Protestors at a Buffalo rally for educators.

Protestors at a Buffalo rally for educators in downtown’s Niagara Square, June 9, 2020. They joined hundreds voicing their support for the Black Lives Matter movement. (WBFO Photo/Kyle S. Mackie)


Pandemics 2020: COVID-19 and Racism Collide


At first, 2020 seemed like a straight-forward, normal year, new and full of promise. A presidential election lay ahead. The economy looked good: low interest rates and a rising stock market. The New York governor’s budget aimed for a middle-class tax cut and additional school aid. Buffalo’s renaissance continued with neighborhood rehabs, transformed downtown buildings and a reimagined waterfront.

At UB, research made news, enrollment grew. The Graduate School of Education looked forward to its 2022 move to South Campus, back to Foster Hall. UB had architects working on the refurbishment of the classic McKim, Mead & White building, where the Graduate School of Education began in 1931. Meetings were underway to plot this new, then still unnamed, magazine version of the .edu alumni newsletter.

Before spring broke, whatever we had in mind for 2020 changed.

A deadly new virus quietly swept the globe, infecting millions. Black men and women continued to be killed by police, a practice that would seem as if it, too, had raged on quietly, virus-like.

By March, a new reality dawned. Two pandemics emerged and soon collided. COVID-19 and racism. Shortly after midnight on Friday, March 13, Breonna Taylor, 26, a Black emergency medical technician, was shot dead at home in Louisville, Ky., in a police drug raid gone wrong. Hours later, President Trump declared the pandemic a national emergency. It would be the last day of in-person classes at UB and other places, including the Buffalo Public Schools.

Alarming news began its steady drum. On March 14, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the state’s first two virus deaths. The next week, New York had 3,437 cases. Then came business closings. Only those considered “essential”—hospitals, suppliers of food, and drink—could keep buildings open. Everyone else, including the people of GSE, went home to work by Zoom and Google Classroom. Day by day, news broadcasts were daunting and riveting. Social distancing rules. Mask wearing disagreements. Shortages of supplies and basics, like face masks and toilet paper and flour and yeast. Dr. Anthony Fauci’s sobering virus updates. Governor Cuomo’s daily briefings that reassured with their regularity.

Illustration of Breonna Taylor by Jennifer Salucci.

Illustration of Breonna Taylor by Jennifer Salucci

Without the usual things to do, an overwhelmed public came to focus on what, for some, had been easy to ignore: Habitual racism, white privilege, segregation. Protests popped up. Some escalated to mayhem.

The presidential election inched closer. Millions reassessed the American narrative with a new political lens.

In more than a century since the end of slavery, the pursuit of happiness, equality and justice, made famous in this nation’s founding 18th century documents were still not being applied to everyone in the 21st century. Breonna Taylor’s death was magnified by more Black killings. Ahmaud Marquez Arbery was shot running through his neighborhood. Dreasjon “Sean” Reed’s shooting by police livestreamed on Facebook. Then, explosively in May, a video of Officer Derek Chauvin’s deadly kneel on George Floyd’s neck.

For students of color, racism colored both pandemics. The disease’s disproportionate impact on their communities was coupled by the burdens of new social awareness and attention.

Along with all the other turbulence, the pandemic was cataclysmic for education. Parents scrambled when they couldn’t stay home to help with cyber classes. Those who were lucky enough to be in the house grappled with new home-school routines and virtual learning how-tos. Educators had to be nimble, rechart course plans and navigate foreign technology. Teaching students in person felt like a bygone, underappreciated privilege.

In a spring semester’s time, life for a generation transformed.


The following timeline chronicles highlights of the “pandemics” and the actions they spurred among the educators, psychologists, data analysts and information scientists of the GSE community.


JAN. 11

■ China reports its first death from a new virus that researchers identified earlier as infecting dozen of people in Wuhan, a city of more than 11 million.

JAN. 20

■ U.S. and other countries confirm virus cases.


FEB. 21

■ Buffalo news channels 4 and 7 broadcast stories about Qinghua Chen, GSE PhD student and Shanghainative, who produced a video with greetings from 140 local people to cheer and support people in China struggling with COVID-19.

