Interview with Bram Gray, May 25, 2023

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History


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00:00:00 - Introductions and How COVID Influenced Bram's Current Major

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Partial Transcript: Perfect. So, just to start off, this is Samantha Pfeiffer interviewing Bram. Just to start off, I'm going to ask you to tell me a little bit about yourself.

Segment Synopsis: Bram Gray is a college sophomore pursuing a health studies degree with the goal of obtaining a Master's in Public Health and working in epidemiology. Bram also mentioned that his own disabilities, which make him susceptible to illnesses, played a role in his decision to pursue research-oriented epidemiology rather than nursing.

Keywords: COVID; College; Health Studies; Student

00:01:55 - Family's Response to Early COVID Reports

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Partial Transcript: So, you mentioned having some physical factors that might make you more worried about COVID. When that news first started to come out, and we're hearing there is this disease; it's coming, how did you feel initially?

Segment Synopsis: Bram and his family responded proactively by implementing precautions such as wearing masks and reducing social interactions even before official guidelines were in place. Although some people initially found their caution unusual, the subsequent events validated their early measures. Bram, who was a high school sophomore at the time, faced some social awkwardness due to wearing masks before it became more widely accepted.

Keywords: At the Start; COVID; Cautious; Emotions; Fear; High School; Masking; Pre COVID; immunocompromised

00:04:41 - Shift to Virtual Learning

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Partial Transcript: Yeah, I would love to talk more about your experiences with school because that's definitely a unique perspective of being in high school at the time when all this was happening.

Segment Synopsis: Bram describes the abrupt transition of his high school going from in-person classes to virtual learning. Living in rural Western Kentucky, the significance of the virus initially didn't register with the community. The shift to virtual learning posed challenges, with inconsistent workloads and uncertainty about expectations. Bram had mixed feelings about the transition to online learning due to the difficulties posed by his ADHD.

Subjects: COVID; Education; Education Policy; High School; Isolation; Rumors; Shutdown; Shutdowning; Transition; Vitual Learning

00:07:28 - The Virtual Learning Experience

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Partial Transcript: Yeah, definitely understand the mixed feelings there. So, you mentioned there being a lot of variety in how your teachers handled classwork. What would you say that you found enjoyable about the online classes, or what worked for you?

Segment Synopsis: Bram discusses the challenges he faced with online learning and the lack of support and guidance during the transition. The following school year, a hybrid model was implemented, with Bram attending school twice a week and engaging in virtual learning for the remaining days. Many students struggled, resulting in a higher failure rate and a lack of academic support. Bram personally found it challenging to prepare for AP exams due to limited review time and inadequate understanding of the material. Access to teachers and support became more difficult, as scheduling conflicts and communication gaps hindered individual assistance.

Keywords: AP Classes; Education; High School; Hybrid Learning; In-person Learning; Remote Learning; Student; Teaching; Virtual Learning

00:12:40 - Impact of Isolation on Social Life

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Partial Transcript: Yeah. Yeah. Well, and I would imagine it'd make social life a bit harder, with going virtual. How would you say that affected your relationships with your classmates and peers?

Segment Synopsis: Bram shares that the shift to virtual learning had a negative impact on his social life. Being introverted and facing the challenge of reaching out to others, he gradually lost touch with his classmates and friends. The isolation and lack of social interaction took an emotional toll, leading to feelings of loneliness and a sense of being lost. Bram's extracurricular activities, ame to a halt during the pandemic, leaving him with a sense of boredom and a void in his schedule.

Keywords: COVID; Depression; Emotions; Frienships; High School; Introvert; Isolation; Relationships; Social Interactions; Student; extracurricular activities

00:14:54 - Home Life Experience

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Partial Transcript: So,with being at home then, you probably spent a lot more time around your family.

Segment Synopsis: During the period of isolation, being at home with his family for extended periods led to increased conflicts and irritations. Small issues escalated into arguments due to the stress of the outside situation and constant proximity. Family members had to adapt by creating separate spaces to retreat to when needed. However, the increased time together also prompted more discussions and improved communication, leading to healthier expressions of emotions and ultimately strengthening their relationships.

