SFU Semester in Dialogue project sparks community and connection among Canadian youth
By Natalie Lim
Claire Patterson was supposed to spend this summer teaching English to students in Catalonia, Spain. However, she was forced to fly home early when COVID-19 cases skyrocketed in the region. Upon her return to Vancouver, during the two weeks she spent self-isolating in her room, she signed up for SFU’s summer Semester in Dialogue, a course she’d been wanting to take for a while.
Maiya Chan has a similar story. Forced to fly home from Ontario and dealing with the intense loneliness of two weeks in quarantine, she signed up for the Semester in Dialogue purely as a way to connect with other people again.
Neither of them could have predicted that they would help spread that feeling of connection and community to students across the country.
The Class of COVID Canada: sharing student stories
SFU’s Semester in Dialogue is a one-semester program during which students design and execute projects aimed at improving society. This semester, the theme was “Democracy: The Next Frontier.” Chan and Patterson were put into a group with four other SFU students—Amy Kim, Jozsef Varga, Mughees Abid and Michael Song. They were assigned to research the socioeconomic impact of COVID-19 on youth, and to create a policy proposal based on their findings.
The group conducted a survey to understand how B.C. youth felt about online learning during the pandemic. As part of the survey, they asked respondents to share stories about how COVID-19 has affected their work, education, mental health, and plans for the future. Then, they started posting those stories to Instagram under their group name, the Class of COVID Canada.
“You can scroll through our Instagram feed and really see what youth are going through, and resonate with it,” says Chan. “I think that’s what we’ve been missing during the pandemic. When you don’t talk with others about how you’re feeling, it’s easy to think you’re the only one in the world feeling that way.”
Many of the submitted Class of COVID Canada posts deal with heavy topics, such as isolation, struggles with mental health, and anxiety about the future. However, there are also stories of hope and resilience, a combination that makes the page unique.
“It’s reflective of how this pandemic has been,” says Chan. “The good and the bad. The ugliness, but also the beautiful little moments. Communities are coming together, and we don’t get to talk about that as much as we talk about the awful parts.”
“I like how that contrast lives on our feed,” adds Patterson, who works with Chan to create graphics for the page. “It really allows you to see how different people are dealing with this situation. You get to take what you need from it.”
Onwards and upwards
To date, the Class of COVID Canada has received nearly 200 story submissions and a flurry of media attention, including an interview on Breakfast TV in early June. The group has presented their project to SFU President Andrew Petter and several community leaders. And they have big plans for the future.
“We’re planning to build a larger-scale version of the project called Together Tomorrow,” says Patterson. “It’ll be a place for youth to access mental health resources, continue sharing their stories, and come together as a community. We want to keep engaging youth about issues that matter to them, and amplify their voices to the people in power.
“Thanks to the Semester in Dialogue, we’ve been on an incredible journey, and we’re excited to see where we go from here.”
Want to be a part of the next Semester in Dialogue? The program is currently accepting applications on a rolling basis for this fall, where participants will consider what it means for young people to thrive in an urban environment. To apply, visit the Semester in Dialogue website.