Interview with Stephanie Spehar, 04/05/2022

UW Oshkosh Campus Stories
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GK: Okay, this is Griffin King interviewing Dr. Stephanie Spehar on Tuesday, April 5, 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 and 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?

SS: Sure, Stephanie Spehar. That's S T E P A N I E, and then S P E H A R.

GK: Thank you for now for the purposes of getting a good audio recording. Tell us again, who you are and what your title is here at UW Oshkosh.

SS: So I am currently the director of our Sustainability Institute for regional transformations. I'm also an associate professor of anthropology.


GK: Gotcha. Okay, before we dive into our campus COVID stories you'd like to get to know you a little better. Can you tell me about where you grew up?

SS: Yeah, sure. So I primarily grew up in Southern California, in the Los Angeles area, and Glendale, actually, which is in northeast Los Angeles. So I lived there from when I was about six until I was about 19. So that's where I spent most of my time. I am from Colorado, originally. And that's where most of my family still is. So for me that kind of at this point kind of feels like my spiritual home. But yeah, I'm really like a Westerner and like a transplant here to the Midwest

GK: Cool. Where did you earn your degree or degrees?

SS: I got my undergraduate degree from Cal State LA. So California State 00:02:00University of Los Angeles, and anthropology. And then I got my PhD from New York University. Also anthropology.

GK: Gotcha. Interesting. So it's, you've come pretty far all the way In Wisconsin.

SS: Yep. Yeah, I lived in a lot of very urban. Yeah. And then I came here

GK: Okay. How did you come to work at UW Oshkosh?

SS: Well, after I got my PhD, I needed a job. And so there was a job here. And I applied for it. And I was offered the job. So really, yeah, right. After probably the year after I finished grad school. I got the job hearing and started working here in 2007. Gotcha as a professor.

GK: Awesome. Tell me about your position at UW Oh, pre COVID. So that's kind of like before March 2020, describe what you did and who you were responsible for?

SS: Yeah. So I mean, at that time, feels like so long ago. But at that time, I 00:03:00was the Associate Director of SIRT. So that's the Sustainability Institute. We call it SIRT. I was the Associate Director of SIRT. So I, right now, in my current position, as Director, I don't teach very much I only teach one class a year, because I have all the other responsibilities. But then I was still teaching more. So at the time, at that time, I was teaching two classes in anthropology. Oh, my goodness, can I even remember what they were? I was teaching my race and human variation class. And what was the other class? Good lord, I can't believe I can't remember it. This is so sad. But yeah, I was teaching a couple Anthro classes. You know, teaching students in person, obviously the normal way I did it. I think at that time, we were doing a search for a person on campus. So I was involved in that like interviewing people and running that and just running around doing all my normals and then associate 00:04:00director for the Sustainability Institute. So I think we do a lot of events. We were planning for our Earth Month events, which usually happened in April. So yeah, a lot of like, teaching, organizing thoughts of

things like that.

GK: Gotcha. Okay, so you did you just kind of went into it about the SIRT. Me and Colby both looked at what when you look your name up like on UW Oshkosh website that comes up? And I just was wondering, like, what like really like, WHAT IN DEPTH like SIRT was and how did you become a board member of the of that board?

SS: Yeah. So um, so SIRT is our Sustainability Institute. So what it what it is really is, as you might know, you're both students, right? Yeah. So UW Oshkosh has a commitment to sustainability. And SIRT was formed in 2018, to basically act kind of as the hub for all of our sustainability. activities. So this 00:05:00includes stuff to make our campus operations more sustainable. So things like, you know, how much energy the campus consumes waste, that kind of thing. But also, we do a lot of stuff related to sustainability and teaching. So we have a lot of classes related to sustainability and are always trying to have more, and then research to, so you know, the things that a university does, bringing sustainability into that. So SIRT was formed to be kind of the hub for those activities, but also to try to extend some of those activities into our broader community. So trying to think about how we, as a university, use what we do well, to partner with members of our community to try to address sustainability issues in our region. So we try to do things that are like community engaged projects.

GK: That's cool. I've never really, I've never heard about that. Yeah. Okay. So now let's move to like the early days of COVID, when it first came around. When was the first time you remember hearing about COVID-19? And what was your 00:06:00initial reaction to the news? I know, it's a long time ago,

SS: but it is, well, you know, it's, it's been such a weird time since then. But um, you know, I'm sure I heard, I think I read about it in the news somewhere, probably like online. And I think I remember, you know, not being that concerned, like, have being a little concerned. Because so, you know, I'm an anthropologist, I'm a biological anthropologist. So that means I, I study, humans, but especially like human evolution, and how humans adapt to the world around them, and how that has shaped us. And disease has always been an important thing that shaped us. And so actually, that was what probably one of my first responses was like, oh, like, possible, like, really bad disease, like, this is going to be interesting, basically, like, both in terms of how we respond as a species, but also as like societally. Right. But I didn't, you know, I didn't I guess I wouldn't say didn't take it seriously. But I thought, 00:07:00oh, it'll probably be fine. And I remember when it first started, like becoming more serious, like making bets with my colleagues, my department, like, actually, when they first shut us down, I was like, I think we'll be back by spring break, or like after spring break. And my colleague was like, no, no, we're not coming back for like a whole year. And he knows more about, like, the history of disease and human evolution. So he was, he knew more, and he was totally right. I was like, no, I think it'll be fine. And we'll come back. Anyway. So I remember I think I heard about in the news. And then a friend came to visit me actually. And she was talking about how she'd flown through Seattle, because she was coming from Alaska. And I think at that time, Seattle was sort of one of the first places it was detected. And she was like, oh, yeah, you know, she's sort of talking about that, like, being a little worried and how they were detecting more cases. And so we just like, had this conversation about it. And but yeah, I don't remember feeling particularly scared or concerned.


