Continuing a project that began last summer, four Hamilton students are working with Visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology Mahala Stewart to study how families have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Shania Kuo ’23, Caroline Freundel ’24, Kaela Dunne ’22, and Steven Campos ’22 are interviewing local parents, mostly mothers, to gain a better understanding of how their lives and households have changed over the course of the past year. The research is being supported by the Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center.

The culmination of the project will be a group presentation, which will accompany independent papers written by the four students. Topics include parents in the pandemic workplace, relating the social implications of natural disasters to those of COVID, and intersectionality. Additionally, Stewart will continue to work on a larger paper for presentation at the American Sociological Association conference in August. 

Freundel described the interviewees as mostly working- and middle-class white families whose experiences navigating at-home school and childcare provide the basis for the student researchers to pursue their independent projects. Currently, they are compiling a shared database of interviews, online articles, and other relevant resources, keeping in touch with each other throughout to ensure everyone has what they need. 

Having that sort of mentor, with lots of research experience, is great to give everybody a sense of the next steps or answer questions.

This “independent teamwork,” Dunne said, has helped her and the others — who represent different class years and levels of experience with research — to “focus on the areas we need to grow.” Professor Stewart’s role, Dunne added, has been to guide weekly team meetings and provide assistance with the research and interview process in general, drawing on her time in college and the field of sociology. “Having that sort of mentor, with lots of research experience, is great to give everybody a sense of the next steps or answer questions,” said Dunne. 

The project began with Stewart herself, who interviewed a number of families last summer and winter. After sending out a survey to gauge interest, the four students were able to determine which families to follow up with this summer. “COVID was such an interesting opportunity,” said Kuo. “It’s been so long since there’s been a requirement for all families to be in such close proximity to each other at all times.” 

Along with asking about the pandemic, the team has been touching on race in their conversations with parents, in an attempt to understand how they are speaking with their children about the subject. The opportunity to hear a range of opinions on and experiences with recent events, Campos said, has been valuable beyond just informing their research. “It’s always interesting to hear another person’s experience and think about ‘oh, we’re different in this way,’ but also share similar experiences in terms of the pandemic … there are some times when what a specific person says sticks out to me, and I keep going back to it.”

About the Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center

Recognizing its long tradition of preparing graduates for public service and active citizenship, Hamilton established the Levitt Center in 1980. It is named for Arthur Levitt, Sr., a longtime New York State public servant with an outstanding reputation for efficiency and probity. The center encourages students to combine academic knowledge with practical skills as they engage in public affairs through research, field studies, community-based learning, lectures, discussion, and practice. Levitt Center programming is open to students and faculty across all disciplines and departments and is organized around programs that encourage interdisciplinary collaboration and discussion, innovative research and pedagogy, and positive social change.

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