Keywords: COVID; Challenges; Changes; Drama; Emotions; Family; Isolation; Relationships; Remote Work; Stress

00:19:21 - Return to In-Person High School Experiences and Transition to College

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Segment Synopsis: Bram reflects on what he might have missed out on of the typical high school experience. Bram noticed increased friendliness and a craving for human contact among students. This lack of seriousness from the school administration, including the removal of mask mandates, made Bram feel unsafe, impacting his academic focus. While extracurricular activities resumed, Bram chose not to participate as he had become accustomed to not having them during the pandemic. Additionally, visiting colleges became difficult as limited slots were available for campus visits. This made the decision-making process more challenging and stressful, despite these difficulties, Bram was able to visit Berea College, which influenced his decision to attend.

Keywords: Admissions; COVID; College; Grades; High School; Hybrid learning; Missed experiences; Regulations; Virtual Learning; Administration

00:25:33 - Influence of COVID on Mental Health

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Partial Transcript: So, moving away from school a little bit, I want to talk about sort of your personal experience during COVID.

Segment Synopsis: Bram experienced negative influence on his mental and emotional well-being. Isolation exacerbated his depression and anxiety, leading to a resurgence of previous tendencies. The stress and loneliness associated with the pandemic were major factors contributing to these struggles. Bram's access to mental health services decreased significantly during this time, making it difficult to seek professional help. To cope, he turned to self-care apps and journaling to redirect his thoughts and maintain a more positive mindset.

Keywords: Anxiety; COVID; Coping; Depression; Isolation; Lockdowns; Mental Health; Mental Health Services; Self-care; Therapist; adolescence

00:28:59 - Easing of COVID Restrictions

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Partial Transcript: So, as the restrictions started to decrease, you said that you did feel some of that went away too quickly, but how did your family start to handle that? Did you start to have less isolation?

Segment Synopsis: During the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, Bram's family took a cautious approach. They gradually increased social interactions but still maintained precautions such as wearing masks and staying at home. The family had limited contact with extended family members, primarily relying on phone calls.

Keywords: COVID; Cautious; Extended Family; Family; Immunocompromised; Isolation; Masking; Phone Calls; Social Distance

00:31:00 - Staying Up-to-Date on COVID

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Partial Transcript: Did you all stay updated on like the numbers of COVID cases and such throughout?

Segment Synopsis: Bram describes how he kept informed about the pandemic.

Keywords: CNN; COVID; NPR; News; Pandemic

00:31:44 - Government Response to COVID and the Vaccine Rollout

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Partial Transcript: So, a little bit later into COVID, of course there was the rollout of vaccines. How did you feel when there first started to be a conversation about there're vaccines coming?

Segment Synopsis: During the rollout of vaccines, Bram felt excited and supportive of the vaccination efforts. Their family prioritized getting vaccinated although some members of their stepmother's family chose not to get vaccinated. The topic was generally avoided to maintain relationships. Bram had confidence in the science behind the vaccines, considering the prior research on similar diseases. Their positive regard for public health during COVID influenced their decision to pursue a career in public health. Regarding government handling, Bram thought the Kentucky government did a decent job prioritizing vaccine distribution but was uncertain about the sufficiency of information provided. They relied on various sources, including the CDC, for accurate information and guidelines. However, Bram believed that the federal government did not handle the pandemic well initially and failed to take COVID seriously.

Keywords: CDC; CDC Guidelines; COVID; Federal Government; Government; Kentucky; Pandemic; Public Health; Rollout; Vaccines

00:36:36 - Thoughts on what Local, Federal, and Academic Policy Makers Could do Differently in the Future

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Segment Synopsis: Bram expressed a change in opinion regarding how the local, state, and federal government handled COVID-19. He believed that the pandemic should have been approached with a more scientific and less politicized mindset. Gray felt that if precautions like mandatory masking and earlier isolation measures were implemented, the severity of the pandemic could have been reduced. Looking towards the future, Gray emphasized the importance of a bipartisan approach, adherence to guidelines from organizations like the CDC, and quicker action on implementing precautions and vaccines. In terms of the school system, Bram expressed a desire for a more uniform and standardized approach across counties, following CDC guidelines more strictly. Bram believed that improvements could be made in government response, school systems, and online education to better handle future similar situations.

Keywords: CDC; COVID; COVID Guidelines; Challenges; Education; Educators; Government Response; Kentucky; Pandemic; Policies; Public Health; Remote Learning; Student; Unprepared; accommodations