GK: Gotcha. So well, you kind of just said it. How would you describe your feelings about the disease itself? Like this is kind of like just like right at the beginning, like your first, my first? Yeah, your first thoughts?

SS: I guess, I would say, I wasn't afraid, I was aware that it could be a big problem. I wasn't necessarily fearful for myself, personally. I've traveled a lot and done a lot of research internationally. And I think that I've come into contact with a lot of different diseases. And I think that kind of probably shapes my responses to things. I tend to be like, oh, you know, I have malaria, I'll be fine. But, um, you know, I was like, I was aware that it was serious and like that, obviously, not everyone is gonna be able to respond maybe in the way that that I felt I probably could, like physically. So yeah, I didn't feel like 00:09:00afraid that that just wasn't my response. But I was I was, like, cautiously, like worried. I think like, oh, God, this is gonna be like a thing that disrupts our lives a lot.

GK: It sure did. But okay, so now let's talk about your situations when the university close the campus down in the mid-March. So what were your feelings as of everything you'd recall and elsewhere in mid-March started shutting down, like all of a sudden, like, all of the public schools, those are all shutting down, and then I'm sure I'm not from Wisconsin, so I don't know how it kind of went. But where I was, it was kind of like the universities in Illinois, they all shut down. And then it was kind of like the public schools like the middle schools and high schools followed from that. So I'm not really sure about what happened here. But

SS: Yeah, What I remember, is the university shutting down first, whether that's 00:10:00an accurate recollection or not, it's like another question. But I sort of remembered all happening very quickly at once, probably right around, it would have been like the mid to end of March. And I remember being on campus, and actually, I was in a meeting where we were talking about our Earth Month events, which are usually in person, we usually have like keynote speakers and like, do all this stuff, right. And I was in a planning meeting for that in person with a bunch of people. And then we got the email that like, we were going to be shutting down campus. And we're all like, well, what do we do now? Like, what do we do about these events? And we, like had this big debate about, should we, you know, like it was, we were basically like, Should we try to do them in person, because maybe we'll all come back in person in April, and then a bunch of people that were like, No, that's probably not going to happen, we should just do it virtually. And none of us had ever done virtual events at that point. And so I was like, Okay, I guess we'll try that, like, you know, so, anyway, that's where I remember hearing about it. And then I remember going back to my office and 00:11:00actually having a student come talk to me, he was in one of my classes. And he was saying, like, ask me sort of what's happening? And what are we going to know what? And he told me, he was gonna go home and go to a big party. He felt like it was a What did he say? He said, it was a ride or die situation. And he felt like he just needed like, I don't I remember thinking, that doesn't seem like a great idea. Like maybe you shouldn't go to a big party. I just remember being really weird. And, and then I went home, and then very quickly after that, so I actually live in Madison. I don't live in Oshkosh. So it's kind of a drive for me to go home. So I went home. And then my kids. So at that point, let's see my older daughter was in, she was going to like a little preschool. And my younger daughter, we had a nanny who we did a nanny share with another family. And they, this woman, watched our kids together. And we went and we're like, what are we 00:12:00gonna do about this? Like, are we gonna just stop? And so we decided to like, stop doing the childcare stop with a nanny. And, and so then we were all just home. But I had to keep doing my job. Mm hmm. That was really rough.

GK: Yeah, I'm sure it was. Yeah. Okay, so kinda describe like, what happened in your department? Like, what? What did your team discuss? Who is your team? And like, what needed to be done as like the shutdown happened?

SS: Yeah, so like I said, I mean, my teams are really like, I kind of have two teams. One is it SIRT. And so I work with like us, basically, like a small group of people, they're very closely frequent contact. And then some, like other associated people work with us. So that's one team. So it's like faculty and staff. And then my other team is my Anthro. Department. And so for SIRT, like I said, we really had to make decisions about how we were going to kind of keep doing some of our major activities, which are events, like we do a lot of events 00:13:00to engage faculty, students. That's one of our main ways that we try to help people learn about sustainability and engage with it. So we really had to pivot and figure out, like, how do we do this? Like, how do we fulfill our mission in this very different setting where we can't talk to people in person, and then in the department, we can't meet with people, we can't be in groups, right? And then in the department, like we teach, like, that's our main activity, right? Is teaching? And like, how are we going to do that? And like, I had never taught online, you know, most of us, there's some people in our department who have done that quite a bit, but most of us had not, and like, figuring out, like, how are we going to do that, you know, in terms of like, the pedagogy, just like what are the techniques I'm going to use to try to work with students and, and switch what we're doing to this online environment. Also technologically, like, I have very little interest in technology, and like very little knowledge of it. So like, all the things of like, like, how am I going to record things? How are 00:14:00we going to use all this technology? We had to talk about all that, you know, and then figure out how we would you know, just how we would structure our work basically, in a totally different environment.

