Interview with Byron Adams, 01/10/2022

UW Oshkosh Campus Stories
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´╗┐GL: This is Grace Lim interviewing Byron Adams on Monday, January 10, 2022, for Campus COVID Stories. Campus COVID Stories is a collection of oral stories from students and staff at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh about their experiences in the time of COVID. Thank you for sharing your stories with us. Before we get started, could you please state your name and spell it for us?

BA: Byron, A D A M S

GL: Now, for the purposes of getting good audio recording, tell us again, who you are and what your title is here at UW Oshkosh.

BA: So again, my name is Byron Adams. I am the director of our multicultural initiatives services. So basically, I oversee our multicultural retention programs, our pre-college outreach programs and our Multicultural Education Center. So all things around Educational Support Services as a relates to underserved, underrepresented students of color or minority students.

00:01:00

GL: Okay, before we dive into your campus COVID story, we'd like to get to know you a little better. Tell us about where you grew up.

BA: So I'm originally from Illinois. I grew up I was born in Chicago. And eventually my family moved to Oak Park, which is a suburb of Chicago. So I basically grew up in Oak Park, I went to Oak Park River Forest high school and had a great experience there. I am the youngest of four boys. So I have three older brothers, who all live in different states. Now I have one that lives in Minnesota, one that lives in California, one that still lives in Illinois. I ended up coming to Wisconsin to go to UW Oshkosh. So I am a graduate of UW Oshkosh, I have both my undergrad and graduate degree from here. And I had a, to some degree, a typical college experience. But also some of the roadblocks and barriers you often see with being a student of color, and being an out-of-state 00:02:00student. And so I ended up later on in my undergrad career, doing a internship and working in our summer programs in our department. And that's how I got familiar with the department and eventually became employed. And here I am now this is my 18th year. In August, I will be celebrating my 19th year here.

GL: Tell me about your degrees. Yeah.

BA: So I have a communication degree in radio, television and film with a minor in Business Administration. And then my graduate degree is in educational leadership with a focus on higher education administration.

GL: And what year did you start working here?

BA: So I started working here in 2003.

GL: And what was this position?

BA: So I originally started off as an academic advisor for our multicultural retention programs, that position no longer exists. As the university 00:03:00progressed, they kind of consolidated and centralized our academic advising services. So from that position, I was transitioned to be a multicultural retention counselor. And I did that for a number of years. And then I progressed to be a program manager within our multicultural retention programs, and then eventually became to the role I am in now, which is the director of those services.

GL: And when did you become director?

BA: I became director in 2017. Okay, and I did serve as the Interim Assistant chancellor and Associate Vice Chancellor for 20, from 2019 to 2020. And I did that role for years and interim. And but I currently am the director still.

GL: And you gave us a little bit about what you do now and who you're responsible for. Let's go over that again.

BA: Sure. So yeah, my main focus of my sort of the services that I oversee now 00:04:00we provide are for students of color. So students that self-identify as African American, Asian American, Hispanic, Latino, Southeast Asian, Hmong students and Native American students. So students who self-identify as in those categories, are provided free services around academic support efforts. So our department falls into academic affairs. And so really anything related to academic support academic achievement, academic success, our department does and so we kind of have this holistic way of working with students to really meet whatever needs they might have.

GL: How many people are in your department?

BA: So total, our total department has 24 If I remember correctly, 24 total, but the department I oversee, we currently have four.

GL: Okay, And how many students of color do we have at the university?

00:05:00

BA: Yeah, so it varies from year-to-year semester to semester. But currently, we have a little bit over 1700 students of color. And that comprises all three campuses now.

GL: Okay. All right. So let's move to the early days of COVID. Do you remember the first time you heard about this COVID-19?

BA: I do. So it was February of 2020. Towards the end of it, and I remember specifically, because February, we were celebrating Black History Month. And I just remember seeing it in the news a lot, but I really didn't think too much of it. And, and as it started to the, the how am I want to say, not the noise of it, but just the kind of the discussion around it picked up. In the news on social media and private conversations, you started to think to yourself, like, 00:06:00is this state getting like, Is this something I need to be paying attention to? And so late February rolls around, and I think around early March is when the University started kind of having those conversations like maybe we need to, you know, take those things serious or take this thing serious. And then I remember the email coming out from the, from the chancellor about, you know, us probably going to virtual and what that might look like, and things of that nature. And I remember thinking like, oh, okay, this is a big deal, but not a big deal, we'll probably be away for a couple of weeks. You know, it's a, it's kind of like a flu virus, it's nothing major. And so I remember, I had left all this stuff on my desk, and like, I have a little mini fridge and I left like food out because I was thinking, Oh, we're gonna come back in a few weeks, we'll be right back. And we left in a week turned into two turned into three turns into a month turn into three and four, and then ended up being what it was. And so I can only 00:07:00speak from i I personally didn't see it getting to this level and didn't see it coming like this. I honestly thought it was just something that, you know, eventually we would, you know, just a little blip in the history of not only the university, or just us personally, individually, and what that might look like. So it definitely took me by surprise.

