How to Now
Alternately pummeled and buoyed by the events of 2020, we’re all searching for ways to help others—and ourselves—emerge from this ongoing emergency and create a brighter future.
This fall, UMass created a broad contact-tracing and coronavirus testing program. Nursing students earned internship credit for becoming contact tracers and tracking possible exposure among their peers. Bolstered by the success of this program, the campus is planning to expand access to approximately 60% of its residential students in the spring.
Faculty and graduate students have also trained their research lenses on the pandemic, studying how best to support low-income families, innovating respirators and rapid virus tests, sharing epidemiological expertise with the CDC, and contributing to the growing body of scientific knowledge about COVID-19.
Rising to meet the needs of students during this time of social unrest, the Office of Equity and Inclusion created a conversation series on “Building Community and Overcoming Polarization” to help equip the community with skills to bridge differences, and convened an Anti-Racism Task Force to address systemic racism.
Appetites for discussing difficult topics have been met with opportunities to do so—the Alumni Association chose So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo for the Read UMass Virtual Book Club, and Learning Community book groups across campus read What If I Say the Wrong Thing? by Vernā A. Myers as a way to engage with the national conversation about racism.
As members of a learning community, we understand the benefit of multiple perspectives on how we might move forward after this tumultuous year. We reached out to members of the UMass community to share their vision for what happens next.
Special Section: Life After 2020
The pandemic is not a game, but game theory can help
As our world continues to reel from the pandemic, there is a resulting shortage of medical supplies. And with coronavirus cases persisting and businesses continuing to reopen, intense worldwide competition for testing kits and PPE is not going away anytime soon. However, a theoretical framework called game theory—the study of strategies in a competitive setting—can help.
Scholars in disciplines from math to business to political science use game theory to understand how people are likely to make decisions in response to actions by others. To capture the intense competition among health care organizations for limited medical supplies and to look for solutions, our research group constructed a computer-based supply chain network game theory model.
The model weighs many complex factors including the prices of the medical items charged by different suppliers, the transportation costs to points of demand, and even risk. It also includes penalties associated with shortages or surpluses, and enables a multiplicity of scenarios.
This research yields insights to help organizations more effectively and economically procure critical medical supplies under demand unpredictability and competition. And the findings from our model confirm that, in the case of the coronavirus, more supply points are required in order to ensure that organizations have the critical supplies they need. One solution to the supply shortage is for governments to invest in domestic production facilities rather than importing and offshoring so much. Luckily, we are now starting to see more countries doing what our model proposes: setting up local production sites for supplies.
The pandemic will be with us until a vaccine and lifesaving medical treatments are widely available. We must also be prepared for future pandemics. And game theory will remain a powerful tool to identify ways that our nation and the world can more effectively prepare for and mitigate health care disasters.
—Anna Nagurney is John F. Smith Memorial Professor of Operations Management at the UMass Amherst Isenberg School of Management. A version of this article first appeared in The Conversation.
In mid-March, 16 UMass public health undergraduates who were studying in Cuba were abruptly evacuated because of the alarming spread of COVID-19 across the globe. I was scheduled to teach these students a course on comparative health care systems in Havana, but had to rapidly adjust my course to one that could be taught online. As part of my new plan, I trained the class in qualitative research methods and asked them to interview each other and additional college students about their experience with—and perceptions of—the emerging pandemic, including mental health effects.
The students far exceeded my expectations, conducting a total of 35 interviews in April and May. Class members Eva Chow ’21, Meghan Fernandes ’21, Natalia Putnam ’22, and Kate Wallace ’21 continued to work extensively on the study over the summer to analyze the interview data. Their analysis identified several important themes, including precariousness. The many uncertainties associated with the pandemic, such as worry about family members’ health, loss of jobs, and not knowing when the pandemic will end, were generating a great deal of worry and anxiety among the college students interviewed.
These four remarkable students are now preparing the work for publication—a great achievement made more stunning by the fact that it is taking place during such severe disruption. As the team began winding down our weekly meetings, one of the students wrote, “I’m feeling kind of sad we are nearing the end of our special project. It has been so nice being able to stay connected with you and everyone, especially during such scary and uncertain times. What a fun and grounding activity this has been!” This kind comment made me think that in addition to helping students increase their research skills, perhaps providing them with opportunities to work on such projects during the pandemic could help mitigate, in a small yet meaningful way, its negative emotional effects.
—Sarah Goff ’18PhD is Associate Professor of Health Policy and Management at the UMass Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences.
Community. Safety. Transformation.
Kandace Montgomery ’12 has become an essential voice in the fresh wave of activism for racial justice. A Black, queer, nonbinary community organizer, Montgomery moved to Minneapolis to work with TakeAction Minnesota in 2013, and helped start Black Lives Matter Minneapolis a year later. After the BLM chapter disbanded, she co-founded Black Visions in 2017, where she works to engage young Black, queer, and trans people and their families to increase the power of Black people over the long term. She spoke to UMass Magazine about her vision for the future.