GK: Yeah. That's, that's so crazy, because it's just nuts. Like, all everything is just turning like it just was like that. And then it was right on my mind. And I know that was really stressful for students, I'm sure. Yeah. Okay, with whom did you work, close work clothes. most closely with when figuring out what 00:15:00was happening, like in your department.

SS: Yeah, so like in my department, like the chair of my department worked really closely with him. And my just my colleagues, we have a small department, we're like a pretty tight knit group. And same insert, um, you know, like the person who's now our campus sustainability director, was at that time, like our interim, basically, in the same role, worked with him, we also have a, a admin staff person I worked with, and the director and really just tried to figure out, are we going to do and then, you know, I have a lot of other people I collaborate with a lot on campus that are not in either the answer department or SIRT but are like affiliated. Yeah, so we just, I mean, I would say I talked a lot with my I have a lot of colleagues that I'm just really close with, and we run things by each other a lot. So we talked a lot about, like, what how are we going to do this? What is it going to be like, you know, sharing tips, ideas, techniques.


GK: Interesting. Okay. What were your three biggest challenges regarding your work from March of 2020? to December of 2021, please describe what needed to be done to your department. And the area of responsibility?

SS: Yeah. So like I said, I mean, the main things that we do if I think even just SIRT and my academic department anthropology is we teach and we try to communicate with people and engage them and do research as well. And, you know, those things like the teaching and engagement depend on, like, talking to people and being with people. And so like figuring out how you effectively do that, when you can't be with people was hard, because, yes, we have the technology to 00:17:00be able to like sort of bring people together virtually. But that is very different than being together physically, as I'm sure you both know. And, you know, for me, especially, and I think for most people who teach and teach in person, like that interaction, the interactive part of it is really crucial to me like to have it instead, like I always said this during the pandemic, I when I would lecture or how, you know, have class like virtually, I never felt it was, it was really hard for me to feel like I was talking to people, I felt like I was talking to a computer. Yeah, that's what it was to me. And I mean, intellectually, I could understand that there were people there, but like, I think even like my brain, like, I really think our brains, like it's just very different than like me sitting here with you both right now. So like, yes. Can I 00:18:00deliver information in a virtual environment? Yes. Is it having the same impact? I don't think so. And so it was like figuring out like, how can I try to do that? Well, I was actually pretty fortunate I, so I was teaching those two courses in March of 2020, when everything shut down. And then I basically didn't teach a class, again, until probably spring of 2021. So I didn't really have to teach a lot in that time when it was like totally virtual. I was like, so grateful. Because I, I didn't really, I didn't want any censorship. I didn't want to I like, like I'm teaching in class right now. I love it. I love talking to the students. I love being in there with them. And it just wasn't this, you know, it's just it's not what I wanted to do. Yeah, anyway. But then with the events, that was really interesting, because we had to figure out how to do events virtually. And like I said, I'd never done that before. So we actually ended up doing what I think were some pretty good events, like we were able to 00:19:00get speakers, for example, that I think would have been really hard for us to get in person, because they're from far away. And they're fairly big names and it would have been like really expensive. But because it was, you know, now everybody's doing this virtual thing. I think, especially initially, people were like all excited about it. So like, we got some pretty big-name speakers to do give these virtual talks. We figured out how to like kind of have moderation of the discussion. And I felt like that went pretty well. Like we did this one panel that was about like, essentially, like, what we can learn from COVID in terms of sustainability, and like living on the earth and living with each other. And that panel, I thought was really great. So we really tried to think about like, how can we offer events that are like relevant to this time we're living through and also do it well in a virtual environment. And I felt like that was actually pretty successful. And I think that a lot of what we learned were carrying over, so we still do some things virtually. And I think it's 00:20:00increases the accessibility of stuff for some people. And I think that's actually good. But I will also say, we're now doing more events in person. And I love it because I get to like, see people and I get super excited.

GK: Yeah, I think I, well, you said it right at the beginning, how about when you were talking to people like through the computer screen. And us as students, I know me, I don't know him. When you're getting taught over the computer, there's, I just get so distracted. Because you can just sit there, and you can look around, there could be something over there, you can turn the camera off, you can go move around. So I don't know being more like being the in-person kind of thing. It's just like, a lot easier to actually learn. Okay, yeah. Yeah. So I think that's, I can relate to what you said on that one. But, um, so what are the three things you are most proud of? Regarding your response to COVID-19?

