In this interview, Sara Matthiesen, Brown University class of 2015, discusses her experiences as a professor and social justice activist in Washington, DC, during the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Matthiesen begins by recalling that she first learned about COVID-19 from an international student who regularly attended her office hours. She explains that she was concerned for her student, but her own involvement with Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in addition to the Donald Trump impeachment trials initially overshadowed any concerns she would have of the virus spreading. Matthiesen goes on to remember that her university’s decision to send students home for a prolonged spring break were sudden and allowed her no time to prepare her students for the transition. She describes the work she did to help her students as much as possible and to continue her courses virtually.
Personally, Matthiesen talks about one of her earlier trips to the grocery store and recognizing the conundrum of feeling the need to stock up on food while also not wanting to contribute to the problem of food shortages. She describes how she felt when DC first enforced a shelter in place order and her efforts to collaborate with other activists in the area to develop ways of safely hosting pre-planned protests for environmental and racial justice. She also details a specific protest held outside of Jeff Bezos’ DC house for Amazon workers’ rights. Furthermore, Matthiesen addresses her take on media coverage of the pandemic, states’ legislation on access to reproductive healthcare, and rights and resources for essential workers.
In closing, Matthiesen encourages those living through the pandemic to embrace their feelings and hopes activists remember that “every political effort and social movement was fighting for a thing that seemed impossible until it wasn’t.” She adds that though much of life in the pandemic can be negative, she has seen more people care for their neighbors.
Recorded on May 7, 2020 via Zoom
Interviewed by Amanda Knox, Pembroke Center Assistant Archivist
Suggested Chicago style citation: Matthiesen, Sara. Interview. By Amanda Knox. Pembroke Center Oral History Project, Brown University. May 7, 2020.
Sara Matthiesen is an Assistant Professor at George Washington University where her scholarship focuses on modern U.S. history, with an emphasis on gender, race, sexuality, and reproduction after 1945. Her current book, Reproduction Reconceived (University of California Press), examines battles over the right to family making since the 1970s. This project traces a number of debates between activists and public institutions in order to understand how family making was reconceptualized as a choice by the end of the 20th century. Her work has been published in Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Feminist Review, and Women’s Review of Books. Prior to joining the faculty at George Washington she was a Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow at Brown University. Matthiesen also teaches in the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at the George Washington University.