FEB. 23

■ Ahmaud Marquez Arbery, 25, an unarmed Black man, killed while jogging near Brunswick, Ga. Travis McMichael accused of the shooting after he, his father Gregory and William “Roddie” Bryan pursued Arbery.



■ New York’s first diagnosed coronavirus case.


■ The Centers for Disease Control lifts all restrictions on testing, allowing U.S. officials to approve widespread virus testing.


■ New York orders the nation’s first virus “containment zone,” closing schools and gathering places in New Rochelle.


■ President Trump declares the Covid-19 pandemic a national emergency and sends funding to states.

Portrait of Breonna Taylor.

■ Breonna Taylor, 26, a Black emergency medical technician, is shot eight times by police who used a no-knock warrant in Louisville, Ky.

■ The last day of in-person classes at UB and other campuses, including the Buffalo Public Schools.


■ Governor Cuomo announces the state’s first two coronavirus deaths.


■ Gov. Cuomo signs an executive order mandating that employees work from home for all but essential businesses as New York counts 3,437 Covid-19 cases.

■ President Trump invokes the Defense Production Act to increase medical resources.

■ U.S.-Canada border closes.

■ GSE establishes Student Emergency Hardship Fund.


■ Gov. Cuomo orders all nonessential businesses to close. The state officially goes on “PAUSE” (Policies that Assure Uniform Safety for Everyone).

■ The National Guard is deployed to the states hit hardest by the virus — California, New York and Washington.


■ New York City surpasses 12,000 COVID-19 cases, 35 percent of U.S. total.

Raven Baxter.

Raven Baxter (see story), a science education PhD student, produces, from home, “Wipe it Down,” a rap video about the virus and staying safe.

Monica Rogers.

■ Information science PhD student Monica Rogers (see story) begins analyzing COVID-19 case data for her employer, the Tulsa Health Department.


Paper puzzle.

Gifted Math Program navigates pandemic and finishes with new digital tools (see story). With little notice, program directors, 10 teachers and 11 UB student assistants had to figure out how to continue classes for 280 seventh through 12th graders used to traveling from schools all over Western New York for advanced math lessons in Baldy Hall.


■ Baxter’s “Wipe it Down” goes viral. Newscasters from New York City to Hawaii share the story.

March Timeline Stories



■ To keep the GSE community connected while campus is closed, Dean Rosenblith launches weekly Zoom coffee meetings with students.

■ GSE alumna and psychologist Tawanna Gilford, PhD, shepherds the “Compassion Cart” project to help de-stress staff throughout the NYC Health and Hospital System’s Harlem Hospital campus, assessing emotional needs, offering solace, snacks, water and, once, flowering plants — 1,275 of them.

GSE teacher candidates work together with teacher mentors to  figure out how to co-teach from home.


■ CDC recommends that all citizens wear face masks.


■ Stephanie Fredrick, assistant professor in counseling, school and educational psychology, reaches out to parents to alleviate virus worries with a Zoom seminar — “Answering Tough Kid Questions ...”


■ Cuomo signs an executive order requiring face masks.


■ News 4 Buffalo airs story about GSE PhD student Qinghua Chen: She raised more than $2,100, ordered 3,600 surgical-grade masks from China and then donated them to emergency responders and urgent care centers for children in Amherst, N.Y.


Suzanne Rosenblith.

■ Dean Rosenblith holds a roundtable discussion (see story) with fellow academic leaders about the pandemic’s impact on public education.


■ Confirmed U.S. COVID-19 cases surpass 1 million.

April Timeline Stories



■ Nina Pop, 28, a Black transgender woman, found dead, with multiple stab wounds, in her apartment in Sikeston, Mo. She was at least the 10th trans person to die by violence in the U.S. this year.


■ Dreasjon “Sean” Reed, 21, a Black man, fatally shot by Indianapolis police in an altercation streamed live on Facebook.

■ Sarah Robert, an associate professor and a specialist in school food politics, joins Seeding Resilience: A consortium of people and organizations getting food to people in need, that includes UB’s Food Lab policy research group.


GSE PhD student Qinghua Chen.