GL: So when you left, and it was really the middle of real middle of March? And did you talk to your team about you know, what, what needs to be done or anything like that?

BA: Yes, definitely. So, um, I mean, as soon as the messages started coming from the administration, as a staff, we gathered multiple times to have those conversations through I mean, email and face to face, and even in the beginning, when we kind of were trying to navigate the virtual world and setting that up. So yeah, we I think we did good on that, on that front communicating with each 00:08:00other internally, staff wise. And I think we personally had a good transition to that virtual platform. And I think that allowed us to be continued to be provide services to be successful for students.

GL: So what did you tell the students that your staff, you and your staff had been working with?

BA: Well, I think there were there were a lot of conversations, I think in the beginning students, they again, they I think they really just didn't really know what to make of it initially, as far as how it was going to impact them being in class and assignments and things of that nature. So I think initially, we were kind of more so just kind of putting out fires, right? Just, even though a staff we may internally been like, Oh, my God, this is something serious. And we probably weren't hurt as a short as we would like to have been. I think in the 00:09:00beginning, we were just trying to do our best to make sure that students felt comfortable students had as much information as possible. And then eventually, as staff as we got our footing, I think that's when we were really able to dig in and lean into making sure that that everything was going to go have a smooth transition, and that students, whatever services and services they needed, that those will still continue to be provided, although a different format, but we will still be able to provide whatever they need it.

GL: Before COVID How would how would you provide services? What kind of services are we talking about for these students?

BA: Yeah, so again, it's a wide range really, from academic to social, to cultural to career based. So I mean, if a student is help writing a resume, or if there may be having some problems in the classroom with the faculty or maybe understanding the coursework, or if they're having problems with a roommate, I mean, it really can be really be this holistic support services for students. 00:10:00Even though our main focus is academic success, we do provide that social cultural component as well for students, because, again, part of the, I think, impact of being at a predominantly white institution, for students of colors, that that's a big gap sometimes for a lot of our students. And again, most of our students that we recruit are from the Milwaukee area, the Green Bay, Racine, Kenosha area. And it can be a bit of a cultural shock, coming to not only predominately white school, but a predominantly white community. And so, a lot of students have trouble navigating that. And so, you know, a lot of our staff are former students, alum of the University. And so, again, we can really provide a personal perspective and also a professional perspective on how to be successful.

GL: So the students, the, your, your employees, your team, what were what are 00:11:00their titles?

BA: Yeah, so we have so in the staff that I oversee, specifically, I have two academic retention specialists. And they again, they're their focus is working with our entire student of color population. So again, providing those all those services that I just spoke about. And then I also have two staff that work in our pre-college programs. So these are services we provide for middle and high school students, sort of a outreach, recruitment type of services and programs, to not only potentially recruit students of color to university, but also provide a opportunity for students who may not ever get on a college campus, who maybe are wavering on whether they should go to college, we provide these summer residential programs for them, to basically get them excited about going to college and give them opportunities that maybe they wouldn't get. Again, these are low-income first-generation students. So a lot of their exposure and 00:12:00experience, they, they a lot of them wouldn't have these types of opportunities. So that's what we try to provide. So yeah.

GL: So pre COVID, say a student a freshman comes in, and he has a problem with his chem lab. And he does he actually come to your office to talk about that?

BA: Yes. So they definitely can, right. And so our services aren't mandated, students don't have to use our services or resources. But that's, that's a great example of a issue a student might come to us with. So a lot of our a lot of our day to day activities is building relationships with students and building rapport, going to activities and events, creating opportunities, workshops, seminars for students to come to us. So we can build those relationships for those exact reasons. So students feel comfortable coming to us with any problem, any concern, any issue, so that we can kind of

GL: see what happens. You know, who's not doing well, in this chemistry lab?

00:13:00

BA: Yeah. So let's say for that example, let's say they're not doing well, they come to us, we have a conversation about what are the real, what are the real issues, right? It's it's something about them retaining the information, the coursework, isn't a problem they're having with the faculty and understanding the material. Maybe it's something personal, sometimes that's a lot of times there's things going on at home. So often, we might have students who have to work sometimes part time, full time jobs to send money home, or to support a sibling. And so they're distracted in their personal life. And so it's really trying to whittle it down to get to what the core of the issue is. And once we figure that out, then we can provide the necessary support and services for whatever that might be.

GL: When we were all sent home, you know, other than the central staff, to keep the, you know, the buildings and serve some services running. Some employees' roles were deemed essential and they were instructed to come to work in person. 00:14:00Were you and your team among that group?

