CS: Okay, this is Cade Schmitz, interviewing Dr. Teysha Bowser on Thursday,April 7, 2022, for campus COVID stories, student Vong Vang is also with us. Campus COVID stories is a collection of oral stories from students and staff at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh about their experiences in 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?
TB: Yes, so it's Teysha Bowser, T e y s h a B o w s e r
CS: Now for the purposes of getting a good audio recording. Tell us again, whoyou are and what your title is here at UW Oshkosh.
TB: So I'm Teysha Bowser, and I'm assistant professor in the professionalcounseling department. I guess technically now we're going to be the counseling and Human Service Department. And I'm also the school counseling program coordinator. 00:01:00
CS: Before we dive into your campus COVID story, we'd like to get to know you alittle better. Tell me where you. Tell me about where you grew up.
TB: Okay, so I grew up in Texas, specifically. Bryan, Texas, spent most of mylife there, that's where most of my family is. And then moved after or in order to pursue my masters and doctorate.
CS: Okay, where did you earn your degree or degrees?
TB: So I earned my bachelor's degree if I can remember. In Texas, I went toTexas A&M University in College Station. And then I went and got my master's. In 00:02:00counseling, I should mention that my bachelor's was in psychology with minors and African Studies and neuroscience. So then I went to get my Master's in technically Clinical Mental Health Counseling at New Mexico State University. So I was in Las Cruces, New Mexico. And then for my doctorate, I went to the University of Nevada, Reno, and that's an education was specifically in counselor education and supervision. And I finished that actually, during the start of the pandemic.
CS: How did you come to work at UW Oshkosh?
TB: So towards the end of my doctorate, like I mentioned during the pandemic, as00:03:00applying for jobs, and got the interview here, really loved everything about the program. And so, once I was offered the position, took it, and so I officially started August of 2022. I mean, I'm sorry, 2020.
CS: Now, let's move to the early days of COVID. When was the first time youremember hearing about COVID-19? And where were you and what were you doing that?
TB: So I was in my doctorate program. I want to say it was like, around March. I00:04:00don't even remember the year now. But that's really when yeah, like we were talking about it. And I think the thing that I remember the most about it was I had went home to Texas for spring break. And you know had a to flight to come back. But then that's when things were kind of shifting for classes to be online. And, you know, it seemed like it was going to be more permanent. And I was like, well, what's the point of going back to Reno if I'm going to be online, so I stayed home in Texas
CS: What was your initial reaction to the news?
TB: I think there was a lot of shock. Just because I don't know. I think I washopeful that it would kind of, like, we would figure it out. And things would 00:05:00kind of get back to I don't know if I would say normal, but I guess what we're used to. And we kind of move forward. And I think just a surprise of, you know, I don't know if anyone, whether they were in school or teaching or whatever they were doing expected to have to have such a drastic shift. And so just, I never imagined ending my program in the way that I did.
CS: How would you describe your feelings about the disease itself?
TB: Honestly, I think it's, it was really scary. You know, just seeing how manypeople were dying. We're getting extremely sick. And I think, you know, just hearing people's reactions to that was also just really like, hurtful, you know, just seeing people just being like, oh, well, well, it's, you know, typically 00:06:00certain communities. So it is what it is like, I think it just was really scary. And just, especially when there weren't really any, like vaccines and stuff like that. It was it was terrifying, not knowing what was going to happen.
CS: Do you know anyone close to you or yourself that has contracted COVID andhas gotten really sick?
TB: Thankfully, not, I mean, my aunt did end up getting COVID. But luckily, shedidn't get really sick. But it was definitely scary. Because my grandparents live with her my other aunt who has severe disabilities and can't talk, you know where they are. So I think there was a lot of concerns because being in a space with a lot of people who had a lot of serious health concerns.
CS: Let's move to your teaching during this time. You started at UW in August of2020, which was pretty much still in the early days of COVID. How worried were 00:07:00you about starting a new teaching job during a global pandemic?
