Love at Home: making the most of quarantine

With the closure of schools, businesses, and social institutions as a means to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, most families have been confined together in their homes for what has become months. For some, this has been a wonderful experience to reconnect with their loved ones in a new way. For others, this may be a suffocating loop of confined over-socialization. And for most, the experience is probably something in the middle.

For those hoping to make the most of this time with family—or even just survive it—Dr. David Dollahite, a professor of family life at BYU’s College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences, shares some professional insights. 

For him, the key difference between this being a rewarding experience versus a challenging one comes down to “what might be called the 3Rs of happy families: Relationship quality, Responsiveness to needs, and Reconciliation after conflict: Relationship quality includes love, kindness, and emotional warmth. Responsiveness to needs involves active listening, patient understanding, and efforts to meet needs. Reconciliation after conflict involves being willing to admit fault (apologizing) and practical efforts to make things right.”

Of course, the rewarding nature of this experience will change from individual to individual, even within families. This is especially true during emotionally stressful periods. Certainly, this quarantine could qualify as such a time; many are out of work, worried about getting sick, and generally uncertain about how things will progress moving into the future. Dollahite says concerning the ways families can support those struggling, “Well-functioning, happy families can provide at least three important things during times of stress and uncertainty: a safe harbor where family members can enjoy physical, emotional, and spiritual rest and healing; a sense of meaning in a time of existential anxiety and significant uncertainty; and a set of routines and rituals that can have a calming, comforting influence.”

For those worrying that they aren’t doing enough, one thing to remember is the importance of “Managing expectations… [which is] the central skill in navigating life’s challenges. This can involve expecting changes and challenges to be constant; expecting ups and downs in life, in relationships, and in emotional wellbeing; and expecting that only rarely will real life live up to one’s expectations and ideals.” 

The COVID-19 Pandemic may prove to bring long term changes that go beyond healthcare. When asked about his thoughts on the change in family dynamics in the long-run, Dollahite says, “Families that had relatively good relationships and merely lacked time together will probably have improved relationships, while families with relatively poor relationships and coped by avoiding each other may suffer from worsened relationships.”

            So, what can be done? How can we continue to navigate the volatile world of quarantine and prepare ourselves to return back to normal life? The solution may still be unclear, but Dollahite believes that “from what I have observed, many persons and many families will look back on some aspects of the shutdowns as a blessing in disguise. Having spent significantly more time at home, alone, with family and close friends will have been a recuperative experience for many (and of course, an extremely trying and difficult time for many as well).” This will be a chance for people to take a closer look at their personal relationships. Dollahite believes that this may have beneficial long-term effects to the extent that “Some couples and families may realize that they had let life become so busy and scattered that they will want to make lasting changes in their work-family balance. Some couples and families may realize that they have problems that they really need help with and will turn to self-help books, or therapists, or other sources of help.”

            Concerning what to do as we move forward, Dollahite is confident that “We will have betters answers to this question after we have results from our upcoming survey on religion and relationships before, during, and after COVID-19.” Data is currently being gathered for this study, and results will not be published until the end of the summer. 

Who Suffered More? Comparing the Effects of the 1918 Spanish Flu to the COVID-19 Pandemic

BYU Students were required to wear hygienic masks as they gathered in assembly in College Hall to protect against the Spanish Flu, ca. 1918. Photo courtesy L. Tom Perry Special Collections, UAP 2 F-092]

Looking back over 100 years ago, BYU students faced many of the same challenges you are facing today. Closed campus, social distancing, canceled events, although these times seem unprecedented, this isn’t the first time BYU students have suffered the effects of a worldwide pandemic.

BYU History Department Chair, Brian Cannon compared the effects of the 1918 Flu pandemic to the current COVID-19 pandemic on today’s BYU students. He said, “I think in terms of students being cut-off from one another the potential for isolation was greater in 1918.”

When campus closed its doors in the middle of the fall semester in 1918 to comply with state health mandates and to stop the spreading of the Spanish Flu, classes abruptly stopped.

The university did not open its doors again until after winter break in January of 1919. Upon returning, the students were forced to wear masks on the street and in public buildings. There was even a student death because of the flu during the pandemic; Gerald Beck was a senior and passed away before he could graduate that spring.

The effects of the 1918 pandemic were worse in some respects, and better in others when compared to today’s challenges. Cannon explained, “I think that the effects of the 1918 flu pandemic were more severe in the sense that there were deaths in the student body.”

In 1918, little was known about the flu virus. Small preventive measures were taken at BYU to stop the spread which included, girls being asked to “dress more warmly that windows might be thrown wide open, insuring full and thorough ventilation of all rooms.” (White and Blue, October 16, 1918).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is estimated that one-third of the world’s population became infected with the flu virus. BYU students in 1918 not only faced a great risk of death but they were also instantly cut-off from each other and classes without access to virtual communication. Students’ only form of instant communication was telephones, “Although they existed very few people had them” said Cannon.

On March 12, 2020, when BYU announced the closing of campus for classes there were resources available to continue online instruction, “It’s allowed classed to continue, not under optimal conditions but still it allows us to engage in the dissemination of information” said Cannon. Online platforms like Zoom allow students to continue to engage and interact with teachers and classmates.

