Ram Stories team will interview 200 CSU students to document their COVID-19 pandemic experiences

Collage of photos taken during the COVID-19 pandemic

A collage of photos from CSU Photography illustrating life at season at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A team of Colorado State University researchers will spend the next academic year interviewing 200 students and recent alumni to obtain first-hand accounts of what it was like to be in college during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The project provides the opportunity to collectively share our experiences, to grieve and to provide an avenue for discussing the pandemic and its continued impact on our daily lives,” said Mark Shelstad, head of Digital and Archive Services at CSU Libraries. 

The project is called Ram Stories, and the result will be an oral history of the COVID-19 pandemic that will be publicly available through an interactive story map, podcasts and TV shorts. The oral history recordings and transcriptions will be permanently collected in the Morgan Library archives. Ram Stories is funded by the CSU President’s Office, and the hope is that by documenting students’ experiences the University will deepen its understanding of students’ needs and help it better prepare for the next big challenge. 

CSU History Professor Emerita Ruth Alexander is the principal investigator for Ram Stories. Ariel Schnee of the Public Lands History Center is the project manager. They’ve hired two graduate students and one undergraduate to conduct the interviews. 

“The interviews will last 20 to 25 minutes, and the ones we’ve done so far have been amazingly rich,” Alexander said. “Students have a lot to say, and we’re learning that the pandemic deeply affected them during a formative period in their lives.” 

The team is recruiting a diverse array of students to participate in the project to ensure the interviews represent a broad range of experiences and perspectives. Ram Stories is seeking participants from all majors as well as varied indigenous, ethnic and racial identities. The hope is to also tell the stories of students who identify as LGBTQIA+, those of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds and who come from a wide variety of faiths and cultural communities. 

The team said they have already heard profoundly moving stories during the pilot interview process. One student lost her grandmother to COVID-19 early in the pandemic but couldn’t attend her funeral back home in Mexico due to travel restrictions. 

Another student said the social isolation of COVID-19, in combination with the Black Lives Matter movement that followed George Floyd’s murder in 2020, prompted her to think intently about her biracial identity and to deepen connections to the African American community.

And a Brazilian student explained that it took months of constant effort to obtain a visa to enter the United States for graduate study at CSU. In Fall 2020, he struggled with virtual participation in graduate seminars and worried that his pursuit of advanced education in the U.S. conflicted with responsibilities for his multi-generational household, including his mother – a nurse who was working on the frontlines in a hospital caring for COVID-19 patients.

“Every story I’ve heard so far has been different, and it’s so interesting to learn about these stories from a variety of perspectives,” said Nick Taylor, one of the graduate students conducting the interviews. 

The Ram Stories team is recruiting students to the project throughout the 2022-23 academic year. The team will ask questions that invite students to reflect upon the pandemic’s impact on their academic engagement; personal familial and community relationships; career goals; and mental and emotional health. 

Students who are interviewed should realize that the researchers for this project are not mental health professionals, and the team cannot offer therapeutic services for ongoing challenges or trauma. The Ram Stories team urges any student in need of therapeutic intervention related to the mental and emotional challenges of COVID-19 to reach out to the experts available at CSU and in the larger community. Please use this link for further information: health.colostate.edu/mhwb-resources.

To learn more about how to participate in Ram Stories, visit lib.colostate.edu/ram-stories

“I sit in these interviews and I’m really struck by the resilience, eloquence, and thoughtfulness of our students,” Alexander said. “The students participating in this project are creators of an extremely important historical record, and I’m grateful to each one of them for sharing their stories and deepening our understanding of the pandemic and its impact.”