Held at: Princeton University Library: University Archives [Contact Us]
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Princeton University Library: University Archives. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
This project was created by Valencia L. Johnson, Archivist for Student Life, in 2020.
This project hopes to bring together narratives of how people experienced the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic through oral history interviews. Undergraduate and graduate students, staff, faculty, administrators, and alumni of Princeton University were welcomed to participate in this project.
For preservation reasons, original analog and digital media may not be read or played back in the reading room. Users may visually inspect physical media but may not remove it from its enclosure. All analog audiovisual media must be digitized to preservation-quality standards prior to use. Audiovisual digitization requests are processed by an approved third-party vendor. Please note, the transfer time required can be as little as several weeks to as long as several months and there may be financial costs associated with the process. Requests should be directed through the Ask Us Form.
This collection was processed by Valencia L. Johnson in 2022. Finding aid written by Valencia L. Johnson in 2022. Interview summaries created by Daniel Song (Class of 2026).
No materials were separated from this collection.
- University Archives
- Finding Aid Author
- Valencia L. Johnson
- Finding Aid Date
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open.
- Use Restrictions
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Elisabeth Pearson Waugaman, a Chattanooga native and Princeton alumna, talks about her childhood and her parents. Being raised by a mother with a unique educational and ethnic background, Elisabeth calls herself an oddity compared to those around her in the South. Elisabeth recounts her family's relationship with Black Americans in her childhood, and connects the racial climate of that time with contemporary times. She applied to Princeton at her future husband's encouragement and, despite only attending for a year, found the interactive classes and extensive library resources invaluable. These experiences contrasted with her less interactive studies in French at Tulane University and her subsequent graduate studies at Duke University. Waugaman reflects on the difference in teaching styles between American and French universities, particularly the emphasis on oral exams and the lack of written documentation for passing students.
On the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Waugaman discusses the impact of the pandemic on her day-to-day life, highlighting the precautions she and her family took due to her age and her son's health issues, and also emphasizing the importance of staying hopeful and not giving up. She mentions the reliance and her gratitude for Zoom to stay connected during the pandemic—including for the annual Princeton University reunions—and compares it to the early days of the telephone. Elisabeth acknowledges the privileges she has, such as having a house and yard, which have made the pandemic more manageable for her and her family. She also recognizes the disparities in society and the unequal access to goods and services that have been highlighted during the pandemic. Additionally, she discusses the prevalence of racist thoughts and ideas, particularly influenced by the political climate during former President Donald Trump's administration. She suggests that the pandemic has forced people to confront societal issues and consider things in new ways.Physical Description
Michelle Nedashkovskaya discusses her upbringing in Brooklyn and Staten Island, and her family's immigration from Ukraine, highlighting the challenges of being a first-generation American. She talks about her time at Princeton University, describing her academic endeavors, having studied politics and international relations as an undergraduate and pursuing a Master's in Public Administration with a focus on international relations as a graduate student. Michelle shares her initial doubts and pressures at Princeton, but discusses forming strong friendships and also excelling academically during her time at the university.
Michelle also discusses her family's experience with COVID-19. Her grandparents fell ill with COVID-19, and her grandfather passed away from the disease. She and her family faced many difficulties in managing the illness, particularly the stress she personally experienced as the main point of contact with the hospital during her grandfather's hospitalization due the language barrier when it came to his medical issues with her family. Michelle expresses the immense emotional toll and sense of responsibility she felt as a first-generation family member.
