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Associate Professor of German Takes COVID-19 Crisis Opportunity to Build Solidarity with Students

While the COVID-19 pandemic caused Brigham Young University to transfer the remainder of the 2020 winter semester classes to online platforms, Associate Professor of German Laura Smith took the crisis as an opportunity to foster a sense of mutual support and solidarity with her students.

During a public health crisis that has posed unprecedented challenges to the current generation of students and professors, associate professor Laura Smith (German), is one of many professors who have expressed acceptance and compassion in this situation.

Days before BYU made its announcements that on-campus activities would cease, Smith pilot-tested how an online class would work for her classes. Throughout this crisis, she has not only prioritized the physical health of her students, but she is also sensitive to their mental health. The professor cedes that while she doesn't "get the same energy from students with online classes... it's important to try and take the pressure off, to have the students feel like they have standards but this [assignment] is not the end and be all."

Smith tries to help her students continue their learning under new circumstances by working with students on a one-on-one basis as needed, in addition to their Zoom classroom sessions together. Like many professors, Smith's students were living in several different time zones, including overseas, each with a different set of new obstacles to face. As such, she chose to adapt individual assignments and exams to suit the logistical needs of her students, create new materials that can be accessed remotely, and accommodate the individual needs of her students.

One main feature of her approach to accepting these new circumstances has been to express solidarity with her students. "I want to help the students maintain their principles and values in this new world," says Smith. "I also have been making an effort to extend compassion and emphasize self-care. You know, I've been seeing people struggling." So at the end of most of her emails, she has made sure to check in with her students by asking a simple, "How are you doing?'"

Smith is just one example of how students and professors around the world have been able to extend understanding and support for one another despite physical isolation.

—Natalie Shorr (Sociology, '22)

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