BA: No, not the bulk. Not initially, at least initially No. By let me back up a little bit. So initially, our full-time academic staff was not required. We were we were deemed that our work could be done remotely and telecommute. We did have some Project Professional University professional staff, I might be saying the titles wrong, but are like support staff. Um, initially they came in to just maintain the facility as students were still trying to navigate whether to come in or not, or do virtual appointments. And then eventually, they were able to once we kind of again got our footing, they were able to also work remotely and telecommute.

GL: So you went you worked remotely. That and that spring semester.

00:15:00

BA: Yes, yes. Yeah. As soon as it was, the university decided that we were that was an option, we went to that option.

GL: And then did you and your team come up with a COVID response? Plan for your department? Yes, Give me some examples of how you had to adapt because of this remote situation or the COVID situation.

BA: Yeah. So we have many, many, many, many hours of meetings around that. So we came up with specific strategic operating procedures. So for our departments for the building of our all of our departments are located in the Campus and Equity Diversity. And so we came up with standard operating procedures for the building, as far as how students can enter an exit length of time, they can be in the building things of that nature. And then we also came up with strategic operating procedures for how do we engage with students outreach, follow up all those things, and we met multiple times, many meetings to come up with that, with those things.

00:16:00

GL: Give me some examples of how you had to adapt because of this remote situtaion or the COVID situation.

BA: Yeah I, you know, the technology was big, right, just trying to figure out, because not all staff had the capability of, of being fully remote. So the worst staff that we had to get equipment for cameras, microphones, computers, where some staff, I mean, just had a laptop at home, that wasn't adequate, made, the laptop probably didn't, or it didn't have a camera on it. And so things like that. So equipment was huge in the beginning, just getting everybody acclimated, and situated with being able to meet and do the work virtually. So that was a big roadblock, and the first couple of weeks, but eventually that got worked out. And then I think coming us all agreeing on the strategic operating procedures for the various departments, because we have seven departments in our division, seven departments that make up our division. 00:17:00So each department has its own kind of way of navigating and way was used to engaging with students and providing services. So all of us tried to get on the same page initially was why we had so many conversations in so many meetings. So that's probably where the two main roadblocks initially or just kind of things, two hurdles to jump right away.

GL: It's a seven departments in the division. Is yours one department or?

BA: Yeah, so mine is one department that has three units. Okay. Yeah.

GL: And then how did you have? How did you adapt or change the way you did those work in those three units?

BA: Yeah, it was, um, it was interesting, I think we, we first wanted to make sure that we were reachable for students. So again, technology played a part. So we quickly figured out that we had to have a way for students to because email just wasn't we couldn't depend on email. So we had to, we had to figure out a 00:18:00way that students can make appointments with us could contact us whether it was phone or via email. Some staff provided their cell phone for text messaging, and so quick access. So that was, that was initially how we tried to get the most out of the situation right away. That was the first hurdle. And so once we again, that was all wrapped into that, figuring out those strategic operating procedures. And so once we were able to figure out and navigate, you know, physically on our website, you can click on this link, make an appointment. And you can see this counselor, this retention specialist, blah, blah, blah. Once we figured that out, logistically, everything else just kind of fell into place, we were able to set appointment schedules for staff. In the beginning, we kind of did this rotating schedule of physically having someone in the in the facility, and then staff working remotely and telecommuting, but eventually we all ended 00:19:00up going to a committee in our division, but those were probably the main things

GL: did. Were you able to I mean, did students actually sign up for appointments?

BA: Yeah, you know, I don't have any specific numbers or data, but we I mean, I would say 30, 40% of our on virtual meetings were students who just click the thing to make an appointment click the link to make an appointment. We did it through navigate, and it actually works very smoothly.

GL: And what were some of the issues they want help with?

BA: Yeah, you know, in the in the very beginning at first that that first semester of it, so the fall really was so I mean, we went through it in spring, but the next fall was really the main thing where we saw a lot of where the 00:20:00inequities were, as far as students needs and what they have available as far as personal stuff and resources. You know, again, technology played a huge role. We had, you know, a theme that kept reoccurring was, so students were at home at this point. And, you know, they're trying to we had one student who through conversations found out they didn't have a computer. So they were literally writing a paper on their phone, you know, like an essay paper. So we had students this camp was a reoccurring theme to where we had students who had multiple siblings that were in college. But they only had one house computer, they didn't have a laptop, and there was one house computer, the home had one computer. So you had multiple students trying to use one computer and trying to figure that time out. Figure that way out. We had students who and you kind of 00:21:00saw this more so in our South East Asian Hmong community, where we had students who were at home, and for all intensive purposes, they were basically asked to be babysitters. So they're home, they're asked to watch their siblings, and the parents or the guardians just didn't understand like, No, I'm in I'm in school, I'm not here to cook and clean and watch the watch the babies, I'm like, I'm here to do my homework. And I have to be in school, to be in class. And some of the parents just didn't whether that was a age gap or language barrier. I don't know those details. But it was we had multiple students say that they, you know, they were like, they had to literally go lock themselves in their room, because their family members would be like, hey, come, we need you to, you know, help do this and do that. And I'm like, No, I'm here to be I'm in school right now. Just pretend like I'm at college. And I'm in class. Like, that's how you have to treat me. And so having to deal with those barriers, really roadblocks and kind 00:22:00of distractions with some of the recurring themes.