Michelle discusses the strengthening of her dedication to public policy as a result of the pandemic and the importance of providing support to those who have been personally affected by the virus. Michelle also articulates a sense of gratitude for the technology and infrastructure that have enabled her to stay connected with loved ones during the pandemic.Physical Description
Richard Waugaman discusses his experiences at Princeton, including playing in the marching band, attending French club events, and majoring in philosophy. He also discusses being at Princeton during intense political activism, during which he attended a demonstration asking trustees to divest from South Africa, a walkout during a campus speech by Alabama Governor George Wallace, and an anti-war protest during his 1970 graduation ceremony. He shares his perspective on Princeton becoming coeducational during his senior year in 1969, his experience as an upperclassman in Wilson College compared to other students at eating clubs, and also the removal of President Woodrow Wilson's name from the College due to the President's racist policies. Richard also talks about being a psychiatrist during the pandemic, talking about how he transitioned to remote sessions and finds meaning by researching past pandemics like the 1348 Florence plague described in The Decameron. He also discusses his enjoyment of music and literature, particularly focusing on his intensive research into Shakespeare's identity and writings in which he has 90 academic publications. He also expresses enduring gratitude towards and connection with Princeton.Physical Description
Amanda Ferrara talks about growing up in a financially struggling single parent household in Western Massachusetts and how the experience taught her the value of education. Amanda also talks about how after getting her graduate degree, she worked as an archivist at Princeton before moving back to Massachusetts, she actively worked to diversify archival collections by including marginalized narratives typically excluded. She discusses her active role in critiquing and questioning decisions at Princeton that she saw as inequitable or exclusionary, and about her advocacy for change. Amanda discusses how during the pandemic she felt unsafe from the violence unfolding across the country in 2020, and how she couldn't participate in racial justice protests or address campus discrimination due to her pregnancy.
She worked remotely for over 15 months from March 2020 through June 2021, and talks about how colleagues dismissed and questioned her own negative experiences on campus, such as suggestions from colleagues for her to use the university's flawed mental health support system to cope with her struggle with racial trauma. She talks about her friends Valencia and Annalise providing her with vital mental refuge via video calls throughout her struggles. Despite strict isolation to protect her newborn, Amanda's family contracted COVID-19 due to brief daycare exposure, over two years into the pandemic. As an archival educator, Amanda talks about her work to increase the understanding of primary sources on past disease outbreaks during remote instruction in 2020/2021. She talks about her frustration with the University's confusing and contradictory safety messaging regarding COVID upon returning to campus. She also states her continuing reconciliation of trauma from the pandemic through therapy while remaining committed to resurrecting untold stories by making archival collections more diverse and inclusive.
Brianna Garden grew up in Yardley, Pennsylvania, and later moved to Brook, New Jersey after marrying in 2018. She cherishes her family life, both with her parents and sisters, and her current family, which includes her husband and stepson. Brianna identifies as an introvert who enjoys solitary activities like reading, studying, cooking, and being outdoors.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought changes and challenges to Brianna's life; as her stepson's school switched to virtual learning, she had to balance work and assisting him with online schoolwork. During this time, she also grappled with feelings of guilt when not working—even though it was not required—and also the worries of whether or not she was doing enough for her child. But Brianna also found positive aspects amidst the pandemic; the absence of a daily commute allowed more time for her interests and intentional joy-seeking. Her faith and connection with God helped maintain peace during challenging times.
During the initial phase of the pandemic, Brianna did not see anyone outside of her family for at least a month. However, they gradually started seeing each other while taking precautions and limiting contact with others outside of the family, forming a "family pod." Despite the difficulties, she emphasizes the importance of focusing on the positive aspects and finding comfort in family bonds.
Sara details the logistical hurdles faced by the University in managing testing capacities for students returning to campus, leading to the difficult decision of sending staff home to work remotely to alleviate the strain on testing resources. Sara also talks about grappling with the emotional weight of informing international researchers—including one who had traveled from the UK—that their research trips were canceled. Sara reflects on the emotional toll of constantly revisiting the early months of the pandemic and the struggle to find empathy while recognizing that her challenges were not as severe as others'. She highlights the importance of her job, family, and supportive colleagues in sustaining her through the difficult times, and acknowledges the blend of personal strength and vulnerability that defined her journey.
This interview contains mentions of suicide.
Valencia discusses the challenges she faced during the transition from in-person to remote work, particularly adjusting to a new work routine that involved alternating weeks of remote and in-person work and feeling that she has two distinct job roles which complicated her job responsibilities. Valencia also opens up about mental health struggles she faced during the pandemic, emphasizing feelings of isolation, the overwhelming nature of her role as the chair of the DEISC (Diversity Equity and Inclusion Steering Committee) and the "summer of racism" on her well-being. Valencia also reflects on the changes that reshaped her daily life, acknowledging the loss of the pre-pandemic world. She shares her journey of finding joy amidst the heaviness of the situation, emphasizing the importance of focusing on small moments of happiness and resilience.