From virtual dance workouts to pizza parties to storytelling sessions, staff members in the Stanford Global Studies (SGS) Division are finding creative strategies to connect with one another during a pandemic that has disrupted life around the globe.
Over the past two months, staff across the division’s 14 centers and programs have demonstrated their flexibility, camaraderie, and pioneering spirit as they helped transition classes online, organize virtual events, and support students and faculty with teaching and research. As they have adapted to working from home, they have also discovered new ways to come together as a community.
“The community is what I enjoy most about working in Stanford Global Studies,” said Franco Errico, a program coordinator in the Moghadam Program in Iranian Studies. “Everyone has shown resilience during quarantine, and has found ways to gather, celebrate, and innovate.”
Read stories from staff across SGS below.
Steve Hoeschele, who coordinates events and programs for the Center for Human Rights & International Justice, has shifted some of his focus to supporting students during this crisis. “It’s been a welcome change, as student interaction is one of the most fulfilling parts of my job, and that kind of connection has really helped during a time when we’re so isolated,” he said.
The center has hosted numerous social activities and career workshops for undergraduates in spring quarter. “We’ve held virtual mixers and pub trivia nights, and I’m supervising our student workers’ efforts to develop a podcast, book club, and match-making program for our human rights community,” Steve added. “We also heard student concerns about their summer plans falling through, so we held two ‘summer (re)planning workshops,’ where we helped them brainstorm other constructive opportunities to do instead.”
Steve, who recently completed a master’s program in slavery and liberation from the University of Nottingham, is also helping SGS and the Center to Support Excellence in Teaching (CSET) with curating content for a virtual workshop for community college instructors on “Slavery in Historical and Contemporary Contexts.”
While the pandemic has disrupted his daily routine, Steve has found solace in spending time in the great outdoors. “I still really miss my busy slate of activities like concerts and gym classes, but spending nearly every weekend outside has been my saving grace,” he shared.
He has also found comfort in participating in social events with other SGS staff. Recently, Steve planned a storytelling session, where staff members shared tales of losing a school-wide spelling bee, chance encounters with A-list celebrities, and cross-country road trips. “It was modeled on a local ‘story slam’ event I often attend, wherein everyone has an opportunity to tell a five- or six-minute real-life story about anything they want. I chose this activity because it encourages people to really connect; stories are a major way we relate to one another. They are among the oldest forms of human entertainment for good reason. There’s something really humanizing about hearing someone else’s story, and that’s the kind of bonding we need right now.”
For Brenda, a program coordinator in the Center for African Studies (CAS), the solitude of quarantine has presented a rare opportunity to reflect and contemplate. “I appreciate the quiet. The emptiness of the stores and streets. The absence of pressure to go go go, socialize, perform. I am happy to be healthy,” she acknowledged. “I think of my friends who are doctors. I feel for my friends who are essential workers. I pray for my friends living in the Tenderloin. I avoid calling them all because I don’t know what to say. For the first time in my life, I am happy to not be in New York, a place I’ve always wanted to live.”
One of the toughest challenges she has faced is supporting friends and family who have been greatly impacted by the crisis, including those with compromised immune systems or those who have lost their jobs. “It’s really easy (and understandable) to feel powerless at this time, but important to help where you can,” she emphasized. Working from home has also proved to be a challenge. “Someone said that this is not working from home; this is navigating a crisis, trapped at home, trying to work,” she explained.
She has adapted to an unprecedented situation with ingenuity and speed. "Creativity toward how I do my job has changed. Since there is more solitude, but also a different format for interaction among us, this has pushed us to bring a different side of ourselves to the table, which I think is an overall plus for the division," she shared. Indeed, her role has changed significantly over the past couple of months to focus on facilitating remote events and meetings. She has quickly gotten up-to-speed on communication tools like Slack, graphic design tools like Canva, and videoconferencing tools like Zoom and WebEx. These platforms have been essential in organizing virtual gatherings for students in the CAS community, who are scattered all over the world.
“There are drop-in international Zoom sessions on weekends where people hangout, say hi, and give updates about where they are; here we laugh about Zoom background choices and dance to shared favorite songs. We watch Netflix together. Sometimes there is cooking. The CAS student staff are the ones who make this kind of dynamic community possible, despite COVID-19; the associate director Dr. Laura Hubbard is one of the center’s greatest assets,” she shared. In the coming weeks, Brenda is helping plan a virtual networking session for students about to enter the job market, as well as the annual CAS Photo Exhibit. Additionally, she is focused on writing content for the newly redesigned CAS website.
Brenda is also dedicated to supporting her colleagues in SGS; she regularly checks in with them to ask about their mental health and wellbeing. “I ask colleagues, ‘How are you holding up?’ or ‘How are you feeling about the latest ordinance, or press conference, or Zoom call?’"