SS: I'm proud of. So what I just said about, like, how we pivoted and sort of 00:21:00offered tried to think about like, its SIRT, what can we offer during this time, that will kind of, you know, help us learn from this time and also try to bring people together during a really difficult time? I'm proud of that. I think we did. Well, I think we did that well, through the events we offer. But also, we did things like, we developed some teaching resources that were specifically like looking at this relationship between COVID and like, racial injustice, and sustainability. So I think we really tried to be thoughtful and responsive and use the resources we had. Well, and that time, and so I'm proud of that. I'm proud of how I balanced things. I think as a parent, you know, I, it was really hard. I had, you know, that time my children were. I mean, God, one of them was not even two yet. And the other one was four, she forced all three, I don't remember for whatever her age was, anyway, they were little right. And suddenly, 00:22:00they're home. And we live in a small house, me and my husband and our family. And he works too. And he works working from home. So we're like trying to call it's like both of our jobs, which are both pretty demanding jobs are two little kids, and all in this very small space. And, you know, like, I actually, when I think back to those early days with my kids, like, it's, it's not like bad thoughts. It's like good thoughts. Like, I really enjoyed being with them. And you know, I think even throughout, like, it's been hard, there have been times when it's so hard to balance. And like, I have days where, you know, we would split the days. So like he would, my husband would like work in the morning, and I would watch the kids in the morning. And then I would work in the afternoon, he would watch the kids. And you know, it's just like, you're so discombobulated. Everything's like all over the place. You can't focus on anything. But I think our kids had an overall good time, honestly. Like, I mean, I think they had a lot 00:23:00of time with us, I think. I don't know, like, there was some really the, those parts of it were some nice memories, and I'm proud of how we handled that, you know, as like a family. So that what else am I proud of cheese? I don't even know. Like, I really, like those are the things like the things that have dominated my life and COVID are like my family and my work. Gotcha. That's my life. I think I think that I you know, we tried to also create as much community and as we could with like, we developed a pod with another family. And that I think was something good that we did. Yeah, that helped us collectively to get through it.

GK: Awesome. Okay, so you said you were teaching a class when it first when the shutdown first happened? You were teaching a class? Yes. Teaching two classes. Yeah. Okay. Okay. So how did your students react to the whole class being sent 00:24:00home like online? Did your students give you any trouble? While you were teaching at home?

SS: Okay, yeah, I was teaching our research capstone in Anthro. And I was teaching race and human variation. You know, I still remember like going into the race and human variation because that the cap research Capstone is a little less of a traditional class. Those are like, seniors, they're working on their own projects. It's a little bit more of like a flexible situation anyway, we'd like we don't meet every week necessarily, and stuff like that. The other class more like a traditional class, and I remember going in there and being like, well, maybe we'll come back, you know, I don't remember what I said. But I still remember like their faces and like, we're all sort of I think everyone was just sort of flabbergasted like none of us had ever been through this before. Right. Like we didn't know it was gonna happen. I do remember. I remember getting a couple student evaluations afterwards that were not very, that were frustrated, 00:25:00because, and I wouldn't say the students gave me trouble. That wasn't it. But I think, you know, it was hard. Like, I don't think I did a good job necessarily. I did my best. But, you know, I was switching to being online in the middle of the semester, I had, like I said, two little kids at home, you know, no childcare, except for my poor husband who's like trying to do his own job, as well. And, and like, I'm sure, like, I was not like that. What they said was, I was not responsive. Like, well, sorry, sorry. I had, like, I basically liked I did my best. So but I wouldn't say they gave me trouble. I think, you know, the students, I actually feel like, they really stuck with it, like they, they did, you know, I the way I sort of feel about things, everybody's in mostly doing the best that they could, you know, like, I remember these poor students, they were like, going home, and some of them didn't have internet, you know, they didn't have access to things that they needed to do their work. And I think all of us 00:26:00were just, frankly, like, really freaked out and like just trying to do what we could and seven say they gave me trouble, like, I understand their frustrations. Yeah. You know, that's it was a hard situation.

GK: Okay, so the two classes that you taught, one of them, you said was like it was the seniors, it's kind of just like, they did their own thing. Like they knew what was going on?

SS: Pretty much. Sorry. Yeah, kind of, I mean, the other thing is like with that class, they it takes a lot of mentorship because they're doing individual projects. So yes, it is independent, but they need a lot of support. And we actually had to switch it up and make it like, some of them couldn't do their projects the way they envisioned because of COVID. So we had to figure out, I mean, now that I'm remembering, and it was actually a lot of work. Like we had to figure out, okay, you were going to do this project. Like a lot of them, were going to do things like what you're doing interviewing people who couldn't do that. Some of them were going to go, you know, look at bones in a museum couldn't do that. So all those things had to be shelved, we had to figure out 00:27:00new versions of the projects for them. And then we always have a, like, we would always have a research event at the end of the semester, where they would present all their research. And it was always really fun. Like, all the students would come, and their families would come sometimes, and we would have like food. And it was like a really wonderful celebratory event. Like I love doing that event. And we couldn't do it. So I had to figure out like, how do we do this online. And, you know, when we did our best, like, I think what they did was I can remember now because I've had to teach it online a couple times now. But um, they just gave like brief synopsis, like a brief synopsis of their projects. And, and that was kind of a bummer, because like for them I was like, this is like supposed to be your culminating experience. Yeah. And now we just have like this kind of thrown together little, you know, we did our best, but it was not great. And I that was that was kind of hard.

GK: Gotcha. Okay, so the fall 2021 vaccines were ready available on campus and 00:28:00in fact, strongly advocated by administration and the CDC. What were your initial thoughts about the vaccine?

