COVID-19 Information Reaches Lincoln Community through UNL Partnership

Photo Credit: Yassine Rfissa
by Morgan Groninger May 28, 2020

Photo: Yassine Rfissa, graduate assistant, who interprets the press conferences.

How is COVID-19 information getting relayed to Lincoln’s Arabic community? A special collaboration between UNL’s Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, Bureau of Sociological Research, and Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird’s office.

 In January of 2020, the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures paired up with the Bureau of Sociological Research to fill the void that was left when the State of Nebraska’s translation department closed. Amanda Ganshert, Senior Project Manager at BOSR, knew the Bureau needed quality translation services to complete large scale projects. 

“It became apparent that Nebraska needed this infrastructure to better serve its citizens,” Ganshert said. “We’ve been looking for ways to provide this service to others, and a partnership with Modern Languages was formed.”

Nora Peterson, Chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, understood the impact this partnership could have on both students and community members. 

“We have skills that are desperately needed in order to increase communication and facilitate understanding among various populations in our community,” Peterson said. 

They could not have predicted how important this collaboration would soon be. In April, shortly after in-person instruction was cancelled and the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning to take hold, Peterson reached out to the Mayor’s office concerning their interpretation needs. “We were trying to build connections with the community as a way to create opportunities for our graduate students and to build bridges between our department and Lincoln,” Peterson said. 

It didn’t take long to get a response. With the COVID-19 pandemic ongoing, Mindy Rush Chipman, Equity and Diversity Officer for the City of Lincoln, knew this would be a valuable partnership for the Lincoln community. 

 “The City’s partnership with BOSR/DMLL is helping to provide language access to this information and to help address the racial and ethnic disparities in health outcomes that exist in Lincoln and are, unfortunately, becoming more pronounced as a result of the virus,” Rush Chipman explained.  

Together, the BOSR and Modern Languages looked for ways to assist the Mayor’s office with their Arabic interpretations. Yassine Rfissa, a graduate assistant in DMLL, fit their needs perfectly. Rfissa began interpreting the Mayor’s COVID-19 press conferences into Arabic on a weekly basis, which he describes as a “very rewarding experience.”

“For me, it is a great opportunity to further develop my interpreting skills, gain experience in interpreting official speeches and proudly assist with getting these important updates about the COVID-19 crisis out to everyone in the community who speaks Arabic,” Rfissa said.

Rfissa will continue doing weekly interpretations, and, pending an increase in funding, these interpretations will become a daily occurrence. Languages are also continuing to be added in order to reach as many Lincoln residents as possible. 

“The partnership has already grown, and continues to grow as we add additional languages and frequency of the community briefings that are interpreted each week,” Rush Chipman explained. “The BOSR/DMLL team members are flexible to work with and open to helping provide language access in whatever way possible.”  

You can find Mayor Gaylor Baird’s press conferences interpreted in Arabic, Spanish, and Vietnamese; as well as Prevention Guides in Arabic, Chinese, English, Karen, Spanish, Ukrainian, and Vietnamese here: