New York University professor Jay Van Bavel is seen in this undated photo from social media. (Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons)
New York University professor Jay Van Bavel is seen in this undated photo from social media. (Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons)

When Jay Van Bavel, a social neuroscience professor at New York University, stepped into his apartment building elevator 10 minutes before his Introduction to Psychology class online, he "breathed a sigh of relief," thinking he would start his lecture on time.  

That is, until the elevator lurched downward before halting to a stop between floors.  

"Ok, no need to panic. The door won't open and the elevator won't move. But I use the call button to contact the staff from the elevator. They promise to call a repairman from the elevator company to help us escape," Van Bavel tweeted about the experience.  

 

 

Van Bavel, trapped in the elevator with his increasingly anxious 8-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son, began frantically texting his contacts. Still thinking about his students and despite having a bad internet connection, Van Bavel was able to send out an email at 3:28 p.m., a mere two minutes before the start of his class.  

"By this point, a certain level of camaraderie had developed. ... We had a dawning recognition that we were all in this together and would pull through," Van Bavel tweeted. "I reminisced about the time I was stuck in the elevator with [son] Jack 5 years ago and we laughed about those old times!" 

 

Yet, the sense of peace didn't last long as Van Bavel worried about his students, who had a midterm scheduled for the following week. He turned to alternate solutions, trying to access his class through his phone. After a couple of failed attempts, he was able to dial into his Zoom lecture of more than 200 students.  

To their surprise, Van Bavel would be teaching the class from inside the elevator.  

"I could hear one student yelling to her roommate that her professor was trapped in an elevator. Others seemed excited to give this a try," Van Bavel tweeted. "Apparently they'd never been taught from a professor stuck in an elevator before. It would give the class a fresh new twist." 

 

 

Just when Van Bavel thought he was good to go, he realized his lecture slides were on his computer in his apartment. Concerned about whether he would remember his class notes, Van Bavel set his class in motion.  

"After about 50-excruciatingly-long-minutes in the elevator, it jolted and then started to move," Van Bavel tweeted. "The doors opened. We could see our beautiful nondescript lobby and the sun beaming in from the front doors. We cautiously stepped out into freedom." 

 

 

Van Bavel dashed upstairs and finished teaching his students from the safety of his kitchen table.  

"As I type it all out, I am now deeply aware of how absurd this was. I will not be teaching in elevators in the future," Van Bavel tweeted. 

 

 

WATCH: Van Bavel's earlier COVID study 

VOA Student Union interviewed Van Bavel earlier this year about his worldwide crowd-sourcing study that asks social scientists to contribute how wearing masks, washing hands, going to crowded public events, and conspiracy theories can attribute to the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. 

 

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