On finding her path:
A grassroots community organizing class with UMass Alliance for Community Transformation was one of the first times in my life that I really understood that injustice and inequality were systemic and institutional. … Then moving from campus activism to really being out in the community was so exciting, and I just remember saying to my mentor, “I want to do what you do for the rest of my life.”
On envisioning safety:
We’re putting all our eggs into one basket saying if we dump money into the police we will get the kind of results and level of community safety we want, and that’s obviously and fundamentally not true. … Safety also looks like people’s basic needs being met. If we have the millions of dollars—clearly we can invest in things like that.
On building new models:
I want people to not just focus on defunding the police but having a conversation around transitioning to a model that really invests in communities at the forefront. Building up the life-affirming institutions that we know we need to keep each other safe. That should be the top line, not fear around what happens when we don’t have police to call, but hope around what happens when we don’t need police to call.
Taking a structural approach to making STEM more anti-racist requires those of us in higher education to work at multiple scales—recognizing that structures are unjust, that they are supported and maintained by individuals within them, and that we all have a role to play in dismantling them. Here are some suggestions for action:
- Focus less on whether you are a racist and more on how racism has influenced you. Your job is to recognize the ways in which you are impacted by and replicate racist practices and to commit to the work of anti-racism.
- Be loud in your advocacy for your students who are interested in science but have not had the same access to opportunities to study it as their peers.
- Be generous with those who might struggle academically, knowing that one of the factors making a student of color “at risk” is the personal cost and cultural consequence of being born into a deeply inequitable society.
- Make mentorship a part of the tenure and promotion process. Recognize and reward good faculty mentors in your program.
- Expand and seek funding to allow students to gain research experience. At UMass, the William Lee Science Impact Program—funded by a private donor with matching funds from departments in the College of Natural Sciences—funds almost 30 students every summer to engage in summer research. A generous stipend allows the participation of students who might otherwise need to seek employment elsewhere during the summer. As designed by my late colleague Tracie Gibson, the program is intended to start students on their professional journeys, and we recognize that previous experience is more an indicator of mentorship and access to opportunity than of their potential to succeed.
Our students are demanding that we dismantle obstacles to the transformational potential of higher education. It is up to us and our institutions to live up to this moment.
—Linda Ziegenbein ’13PhD, Interim Director, Office of Student Success and Diversity, UMass Amherst College of Natural Sciences
‘Every generation has their moment’
Richard DuCree ’91 grew up playing with his mom’s old Brownie camera, listening to his father’s sermons, and attending meetings for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. When he became the first Black photo editor of the Massachusetts Daily Collegian, he sought out cultural icons such as Jesse Jackson who were visiting campus, and also documented campus protests for racial justice.
“UMass has always been a great melting pot to me, with different cultures coming in, sharing ideas,” DuCree says. “All-star people were coming in, like Chinua Achebe, Angela Davis, Bill Strickland. I really started getting into photography by documenting that.”
His lenses have captured several presidents, the late Representative John Lewis, and many protests for racial justice. “At times hope has seemed doubtful,” he says, “but witnessing these peaceful protests and documenting the optimism of people really wanting change gives me a very good perspective. … Every generation has their moment.”
More Photos by Richard DuCree ’91:
Department of Silver Linings: remote learning
Joanna Buoniconti ’21 has type 2 spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic neuromuscular disorder. I first met Joanna as a journalism classmate and was struck by how her disorder seemed to strengthen her resolve and motivation to succeed. We recently spoke about her college experience.
What did your college application process look like?
After meetings with the disability departments of several colleges that I was really interested in, it became more and more apparent that they didn’t have the resources to help me. Throughout my life, I encountered many people who were blown away by the fact that I am intelligent and handicapped. UMass was the only place that seemed unfazed by my needs.
What does your experience as a student journalist mean to you?
Being one of the managing editors at the Amherst Wire to me means that I have finally found my community. It’s just amazing to be a part of the camaraderie that I’ve always dreamed of. I’m so grateful that they accepted me with open arms.
Due to COVID-19, UMass students learned remotely for much of the spring semester, with most students continuing remote learning in the fall. How did you feel about that switch?
Before the pandemic, my classroom access assistants sat in the classrooms as “me” while I was Zooming in, but that made it nearly impossible to connect with my peers, because I was like a phantom figure in the classroom. Having everyone on Zoom removed that barrier because they could now see my face and that I was not this absent, omniscient being. I felt like, “Yes! I’m finally on the same level as everyone else!”
What is something you wish others knew about people with disabilities?
I wish everyone knew that we’re just as human as everyone else—and we want the same things that everyone else does. I want to live in Boston or New York one day, be the editor of a publishing house, and have a family. Ultimately, I hope to be happy.
What is your hope for access to education for others who are disabled?
