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What's your story? | UT seeks to preserve stories from campus community of the pandemic

Archivists at UT want to make sure future reporters, historians and scholars will know about the campus community's firsthand experiences of the pandemic.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Everyone has a story to tell, but not all those stories make it to the archives for future generations to look back on. Archivists at the University of Tennessee want to make sure people's stories of the COVID-19 pandemic are not lost.

Archivist Alesha Shumar and other workers at UT Libraries are actively looking for students, faculty and staff to submit their own stories of the COVID-19 pandemic. Shumar said she was inspired to start collecting stories when reviewing the university's records of the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu pandemic.

She said that there were newspaper accounts and photos of the campus closing for in fall 1918 and that there were several parallels with the COVID-19 pandemic. However, she said there were not first-person words from UT students and faculty members.

“Many male students were serving in World War I," she said. "There were only 500 or so students, most of them female, and most didn’t live on campus. So in our archives, we don’t have a lot from the student perspective of what they were facing here in Knoxville.”

She said that so far, UT Libraries has collected responses from more than 200 people. These responses included paintings, photographs and personal accounts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some describe losing loved ones due to the pandemic, and many students wrote about adjusting to virtual learning.

All submissions are in digital form, but the University Archives said they plan to open up taking in-person donations soon. Anyone who wants to tell their story and ensure it lives on in the university's archives can submit it online.