Pandemics Unessay Final Projects

Here are a few final projects from the Fall 2020 Pandemics: Texts and Contexts course!

Alexandra Alkhayer: Podcast on Arab-American Experience and HIV/AIDS Epidemic

The HIV/AIDS epidemic is still an urgent matter in the U.S., and the lack of an Arab ethnicity
option in public health data collection prevents us from understanding how HIV impacts the
Arab population. This episode explores how community organizations and recognition of the
Arab ethnicity on Michigan’s HIV/AIDS Case Report Form improved Arabs’ access to HIV

Full podcast available upon request and with Alexandra’s permission

Pandemics Unessay Final Projects

Harry Abram: Perceptions of Time During the COVID-19 Pandemic

A combination of interviews, narrative, and a built structure examining perceptions of time during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Screenshot below (full video available upon request and with Harry’s permission)

Pandemics Unessay Final Projects

Here are a few final projects from the Fall 2020 Pandemics: Texts and Contexts course!

Anna Zdunek: COVID-19 Visual Culture Archive

“COVID-19 Visual Culture” is a curated collection of diverse images from the COVID-19 health crisis that have helped shape the public health response. These images are divided into sections based on chronology, and include discussion of the images’ health messages in the context of the events and attitudes during the period of the pandemic. This exhibition is meant to reflect the experience of the average person living through this pandemic who is constantly exposed online to images of the epidemiological and medical aspects of COVID-19. The ultimate goal of this archive is to help advance the fields of public health advocacy, pandemic history, and art as a tool for education and influence.

Pandemics Unessay Final Projects

Here are a few final projects from the Medical Humanities Fall 2020 Pandemics: Texts and Contexts course!

Angelette Pham: Diary Entries from the perspective of a Chinese-American child during San Francisco’s First Bubonic Plague Epidemic

Author’s Notes:
These diary entries follow the same adolescent Chinese-American child throughout San Francisco’s first bubonic plague epidemic.The decision to maintain one narrator stems from the lack of information on other roles of theChinese-American general public. While substantial information reveals the perspectives from the Chinese-American elites, such as members of the Chinese Consolidated BenevolentAssociation, the project’s focus aimed to showcase the voice of the general public instead.Should future research reveal more about the perspectives of Chinatown’s regularChinese-American inhabitants, this project could be extended to encompass opium addicts,female slaves, Chinese traditional medicine physicians, domestic servants, and merchants,among others. Increasing the diversity of perspectives helps shape a more holistic and representative perception of the Chinese-American opinion of the bubonic plague epidemic.

Pandemics Unessay Final Projects

Here are a few final ‘Unessay’ projects from the Medical Humanities Fall 2020 Pandemics: Texts and Contexts course!

Liz Burns: “Pandemic Conscious Inpatient Psychiatric Ward Proposal”

The following images are a 3D rendering of a pandemic conscious inpatient psychiatric ward. Pandemics are challenging for everyone, but especially difficult for those being treated for mental illness in a hospital setting. The main factors that put the patients at risk are non-bubble staff, extended isolation, no socialization, difficultly understanding social distancing guidelines, and more. Drawing upon schematics of inpatient facilities during the 1918 Influenza Pandemic and the COVID-19 Pandemic, I have combined what I see as the most successful components to create a safe and healing environment for inpatient psychiatric patients.

Far More Than A Google Search Term …

At the conclusion of every year, there are things we look forward to: spending time with loved ones (typical), Spotify Year in Reviews (a little more obscure), and … Google Trends’ Year in Search (downright geeky). If I may geek out for a bit, I have attached the 2020 edition below, and my goodness, did I get a good laugh out of some of these—”how to cut men’s hair at home,” “where to buy toilet paper,” and “why is Nevada taking so long” were a few of my favorites! Jokes aside, looking at this list and after taking this class, what I have come to understand is that word choice matters. Words matter. While the words on this list may just have been the most common search terms of 2020, they represent so much more than just a cluster of words—rather, they represent some of the greatest events that have happened in the context of the pandemic that we are living in today.


This year’s number one search term: election results. Just those two words in the context of 2020 represent the incredible progress that our country has made to date. Those two words represent the first incumbent voted out of office since George H.W. Bush, the first woman and Black and Asian Vice President, and, most importantly in the context of this pandemic, leaders that support and promote mask-wearing and personal responsibility among the citizens of this nation to curb this pandemic to the greatest of our abilities.


Another top search term that struck me: how to help Black Lives Matter. Following the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, for the first time in many people’s lives, education on the truth of Black history in America ensued. Not only was police brutality “shot down” as something that is even remotely supported by the majority of Americans, but issues more closely related to the pandemic, such as the incredibly high proportion of COVID-19 cases deaths in the Black community and the many underlying reasons for this came out. Black Lives Matter and this single search term represent so much more than a placeholder on Google Trends’ 2020 Year in Review. They represent the major milestone that our nation as a whole has achieved in better understanding an oppressed population and how we can begin thinking about fixing things for the future.

Would it be a HALC class if I did not bring up J.K. Rowling?

One of the most inspiring quotes that I have ever come to know is from J.K. Rowling: “Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.” This is the quote that inspired me to never give up, particularly in my life as a pageant girl having lost eight competitions before winning my first. For those who are unfamiliar with the Harry Potter author’s background, Rowling first conceived the idea for the series in 1990, though what followed in the next tumultuous seven years of her life prior to publishing the first of the series is not only inspiring, but draws incredible connections to Prior Walter in Angels in America.


