Student entries

Further Considerations on COVID-19 and Its Influence on tPP

Further Considerations on COVID-19 and Its Influence on tPP

Stephanie Sorich

In March of 2020, classes at our former university home of the Project, were put on a “temporary” hold in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and eventually moved online for the remainder of the year. While not all members of tPP participate through the class we hold twice a week, a large portion of us found ourselves questioning how the Project would function moving forward, alongside our own worries about our other education pursuits, professional job searching, and worries about our health.

And yet, we moved forward: coding pairs coded their weekly cases, the steering committee continued to find new ways to advance the Project, and independent researchers continued to do the same individual work they’d been doing most of the year. In a time of uncertainty, the best that any of us could do- not only in the project, but in life- was to keep trying and hope for the best. Of course, it isn’t always so easy.

Coding cases requires resources that junior coders like myself don’t have access to in my home. Typically, to get the documents we need to code a case, we can check to see if documents from federal court cases are available on RECAP, a website that allows PACER users to download otherwise potentially expensive documents for all users to read for free. If the documents my coding partner and I need are not available there, we then put in a PACER request to Michael, as he is the only one with access to PACER on behalf of the Project.

At home, I go through that same process. I search for the case on RECAP, and ask Michael to search PACER if the documents I need aren’t available. However, unlike doing it in class, I can’t expect Michael to have the documents back to me within the hour. The email I send him may go until the next day without being read, and I can’t expect anything more.

There’s a certain guilt that comes about in times like this when you need to ask for help. There’s a part of me that feels foolish asking Michael for PACER documents, knowing that he has his own family and situation to worry about. I don’t want to ask the steering committee members questions about my case, because they’re students like me just desperately trying to figure out how to navigate school in a now completely online setting. It’s easy to feel like a burden to others when the only discussion you are having is about the difficulties, and what you need from another person despite those difficulties.

But this project was built specifically for coders and team members to rely on one another. The project only works if every single one of us does, too. Of course, the pandemic may have changed the ways in which we go about doing that work: I can say for certain I have never done so much coding in my pajamas before. But continuing to work with and for one another is not only necessary, but should be encouraged. While I fear that my need for assistance is only adding burdens on to others, they are likely finding the same normalcy in tPP as I am.

We find ourselves in a period incomparable to anything else within our lifetimes. And yet, we’ve found a way to continue on. The flexibility which we have had to demonstrate only gives me hope that this project is stable enough to tackle whatever is necessary when life (and therefore the Project) returns to normal. There is strength in knowing for sure we are able to endure the tough times, and tPP has now proven itself durable enough to last through one of the most unsure times in human history. I’m personally proud to be a part of it.

For help coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, find resources and information here.

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