GL: Did you see a drop in morale? And in addition to grades during this time in students,

BA: I would be curious, I want to say I did see some data about DFW rates from that, from that time to DS, F and withdrawals. Um, and I want to say they were lower. I know I, I spoke with two students, myself, who were basically going through depression. The home situation wasn't good. They didn't want to be there. They actually put would they were preferring to be on campus, but at the time, the university wasn't allowing it. And so they had nowhere else to go into. They were just they were just down and depressed, they didn't want to be a 00:23:00home. And so college was actually an escape for them. And I had two students that went through that. And it was, there was some, there was some tough conversations, I had the one students, both students were female, and one students just, uh, without getting too personal, the mother and there's this, there was a, there was a bunch of stuff happening in the house. And, and she was like, I can't, I just, I have nowhere to go, but I can't be here. It's just it's toxic. And so it was really just, you know, referring to the counseling center in trying to get extra support outside of the university, because they were they were in Wisconsin, but they were, obviously out of Oshkosh. And so trying to find services in that community where they were at. And so it was, it was the first few meetings was a little rough, trying to navigate that, and you know, 00:24:00I'm not a licensed counselor. And so you really try to but the student wants to talk to me. And so you really have to navigate, giving them some positive advice, but then also referred them to professionals that can really truly help them. And so the student ended up withdrawing at the time, and then I think there's some inpatient stuff and but actually, they're coming back this next fall actually, I just spoke with him not too long ago. And so, it's, I'm sure that was I'm sure there were multiple students like that. It just I just happened to talk to two of them.

GL: How did you deal with the, you know, like pre-college programs that that you know, that's a huge part of getting students here.

BA: Yeah, it the pre-college was a whole another animal when So fortunately, We were able to get some additional funding from the Department of Public 00:25:00Instruction. So our pre college programs are grant funded. And so every two years, we apply for grants through the Department of Public Instruction. And so, you know, thank God for Department of Public Instruction, because they really, they really stepped up as far as support and funding. And so basically, we were able to purchase some, like Chromebook, I don't know the technical name, but like some Chromebook laptops for students. And so we were able to purchase a bulk of those so that students so we can basically send them to the students, we ended up sending them to the students who would who has signed up for our program, and they were able to do online work over the summer. And so the whole, the whole point of the pre-college program that is residential is that we get them on campus so they can see it, they can feel it, they can touch it, they can interact with faculty and students, and they can go eat and Blackhawk and they 00:26:00can go be in Reeve and they can see themselves here. And so having them at home on a on a computer her wasn't ideal, and really kind of was counterproductive to the point of the of the programs. But we, we didn't want to lose them. We didn't want to not engage with them for a whole year. And so a lot of those students ended up coming back last summer, that we were able to do it in person eventually. But that first time, it was it was weird. It was weird. And, you know, I think it was some of the more common things that happened for virtual students, you know, like parents and ground and siblings running in and cats and dogs and things of that nature. But and these are middle school, these are middle school and high school students. And so, um, you know, it's already hard to keep their attention. And so doing it virtually is an added distraction.

GL: How many students go through the pre-college program? Yeah,

00:27:00

BA: We get anywhere between 80 to 150 per summer. And then, and then we also do, um, Fall and Spring campus visits, and those range between 15 and 20 students.

GL: So the summer program is how long,

BA: it's a, it's a month. So we but we break it into two sessions. So we have one session, that's two weeks, we have a week off, and then we have another two weeks.

GL: And these same students stay for the whole time

BA: is different. So each session has well they some students can if the DPI provides scholarships for students, and so students can do up to I think three pre college programs in a year if I'm not mistaken, two or three. And so sometimes you do have students who do both sessions, but for the most part, it's it's new students per session.

GL: And the pre-college program is only for students of color.

BA: No, it's for is really for students who are low income.

00:28:00

GL: How many of those students would you say, having gone through our program over the years pre COVID? And up here?

BA: Yeah, we're actually in the middle of doing that inquiry, actually. Last fall, we were we DPI has regular meetings for all the pre-college coordinators. And so Elizabeth Arguello is our pre college coordinator. And based on one of their meetings, they basically had that idea to figure out how many students have come through. We did a kind of a anecdotal, we just kind of counted with our fingers. And we had from the list we had, we had about 30, who were currently enrolled here at that at that time we did that was maybe like a year or two ago. So if I had to guess off the top of my head, I mean, maybe 25%, you 00:29:00know, at least they may not stay, but they'll come. So though, enroll, be accepted come through. Sometimes they stay sometimes they don't. I think that's a large just a different issue with retention we have with students of color. But I think we get we definitely get students who apply.