■ GSE PhD student Quinghua Chen (see story) publishes “Born Artists,” an online exhibition, with artwork by children that she collected via WeChat, and reflecting pandemic-era life in seven countries — from China and the U.S. to Switzerland and Japan.

MAY 15

■ GSE holds its first ever virtual commencement ceremony for 326 master’s and 54 doctoral students.

■ The Trump administration announces Operation Warp Speed, a public–private partnership to accelerate COVID-19 vaccine development.

MAY 16

ECRC child graduate standing on a podium.

■ Early Childhood Research Center’s preschool shifts to remote learning (see story) with staff reading stories and leading yoga exercises via Facebook video posts.

MAY 22

■ Dean Rosenblith brings together faculty and staff on Zoom to discuss the pandemic-influenced changes at home and how gender affects parenting responsibilities.

MAY 25

Painting of George Floyd.

■ Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin videotaped kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, 46, until he dies, as three other officers watch. The video goes viral.   

■ Social media reignites #BlackLivesMatter movement in response to George Floyd’s death.

MAY 26

Alexa Schindel.

■ A video of Alexandra Schindel’s conversation (see story) with a Tapestry Charter School teacher answering third graders’ questions about her Galapagos journey and the science of ocean plastics pollution goes up on YouTube. The interview, the pandemic alternative to a classroom visit, connected to the students’ semester of water study.

■ Protests begin in the Minneapolis–St. Paul area following George Floyd’s killing.

MAY 27

■ Minneapolis protests turn violent as activists call for murder charges against the police officers involved in George Floyd’s death.

■ Tony McDade, 38, a Black transgender man, was fatally shot by a police officer in Tallahassee, Fla.

■ U.S. COVID-19 deaths surpass 100,000.

MAY 28

■ A state of emergency declared in the Twin Cities, with hundreds of National Guard soldiers deployed, as social justice protests spread nationwide.

Protestors at a Buffalo rally for educators in downtown’s Niagara Square, June 9, 2020.

■ Dean Rosenblith holds another Zoom session (see story) with staff and faculty to talk about George Floyd’s death and emerging racism and social justice concerns.

MAY 29

■ Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd. High-profile protests began in Portland, Ore., in response to Floyd’s killing.

■ Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler declares state of emer-gency and imposes curfew as protests become violent.

■ Learning and Instruction Professor and Chair Julie Gorlewski’s “Endless Work, Endless Love: Teaching and Mothering During a Pandemic” publishes in Teachers College Record.

MAY 30

■ As riots and protests continue nationwide, curfews are set in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Atlanta.

■ UB’s President Satish Tripathi releases a statement in response the police killings in Minneapolis, Atlanta and Louisville — “We mourn peacefully but not passively.” 

■ Protests begin outside Buffalo’s City Hall in response George Floyd’s death.

May Timeline Stories



■ Dean Suzanne Rosenblith and Associate Dean Raechele Pope condemn racism with an email policy announcement: As an institution of public education, GSE has a responsibility to speak out.

■ President Trump threatens to deploy the military to quell riots. The National Guard and police clear peaceful protestors for a photo op of him with a Bible at St. John’s Church.


Solid black square.

■ People post single black squares on social media for Blackout Tuesday, a music industry-provoked protest against racism and police brutality.


■ Buffalo police officers make national news when they keep moving forward after one of them shoves peaceful Niagara Square protestor Martin Gugino, 75, to the ground, causing serious injury.


■ A protest rally on the steps of City Hall, one of a series in Buffalo, features educators and GSE alumna Tiffany Nyachae, PhD, an assistant professor of education at Penn State, who speaks about the importance of increasing faculty diversity.


■ The U.S. counts more than 2 million COVID-19 cases.  

Nathan Daun-Barnett.

■ GSE Professor Nathan Daun-Barnett publishes insights (see story) about potential positive outcomes from the COVID-19 pandemic.


■ Protests in Atlanta follow the police killing of Rayshard Brooks, 27, in a Wendy’s parking lot.

■ GSE Professor Myles Faith’s research appears around the world with revelations that children with obesity were hurt by the pandemic’s stay-at-home rules with negative effects on diet, sleep and physical activity.


