COVIDA inspires fresh research post-COVID

- Alina Sobolik

A new collective created by four UVic students and two instructors came together through Skype meetings to talk politics in a post-COVID context. Image: iStock

Four UVic students and two instructors from a diverse range of academic backgrounds convened this spring—mostly virtually—for a third-year course in the European studies program at UVic. And this is how an inspiring new collective came into being.

The COVIDA collective aims to create fresh research on contemporary and emerging issues facing the planet to shape a better world after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Exploring politics in the context of COVID-19

The first session of EUS 300: European Integration from Above and Below took place on January 6th, but the final class, like so many others right now, happened via Skype.

At that last session, the instructors—Pablo Ouziel, a visiting post-doctoral scholar in UVic’s Centre for Global Studies and academic liaison for EUCANet's Canada Europe Dialogue on Democracy project (also based at UVic), and Keith Cherry, a PhD candidate in Law and Society at UVic—asked if any of the 23 students would like to continue with weekly meetings to explore post-pandemic politics in the context of COVID-19 and its possible positive outcomes for human rights, sustainability, civil liberties, democracy and equality.

Noah Hathaway (B.A. Political Science), Ethan Quilty (B.SC Marine Biology, Minor Political Science), Javi Dichupa (B.A. Political Science) and Alina Sobolik (B.A. Political Science, Minor European Studies) all agreed.

Looking beyond the pandemic

The COVIDA collective hopes to provide a fresh, transformative perspective on global politics.

The reason for the name is multi-faceted. It is a nod to the collective’s beginnings, and the group’s research surrounding the way the world’s democracies are changing due to COVID-19.

In Latin, COVIDA means “living together.” This sentiment reflects the group’s focus on solutions and on how citizens, governments and the environment can live peacefully together.

The logo created for the COVIDA collective by EUCANet design advisor Karen Yen, a freelance graphic designer now based in Victoria.

The collective’s logo was designed by freelance graphic designer Karen Yen, who titled the concept ‘Beyond the Clouds.’

She says it communicates “envisioning a moment beyond the pandemic, with the breath, clarity and perspective to see the world as it is and finding new ways to transform what was there before into something fresh, inspiring and healing.”

A ‘truly special experience’

COVIDA is officially sponsored by the Centre for Global Studies (CFGS), the Cedar Trees Institute and European Studies at UVic.

Since its creation, COVIDA has already produced in collaboration with the CFGS and EUCANet a series of policy memos on the impact of COVID-19 on the European Union.

And it is currently assisting the BC Office of the Human Rights Commissioner in gathering information regarding human rights abuses within BC. In future, COVIDA will work on producing long-form papers, as well as continuing its current initiatives.

We approach the classroom as a horizontal space where all participants co-create knowledge together. This approach de-centres the professor and recognizes that learning is an interactive process where students exercise important agency. In recognition of this, this course is co-designed, in that students and professors choose class topics collectively, and dialogically, in that class focuses on participatory discussion circles. This model is based on respect for the students, making room for them to take charge of their own learning and follow their own passions.
— Pablo Ouziel and Keith Cherry, EUS 300 instructors for spring 2020

The approach by Ouziel and Cherry inspired students not only to actively engage with the course content, but also reach beyond the boundaries of the course to establish a collaborative working group based on this horizontal model. The students were able to engage in meaningful discussion and develop complex research interests as a group.

Ouziel and Cherry add: “Due to the collaborative, dialogical nature of the class, EUS 300 often develops a tight community over the course of the term. When classes were suddenly moved online, many of us found the alienation, isolation and greatly impoverished online learning environment challenging.”

So they offered students an optional weekly Skype meeting to collectively process events and eventually, participants found themselves wanting to explore the political ramifications and potential of the pandemic in more depth and share these thoughts with the public.

It’s not quite right to ask how we ‘got our students involved’ – COVIDA is a creation in horizontal dialogue with each other and our world.
—The students of the COVIDA collective

Student-centric approach

COVIDA group photo
The six members of the COVIDA collective, clockwise from top left: Alina Sobolik, Ethan Connor Quilty, Javier Dichupa, Noah Hathaway, Pablo Ouziel, Keith Cherry

The students emphasize it’s “not quite right to ask how we ‘got our students involved’ – COVIDA is a creation of the students themselves, in horizontal dialogue with each other and their world. It’s just one example of how ambitious, capable and driven students will be when their own agency is centred.”

This sentiment highlights “the truly special experience of the course and the pedagogy that made it possible. Rather than creating a strict ‘teacher/learner’ dynamic, the students and professors were encouraged to teach and learn from each other, giving us the motivation and agency to think more critically and creatively than traditional course settings, and inspiring us to take action.”

The European studies program at UVic is unique in the way that it encourages and supports this kind of experimentation in the classroom, in all its courses, from all of its faculty members.

As a student who completed a minor in European studies, I can speak from first hand experience about the excitement and support I felt from the faculty and staff, who stand behind their students and their initiatives. We feel visible and we are encouraged at every level to think outside the box and pursue daring initiatives.
—Alina Sobolik, a UVic student and member of the COVIDA collective

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In this story

Keywords: international, community, COVID, student life, administrative

People: Pablo Ouziel, Keith Cherry, Noah Hathaway, Ethan Quilty, Javi Dichupa, Alina Sobolik

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