GL: Back to the, you know, the students who are struggling during the month, they had to stay at home. How would you and your staff talk to them? or try to reassure them?

BA: Yeah, it was it really was a case-by-case basis, because this was new for everyone. I mean, I'm telling students how to navigate a virtual world that I mean, a staff we'd never really been in. I mean, being on social media is totally different than trying to tell somebody how to navigate a classroom online. And so, for us, it was It was definitely new territory. So how do we the 00:30:00question again, how do we help students online was?

GL: Yeah, how did you help them through this time?

BA: Yeah, I think the thing that seemed to be the most effective was just availability, which was initially a struggle. Because I think I think students fell because it was virtual and online. They're used to, they're used to contacting their friends, vert, you know, this, this generation is already in a virtual world. And so they're used to, you know, 11, at night or seven in the morning, they're used to communicating at any time. And, you know, as staff, we have our families and our things after work hours, and I think, initially, that was some, some staff, some of the staff were like, it's we need to set some boundaries, because that they were having students contact them at all hours of the night with, you know, issues or questions and things of that nature. And so 00:31:00I'm figuring out a nice spot where we could be available for available to them. But it not be so much that it was infringing on our staffs personal time. And so, I think we, we eventually laid it out on our on the website, we did email communication that, you know, these are the times were available, this is when and then don't hesitate, things like that. And it seemed to kind of carved it in. Again, I think it was just a it was just trying to figure out the dance right of, of how to really live in that world. And it took a few weeks to kind of figure it out. But I think both students and staff did.

GL: What was the fall semester like? So we had six weeks where we all went online? And then we had the summer? Were you working from home during the summer?

BA: Yes. Yes.

GL: And then in the fall, were you back on campus or

00:32:00

BA: that fall? Yeah, that next fall, we started doing a rotating schedule. So we everybody, for all intensive purposes did come back. But we didn't come back full time five days a week. So basically, we just had a rotating schedule some so some staff will be in the office. And some staff would be telecommuting. And that's really what we did. Yeah.

GL: How has COVID changed the way you do your work?

BA: Man? Yeah. Well, if there is a silver lining, I think again, the tech the technology aspect of it, it has definitely gives us a new platform on how to communicate with students. I think from this students expectations are a little bit different with how we provide events and programs and you know, workshops and seminars. We more student they want more virtual options now. Um, I, I think 00:33:00it did expose a get it exposed some personal inequities that we kind of knew, but it never really came to the it really brought it to the forefront. And going back to the point where I was talking about how students were, some students were struggling at home. I remember we had a student to an LGBTQ student identified as LGBTQ plus, and they hadn't come out to their family. And so again, now they're, they can't be themselves at home, because they haven't come out. And so having to wear this mask now at home, and they just weren't ready to have that conversation yet. And so you knew you knew those things were going on, but you as before, before COVID, we really didn't have to deal with it. Like in our face. And I think COVID Put it in our face. As far as some of the things 00:34:00that students have to deal with outside of the classroom. They have some real issues. There's some real tough things happen in some students lives. And, you know, I know those assignments are due and the data test on Friday, but they got some stuff going on in their personal life that's serious. And for 19,20, 21 years old, that's it's a lot. It's a big burden. And so, you know, I think mental health, mental health and social justice to a certain degree, I think is going to be at the forefront of kind of the work we do at least going forward for now. We saw a lot of we recognize that there were a lot of there are a lot of deeper things going on than just the academic. You know, they need tutoring, and though those are real needs but we I think we quickly realized that there's some deeper things happening that we need to be like we need to acknowledge, be aware Have an have some understanding so that we can provide some alternate 00:35:00services and support for these students.

GL: I know that you work primarily with the students, the students of color, is that right? Okay. And then, um, I mean, if I can play devil's advocate, you know, how, how are their needs different from those who are not students of color?

