Registration for HGSU COVID-19 Night School
Welcome to COVID-19 Night School! Our talks are given by HGSU-UAW members, held on Wednesdays evenings at Eastern Time, and are open to the public. You may sign up to attend as many talks as you like. Please note that some talks have pre-assigned reading, so we encourage you to register in advance if possible. You will receive the Zoom link for each talk once you submit this form.

This is our current schedule of talks. There will be more to come, so please check back for updates! Recordings of all talks can be viewed on the HGSU-UAW YouTube channel at


May 20, 8-9pm
Eric Stephen (Religion), "Pandemic theologies: religious responses to COVID-19 and the 1918 flu pandemic"
In the past months, theologically-informed understandings of and responses to the 2020 coronavirus epidemic have proven profoundly significant in American public life. Theological claims have been routinely invoked, for instance, in order to help religiously-minded Americans sustain traditions during major holidays despite self-isolation, or to provide justifications for some leaders’ high-profile violations of governmental policy. While these theological ideas, debates, and controversies are undoubtedly shaped by the specific contours of our current historical moment, they nonetheless also build on longstanding theological interpretations of pandemics and disease. Indeed, many of these same debates and controversies animated religious responses to the 1918 “Spanish Flu” epidemic as well. This talk will examine the ways in which various faith communities in the United States understood, experienced, and made meaning from the 1918 H1N1 outbreak, and how this background may help us to better frame the various religious responses to the coronavirus we see today.

May 27, 8-9pm
Aparna Gopalan (Anthropology), "A pandemic of commodification: COVID-19, profit, and public goods in comparative view"
Acute socioeconomic distress is certainly the effect of the COVID-19 crisis, but is it also its cause? By considering the varying effectiveness of different economic systems against the ongoing pandemic, this talk highlights two decisive factors which determine the potency of crisis-response: 1) the degree of commodification of basic necessities, and 2) the extent to which supply chains can be extricated from the profit motive. Focusing in particular on the exemplary pandemic response of the Indian state of Kerala in contrast to the rest of that country, the talk traces how decades of heavy public investments & workers’ struggles in first case and austerity & labor suppression in the second explain why PPEs could be rapidly produced, tests administered, quarantines set up, and the fallout of economic shutdown managed in Kerala but not the rest of India. Through this example, the talk touches on larger themes of neoliberalism, austerity, valuing socially essential labor, and rebuilding a post-crisis economy for the many, not just the few.

June 3, 8-9pm
SPECIAL CAPSTONE CLASS: Join all six Night School presenters to date (Abby, Henry, Matt, Carolyn, Eric, and Aparna) for an exciting interdisciplinary roundtable discussion! Potential topics of conversation will include: "What do we still need to learn about the science of COVID-19? How have societal responses to pandemics changed (or not changed) over time? Why is it important to examine the current moment through an interdisciplinary lens?" Audience members may submit additional questions for the panel through this form (see below).



April 15, 8:30-9:30pm
Abby Schiff (Medicine), "From virus to patient: the disease course of COVID-19"
Description: In less than 4 months, the novel disease COVID-19 has spread rapidly by human-to-human transmission, caused major outbreaks worldwide, and resulted in considerable morbidity and mortality. At the same time, there has been a concerted effort by the scientific and medical communities to understand the virology, pathogenesis and clinical presentation of COVID-19 to address this crisis. Ongoing debates about mask usage, fecal-oral transmission, and the role of age and risk factors in susceptibility are grounded in evolving scientific understanding of the disease. This talk will provide an introductory overview of relevant work on the virus SARS-CoV-2, including viral transmission and cell tropism, COVID-19 disease pathogenesis and immune response, current diagnostics and testing, and an overview of clinical management of the disease. The focus will be on linking current scientific and medical understanding of the disease to evolving public health and clinical guidelines.

April 22, 8-9pm
Henry Grubert (History), "Pandemics past: Accounts of disease from the ancient world"
Description: Throughout history episodes of epidemic and pandemic disease have struck societies that were unprepared for them. In certain cases, survivors of those disease events have left us evocative and vivid accounts of their outbreak, progression, and impact. Two of the most famous of these accounts are Thucydides’ account of the plague in Athens in 430 BC and Procopius’ account of bubonic plague in Constantinople in 542 CE. In this discussion-based seminar, we will read these formative accounts and investigate the light they shed on outbreaks of disease and societies under stress. No prior knowledge of the ancient Greco-Roman world is expected, and the more perspectives we bring to bear the richer our discussion should be.
NOTE: this talk has pre-assigned reading, which we will send along once you register.

April 29, 7-8pm
Matt Volpe (Chemistry), "Old drugs, new tricks: the biochemistry of antiviral medications"
Description: Viruses, including the 2019 novel coronavirus, are fundamentally simple machines: a package of nucleic acids and proteins whose only function is to produce more of themselves. Despite understanding a great deal about how these machines work, developing drugs to stop them in their tracks is a formidable challenge. Countless news stories have reported on the potential for existing drugs to be repurposed to fight this new foe, but the data remains at best preliminary and difficult to parse. Why do drugs that fight HIV and influenza not work against this virus, but drugs that were designed to fight ebola or malaria show some promise? This talk will provide an introductory look at the biochemical processes behind the replication and spread of some of these viruses, with a focus on how drugs in the clinic might be able to interfere with some of the key steps.

May 6, 8-9pm
Carolyn Boudreau (Virology), "Understanding the novel coronavirus to make a vaccine"
Description: Vaccines are our best tool to prevent disease and stop pandemics. While the development of currently used vaccines has taken years, new technologies and a better understanding of the pathogen have allowed us to generate candidate vaccines for the novel coronavirus in less than 6 months. In order to design better vaccines, we must first understand the virus we target. This talk will provide background on the structure and composition of the novel coronavirus and an overview of current vaccine candidates, their mechanisms, and how they will be tested.
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COVID-19 Night School takes place on Wednesday evenings. Please let us know which talks you would like to receive the Zoom links for:
If you are planning to attend the capstone class on June 3, you are welcome to submit questions for the six presenters. Please write your questions here:
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