Both Prior and Rowling started at rock bottom and began their tumultuous times with relationship troubles. Like Prior when he first got diagnosed with AIDS and Louis began seeing Joe behind his back, Rowling suffered an immensely short marriage that left her a single mother and just barely homeless. These scenarios left both Prior and Rowling in a dark place, as Prior faced persistent worry and Rowling described this time in her life as the following: “That period of my life is a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy-tale resolution.” Then, enlightenment hit for the both of them. As Prior began to seek support and recognition from Belize, Joe’s mother, and later on in the play, the angel who declares his prophecy, Scholastic picked up the Harry Potter series and began to mass distribute it worldwide. At the “end” of both of their journeys (this is not the end of J.K. Rowling), Prior became self-actualized—the much better version of himself compared to his incredibly worried state at the beginning of the novel, and Rowling was named to Time’s Person of the Year award and became a billionaire. The best part about all of this—because both Prior and Rowling lived the lives of those less fortunate, they can relate to essentially all others and have empathy in ways that other famous, self-actualized people cannot.

Here is an article from where I drew much of the inspiration and some of the quotes for this post:

The Virus—Who or What?

As an Asian-American woman whose mother immigrated to the United States, I drew many personal and familial connections to Ling Ma’s Severance, though one was abundantly clear—people like Donald Trump who have leveraged America’s capitalistic system to build themselves up have taken the “little people” for granted and never considered their needs … an ethical virus in my book! Whether those be individuals right here in this country that have been unnecessarily financially debilitated by or died of COVID-19, or even worse—people like my grandmother overseas working in unsafe, unsanitary, and drastically underpaid manufacturing roles during these challenging times—people like Donald Trump (even as someone in a public service role) have disregarded those “beneath” in favor of serving himself, and that is so utterly disgusting! He wants to call us a virus? Perhaps he should begin looking inward.


While I often debate with myself whether capitalism is truly representative of a “virus”—negative connotations and all—I like to think back to what the word “capital” actually means in a business context. In a business context, capital is simply money that is used to generate more money. It is not inherently harmful in and of itself. In fact, we as humans would be nothing if we did not collaborate with each other and produce synergies, driving innovation, which makes me believe that capitalism is not an entirely flawed system. The problem with capitalism has nothing to do with the system, but the lack of empathy of many of the people that participate in it. I doubt Jeff Bezos rarely thinks about the poor factory workers overseas that line his wallet as he sleeps. Point blank: those that have dehumanized others who are lower in the capitalist system than themselves are the virus, not the system itself.

Viral Discrimination

One of the underlying themes our text Angels in America addresses is the idea that AIDS is a disease for homosexuals. The issue is that this isn’t entirely unsupported by fact. According to the CDC, non-straight men make up around 70% of new AIDS cases in the United States. While science provides several reasons why that is the case, from having a predisposition for higher risk to a vicious cycle perpetrated by social stigma, its bizarre how a virus seems to be able to discriminate. But how much of this discrimination is man-made? Or is it only natural that a human virus follows human nature? We see something similar in the text Ghost Map where we dicussed the miasma theory. The miasma theory catered not only to human instinct to associate smells with disease, but also to the human inclination to discriminate. To find a justification for why certain groups of people are more likely to be infected, people fill in the holes with answers that paints themselves in a better light. This certainly appealed to higher classes of Victorian society and contributed to the prevalence of the miasma theory at the time. I believe discrimination during a time of fear and uncertainty (like a pandemic) is almost like a second virus. It infects a population, exposing hidden weakness in our society’s infrastructure, and does damage. During Covid-19, the extent of political divisiveness in our country was laid open for all to see. Even something as simple as a wearing a mask became a topic of contention, to the point that not wearing masks was proudly used by some as evidence of political alignment. This isn’t to say the virus of discrimination is as bad as Covid, but it most certainly exacerbated the situation. And the scariest part? There is no vaccine.

Works Cited:

“HIV and Gay and Bisexual Men.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 16 Sept. 2020,

The Ghost’s Reappearance 200 Years Post-Map

As part of the primary research that I conducted for my final project, I had the opportunity to connect with Isabel Betancourt. For the past two years, she has been employed as a registered dietitian and community leader at Baltimore’s Moveable Feast, an organization that prepares and delivers nutritious meals and groceries and provides nutritional counseling among a predominantly Black clientele. During our recent conversation, I asked her the following open-ended question: have your clients ever disclosed to you any of the challenges that they face in their efforts to remain in good health? Among a conversation that cited a slew of challenges such as living in food deserts, relying entirely on public transportation, having limited access to technology, and simply not having the time to be their healthiest selves, one thing in particular—unclean drinking water in many major urban areas in America—struck me and reminded me of when we read Steven Johnson’s The Ghost Map earlier this semester.

The novel’s beginning sparks a debate among 19th-century medical professionals. At the time, the cause of the spread of the cholera epidemic was unknown and was believed to either be spread through contagion (from one person to another) or through miasma (foul odors). It was then later discovered by a young doctor named John Snow that neither of those theories was correct. It turns out that cholera could have been easily prevented had London’s citizens had access to clean drinking water and electrolytes.

Fast forward to the 21st century, and cities like Flint, Michigan, and many others continue to have dirty brown water flowing out of the tap. Perhaps the United States did not learn anything from the cholera epidemic! The attached article references 12 of America’s major cities that, as of 2020, have the worst water quality in the nation, containing chemicals like lead, radium, and carcinogens. Baltimore is included on this list, so it is no wonder that during my conversation with Isabel, the topic of dehydration among those already facing food insecurity came up—they cannot even drink the water flowing out of the tap! Outrageous!