Making Meaning Out of Struggle

Written by Elise Steele

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the city has seen drastic changes in protocol and culture, but the light is at the end of the tunnel as vaccines and routine testing have rolled into the community. Video by Logan Stapleton
Photo by Stephanie Swart

One at a time, students roll up their sleeves and take a deep breath to receive their COVID-19 vaccination shot from the UTC Health Department, a process most of the community found inconceivable a year ago when the University first shut down for the pandemic.

Most students are likely to remember their excitement in response to UTC extending its spring break for another week in March of 2020. However, no one could estimate the intensity of obstacles and hardships that the community would face over the next year.

“Nothing was perfect, but we figured it out because we didn’t have any other choice,” says Dr. Steven Angle, Chancellor of UTC.

After the temporary shut down, UTC shifted to an entirely online curriculum which according to Dr. Chris Smith, UTC’s Chief Health Affairs Officer, students and faculty faced with persevering attitudes. 

Meanwhile, the city of Chattanooga closed down business and operations, allowing only essential activities. This served as a major shift, opening the eyes of people around the nation to the abrupt reality of the pandemic.

Former Mayor Andy Berke poses for a photo. Photo by Logan Stapleton

“There were businesses who were, justifiably, incredibly worried,” says Andy Berke, former Mayor of Chattanooga. “A lot of people were scared.”

In the summer of 2020, on top of the stress and grief imposed by COVID-19, masked protesters took to the streets of Chattanooga to rise against racial injustice after the murder of George Floyd. In the midst of a dismal pandemic, the community needed to support one another now more than ever. 

As the Fall semester grew closer, UTC intended to carry as much of a sense of togetherness into the coming year as possible. Allowing students to make a slow return, UTC enforced a strict mask mandate, limited capacity classrooms, sporadic hand-sanitizing stations, and other safety precautions.

According to SGA Student Body President, Lane Gutridge, UTC has worked hard to keep students socially engaged, but the school still struggles to find a balance in Academic Affairs.

“Students are students 24 hours a day, seven day a week,” says Gutridge on online schooling. “Academic Affairs has a lot of work to do in really just understanding students boundaries.”

Spring semester of 2021 brought a new chapter of advancements and growth for campus. As campus life made a more significant return, UTC began to offer routine testing.

“We’re doing a thousand students, faculty, and staff in routine testing per week,” says Dr. Angle. “I’ve done it. I think we’ve made it hassle-free.”

The vaccination process now serves as the most integral move to return to normality again, and Dr. Smith urges individuals to take the opportunity to protect the community and get vaccinated.

Since UTC’s first vaccination clinic on March 19th, the university has vaccinated approximately 1,200 individuals and currently distributes around 300 to 400 vaccines per week, according to Dr. Smith.

“History is actually fluid because history is not just about the facts, it’s about meaning,” says Berke. “We give it meaning through our actions.”

This past year has been a storm of statistics that may one day stump a middle schooler on a history test, but the Chattanooga community has learned to move beyond the blunt facts and make meaning out of struggle.

Local Chattanooga representatives are adjusting and learning to prosper in this time of uncertainty. Audio by Collin Cantrell

Meet The Storytellers

Amanda Brooks is a senior at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga earning her Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication and acts as the Assistant Editor for Rising Rock. She has a background in marketing and is a writer, photographer, and proficient public speaker. Amanda is passionate about storytelling and utilizes her minor in Theatre to bring stories to life. To view more of her work or contact her, visit

Collin Cantrell is a Communication minor writing and producing audio for Rising Rock at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. His skills are shown from the many leadership positions he has held throughout college, including Student Body Vice President. Collin enjoys sharing his love of music with others by playing his guitar and singing. Collin loves hard and wants everyone to feel a sense of belonging. 

Contact him at

Logan Stapleton has worked in multimedia productions, including photography and videography, for six years. Stapleton understands the sports story perspective, knows just what to do to capture high quality photos, and soaks up anything and everything he is taught. Stapleton’s hobbies include street photography and learning more about the world of photography through YouTube and Instagram. For great still photography and Adobe proficiency, you can reach out by:, (423) 779-6484, and Instagram @stapletonstills.

Elise Steele is a creative writer and journalist. Her poetry has been published in University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s Sequoya Review, Z Publishing’s Tennessee’s Best Emerging Poets 2019, and in Spring of 2021, Cornell University’s literary magazine, Rainy Day. Elise is twenty-two years old, living in Chattanooga, Tennessee with her two cats. She’s been writing since she was a young girl and to her, writing is a useful outlet to understand herself and the complexity of the lives around her.

3 thoughts on “Making Meaning Out of Struggle”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s