BA: Yeah, totally. Yeah, it's a, I think in a lot of ways, our students now because of again, I keep saying technology, but technology plays a big, big realm in this with this generation. Because of technology, they're, they're able to communicate on a level I think 2030 years ago, students were communicating on, obviously. And so these students today have, they have a better understanding of each other's issues and concerns. As it relates to cultural norms and things of that nature. Again, the bulk of our students come from the 00:36:00Milwaukee area, our students of color, so our black and Latino Hispanic students, a lot of them come from Milwaukee. And Milwaukee, if you know anything about Milwaukee, Milwaukee is a big segregated city. And so it's they're clear black communities, clear Hispanic communities and clear white communities. And they don't often intermingle. And so you have students who have gone through their entire public school system and predominantly black or predominantly Hispanic or predominantly white schools, and then they're thrust into a community that to be honest, you know, Oshkosh isn't the most, it's not the most 00:37:00diverse, it's not the most inclusive is not the most up to date on social justice, diversity stuff. And so students coming in, are experiencing this cold this cultural shock. As I said, before, this, this it's a real thing, this cultural shock, where they don't really know how to navigate and understand where not only how to understand how to really explain their perspective, but how to understand another perspective. And so I think what our department provides is a the outside of the academic support. Because again, most of our students are low income, first generation students of color. And so I mean, that's already kind of three strikes against you as far as being on the tail end of throughout your academic career as a student, from elementary to middle to high school, what you've learned how you've been taught and things of that 00:38:00nature. And so a lot of our students do come in lacking some basic soft skills that students from other public school systems might have had more resources and services and better teachers. And, you know, our kids are from classrooms, where there's, there's 40, and 50, in a classroom. And the teacher wrote, wasn't able to give them one on one support. So you know, things like dyslexia and ADHD were missed. Whereas a student who came from a good public school system, maybe there's 20 kids in the class, and then the teacher was able to really, you know, have that more one on one time. So these are just some of the little struggles that our students of color are experiencing. And then you have the cultural aspect. If I'm an African American student from like, I take myself I'm African American student from, from Chicago, and now I'm in a resident hall floor or a 00:39:00classroom with all white students from Kewaunee and, and Kaukauna. And so we have different upbringings and we have different experiences. And so how do we engage with each other? How do we find a common ground? And unfortunately, too, we don't have a lot of faculty of color, or staff of color to kind of help navigate those things. And so, having a department like ours try is trying to offset that. And it's, it can be it can be a difficult dance and because not all students are willing on both sides not all students are willing to try to learn and educate themselves about others. And so it's a it's a difficult dance and but I think that's why it's important.

GL: So we talked about this difficult dance I and the challenges Throw COVID at 00:40:00it what happened to Yeah? How did that change everything or anything?

BA: Yeah, I think it just created that divide. So now, you know, if we, if we were making whatever progress we were making as an institution was immediately stopped when COVID hit, because you, you can be on the same screen with a student, but you're not, that's not real engagement. That's not real connection. And so what COVID did, unfortunately, was that whatever progress we made, or were making as an institution, when it comes to culture, and diversity and inclusion, was put on hold for that period. I can think of I know, one faculty who I spoke with who was saying, just how just like, attitudes of students is completely different from when they're in the classroom. So when they're a virtual sample, like, I'll use their word it was there's a lot more sass, 00:41:00virtually, I think students are more, they're more prone to, I don't want to say backtalk or just be disruptive, but they're more they're more prone to not engage and not be there. Virtually, whereas physically want to face to face, you have to you majority time you have to be present, you have to be attentive, you have to raise your hand and having that having the virtual didn't allow that. And, and the faculty will say they saw they saw the clear difference, at least in the beginning.

GL: You know, I gotta tell you that next semester, if we, you know, any other time that we have to go virtual, I am going to make it a requirement that they all turn on their camera. Yeah. I had the students who were out, but they would log in, and then turn the camera off or whatever. And I have no idea where they 00:42:00Yeah, yeah. So that's something that I learned. Yeah. Teaching during the time of COVID.

BA: And again, these are some of the conversations we have, you know, you so that student who does that, right. And so later on, they'll come back and say, Well, I don't know why I'm doing poorly in the course or, you know, you know, Dr. Lim doesn't, doesn't engage with me, it's like, well, oh, Howard was That's one side of the story. What were you doing to her to do that or prevent that? And, again, it's having these conversations with students. So again, those conversations are way more impactful when it's in person when they're sitting right in front of you. You can show them stuff on your screen, like that kind of stuff, whereas through an email, or it just doesn't have the same impact.

GL: How did the social isolation I mean, the fact that that students were, you 00:43:00know, we were all sent home, and then when they came back in the fall, we were still, you know, social distancing? Yeah. How did that affect your the student population that you work with?

BA: Yeah, I'm trying. I'm trying to think if I remember any specific instances, um, yeah, I know. I know, though, I remember. There were a few students who came in right away. They were like, they were just happy to be back again.

GL: I think that during the fall that we still we're, I don't think you're allowed to eat in Blackhawk, right.

BA: Yeah. There still was a lot of Yeah. And again, you had a, you had a, you had a core group that was so if they were seniors in high school when they started. Right, that's, that's spring of 2020.

GL: Right. They were, and they came in as freshmen during the time.

BA: And they so they went through a long period of being virtual. And especially 00:44:00their first semester, first year there, it's virtual. Like, that's not a real college experience. And so I know there's been like through the Titans return, we they created various subcommittees. And I know there was a subcommittee to look at kind of like how to help students transition back. Yeah, I would assume that's going to be for that, that that group that came in like that, they're probably going to need some re orientation or re acclamation to like being an actual college student, I would assume.