SS: I was like, totally for it. I don't know. I do not feel I've ever felt any vaccine hesitancy. And again, I don't really. I don't know why I think it is part of it, I am a I have a scientific background. I'm, you know, I don't know, I'm not a doctor or a medical professional of any kind. But like, you know, I know enough about the scientific process to understand that. It, like the levels of review, I went through. It meant it was pretty, it was pretty solid, like I didn't feel and also like I am a scientist, and I know a lot of scientists so that's why I like when people always like all these scientists, and they am like, in my experience working with a lot of scientists, they do tend to be 00:29:00quite cautious and they do tend to really have a pretty strong commitment to their field. Now. Okay, all that to say I just I wasn't worried. I wasn't worried. Personally, I wasn't worried about myself getting the vaccine. I wasn't worried about my children getting it. So I think I got it as soon as I could. And so did my husband. And then when the vaccines were available for my kids, I mean, the youngest one can't be vaccinated. The oldest one is

GK: Gotcha. Okay, so how much do you feel things are getting back to normal and for that matter, what is normal to you?

SS: Yeah. I guess a couple things sprang to my mind with that question. And one is that so like as an anthropologist, I think, you know, I've never necessarily 00:30:00thought that normal was great. I know that probably a lot of people are saying this, but I think that a lot of the ways that our society functions and the impact it has on individuals is not great. And I think our society could do with a lot of reorganization. I think at the beginning of COVID, a lot of us were saying things about how all this is going to be an opportunity to reimagine society, I have personally not seen that happen, what I have seen happen is, some of the things that were already bad may be getting worse. Like I remember at the very beginning, you know, feeling liberated, in a lot of ways, because I felt like I was given permission to not worry as much about my own productivity, and to instead be a human, like, be a human who was taking care of her children and prioritizing that. And I was like, if we can maintain this, this is what I 00:31:00think a human society should be. I think if you have a human society that doesn't prioritize and take care of children and the people who care for those children, and create space for that, then you don't have a functional human society. And so I felt like, oh, maybe there's space being made for this. And then I went on, and I was like, no, now it's just more like, people are less empathetic, that you have kids at home, you're still expected to do the work that you were always doing. And actually now because you work from home, like you're sort of expected to be available a lot more than you were even so like, expanded the expectations in some ways. And I was like, Oh, that sucks. That's No. Good. Anyway, I guess what I'd say is like, I didn't necessarily think normal is great. But I think that do I think we're back to normal, I think I actually think that a lot of us are dealing with some. I think everybody's dealing with repercussions of what we went through. And I think that we're not 00:32:00recognizing that necessarily, like, I think I was actually just talking to somebody at an event we did the last week where it was an in-person event, one of the first ones we've done, it was super exciting. So in that way, a little bit back to normal in person talking to people great. But what we're talking about is how people have this sort of unresolved COVID trauma, like we've all been through this thing that was really hard. And I think especially young people, I think especially people who are very isolated during the pandemic, people who I think all sorts of people probably have their own versions of it. And I think I think we're still dealing with that in various ways. So I don't know that we're, I think we might think we're back to normal, but I don't know that we are. And then I think there's still all these like, you know, there's just a lot of like, cumulative stuff that has happened that we are still working through as a society. And I think things like the impact this has had on young 00:33:00people, especially kids and their education has been horrible. And everybody knows that, like, at least, all the evidence shows that and like, you know, that's going to be something we're feeling for years. And, you know, the impact, like the way it's exacerbated certain types of disparities in our society. You know, like, you know, the beginning everyone's like, all about the essential workers. And like, how, oh, thank you essential workers. Did that end up meaning that we gave them better pay? And treat? No, and like that? Sorry, you can tell I'm getting a pissed off. But like, you know, like I just said, like, are we back to normal? I think in some ways, we're like, I don't mean to sound like such a downer. But like, I think we're worse off than we were before, in some ways. And I think that a lot of us are still struggling from the repercussions. And I am grateful that we are able now to be together more, because that's the one thing I will say is that I think it's so important for human beings to 00:34:00interact with each other. And I think it's easy for us because we are these like intellectual creatures to think I'm fine. We can get by with like, this is okay. I don't think it's okay at all. I think a lot of people are really suffering from having been so isolated. And so anyway, that part of being back to normal that we are like together. I think that is great. Gotcha. Sorry, I went on and on. I am a professor so like; I can't make myself Shut up. That's like one of our characteristics. So,

CM: So good. Alright, so now we're gonna be switching over so this is Colby McHugh interviewing Dr. Stephanie Spehar. On Tuesday, April 5, 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 and the time of COVID. Thank you for sharing your stories with us. 00:35:00All right, for the first question, like, when living and working during the time of COVID, what did you learn about yourself and others?

SS: I think I learned how important social interaction is to me and to other people. And you know, I always kind of knew that, you know, and again, like, as an anthropologist, like, one of the things I study is I'm actually a primatologist, I study monkeys and apes. And like, that's one of the characteristics of primates were social. I knew that I knew how important it was. But I like I cannot, you know, that feeling, you know, the feeling you get, when it's springtime, and you go outside, and it's just like, so exciting. You just want to, like run a job. I felt like that the first time I went to a gathering, in person gathering. And I will say, without masks, like, I was so excited to see people like, people, frankly, I don't even know I shouldn't say 00:36:00this, because I'm being recorded. But I was excited to see everyone I was like, literally almost running around talking to people. And the person I was with was like, Stephanie, like, why? Like, I, I need to, I like I need to be with people, I need to talk to them. And I, I guess what I've realized about myself is how important that is, like, it makes like, I am not a person I'm an I say this recognizing how fortunate I am. But I've never been that prone to like depression or things like that. But like, I basically got depressed. The last two winters, like, I had never felt that way. I mean, I felt bad in my life, for sure. I've gone through hard times, but like, sort of depressed. And I think I was like, I so isolated, like I was like, at home, talking to my computer, like my only friend. And then like my husband and my kids who I love dearly. And then like just a couple other people. And most of my day was by myself. And it really had an impact on my mental health. And I think even my physical health, and I 00:37:00can also see it, and people I know who have been quite isolated, like, it really has had a bad impact on them. So I think that's really one of my big takeaways is like, how important that is for our mental health for like, our spiritual health for our physical health, like, we just need to be together. And like how just how much better everything is when that you're able to do that. So I think that's a big takeaway for me, I didn't know how important that was. But now I do.

CM: So you could say, your big takeaway would be like that feeling of interaction, you know, seeing people without the mass and like the interaction just talking to someone close, you know, giving hugs,

SS: yes. Like, I realized their friends I had, like, in this almost gonna make me cry, like, I hadn't hooked them into yours, like people I love like people, and I would see them, and I would have to like it. I remember in the beginning, I just, it was really hard for me because like, I'm a person who I love to, I 00:38:00like people and I like talking to them. And I like hugging people and like, I have close relationships. And I value those a lot. And like people who I really loved I like had to like keep this distance from them, you know, and like I, they couldn't come in my house. Like we were pretty strict about things like people, I tried to like keep close friends from my house, I couldn't let them come inside to like have a drink of water or go to the bathroom. I couldn't give them a hug when I said goodbye. And it was horrible. And just like the value of that in your life is so important. And I just I don't know, I realized like just how crucial it is. And yeah, I mean, I guess I also realized I can like put up with a lot. But I also realize, like how you can put up with things. But that doesn't mean your life like it doesn't mean you're thriving. And when you get some of those things back, that's when you recognize like, oh, that was not good for me. Or for anyone.


CM: All right. So, to the next question, we were sent home a week before spring break. What did you do during spring break? So like March 22, to 29th and 2020.

SS: I hung out with my children and in my house.

CM: Did you guys do anything cool?

SS: Timmy Tony, what do we do? Like I can barely remember. You know, we actually did like we did a lot of fun little things like my husband. I remember he made like an obstacle course for our kids like in our driveway and backyard. We went on a lot of bike rides. You know, we just did a lot of stuff like around our home, but just like fun things with our kids. Like that's what I remember is like just being with them. And that was actually really, really nice.

CM: All right, sorry but can you get closer to the mic?

SS: Oh, I'm sorry. Yeah, yeah.

Colby All right. So do you remember how long the university would be close? Like Do you remember like them telling you like a specific date? Like over spring break?


SS: I remember that. No, I don't. I think it was an. I mean, what I remember is just No, I felt like that at that time. We didn't know. I mean, I if I could, like, maybe they told us, but I don't remember, but I don't think they did. I don't think anybody knew how long it was gonna be. I think we figured that out afterwards. And then we realize like, we're not coming back before the end of the semester.

CM: So how were your COVID protocols at home, when you first got home?

SS: So we were pretty restrictive, I would say. Like I said, we had a nanny, a person who watched our kids in our home and watch the kids have another family, in our home. And our older child went to a small school. And we stopped doing that at first. And really mainly only had interaction with one other family that 00:41:00the family who we did the nanny share with because we were really close with them were in each other's houses were like, Okay, we'll be like a little pod. What was really funny, though, is at that time, people weren't doing that as much. So like, I remember us, like getting yelled at, like, like, we would like I would go over to the friend's house. And like our kids, you know, bring the kids and they'd be going over and like their neighbors would like scream at us about like your, you know, yours infecting everybody with COVID. Because like, at that time, people were very, and maybe this is more the case of Madison, where we live, but people were very, like, you know, you had to be like in your own households and not having contact with anyone. And we were like, well, we kind of are the same household. That's why we're like, even though we live in separate houses, like we're together all the time. Anyway. So we were really restrictive, except for that other family, which we just decided that we were going to prioritize being able to interact with each other because our kids are the same age and that way, they could have playmates and stuff. So really restrictive. But then as the summer went on, my husband and I realized were 00:42:00like, whoa, he needs some help with childcare. So we're like, we're going to bring back our nanny, and have her watch both of our kids were foreign to. And at that, because we did that the other family chose not to do that. And so then we kind of had to have some separation from them. And because our nanny, you know, she was being careful and everything, but you know, she has her own life. She's got to do stuff, like you can't ask her to, like, do anything. So we were that was a risk we were willing to introduce. But it meant we had to kind of separate from the other family for a little bit. And that was really hard. Like, our kids are really close. And it was like I remember we'd like go to the beach. And they like they weren't supposed to hug each other. And these are kids who like literally have grown up together. Like they're like almost siblings, and it'd be like, no, I was terrible. Anyway. But then as the summer went on, I think eventually, eventually what happened? I can't even remember. I think that we sent him back to school in the fall, didn't we? Can't believe I can't 00:43:00remember these things. It was just like such a weird time. I mean, at this point, like, it's Yeah, but no, we did send it back to school in the fall that we did. But anyway, I don't know if I'm answering your question, except to say that they can't remember what your question was.

