Publication date: Dec 01, 2023
COVID-19 continues to infect and affect college-aged youth. We lack information about how students experienced the pandemic day-to-day and what they need for recovery, from their own perspectives. This study employed peer ethnography to explore student’s insights for current and future prevention and care. A team of eight students were trained as peer ethnographers to observe and record conversations with their peers in 15-minute increments during the COVID-19 pandemic. Transcripts of 200 conversations were collated and analysed via theme analysis to identify patterns. Student conversations revealed dichotomous perspectives about COVID-19. Some students prioritized safety, captured via three themes-caution, rethinking routines, and protecting others. Other students struggled to follow prevention guidelines and took risks, also captured by three themes-parties, denial, and misinformation. A third category of themes captured the results of this dichotomy-tense campus relationships and a health leadership vacuum. Our findings identify specific locations for intervention (e. g., off campus parties) and needed community collaborations (e. g., bars and universities) for COVID-19 and future pandemics. Our findings suggest that overarching approaches, like harm reduction or affirmation (versus shame), are helpful intervention frameworks. Findings also celebrate the value of peer-ethnography, to learn about pandemics and solutions from the ground up.