TB: super worried. I, at the time, I wasn't really sure. What that was going tolook like, you know, making decisions about is it going to be hyflex or modified tutorial, I think was the other option for the classes that I was teaching. So I knew pretty much every class that I was teaching that semester, was going to be face to face and not really knowing exactly what that was going to look like, and not having, you know, planned in my mind of teaching, you know, some students online, some students in person. And just wearing about where, you know, things were in terms of people getting sick and stuff. Super scary.
CS: How were you able to prepare for classes?00:08:00
TB: Well, I think one of the things that was really helpful was that a lot ofthe well pretty much every class that I taught, I received previous materials. So I, was just like, I'm not going to try to change up too much stuff. So lots, I already tried to stress about it. And figure out so I'll let that be the least of my concerns. I kind of just used what I had. And I had support. Like, I know one of the classes I was teaching with someone who was teaching another section of it. So we met often. And I really was able to lean on them to kind of help walk me through, you know, adjusting to teaching here and also adjusting the teaching during the pandemic.
CS: What were your biggest challenges in starting a new job in a new city? How00:09:00many classes were you teaching in the fall of 2020?
TB: I think one of the biggest challenges was, so when I came here, since it wasin the middle of the pandemic, I didn't really get to meet a lot of people in my department, the only people who I initially met in person was our current department or our department chair at that time. And one of the people who volunteered to be my mentor so everyone else in my department I had never seen in person and I've only seen them every once in a while like virtually and so it was kind of this like weird disconnect of like, I'm talking and interacting with these people but like, I don't really know who they are, they don't really know 00:10:00who I am. And then with the students, you know, some of them I was seeing in person, some of them were virtual. And so that cause, you know, different difficulties in terms of connection. Not really getting to see their face. So not knowing, like, what they look like, like, really. And it matters in the sense of like, you know, later, being able to identify people, you're like, I don't know who that is, because I never seen your full face, or maybe I've only seen you once or, or twice. So I think like those things, just feeling kind of disconnected from different people, because I didn't really get to, like, fully meet them. And then in terms of number of classes, I was teaching. I was teaching two classes, because I took a course release for that semester. 00:11:00
CS: What method did you use when teaching online or in person? And how did it work?
TB: So they were in person initially. And in terms of how they worked, I thinkwith the smaller size classes being, you know, hi-flex it worked out better, because there wasn't as you know, people were sitting closer, so the people who were online could hear their peers and could hear me. But in terms of I think it was like, my life span class was huge, like, almost Well, huge for graduate school. So like, almost like 30 students, and you know, we're all spaced out. 00:12:00And there's not like, microphones all across the room. So then their peers who were online, we're struggling to hear them. So then they were like, feeling disengaged, because we're trying to have discussion and they're like, well, I don't know what the other person said. So I don't even know if I can engage. So that I think, was the was the biggest struggle just because when I teach, I want to have discussions and you know, when people felt like they couldn't hear everything, then there was more disengagement.
CS: Do you still have any, like online classes now?
TB: No, all of my classes are in person.
CS: So then we can skip those two questions pretty much. What was your livingsituation? Like when teaching virtually? Do because you taught it here, right? 00:13:00
CS: Okay. So we're skipping that one as well. Do you think you were able, okay Iguess I can skip all of them. Yeah. Okay. This is now Vong.
VV: This is Vong Vang interviewing Dr. Teysha Bowser; this is part two. So withwhom did you work most closely executing your response to COVID-19?
