A new course at Stanford GSB asks students to examine their reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic and to consider how this singular moment in history may change society.
Reflections on History in the Making is designed to have students think deeply about how the crisis is impacting both themselves and society. It’s a rare opportunity to record impressions of a global crisis in real time, says course creator Brian Lowery, professor of organizational behavior and senior associate dean for academic affairs.
“Our goal with this course is twofold. We want to give students the opportunity to reflect on and process their own experience and to start to shift their understanding of the world as a new reality emerges,” he says. “We also want to provide an archive of what this experience was in the moment.”
Students respond to two prompts each week. The first encourages them to reflect on various aspects of their individual experiences during the pandemic.
“These changes are hard, and to live through a time like this is incredibly challenging,” Lowery says. “But it’s also an opportunity. There are few times in your life where you’ll be tested, when you have the chance to challenge yourself, to learn about yourself, and to understand other people.”
The second prompt asks students to consider larger societal issues raised by the pandemic: How are different populations reacting to the threat? What are the responsibilities of high-profile companies and institutions during this time? How are issues of social equity affecting the way different groups experience this period? What kinds of policy changes are called for in various countries?
“At the GSB, we believe that it is every leader’s responsibility to think deeply about these questions as society adapts to a post-COVID world,” Lowery says. “Our students need to think about what the future might look like, what kind of future they’re going to help create,” he says. “This is a massive opportunity to take a step back and think about society broadly and their role as leaders.”
The responses are submitted to readers with experience in student advising, social innovation, and a special focus on purpose and the role of business in society, who coach students to explore their thinking more deeply. Responses can be anonymous, and those who desire can post their writing for classmates and others to read and engage with. The responses have been both wide-ranging and profound, Lowery says.
“The students are really taking this to heart,” he says, “putting in the effort of thinking it through, being reflective, being vulnerable, and expressing what needs to come out.”
The collected responses will create a unique archive documenting the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic as seen through the eyes of the GSB student community.
“People down the road can use this to learn from our experience,” Lowery says. “If not pandemics, there will be other catastrophes in the world, and there are things to be learned from these moments. This work is our gift to the future.”
— Beth Jensen