CM: It's like your other protocols at home?

SS: Yeah, I mean, so we were like restricted, we'd like basically stopped going anywhere, didn't eat out, didn't go to the store. Like I there was a period of time where I didn't have not been to a store, or any sort of public setting for like months. I mean, our kids, we never took our kids anywhere like that we'd always take them to like, the Children's Museum and other things. And all those stop totally. And all that stuff shut down at that point. Our nanny came over our friends came over. Sometimes that's it didn't see anybody else didn't see family, canceled trips to see family didn't go we would always go to, like, see 00:44:00my family in Colorado and my husband's family. And in the on the East Coast. We didn't do that. So we were very, very isolated. All you know, very isolated during that time.

CM: Would you say there was any friction with people that you knew with your choices or anything?

SS: Yeah, I would. I mean, I think initially, I would say that's happened more as time has gone on, because as you all probably experienced as well, right? People have different risk tolerances. And initially there were like, it was like, everything supposed to be shut down. So it was kind of like, most people, I think were doing that. Or at least a lot of people were and then as time has progressed, things have become you know, some people have opened up more and some haven't. But yeah, even like I said, like that initial thing where we had to decide to bring the nanny back and that meant that this other family like we had is like that that meant they had to pull the, you know, felt they had to pull away. That was like, you know, that was hard. We had to have these calls. conversations like we would sit down and talk about, like, what are we going to 00:45:00do? And like, what is our point? You know, and yeah, it created, it was really interesting, we would joke about how it was like, sound weird, but like, you'd be having to have kind of these very intense and sort of intimate conversations with people about like, so how many people? Have you seen? Yeah, it's almost like what you're supposed to, like, have these conversations about, like, you know, oh, I won't get it. Like, like conversations you would normally have with people you're very close with, but you're like, and you're sort of interrogating people about their, like, you know, how, how disease ridden are you, you know, it's like, very weird, like, having to have those kinds of intense conversations. And also having to like, prioritize relationships, that was really weird, you know, where it's like, I guess you're close enough that I'm gonna make, I'm gonna be willing to see you unmasked, and in my house, but the rest of you know, so then you're creating these like social hierarchies. And that sucks, you know, it's like, not cool. And like, so it did create tensions, 00:46:00I would say, and, and for me, I will be honest, like, I would say, in my little group, and this was a joke, sometimes in the group, like, I was the one who often wanted to have the most social interaction, like, I'm quite social. And so I be like, I want to go see my friend, like, I just want to see. And so I'd have to, like, do all this negotiating, or what if we're outside, and we stay six feet apart? And we do all this stuff. But I was always the one who was like, kind of wanting to run off and do these things. And so it did, I would say, create a tension with my husband, he created tension with this other family, and then other friends, you know, just there was yes, there was tension sometimes. Yes.

CM: Would you say people were more understanding in the start, or like now as in the present or vice versa?

SS: It's a good question. I think, I think people were more understanding in the beginning of certain sorts of things like, think people were more understanding 00:47:00of like, you know, dealing with kids and the pressures of like, not having childcare. I think everyone at that time was very, like, oh, of course, you know, you were dealing with so much and that's faded, for sure. But then, you know, you had those neighbors like yelling at us, because we were going over to each other's houses. So people were like, less understanding. And that way, I think people have become more open. But now, it's like, now I feel like there's like a lot more sort of judgment and people's choices. Like some people are like, oh, you know, look, look at so and so being so restrictive still. Or, like, look at so and so being so like, laissez faire about it. So I think in some ways, because it's become more like individualize the choices. People are more judgmental of each other's choices. I do feel like that has happened.

CM: So you could say it's almost more like black and white now, like people know what's more, right and wrong?

SS: Well, I almost feel like people don't like I feel like back in the beginning. I, you know, I felt like I felt like through this whole thing. 00:48:00There's never been clear direction. Occasionally there is there was like, there's a mandate, like, you're not going to do this. But for the most part it, it was sort of unclear. And it kept changing, like what you're supposed to do what you're allowed to do. A lot of it was left up to the individual. I think but I think it was clear at the beginning. Now I think it's less clear. And so it's really just about individual's preferences and like risk tolerance. So if you're a person who's like, you know what, I think I'm fine. I think even if I get sick, I'm going to be okay. So you have high risk tolerance, and you're cool with being unmasked and socializing more. And then you have people who are really not cool with that still. And so I feel like now it's actually like, there's a lot of gray areas, it's been interesting to negotiate, I would say, actually, the, the navigating that has gotten in some ways, more difficult for me. Before it was like less pleasant, because it was so restrictive and like, I couldn't see any people without a mask and stuff like that. Now, it's more like 00:49:00you're trying to negotiate between people who have different tolerances and different like expectations.

CM: So with everything that happened so quickly, how were you feeling like emotionally and like, how did the people around you cope? And like you cope? Would you say?

SS: I think initially, like, I'm, I think I probably just went into, like, business mode, like I'm gonna deal with this. But I think it was quite an emotional journey. Like I think I was I remember feeling really upset about, about the sort of impact of having to be so isolated. That really upset me. I remember having a lot of very strong emotional reactions to that. And to, you know, as I began to understand that it was something that would go on a long time. I was really worried about that and about like, you know, how that was going to impact Not just me, but like us as a society sort of being isolated, 00:50:00and, you know, all that stuff. I think also, just for me, a lot of the emotional toll was like the constant decision-making constant decision making, like, it was just always, like, should I send my kids back to school or not? What? They're always these huge decisions, and there was never a right or wrong answer. You know, there is never like, this is the right answer. This is the wrong answer. There's all these variables that you had to consider and, and you never knew what was going to happen. It was horrible. Like, I remember, I don't think I've ever felt so stressed out, like having to meet especially related to my children like deciding am I going to send them back to school or not? And like just being days on end of like, trying to decide and like getting into arguments with people and like, with my husband about it, and like trying to figure out what is the best thing when, like I said, there really is no best thing. It was just like, you tried, you try to pick the best thing, but you didn't know which one was and, and just like all sorts of like, I felt like I 00:51:00was always having to make these decisions that were very fraught and heavy, with like, very little information, like no sense of like, what was the best thing? Right? So I just found that to be incredibly stressful. And then, as it moved on, and like the isolation kind of became cumulative. I did like, Yeah, I like there were times when I got pretty depressed, I think and like, just felt bad. You know, it just, it's like, is this ever going to end I'm guessing I'm going to sit here alone. In the dark, like the worst. My Workspace was my basement, my unfinished basement. So we hung up packing blankets, so I sat in the dark, talking to my computer all day. And it was like so depressing. And I'm like, this is, you know, I just I there's some darker moments. Yeah. And just also the, the understanding that like, this is something like grappling with the fact this wasn't going to go away quickly, we were going to be in this for the long haul. And that was, like, hard, emotionally to deal with and understand the world is changed in a lot of ways. And that's, that's hard, emotionally to deal with.


CM: So back, did you use like anything, like spending time with your family, you know, working out or, you know, acquired a new hobby to either cope otherwise?

SS: Yeah, you know, I would say what I did, I did start to prioritize exercise more, because I realized, like I said, I, especially in the winter, when I was kind of like getting depressed because of the isolation. I was like, it was one of the first times I was like, you know, I really have to do things for myself that prioritize like my mental health and well-being. And for me, exercise really made me feel better. So that's why I did it. So I really started to prioritize regular exercise, and my husband and I would do it together. And that was like fun. And we would do our little workout videos or whatever. And so that I think, is one way I coped. I did I started to, like, do these reading groups with friends online. So if we couldn't get together in person, we would read stuff and discuss it online. That for me was a huge part, a coping mechanism, I 00:53:00think, because it let me have that social interaction and like intellectual engagement. So I kind of took the I like reds, a bunch of stuff I never would have otherwise read and talked about it with people. But really, for me, like I said, the whole experience has been dominated by my kids, and caring for them and work. Like them my COVID experience, like, you know, it wasn't like, oh, I have time for a new hobby now. Like, no, like, my time was like taking care of my family, and doing my work. And that's pretty much it. I will say I got like, because we were home a lot and with my kids a lot. We explored a lot of like, nature areas in our vicinity that I wouldn't have gone to like we didn't so many walks and hikes. So getting outside a lot was really important for us.

CM: I think I'm gonna ask you the last question, which is, what would you say is like your favorite memory from when you were at school, like teaching, like when 00:54:00this was all going down? Do you have any, like, favorite memory that was maybe funny, weird, or just any weird out of the blue? Just something that you just can't forget?

SS: That I can't forget. Let me think about that for a minute. I think I remember, I do remember the first online events we did, and that panel that we did on, like the intersection of COVID and like environmental stuff and racial justice. And it was just really good because I think we were all in this. It was a group of faculty who did it and I was, I think, I was the moderator I can't remember now. But I just felt like we were all really very present and kind of 00:55:00being very honest and open. Because I think that's sometimes what can happen when we people collectively go through something that's totally unprecedented, like, some of those defenses and ways that you usually interact with the world and other people like fall away, because you're all like dealing with this weird crisis. And, and so you're sort of more exposed and kind of open than you normally would be. And I remember feeling like a little bit of freedom in those settings that I wouldn't, that I had not felt before. And so like, I remember that, like, I still remember sitting in my basement, my dark little cave in my basement, doing that panel and feeling like we were doing something important, even though we couldn't be together. And so I remember that, and I remember I 00:56:00just remember doing silly things with my kids. Like, I remember my husband attached all these like old bikes. And he somehow attached them all to each other and trailers and made this like ridiculous, long centipede looking thing out of bikes that he'd like, ride our kids around the neighborhood. You know, we just did a lot of silly things. I went on lots of bike rides with them and picked raspberries in our neighborhood with them. We discovered this local raspberry patch, and we needed them. And we went to like the local beach a lot. And just stuff like that. Like those are my things that stand out to me.

CM: Just quality time with your kids.

SS: Yeah, it really is. Like I know that I've said a lot of negative things about COVID. But I spent a lot of time with my kids. That was awesome.

CM: I bet they will remember it.

SS: I think they will. I hope so. Yeah.

CM: All right. Well, thank you for sharing your stories with us. We appreciate your contribution to the campus COVID stories at UW Oshkosh.

SS: Thank you; thank you both for sitting here through my long winded- Oh my 00:57:00carpals probably wondering where I am. I have a carpool here.