TB: I would say my department chair and my mentor since those were the twopeople that I saw the most
VV: other than the challenges that we already touched on. Were there any otherchallenges regarding your work from the March of 2020 to December 2021. Please describe what needs to be done to your department and a responsibility
TB: I think some of the other challenges during that time that I faced and a lot00:14:00of them I believe, you know, has a lot to do with my identity. So I had a couple of instances being on campus. I remember I think I was like walking to class I had like someone like yell at me from outside their car like you know trying to like intimidate me. I also had more like I guess I don't know if I'd say academic related but like professional related. I had which was really weird. It wasn't expecting like to have to do or not have to but like get invited to do different interviews like for like magazines or things like that. So initially I 00:15:00had done an interview for the university, which was fine. And then, in my mind, I didn't realize that like, people outside of the university would see it. So that was my naivety there. But then this, I don't know, like news outlet, I don't know if they're a news outlet. But this media source contacted me wanted to interview me, I got a really bad feeling about it. So I looked him up. And, you know, talk to Dr. Damira Grady about it, she gave me the advice not to respond to them. So I didn't. And then from that, I got a different media opportunity for this magazine, which is amazing. And then when I participated in that interview, the other media source that I didn't respond to you saw it, and 00:16:00then put out an article about me and the work that I was doing here. And basically was trying to say that I was teaching students about like, basically, that like black people are like, helpless, and just like all these negative things about like, the community. And I didn't even know that that they had went ahead and published the article until a professor from a completely different university, reached out to me and emailed me and was like, hey, I'm not sure if you like, saw this, but this article was put out about you and like, provided all these resources and things like that. I will say that, with these incidences, my department was really supportive. So I talked to my department chair, I talked to my mentor. And they really just like if they didn't know the 00:17:00answers to how to like, navigate these things, they're asked other people and contracts have contacted them and supported them in those ways. So I think like, in terms of what would be beneficial, I know just for me, like being new, I never expected as a new faculty to really be contacted by media. And I also didn't know that there was kind of like a process with that. So I think that's something that should be explained to people just coming in just the expectation, or like, hey, you may be contacted by different media sources, and kind of here's like, best practices with that.
VV: What three things are you most proud of regarding a response to COVID-19?
TB: I think one of the biggest things, even though I know earlier, I mentioned00:18:00like, you know, struggling with students like feeling connected in the class. I tried to make myself available to students, that's always been something that's important to me. And I think it was especially important during that time. And so we were utilizing zoom. So, you know, creating space and opportunity for students to meet with me through zoom. Because I think a lot of the students that I had, especially the newer students were like, Well I could still have office hours with you, like, I could still meet with you like how I might, if we're like, in person, I just stopped by your office. And I'm like, yeah, like, I know, we're at home. I know, like, it may be more difficult. But like, I'm here, I'm available. And sometimes we ended up meeting virtually at like, six o'clock at night, because that was the only time, they had you know, based on 00:19:00other stuff and just being able to do that. I think it was just really important and valuable. I think the other thing is learning how to try to navigate as best as possible having people who were virtual and in person. Did it go seamlessly? No, but I just remember one of my classes I had, like, I don't know, watched a YouTube video on like, how you could potentially have like a microphone from your phone and like amplify it and stuff. So I tried to do that one class and they were like, whoa, you actually like went and you know trying to like help with this. And I was like, well, yeah, cause I don't want y'all to just be here struggling. It didn't work very well, because, you know, of course apps and stuff aren't always successful, but it just the, from them, they were just like 00:20:00in awe because they're like, wow, like, you heard us saying like we can't hear and you're willing to, like make those adjustments. So that was really powerful. And I guess the other thing I would say is that, despite feeling very, like disconnected and not knowing people, I felt like I was able to still engage in a lot of like university opportunities, like being on different panels and having discussions with people and really putting myself out there, which is like a big thing for me, I tend to be pretty introverted. And so which is more difficult when you really have never, like, met or seen people. So then I was like, well, here I am. So. And some of the topics, you know, were pretty intense and talking about, you know, different, like racial things and stuff like that, and, and 00:21:00being in a space to be candid about those things.
VV: How has your job changed because this global pandemic? Essentially, what doyou think COVID has changed permanently? In regards to your work?
