Music videos & social media: How Harvard’s medical and public health students are helping to #FlattentheCurve

These days, we are just a Google search away from graphs, charts, graphics, bulleted lists, and diagrams detailing the COVID-19 pandemic and how to combat it.

But Evan Stieler, a dual dual-degree MD/MBA at Harvard University had a better idea.

To spread the public health messages far and wide, he put them all together in a video set to the tune of All the Small Things by Blink I82.

He told Study International, “I’ve always played guitar and thought it would be cool to do something both musical and educational surrounding what’s happening. So, I reached out to a couple of my classmates, and they loved the idea!”

Evan said that All the Small Things was the perfect song choice because it’s well-known, catchy and its message holds true.

“All the Small Things we can implement in our everyday lives will make a measurable difference in the number of lives impacted by COVID-19.”

This is just one of the initiatives by the COVID-19 Student Response Team, set up by Evan and his team members, to disseminate accurate and constructive information to the public about the pandemic.

The response team found that it was difficult to find trustworthy information among all the fake news out there, so they thoroughly verify any information before publishing it.

The team also works on educating medical personnel, and finding opportunities for medical students volunteer their time and skills during this time.

He said, “Whether it be through music, snazzy infographics or features on healthcare heroes, the initiative is seeking to provide quality and engaging information to the public.”

The information shared by the team is verified through a review process to ensure it’s accurate. Plus, the team also responds to individual questions posted to their various social media platforms. They’ve been keeping in touch via Zoom video chats and large group message forums due to isolation and social distancing.

Harvard students

COVID 19 Student Response Team holding a meeting over Zoom. Source: Evan Stieler

As a medical student at Harvard, Evan said he is better positioned and prepared to evaluate information surrounding the pandemic and verify sources.

He explained, “I find myself looking critically at the sources of information that news outlets are using. That being said, finding credible and trustworthy information is not easy. It takes a lot of time. This time in medicine is unprecedented, so we are constantly learning about what the best approaches are and how best to implement them.”

Harvard’s students using social media to debunk myths and engage with others

Evan and his team are not the only students at Harvard putting their education towards the greater good by keeping others well-informed.

James Healy and Jenna Sherma are also doing their part via student-led initiatives.

James, originally from Ireland, was a former Research Technician at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/Harvard Medical School and is pursuing his Masters in Public Health at the Harvard University School of Public Health.

Jenna is a Senior Project Coordinator at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, as well as part-time Masters in Public Health candidate at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, where she is dual-concentrating in Maternal and Child Health and Humanitarian Studies, Ethics and Human Rights.

Both are co-founders of Students Against COVID19, a community group that debunks myths about COVID-19 and provides guidance.

Harvard students

The team communicates via Zoom and Slack. Source: Jenna Sherma

Students Against COVID-19 is another example of how university students are banding together to use their education and knowledge to serve the community.

James told Study International,We have multiple social media platforms where we distribute information and push back on COVID-19 ‘myths’ and disinformation. We are also beginning to train younger people to be arbiters of facts on COVID so they themselves can spread awareness in their own social media communities.”

The team is dedicated to tracking myths and researching the information needed to debunk them, focused on creating really concise, accessible, and replicable posts on social media so that young people feel empowered to share factual, quality information themselves.

Jenna said, “We’ve also started posting funny guidance on TikTok, have helped put FAQ forms together, are carrying out interviews with faculty and community members on the frontlines, and developed a pledge to encourage social distancing. ”

Harvard students like Evan, Jenna, James and their team members may not be on the frontlines fighting COVID-19, but they’re playing an important role in ensuring others don’t fall prey to fake news and stay well-informed with accurate information about the pandemic.

They consider it their duty to share the knowledge they have earned from their courses and make use the resources available to them as Harvard students as their way of contributing during this global crisis.

James said that the idea for Students Against COVID19 was born when he saw fellow Harvard Public Health students — who care so passionately about issues of public health — leave to go home when classes were terminated indefinitely.

harvard students

Students at Harvard were asked to leave campus in early March, but that didn’t stop some from forming student-led inititives to combat COVID-19. Source: Maddie Meyer/Getty images via AFP

“I felt that more than ever we needed to be a collective, so I set up Students Against COVID-19 as a community group through which we could help others in our own communities, the greater Harvard community and young people around the world to confront COVID-19.”

Echoing his sentiments, Jenna chimed in,  “I was experiencing a good deal of anxiety and restlessness, particularly centred around the fact that Harvard is such a privileged institution with unprecedented resources, and that I felt like we needed to be doing more to break down the ivory tower and share those resources and knowledge as students — to hold our school accountable.”

James emphasised how being in a Public Health programme means they have a unified goal to “bring about a healthier world for all citizens means that there is a collective call to action when a health crisis on this scale emerges.”

As a graduate student in the Public Health programme, he said he and his classmates also have a good understanding of the literature and baseline concepts which allow them to break down scientific publications into digestible information for young people to understand on social media. 

Jenna said that Public Health is unique in that it is “rooted in the recognition of the right to health as a human right, and considers health quality and access at a societal level — crucial during this time as the whole world is being impacted by this crisis”.

She said, “While I’m not an expert in all realms of public health, as a collective, we’re able to apply these forms of knowledge to tackle different aspects of this pandemic to help combat it.”

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