Life at the Brown School During COVID-19 | Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis
MSW Student Alexi Bolton
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Life at the Brown School During COVID-19

As student ambassadors, we have the privilege of getting to talk to prospective students – to give tours, answer questions, and, hopefully, celebrate with you when you get admitted. 

We spend time learning fun facts about the school, attend trainings on the ins and outs of all the different curriculums, and work really hard to figure out how to walk up the stairs while talking without running out of breath (I haven’t mastered that last one yet). 

All of that is definitely fun, but selfishly, for me the best part is getting to actually talk with y’all - when we call (maybe for the 10th time) to ask if you have any questions about life at the Brown School and we end up chatting about your story, why you’re interested in your chosen field, or your career goals. 

Often, on tours or on the phone with prospective students, someone will ask a variation of, “If you knew then what you know now, would you still choose to come to the Brown School?” I asked the same question and read now alum Jonathan’s blog post more than once trying to get enough insight into life at the Brown School to make my decision. 

It’s been a little over a year since I made that decision and a few months since the question got particularly hard to answer. If I knew there was going to be a pandemic that required us to move online, would I still have attended the Brown School? If I knew I’d be graduating into such an uncertain job market would I still have chosen grad school over a career? If I had known my roommate and I would be sharing the same 3 rooms indefinitely would I still have moved to St. Louis or would I have stayed with my family? 

 The truth of the matter is, I don’t know the answer to any of those questions. I can’t give advice for what you should choose if you’re a prospective student and I can’t even really tell you what life will look like at the Brown School in the upcoming semester. 

So, rather than try to speculate, I thought I’d try to write about some things I do know. 

1. Classroom experience at the Brown School may be at least partially online, but it’s just as relevant as ever (maybe even more so) for the off-line world. 

About a month ago, Ugbaad wrote about how her classroom experiences in Public Health have shaped her understanding of the COVID-19 pandemic. The same is certainly true for Social Work (and, I imagine, Public Policy). The national conversations regarding health disparities along lines of race, class, and gender are not new conversations for Brown School Students. The Black Lives Matter Movement that has reentered the national media spotlight was never forgotten at the Brown School, but rather became a core tenant of our curriculum and education. The Brown School’s motto of, “Dedicated to equity. Committed to impact,” goes deeper than stickers or wall decals. There are whole theory classes dedicated to understanding systemic oppression and addressing it is built into every course I’ve taken. As I watched the news over the last few months, I never had a doubt that I could look to professors, classmates, and researchers at the Brown School for the most up to date information, for solutions that were evidence based and to lead critical conversations in our community. You can read some of those statements and news articles here

2. We’re still going to learn things. 

 I'm not going to lie to you, I was pretty nervous when we moved online. I may have shed a tear when I learned we wouldn’t be back to a fully in-person schedule in the fall. I love my classroom discussions and casual lunches in the commons. I hate online learning – I've never been very good at it and I was really worried that I wouldn’t get the same quality of academic instruction as I was previously. So far, that fear hasn’t come true. At the end of the semester, my professors went above and beyond to tailor their syllabi to the new online learning environment and to make themselves available. They were so understanding of the major upheaval that was happening in our lives and worked doubly hard to make sure that we all understood the material. In addition, for the first time at the Brown School, I tapped into some additional resources like the Open Classroom series to hear lectures from professors and experts that I might not have gotten to with my normal, in-person schedule. 

3. The Brown School will make evidence-based decisions to try to care for their students. 

Y’all they walk the talk – the CDC said, “Wear your face masks and don’t gather in groups,” and the Brown School said, “Okay, will do,” (That’s how the task force played out in my head anyway). Jokes aside, I know that the task force who is deciding the environment in upcoming semesters is made up of some of the best minds in the field of public health and I know that they’re going to do everything in their power to keep us safe. You can find the full plans and resources for COVID-19 here. Similarly, when things froze on campus in mid-March, they went above and beyond to care for student needs. For those with part time jobs through the school, they reached out directly to ensure that everyone was still receiving the same income and set up a student emergency fund for those students who were hit the hardest. Our academic and field advisers were working what seemed like around the clock to ensure that students still had the courses and practicum opportunities we needed to graduate. My advisors (shout out to Chloe Risto and Barbara Levin) have fielded more panicked emails from me in the last couple of months than I care to admit and I know they’ll continue to do this for all students. 

4. I’m glad I’m here. 

I promised not to speculate about choices made under different circumstances, but what I can say is that I’m endlessly grateful I had the opportunity to make the choice I did. It’s been a year and I have a semester left, but I can already say that coming to the Brown School and moving to St. Louis has changed my world for the better. I know how cheesy that sounds and I won’t try to tell you that it was all sunshine and rainbows, but, thinking back to where I was a year ago, I know I’ve grown so much in my understanding of social issues, my knowledge of the field, and my confidence in my ability to work in future areas. I’ve had opportunities to take on practicum and part-time jobs that challenged me. I’ve been crazy inspired by some of professors and got to read a chapter out of a book that’s not published until next year. And, maybe most importantly for me, I’ve had the opportunity to learn next to some incredible people who will not only be a strong professional network for my future but also friends I can turn to for anything. 

 5. We’re still here and want to talk to you. 

 We being the Admissions Office. Consider this half shameless plug and half formal invitation to come to a virtual coffee chat with any of us. We can’t promise to have all of the answers, but we can promise to listen and be transparent with you about what we do know. If you’re considering pursuing a Masters in Social Work, Public Health, or Public Policy, we would love to walk through the options and tell you about our own experience. We’d also love to help with any step of the application process. You can always reach us at brownadmissions@wustl.edu or by filling out this online form to request a virtual visit

Here’s the bottom line: These are five things I know right now about the Brown School and about my own personal decision. I’m willing to guess one more thing – if you’ve made it this far, you’re probably looking to change the world for the better. Whether you come to the Brown School to further your education or choose to continue working towards that on your own, I think it’s safe to say that, now more than ever, the world needs you.