GL: Did your department do anything different? You know, during the this, I'm talking now fall of 2022, spring of 2021.

BA: Do we do anything different as far as like, just work that we do. Now? We again, I think that's we try to make it as normal as possible. We try to obviously we weren't able to do any of the in person things that we do. So a 00:45:00lot of the work we do, we work with student organizations a lot, and collaborating with programming and events. So obviously, all those were off the table, because those are gatherings of 50 to 100 people. So those weren't happening. We do seminars and workshops on various topics, you know, study skills, career counseling, that kind of stuff. Those can draw 20 to 30 students. So those were off the table. And so, I mean, really, obviously, any large gathering events where we weren't able to do but outside of that, I think we were eventually we were able, once we got our scheduled and got our strategic operating procedures together, we were able to provide the same services to students.

GL: We like the study workshops and things like that, were you able to put it online or ticket online?

BA: We did. We attempted a few of them online, they didn't go as well, they weren't as well attended. We had a couple events where we had speakers, those 00:46:00were kind of those were a little bit more well attended to Speaker events. But the academic skill stuff, whereas this is I just think students were I think the doing the classroom virtual was that was it that was that? That was that their level that they could go to? So I think every day outside of classroom, virtually academic wise, they just weren't really into.

GL: So, you know, what were the student population that you're working with? I mean, what were their feelings about COVID-19? I mean, the disease itself? Are they worried? Were they? Thinking about? No, just staying home and not coming back in the fall? Yeah, any of that?

BA: Yeah, we had the students, I can only speak for the students that I engaged with, um, they took it very serious. They had real concerns. Yeah, they almost 00:47:00so much that they were hesitant to come back, just because they didn't really fully understand like, how can we be in a classroom and being a resident halls with each other, use the same bathrooms and be safe? And so I had a lot, yeah, a few conversations with students about kind of this kind of tampering, like, oh, it's gonna be like, where we're setting this up. And we're following CDC guidelines like, this is where we're doing the proper steps. It's gonna be good. And so kind of having those conversations those we had, those are real conversations, students had real hesitancies about being back on campus.

GL: I want to jump back to when you said that, because of COVID some of the inequalities that the students experience that are in society that came to the forefront. How are you? Are you and your department going to address those kinds 00:48:00of inequalities moving forward?

BA: Yeah, I think giving more voice to students. So through our, through this experience, and just to our conversations, like as staff, um, we realized that students were hurting, like, I don't want to say this, they were hurting in the aspect where, like, you look at George Floyd, that was a big social event, big social justice event that happened in the middle of the pandemic. Um, I think if that happened without the pandemic, so if that incident happened, and we weren't in a pandemic, and students were on campus, when that happened, there probably would have been a lot of social unrest, there would have been students who wanted to protest and who could students were upset? And, again, I think I mean, 00:49:00with George Floyd, it's a little bit of a different situation, because I think that was that that anger and that feel of distrust Was that was that was already there. Prior in pre COVID. And pre pandemic. I mean, George Floyd was just another instance of something bad like that happening. Um, so in in a certain way, you know, students not being here, I think, allow them to there were at home with family that they were able to better internalize and kind of deal with it, but I remember having a conversation with the African American male student, and I mean, I mean, he was ready to fight the power he, I mean, he, he wanted to, he wanted to do something. And so but I think, by him if he was if he was physically on campus, I think his attitude would have been completely different than how I was and with him being at home, I think he showed and expressed his upset He was upset and his anger. But I think him being at home and being able 00:50:00to talk to family and being around friends just allowed for a better to be calm and really internalize and really think about in detail what was going on.

GL: What about the inequality with regards to the student's ability to have academic success? Like you said that there are some, you know, cases where the students went home there, there's only one computer or no computer? I, is that something that your department or the university would need? should address?

BA: Yeah, I think, yeah, I think again, it definitely brought a shine some light on some real inequities. I can't speak for the majority students, whatever this situations were. But again, for our students, for some of our students of color, it was a real issue. And I mean, we our department only has so many only so much 00:51:00resources as far as in really specifically funding. Again, we were fortunate enough to get some funding through the Department of Public Instruction. I'm trying to think if we got any other support financially, I feel like we did, but I can't I'm blanking with the details of it. But I think that should be to your question. I think that should be definitely an institutional thing that should happen. I think, definitely there should be some type of fund or grant or something for support systems, because I mean, there's other reasons a student might need to be at home. I mean, you know, if you're a female student, maybe you get pregnant have a chat and maybe a home or you get sick or maybe a family member sick and you need to you need to work virtually. I think we need to whether it's a loan system or fun where students can go purchase whatever that looks like. I think it definitely needs to needs to be something they're 00:52:00established. Because I think it was a clear issue.

GL: Know, the so fall of 2020 the vaccine we're still without the vaccine that but then we came back in person. Did you have students that you know, of, you know, that you've been working with that did not want to come back? Because they're just don't they just don't feel safe?

