well-chosen questions to help get the conversation started. It is in these unscripted responsive remarks that the richness and efficacy of Theater of War become apparent.  Clinical workers, who probably have little previous experience with Greek tragedies, grasp the connection between the suffering of the Greek protagonists and their own.  They understand the powerful unity—community, if you will—of human beings across temporal and geographic borders that fall before the common human experience of suffering and death. In these connections, they seek solace and strength to continue. Along the way, contemporary professional borders also fall, as doctors, nurses and other clinical workers, including hospital housekeepers and transportation orderlies, come together to share their struggles to sustain themselves physically and emotionally so that they can continue to care for the sick and often dying patients who depend on them. Doerries knows the power of Humanities in pandemic times, and he is out there doing the work, showing us a model for Humanists without Borders. 


Anne Hudson Jones, PhD, is the Hobby Family Professor in the Medical Humanities at the Institute for the Medical Humanities (IMH) of the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston. An early practitioner of literature and medicine, she was a founding editor of the journal Literature and Medicine (Johns Hopkins University Press), served as its Editor-in-Chief for more than a decade and returned recently as its interim Executive Editor during a transition period for the journal. She has published widely in humanities and biomedical journals on aspects of literature and medicine and medical humanities and has two books, Images of Nurses: Perspectives from History, Art, and Literature and Ethical Issues in Biomedical Publication. For nearly fifteen years, she has served as Director of the only medical humanities PhD program in the United States. She has received many awards for her work, including the University of Texas Regents Outstanding Teaching Award.