This month, she helped lead a workshop for SGS staff on “Zoom Inclusivity,” in collaboration with the division’s Diversity and Inclusion Taskforce. In the workshop, participants were asked to turn off their cameras and change their names to maintain anonymity. “We asked questions about how people felt on Zoom and how people were dealing with the pandemic,” she said. “We hoped to get people to consider different communication styles, accessibility, and comfort zones. We started an important conversation about what safe, inclusive, and creatively brave interactions in our current remote settings could look like, and it was remarkable to experience that.”
Lalita du Perron, who started working at Stanford last October, has had an eventful first year as the associate director of the Center for South Asia. “It’s been quite the start to a new job, but the creativity and camaraderie that COVID has engendered is really quite special,” she said.
When Santa Clara County issued a stay-at-home order, Lalita quickly pivoted to ensure the Center for South Asia could continue supporting its community from a distance. Under her leadership, the center planned several academic webinars via Zoom and launched a new podcast series featuring students, researchers, and faculty affiliates. In addition, she organized various community-building activities including an open mic night for individuals to come together to recite poetry. “We have discovered there is a lot of talent in our community! We have also hosted a comedy night for people to have a great opportunity to laugh in these challenging times.”
While Lalita admits that working from home has its fair share of challenges, she has found exercise to be a helpful stress reliever. Each week, she enjoys hosting virtual Zumba classes for staff across SGS. “It is lovely having people join in, and it keeps me motivated and moving. I definitely miss the social aspect of campus, but being able to do virtual Zumba has been a total highlight for me,” she shared.
Franco Errico has been working in the Program in Iranian Studies for more than four years, and he helps organize concerts, performances, and academic conferences, which have drawn thousands of people to campus. He also serves as the division’s resident expert on security and information technology, and he leads a quarterly working group for event coordinators across SGS.
When the campus started transitioning online in the wake of the pandemic, the Program in Iranian Studies was one of the first to experiment with planning virtual events. “We learned to use the various Zoom features and have hosted three webinars for the public. We even hosted a virtual concert and are looking to expand into Facebook and YouTube live features soon,” said Franco. In June, the program is hosting a virtual cooking class with Chef Hanif Sadr, who will demonstrate how to make traditional northern Iranian dishes.
To help event coordinators across SGS who were preparing to move programming online, Franco convened a meeting to discuss best practices for virtual events. Following the meeting, he mobilized a group of SGS staff, who assembled a 70-page Zoom user guide in just a few weeks. He also offered to host one-on-one training sessions for those needing assistance with the videoconferencing tool.
For Franco, the most difficult part of sheltering in place has been missing out on family gatherings. “These are meaningful times for us to be together, and we have had to postpone them, waiting for the day when it will be safe to meet again,” he says. He has enjoyed bringing the SGS family together for virtual pizza parties, where staff members have learned how to cook Neapolitan-style and “Grandma-style” pizza dough. “I enjoyed the gathering of everyone in the same ‘place’ to cook, a virtual version like the large family gatherings growing up.”
Colin Hamill, who coordinates dozens of events each year for the Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies, focused on rescheduling and moving events online in response to the rapidly evolving crisis. In May, the program hosted its first virtual seminar, which highlighted the impact of COVID-19 on Muslim communities. “The holy month of Ramadan is currently underway, and with travel restrictions around the globe, our event discussed how Muslim communities and everyday life have been impacted,” he explained.
One of Colin’s most significant challenges has been working from home – away from the students, faculty, staff, and community members he enjoys interacting with on a daily basis. “I miss lunches, events, and helping the students that come through the office. The SGS office was my home away from home, so I suppose ‘homesickness’ has been the biggest challenge at this time.”
Despite this obstacle, Colin says he feels lucky to work with supportive colleagues, who inspire him personally and professionally every day. “Over the last couple of months, I have been motivated even more than I normally am by my work family. I've gotten to ‘see’ how they've transformed portions of their personal lives into an everyday part of their work life seamlessly,” he said. “I've been inspired and welcomed by my colleagues in ways I never thought would or should happen. Every day of this sheltering in place has been a lesson in just how fortunate I am to be part of such an amazing team.”
To keep in touch with his co-workers in SGS, Colin started leading weekly trivia nights, which test players’ knowledge of miscellaneous topics including musicals, artwork, Marvel comics, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and geography. “I got the idea from my time living in DC, where I'd meet up with friends regularly for trivia nights, especially in the winter, when there wasn't much else going on and people were staying inside most of the time,” he said. “The inspiration came from the similar circumstances, and it has been incredible gathering everyone together, organizing the questions, and coming together to have some fun.”
He added, “It is so rare to work in an office where you get along with everyone, and even rarer still to work at a job where you love going to work every day, so I know that I've hit the jackpot working with Stanford Global Studies.”