UArizona Virtual Lecture Series Examines Transformation during COVID-19

July 9, 2020

The College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and the College of Science have joined forces to present an online series this summer on the COVID-19 pandemic. The lectures will premiere on July 23, 30, and Aug. 6.


The College of Science and the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Arizona have joined forces to present an online series this summer on the past, present, and future of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The series, titled “Science + Society: Transformation during COVID-19,” will provide an interdisciplinary perspective on a pandemic that has upended the health and economy of the world, worsened systemic inequality, and challenged our interpersonal ties and personal well-being. Drawing on a range of fields, the series will examine the ways the pandemic has changed our lives.

The three conversations in the series will pair experts from the two colleges, and their discussions will be moderated by award-winning reporter Nancy Montoya. A geneticist and a historian will discuss how the history of this pandemic is being constructed. A compassion expert and an audiologist will explore how the challenges of this time can help us cultivate empathy and compassion, both for ourselves and others. And a biologist and communication scholar will examine the essential role of human perception and behavior on fighting a pandemic – both now and in the future.

The conversations will premiere on the series youtube page on July 23, 30, and Aug. 6, 2020 at 5 p.m. (MST). They will be available to watch any time after they go live. The series is supported by Mike and Beth Kasser and the Holualoa Companies, as well as our media partners Tucson Lifestyle and BizTucson.

“The challenges of COVID-19 will continue to have an enormous impact on every aspect of our daily lives for the foreseeable future,” said Elliott Cheu, dean of the College of Science. “This collaborative lecture series explores a brief history of pandemics while looking at present circumstances and the immediate future through the lens of science and social and behavioral sciences. We are pleased to be partnering with our colleagues within the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.”

“The formidable challenges presented by COVID-19 to our health and our society require a recommitment to interdisciplinary collaboration,” said John Paul Jones III, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. “We are excited to partner with our colleagues in the College of Science to present fresh perspectives on the pandemic by bringing together the expertise of our science and social science scholars.”

Below is a summary of the talks:

July 23 – Making Sense of this Moment: COVID-19 in Historical Perspective

What do a geneticist and a historian have in common? A passion for reconstructing the past and understanding its implications for the present and future.

Michael Worobey is known around the world for his work on viral pandemics and his reconstructions of the origins and timelines of viruses, including COVID-19. Emma Pérez is an award-winning Chicana, feminist historian and author who examines how big events change history, how we remember and make sense of them, and who is missing from the narrative.

In the first talk of the series, Worobey and Pérez team up for a wide-ranging discussion of how they seek the truth – from gene sequencing to archival fieldwork – and tell the untold stories of the past. How will COVID-19 be remembered in 100 years? Or, like the 1918 pandemic, will it be largely forgotten? How is our framing of this pandemic different now than it was even two months ago? And when there are conflicting narratives, whose stories will remain? And, finally, as we deal with a stacking of critical events – including the pandemic, a Presidential election, a wobbling economy, and racial strife – how will our understanding of this moment in time forever change the trajectory of our world.

July 30 – Compassion for Others and Ourselves during the Pandemic

COVID-19 has impacted not only people’s health but also their finances, social and family life, and emotional well-being. During this trying time, how can we practice self-care while also be mindful of the challenges of others?

In the second lecture of the series, Leslie Langbert, the director of the Center for Compassion Studies, will provide tips for how we can reduce anxiety by incorporating mindfulness into our day and how we can draw upon those same skills to show compassion to others.

One example is to be mindful of the communication challenges that mask-wearing, social distance, and Zoom calls present to the more than 60 million Americans who are living with hearing loss. Nicole Marrone, an associate professor in the Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, will explain these challenges and present suggestions for how we can stay connected.

And finally, both scholars will address how this pandemic is challenging everyone’s ability to communicate and cope. Realizing that there are many who live daily with hearing loss, social isolation, and financial uncertainty may help us cultivate empathy and compassion.

Aug. 6 – Moving Forward, Life after a Pandemic

As part of UArizona’s Campus Reentry Task Force, biologist Joyce Schroeder is lead on the implementation of app-based exposure notification. Schroeder hopes that people will sign for this anonymous app to help control the spread of COVID-19. But will they?

In the final lecture of the series, Schroeder will converse with communication scholar Rain Wuyu Liu, who studies persuasion, health behavior promotion, and COVID-19 risk perceptions and preventative behaviors.

Schroeder and Liu will discuss a range of topics: What are the barriers to people adopting recommended behaviors such as exposure notification and mask wearing? What are the best strategies to promote healthy behavior?  How can managing expectations help people adapt to new social norms?

And, finally, as we enter a future where the threat of communicable disease looms large, Schroeder and Liu will discuss if we can ever return to “normal,” and how can we use the power of information to reduce risk.