The (candle)light in a dark situation

Dr. Peter O’Brien’s account of the frozen start to the semester

A lesson many have learned over the past couple of years through events like the COVID-19 pandemic and freezing February temperatures is how to adapt to their situation. Peter O’Brien, professor of political science, spoke to this adaptability while recounting his preparation for a class conducted over Zoom on Feb. 3. while his home had no power.

Trinitonian: What is your account of what happened the Thursday morning of the freeze?

O’Brien: I was listening to the news on the radio, National Public Radio, and all of a sudden… blank. I remember it was still dark, and there wasn’t much light coming through the windows. I realized that I’ll be fine because…my house has a lot of windows all over the place, but it was quite overcast and it just didn’t get very light.

So I just started grabbing candles, and luckily it’s only been about a month or so since Christmas, so I had all these candles that were half burnt down. Then I also used this…old copper plate from the Ottoman Empire from when I lived in Turkey. It reflects this golden reflection—kind of like the way they used to always put candles next to something so that it would reflect a little light.

I haven’t had much experience with Zoom on my phone. I just have always used my laptop because that’s what [has] always been available, [but] I couldn’t use the laptop because the WiFi of course was out. So I gave myself a lesson in how to get [zoom on a phone] up and running. That turned out to be really easy, so I was very happy about that.

I set up my station at the table, which was a kind of throwback to the days of COVID because I taught for a whole year at my dining room table. But, always of course with the laptop. I just propped up my phone and zoomed in, and I think it worked fine.

T: We’ve been having to deal with changes due to COVID and of course some weather events. Could you speak to the adaptability that students and professors have needed?

O’Brien: Well, as a professor I have not found it to be that difficult. Of course, I would prefer to be in person, but the nature of my classes, which is a lot of student discussion, works fine on Zoom, maybe not 100% as well as in-person classes.

But right now, in-person classes, [there is a] problem of the masses [because] sometimes you can’t hear people very well or see them very well. So on Zoom, you don’t have those problems, as long as [you don’t] of course have technical problems.

There was one major advantage that I hadn’t anticipated at all. That is, many more students came to my office hours because of Zoom. Because it’s so easy, I think I’m going to continue to do [Zoom office hours] even if we get back to total normalcy.

Again, everybody would prefer to be in person, but when you can’t be, it’s really fast fantastic technology.

Stories of adaptability like the one O’Brien shared serve as reminders to Trinity’s community that we can find the (candle)light in dark situations. If there is anything to learn from Trinity’s triumphs and struggles in the last couple of years, it would be that perseverance and a little bit of optimism can carry people to a brighter future.