I have had to be relentless to get where I am today, and without my mom advocating for me when I was younger, I definitely would not be here. In the future, I hope there aren’t as many obstacles for people with disabilities within the education system. Many get discouraged, and that’s not fair. If people, regardless of their physical limitations, want to pursue a college degree, they should be able to.
—Desiré Jackson-Crosby ’19 is a freelance journalist. She writes more about Buonconti in this extended profile.
Progress in a time of pain
The LGBTQ+ community celebrated a landmark victory in June when the Supreme Court ruled in Bostock v. Clayton County that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The ruling was announced during Pride Month in a year when parades were canceled due to COVID-19 and replaced with protesters fighting for justice in the streets against police brutality and white supremacy, and in support of Black lives, including a record-attendance march for Black trans lives in Brooklyn. While the LGBTQ+ community can report some gains in visibility and legal recognition, much work remains to ensure that those within the LGBTQ+ community who are most marginalized can experience lived equality. In 2020, murders of transgender people—the majority of whom were Black women—surpassed the total for all of 2019 in just seven months.
We can all be better allies to someone.
The year 2020 has tested us in ways that we never anticipated. An important takeaway has been the power of taking personal responsibility for our own complicity in the structural inequity that either benefits us or oppresses us. In the work that I do for change as a former transgender rights litigator and now a diversity, equity, and inclusion professional for the National LGBT Bar, I am inspired by the willingness of people to change—to see things in a new way, to question a line of thinking, to challenge their own assumptions. We can all be better allies to someone. Progress can be made in this time of pain if we are willing to get uncomfortable and step up.
—M. Dru Levasseur ’02 is Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for the National LGBT Bar Association.
Queer citizens are citizens, too—no matter their home state
As a queer person of color who has lived in seven different states, I know that where you call home matters. Our local communities and home states impact our day-to-day lives, especially for LGBTQ people who face varying social climates and legal policies depending on where we live. After receiving master’s degrees in business administration and public policy administration at UMass in 2013, I joined Equality Federation to work for LGBTQ equality nationwide.
Overall, in recent years, we have seen amazing progress. In 2015, marriage equality became the law of the land, and in 2020 the Supreme Court found that discrimination against LGBTQ people in employment is prohibited under Title VII. Still, we have much left to do to ensure that all LGBTQ people can live full, equal lives.
LGBTQ people of color—especially Black transgender women—are disproportionately affected by racism, transphobia, and the types of violent policing that sparked Black-led uprisings in 2020.
Being quarantined during the coronavirus pandemic makes me think about the social isolation many older Americans experience. By 2030 the U.S. will be home to 7 million LGBTQ people over the age of 50, and research shows that they are at greater risk for isolation, mental and physical illness, and poverty than their straight and cisgender counterparts.
And as youth across the country experienced the strangest back-to-school season ever, it made things even harder to witness state legislators across the country introduced more than 60 pieces of legislation (including three in Massachusetts) that specifically targeted transgender youth, seeking to exclude them from school activities and remove their access to lifesaving medical care. Thankfully, only one of these passed.
As we celebrate the progress we have made, we must continue to fight for all of us, especially LGBTQ people of color, older adults, and transgender youth. Our work going forward must put their voices, stories, and lives at the forefront of our policy and advocacy agendas.
—Fran Hutchins ’13MBA, MPPA serves as Deputy Director of Equality Federation, the movement builder and strategic partner to state-based organizations advocating for LGBTQ people. Hutchins also serves on the board of the UMass Amherst Alumni Association.
About the cover
After many months of being able to capture only outdoor scenes around campus due to the pandemic, university photographer John Solem was able to open his Goodell Hall studio for a brief photo session in compliance with public health protocols. Masked, socially distant sessions with doors open and fans for extra ventilation allowed Solem to photograph these two UMass undergraduate students as they look toward their futures with energy and optimism.
Brandon Barker ’21, a dance and finance double major, has been dancing since he was three years old. He wants to learn about finance and arts management “to fully understand the financial side of the arts,” and to become an effective advocate in political and administrative spaces. Barker wants to eventually bring his knowledge back home to New York City and advocate for public arts funding within the mayor’s office. He also enjoys teaching dance and providing the cultural and historical context behind dance forms. Barker gives back to the UMass community as a member of the Student Advisory Board for the Office of Equity and Inclusion and as a senator in the Student Government Association.
Jelitza Gonzalez ’21 is in her final year as a civil and environmental engineering major. The first in her family to go to college, Gonzalez is breaking through barriers as a Latina woman entering a field dominated by white men. She was able to attend UMass Amherst largely thanks to a scholarship she received as a high school senior, and has since received several more. She landed a summer internship with a local construction company to help with projects on campus, which has continued into the school year part time. Due to her diligent work over the summer and how she has excelled in her studies, Gonzalez has also received a job offer to work as a project manager in Boston. Hear from Gonzalez about her experience and career plans: