Pandemic Pivot

Housing the homeless in Miller Hall was one of many ways Suffolk responded to the public health crisis

Miller Hall

Photography by Michael J. Clark

Stepping Up

After Boston’s first COVID-19 case surfaced among the city’s homeless population in March, Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced that the city had begun converting privately owned buildings into shelters, including Suffolk University’s Nathan R. Miller Hall (pictured here). Walsh had reached out to Suffolk, and University President Marisa Kelly readily agreed to make the residence hall’s 172 rooms available to the city to house members of the homeless population. “Boston is our home,” Kelly said at the time. “We stand ready to help in any way.” It was a compassionate step in an uncertain time, speaking volumes about the University’s values. It also was one of just many examples, as revealed on the following pages, of Suffolk stepping up to serve its communities in support of the common good.

Amanda Ricko

Suffolk students were extremely resilient in their efforts to benefit so many needy people in our community. I’m so proud to be an alumna of this amazing school.”

—Amanda Ricko, BS ’19. Ricko is the assistant executive director of CEEDS4Change, a nonprofit that creates partnerships to reduce food insecurities in underserved communities. She and her family made 400 masks for the homeless in response to the pandemic.

Students Serving Beyond Suffolk 

When classes moved online in the spring, students found creative ways to help those in need through remote service-learning: 

  • In partnership with nonprofit CEEDS4Change, Suffolk students created the Head, Health, and Heart initiative to provide care packages of food, books, and mental health information to 200 families from four Boston public schools. 

  • Students in Suffolk’s Cancer Care class continued to support families at Christopher’s Haven, an organization that provides temporary homes for families while their children receive cancer care at Boston hospitals, through fundraising, grocery runs, and morale-boosting deliveries of handmade cards and balloons. 

  • Davis Altimonte, Class of 2022, read and uploaded short stories to the 826 Boston website, where students he had tutored in person could hear his voice as they read along with him. 

  • Julia Leone, BA ’20, developed ongoing lesson plans for the Future Leaders after-school program at the Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House in Cambridge. 

  • Through the Girls Who Code program, Anas Sabir, Class of 2022, taught students at Umana Academy how to program a Q&A computer game.

Global Call to Creatives

Spurred by the United Nations “Global Call to Creatives” campaign seeking translation of public health messages for all people, graphic design students enrolled in the Advanced Computer Applications course created animations that promoted personal hygiene, physical distancing, symptoms, and myth-busting. Their theme: Spread the word not the virus.

Studies in Empathy

As faculty across the University adapted to the challenges of teaching amid the coronavirus, many shifted their syllabi to help students unpack the pandemic from their virtual classrooms. Professor Amy Monticello was teaching a course called Narrative and Medicine when the pandemic hit. Her students happened to be reading On Immunity, Eula Biss’ reflection on vaccinating children. Suddenly students found new and immediate significance. They began capturing their own pandemic experiences through writing. “We turn to books, historical studies, philosophical frameworks, and artistic expressions to locate our own and others’ experiences and find insights that help us make sense of what’s happening,” Monticello says. Professor Wes Savick witnessed a new empathy emerge as theater students shared their interpretation of the moment. He inspired students to write about their own experiences amid the pandemic, telling them: “It is up to you, the playwrights, to chronicle the feelings, the hopes, the spirit, the poetry.” Theatre students also had one-on-one digital coaching and mentoring sessions, including with award-winning actor and director Maurice Parent, and witnessed Stephanie Coyle, BA ’20, direct current students in Harold Pinter’s play The Lover via Zoom.

Court Closures Students

in Suffolk Law’s 12 legal clinics continued their efforts to close the ”justice gap” during the period when Massachusetts courts were closed for all but emergency cases. Their efforts ranged from virtual lawyering via mobile phone, email, and video to working on cutting-edge digital court forms to help those representing themselves access the justice system. Under state law, supervised student attorneys are permitted to represent clients who otherwise would not be able to afford a lawyer. Coronavirus-related challenges, from unemployment to health crises, make their work that much more critical. During the court closures, to help avoid a stalled justice system, judges asked family law practitioners to work toward settling cases when that made sense. Toward that end, students negotiated with opposing counsel on issues like child custody, parenting time, and child support. “In the U.S., a majority of people face their civil legal emergencies without a lawyer,” says Suffolk Law Dean Andrew Perlman. “The need for solutions to help address the justice gap, including virtual lawyering and simple digital court forms is acute.”

Calm in the time of coronavirus

Psychology Professors David Langer, who helps children manage anxiety, and Susan Orsillo, an expert in mindfulness, shared practical tips for self- and family care.


“People assume that we practice mindfulness to draw our attention away from something unpleasant—like worry. But the spirit of mindfulness involves drawing your attention toward something truly meaningful and precious—the present moment. Then we fully experience whatever it is: the scent of our favorite candle, the taste of a delicious food, or the sensation of our pet’s fur.” —Susan Orsill

David Langer 

“Two key things that have enormous benefits for mental and physical health and well-being are physical activity and spending time outside. … These are behaviors parents can model and encourage that will benefit everyone. In addition to physical activity and outside time, take time to do enjoyable things like playing games and pursuing hobbies.” —David Langer

Suffolk University Magazine

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