BA: Yeah, uh, yeah, again, we I remember having I remember some specific conversations with students around their hesitancy wanting to be back. And it was just really the students who were going to a residential, they were going to be living in the residence halls. I remember student thinking that they were going to have a separate room, and then they realized that they were going to have a roommate, still they were like there's no, there's no way I'm going to be in a room with another person that close. And we ended up referring them to residence life and things of that nature. But yeah, there was I mean, there was real concern from students, they really didn't want to, they just didn't know 00:53:00what it was gonna look like they didn't trust it.

GL: And then, you know, come spring, we the vaccines you know ramping up and everything. And I think by late spring, we were readily giving out, you know, that the vaccination shots and encouraging I mean, you know, what were your initial thoughts about the vaccine?

BA: Yeah, personally. I mean, I was on board from a right from the jump. I mean, I regularly get the flu vaccine. As a kid, my parents vaccinated me. So, I mean, maybe to a fault. I might have trust in our governmental services. But as soon as the talks are happening about a vaccine, I was like, Yes, get it, do it, send more resources to it, so they could get it done. And I think for a lot of people, you know, in the beginning, you heard well, you know, they created it 00:54:00too fast. Um, but the counter to that was No, that's good. Because that means that this is what happens when people pool their resources, things get done. And I think that's another thing that pandemic showed is that when someone as a society as a culture, we really want to do something, we can do something. So I don't want to hear about all we can't help homelessness and food hunger, like if we really wanted to put our resources to fixing things, we really could. It's just, you know, it's so it takes a pandemic for or for people to come together. And so you saw other countries coming together. And I mean, this is this is what happens and, and the, the technology and the research for this stuff was already established. It just never needed to put it never, it never needed to be put in place. And so, you know, that's a whole nother story.

GL: Did you and your staff have to talk to the students You know, the population 00:55:00that we work with, about vaccines were getting vaccinated or anything like that.

BA: You know, it just I get I can only speak for myself in my, in my interaction with students, I if they asked, I didn't, I didn't say go get it. Um, but if they brought if they brought up the question to me personally, I would give them my opinion. And so that didn't happen that maybe happen two or three times. And so, you know, he's a part of these a personal matters, right. And so, you know, but if it did come up in the conversation, I did, I did, I told them my side of the story, which was, I was pro vaccine.

GL: How, you know, how much do you feel things are getting back to normal?

BA: It I mean, I physically see things coming back to normal, but it doesn't feel like it's normal. I see people walking in the street, I see people at the grocery store. And I see that we're coming back to campus, but it still doesn't 00:56:00feel the same. It doesn't feel it doesn't feel like it was. I mean, look at us right here where we're social distancing. We're wearing, we're both wearing a mask. It just, it isn't normal. It just isn't normal. So I I see, and I understand and I and I'm optimistic about the effort. But it just doesn't it's not there yet.

GL: What has COVID taught you about yourself?

BA: Wow, good question I that, I guess, I guess what's come out of this all of this from So just real quick. Personally, I've, I've lost one family member to COVID. And my best friend, his mother passed from COVID. And so it's had an impact on my life. And I think if anything it just gives not to get to? I don't 00:57:00know, it just I think it makes you appreciate what you have. I mean, for me, I think I guess not that I think about it, it's just not to take things so seriously. It's just like, in a sense, where all this is fleeting, like I, I could go to the grocery store and get a virus, catch a virus and neck. And that could be the end of my life, potentially. And so it's a gives you at least for me, it gives me a better appreciation for what I have, where I'm at who I am. And then also in the same side, it's like, just going all in like that. You could be, you know, again, my friend whose mother, she started feeling ill two days later, she's in a hospital. A week later, she passes mean just that quick. 00:58:00And it is like, oh, you know, it's just, I guess it gives a little bit perspective on life. And just that some things, you know, that report that you have to do that's been you know, it's not that serious, really. Or, you know, that email that you know, you gotta it's really not that serious. But then on the same token, it's like life is life is fragile and precious and appreciate everything you have.

GL: Okay. Is there anything else that you'd like to add that we haven't touched on?

BA: Yeah. No, I mean, I think this is a great thing that the university is doing and kudos to you for spearheading it. And I think this is yeah, this is a I mean, this is an important time and not only our countries or even globally, the history of this world of this country and then of the state and then of this university. This is important. I think this is important that we catalog and archive this. So be it thank you for letting me be involved in it and. Yeah, I 00:59:00just I guess I would say just, um, you know, yeah, a lot of a lot of things. A lot of light was shined on a lot of things because of the pandemic. And I just I hope that we're as we move forward, where we're able to rectify some of those things and just become a better institution from it really at the end of the day.

GL: Thank you for sharing your stories with us. We appreciate your contribution to the campus COVID stories at UW Oshkosh.