Andrea Lampros and I are NorCal/SoCal BFFs. Right now, we couldn’t be together anyway, but I want to ask her a few questions for my own benefit and I think the answers apply to all of my students/friends here in Los Angeles. Via email, we chatted.
Kritty: Hi, Andrea. Please tell us what you do for work.
Andrea: Hi, Kritty! Thanks for asking. I work at UC Berkeley’s Human Rights Center. I have a lot of hats, but one of my favorites is working with students in our Investigations Lab. The students find, verify, and analyze photos, videos, and social media posts, for human rights investigations in places like Syria, Yemen, Myanmar, Chile, and the United States. As you can imagine, this work can be emotionally difficult and potentially traumatizing. There may be a screen between the students and the violence, but the imagery—what we call “user-generated content”— can be particularly intimate and raw. How do we keep students safe from looking at these images and suffering from secondary trauma as well as give them tools for resiliency? It’s a very real concern.
K: It’s your job to help them with resiliency? How often do you normally meet and what’s the frequency?
A: The students meet frequently—as a large group once a week and in teams at least once a week (all remotely now, of course). When we start the year, we do what we call “resiliency training” based on some of the ideas developed by Sam Dubberley, who directs the Citizen Evidence Lab at Amnesty International. But we consistently check in with students about how they are feeling about the work and what’s coming up for them.
K: I like that you’ve been consistently checking in with them prior to the Covid-19 Virus forcing us all to stay home. Have you touched base since shelter in place?
A: Yes, the Investigations Lab meets on Zoom. Now, with shelter-in-place, we always try to check in on how people are feeling—what’s challenging, but what’s also an opportunity. For example, many students talk about how good it is to see siblings who have been living apart.
K: I like to hear that. I think it’s important to see what’s an opportunity too. What messages have you sent to your college students?
A: Not every college student is looking at this kind of graphic imagery, but the messages we give to our students to help them stay safe (both digitally and psycho-socially) apply to all students and to all of us in this new era of Covid-19. It’s based on excellent research about vicarious trauma and resiliency from researchers at NYU and Columbia.
I’ll give you three examples.
- First, be aware of how you’re feeling and acting—what’s normal for you and what’s not. This may seem obvious, but sometimes we slip into unhealthy patterns without realizing it. Do you normally sleep until noon? Do you usually eat Oreos for breakfast? Are you usually irritated this easily? Do you tend to drink a bottle of wine every few days? Staying aware of these shifts is important.
- 2. Create some structure and routine. On Day 3 of not showering, early on in the pandemic, I saw myself on Zoom and got very afraid. I clearly needed to take a shower and maybe even put on some shoes—even if to pretend I had some normalcy. Containing work or school work within certain hours of the day is critical; otherwise, we could work all of the time (or none of the time) and that open-endedness can be stressful. In addition to making a schedule and routine, it’s important to do work in a defined space that is separate from your living or sleeping space.
- 3. Find connection with someone. We can’t have community the way we’re used to, but we have to have connection. This could mean one person who you confide in, send silly things to, or just touch base with via text.
K: I like that. So, you should screen yourself for shifts, notice and honor your routines and connections. I’ve been grateful for my routines and connections. By the way, thank you for taking time to do a slow-chat about this. I think it’s relevant right now for everyone with the several hats we’re wearing these days.
A: Yes, being grateful! Some people have it so much harder than others—whether illness, loss, or economic hardship—but some of us have a lot of silver linings in these times. I know I do.
K: What advice would you give to elementary students? What’s applicable in this context?
A: Laughing is important for everyone, regardless of age. In human rights work, we have to find outlets and antidotes to the heaviness of conflict, violence, and cruelty. Our elementary students—now suddenly separated from friends, teachers, and other comforts—need a break from the heaviness that’s all around them. They need to play and space out, exercise and laugh!
K: What’s your go-to resource/routine? How are you and your fam staying safe, sane, and resilient?
A: We have two college age students and a high school junior in the house. During our first family meeting in the first days of shelter-in-place in California, our college-aged daughters expressed the importance of space—physical and mental. Like, a lot of space. They didn’t want us asking them what they were doing all of the time or even expecting them to eat meals together. We agreed. So far, so good.
Everyone is busy with remote school or work during the day and we end up cooking together and eating together on most days. Usually I get up at 7:30am to meditate with my oldest daughter. My middle daughter pulled out the Wii and “Just Dance” game circa 2009 and we’ve been dancing/competing (she crushes me every time). And my son has been sleeping until around 1pm, but also doing schoolwork, playing the trumpet, making beats, and gardening. The routine has been pretty good, so we decided to mess with it and get a puppy! Wish us luck.
K: Good luck. Nah, good times. Our pets deserve mad props right now too. Sure, they can chew your favorite shoes, but who needs shoes right now, we need laughter. I want to see your puppy right now. Tell him not to grow too fast. Ha! Enjoy. Miss you! Thank you for your time, friend. Stay healthy and post pictures frequently, I think vicarious puppy love could be on par with laughter. Let’s test it out.
A: Thank you! Love you and all the good you do for the world.
K: Likewise! Thank you. And thanks for the first of many posts of Lou.