■ Protesters burn down the Wendy’s where Rayshard Brooks died. Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields resigns.


Raechele Pope and Raven Baxter.

■ UB President Tripathi announces a new President’s Advisory Council on Race, inviting Associate Dean Raechele Pope and PhD student Raven Baxter to serve (see story).


■ The annual Juneteenth commemoration of the emancipation of enslaved people becomes a state holiday, as declared by Gov. Cuomo

June Timeline Stories


JULY 2, 3 & 4

■ Raging protests in Portland, Ore. become increasingly violent.


■  A research commentary by GSE Clinical Assistant Professor Tiffany Karalis Noel publishes in Social Sciences & Humanities Open with an analysis of the stigmatizing impact of disease names with geographic references.


■ Forbes magazine includes an interview with GSE’s Raechele Pope, associate professor and chief diversity officer, in its story, “What Colleges’ Leaders Can Do To Address Racial Justice.”


■ Federal forces deploy to quell protests in Portland, Ore., where their unmarked cars and officers in camouflage, without clear identification badges, generate a national outcry.


■ Oregon Governor Kate Brown and Vice President Mike Pence agree to a phased withdrawal of federal officers from Portland.


AUG. 10

AUG. 23

■ Violent protests break out in Kenosha, Wisc., following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, 29.

■ The FDA grants emergency authorization for antibody-rich blood plasma treatments for COVID-19 hospital patients.

AUG. 25

■ Two protesting the shooting of Jacob Blake were fatally shot in Kenosha, Wisc. Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, of Antioch, Ill., accused of allegedly using an AR-15-style rifle in the shooting.

AUG. 29

■ Thousands of people gather at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. for the Commitment March, organized by the Rev. Al Sharpton and with Martin Luther King III, in support of Black civil rights.

■ GSE holds its first virtual new student orientation and 433 register to attend.

August Timeline Stories



Collage of books.

Uniting GSE through a shared reading project (see story). As professors leading classes know, reading books together brings people together in conversation and collaboration. This fall, Dean Suzanne Rosenblith took that approach with staff, faculty and students by launching a GSE-wide social justice reading project with departments choosing books that related to their work.


■ Protests breakout in Rochester, N.Y., following the release of disturbing police body-camera footage of the fatal March arrest of Daniel Prude, 41, an unarmed Black man having a psychotic drug episode.

Fortune 40 under 40 logo.

■ Fortune Magazine includes GSE PhD student Raven Baxter, 27, in the health care group of a special expanded version of its annual 40 Under 40 list of young innovators.

SEPT. 3 & 4

Teach-In promotional graphic.

■ GSE cancels classes and hosts the “Make Good Trouble Now Teach-In” (see story) about race and equity for faculty, students and staff. The two-day event features five national experts and 82 breakout discussion sessions. Faculty, staff, alumni and community members highlight topics ranging from book club reading to Black career navigation and teaching about race in majority white schools.

SEPT. 11

■ GSE’s Equity, Diversity, Justice and Inclusion webpage launches and features a strategic plan with diversity goals.

SEPT. 18

■ Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies.

SEPT. 22

■ The U.S. COVID-19 death toll passes 200,000.

September Timeline Stories


OCT. 1

■ President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump test positive for COVID-19.

OCT. 7

■ Derek Chauvin, former police officer charged with the murder of George Floyd, posts bail.

OCT. 16

■ The U.S. surpasses eight million cases of COVID-19.

OCT. 24

■ Cases of COVID-19 rise in 43 states with single-day records set in 7 of those states.

2020 carries on … This timeline captured some of the year’s major events, the overlap and collision of the virus spread, racism, police killings, social justice outcry, educators’ response and the changed world we now find ourselves in. We couldn’t include everything. When this magazine went to press, Joe Biden emerged as the president-elect, President Trump did not concede, some Republicans encouraged his move to battle the results in court, COVID-19 cases rose more sharply than in the spring. The world confronted a second wave as news broke of a promising new vaccine. This nation and this university now confront a complicated aftermath. Questions about race, equity and the tumult of 2020 remain. The answers lie ahead.