However, the constant access to information can be a disadvantage for BYU students of today. Cannon said, “We’re so connected to what’s going on across the world that it can heighten our sense of distress. 100 years ago, if you left Provo, and went home to the farm, you didn’t have instant knowledge of what was going on as a pandemic was unfolding.” The access to news and systems tracking every new virus case causes us to “feel the effect of people suffering across the nation and world in real-time” said Cannon.

Comparing the effects of both pandemics there are great risks for students’ mental and physical health. Pandemics are never easy, but BYU students can focus on the fact that classes have been able to continue and interactions with one another are only a few clicks away. Students can find peace in the fact that our nation has overcome pandemics in the past, and with increased knowledge and technology our nation and university will do it again.

Want to learn more about the worldwide pandemic of 1918? Check out “Lessons from 1918” By Michael R. Walker

All Are Free to Breathe

As George Floyd died at the hands of law enforcement officers he cried out, “I can’t breathe.” Those desperate final words now echo in the mouths of the American people as protests erupt across the nation. 

His is yet another name added to a growing list of victims of police brutality against blacks, and with every name the outcry for change and justice grows louder. Lita Giddins, the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences’ (FHSS) Diversity, Collaboration, and Inclusion Coordinator says, “The question on the minds of everyone…is ‘How long until we are free from this issue?’  Protestors against racism are no longer asking the question.  Their unified response is, ‘Now.’”

One of the voices speaking up belongs to Taylor Munlin, a FHSS student. Munlin is an executive director with BYUSA, a member of the Black Student Union, and a member of the FHSS Diversity, Collaboration, and Inclusion Committee. She says that the primary goal of this committee is to create a culture of Zion in the college and at BYU.

We are commanded in the scriptures to “keep my commandments and seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion” (Doctrine and Covenants 6:6). Zion is the place where all of God’s children are treated with an equal fullness of love and respect, where the arbitrary distinctions of social categories are stripped, and each can be appreciated for their unique identity as a son or daughter of God. The Book of Mormon promises “blessed are they who shall seek to bring forth my Zion at that day” (1 Nephi 13:37). 

But how? Repeating tired platitudes of unity and love on social media, while perhaps well-intended, does little by itself to solve issues at the fundamental level. 

Giddins comments, “The question I continue to ask myself is ‘What is preventing Zion, the ‘pure in heart,’ from being established?’  Purity or clarity of vision to increase self-awareness as we ask ourselves, ‘What lack I yet?’ is key (Matthew 19:20).” She goes on to say “Lowering our defenses to acknowledge the truth of what we see is greatly needed.  Accepting with courage the need to rethink historic mindsets in order to care and act differently to eradicate the deadly pandemic of specific community members being ‘acted upon’ is essential.”

Munlin says that Zion cannot be established until the injustices against the black community are addressed and remedied. Individual instances of injustice are simply manifestations of a larger societal illness. 

While most Americans have an understanding of racism from slavery through the civil rights movement, the story doesn’t just end there. The issue, Munlin explains, is that “we are taught that systemic discrimination ended with the successes of the civil rights movement in the sixties,” when in fact those systems were simply altered and replaced. She says that though laws do not specifically target individuals based on race, certain laws, institutions, and practices have a disproportionate effect on the black community. According to Munlin, these include, but are not limited to education, housing, healthcare, criminal sentencing, and incarceration.  

Even at BYU, where the administration seeks to create an environment of equality and tolerance, there are still obstacles to overcome. Munlin explained how the BYU rule requiring a full-time faculty sponsor for clubs makes it difficult for organizations like the Black Student Union to find that required sponsor support. This would be easier if the sponsorship rule could be extended to part time or ¾ time employees as well. 

Forms of racism are also present within strains of the campus culture. Even well-intentioned individuals are prone to make insensitive remarks or dismiss the lived experience of others. 

“What if I told you ‘you’re really smart for a blonde’,” Munlin asked. “Those are the kinds of comments that people make here that are meant to be compliments.” 

Munlin said one way that students can make a meaningful change is to, “Say things for what they are. Don’t say ‘the issue in society’, say ‘racism against blacks.” To Munlin, the use of euphemisms to avoid addressing uncomfortable topics only prevents the kind of honest discussions that lead to meaningful change. 

Munlin appreciated President Worthen’s willingness to address the issue directly in his June 2, 2020 message, “With the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others over the years, and the confluence of recent events, important conversations are happening…BYU stands firmly against racism and violence in any form and is committed to promoting a culture of safety, kindness, respect and love.”

The question then shifts to what concrete steps must be taken to create real change. Munlin cites the official site of the NAACP, where specific pieces of legislation are posted and explained. She says that everyone should take the time to review these proposed laws and supplement that with an immersion in relevant literature.

At the end of the day, “allyship is about more than social media campaigns,” says Munlin. To her, it involves addressing issues directly, making donations, consuming black media, participating in community outreach, identifying and stopping micro-aggressions, taking relevant courses, giving a platform for black voices, and most of all, genuinely listening to those voices with the intent to understand and act. 

Giddins shares her hopes for a more loving inclusive society saying, “I now view the air we breathe as a heavenly gift.  I now view a Zion community as ‘the pure in heart.’ Christ and His people are one there, and all are free to breathe.”  

Dean Benjamin Ogles Releases Statement on Commitment to Fight Racism

Helpful Resources:

Equal Justice Initiative