TB: Yeah, so I think the biggest thing I know that comes up a lot is that havingmore students who are experiencing a lot of different mental health concerns, I think we've always had students that have had different, you know, mental health concerns, as we're all in our own ways, impacted by it at different times. But I think, you know, it's heightened a lot of anxiety. It's heightened, you know, other than COVID, you've had to deal with like, as a reaction to it to more like racial incidents, or, you know, for other marginalized communities. And so I think it's time those things to just, and students dealing with different 00:22:00traumatic events, maybe they lost family member or people close to them. And so I think in those ways, just knowing that a lot of the students that are entering our program, you know, they're dealing with a lot more than maybe they would have been years past and so knowing that there has to be more flexibility. And I think, you know, our department tends to be pretty flexible, but just recognizing, you know, some of the, like, policies and procedures that may have like made sense before, like, they may not make as much sense. So, I think it's, that's the biggest thing is just recognizing that, like, students are coming in with like, greater burdens, because of because of this pandemic, especially because we're, we're still in it, you know.
VV: In the fall of 2021, vaccines are readily available on campus, and, in fact,00:23:00strongly advocated by administration, and the CDC. What were your initial thoughts about the vaccine
TB: While as soon as they started mentioning them, I was like, I think that waslike, a little worried, because I was like, oh, man, this is happening super-fast. And, I mean, not that I like pay attention a lot to like, medical stuff, but I was like, I don't know, do they normally, like make things fast? It seems a little like, I don't know, in terms of timeline, irregular, but also, like, make sense in terms of a pandemic. So I think there was some relief, because it's like, okay, now we may be finally having something that'll hopefully make things better but then I also understood people who, especially from communities that typically have been harmed from different you know, medical abuse, being weary of it. So I think, I don't know, there's like a lot 00:24:00of different emotions that came up.
VV: Okay. How much do you feel things are getting back to normal? And for what,for that matter, what is normal to you?
TB: I think I definitely think that there is a rush to go back to normal, youknow, back to I mean, now we're like in person, which I think is great. So that piece of being back to normal, I think is nice. Although I will say you know, I think a lot about people who are in the like, disabled community and you know, how they like you know, for like during the pandemic, you know, since we moved online because it was needed for the majority of people. A lot of them were like able to have more access ability in terms of like, class and stuff. So now this 00:25:00push to go back to before, it's like, what does that mean for that community? So, in those regards, I'm like, I don't know if like going back to normal is great. I think also, with like, going back to normal, I think, sometimes it means like, ignoring that we're still in the pandemic, too. And that I don't like, because it's like, we've been in this for, like, two years, at least. And, you know, people are still dealing with the deaths that they experience and the, you know, near deaths, and, and all of that, you know, I think about, like one of my friends and colleagues at another university, like she nearly died from COVID at least twice, you know, and so for her, like, shift set, and out of 00:26:00university, and at the bigger community is like a big deal. And, you know, I think we're just like, Okay, well, let's just move on,, like, go back to thinking about life as, as it was, before this pandemic and I don't think we can and I think that, instead of going back to what was I think we should be thinking about what the pandemic showed us in terms of like, the different possibilities of learning of, of everything, and thinking about developing a new normal personally.
VV: What has living and working during the time COVID taught you about yourselfand others?
TB: I think it's taught me that I'm able to do things that I didn't think were00:27:00possible. You know, I never imagined, like I said before, like having to teach online. You know, typically, when you go through your graduate program, they're like, Okay, you're gonna be teaching a person. That's, that's it. So that's how you think about and so just recognizing that, you know, I have the ability to do things, even if I didn't expect that I would have to do them. I think it's also really highlighted for me. I guess this need on a, like, bigger level of like, having I don't know, like consistency or like, things be the same all the time 00:28:00and how that's not always possible. And, and kind of like the ramifications of being reactive to a lot of different things, obviously, with COVID. Like, we didn't have much of an option, because no one really could expect that, but I think it just highlighted the importance of thinking about like, okay, so now COVID has happened. What does this mean, in terms of thinking ahead of like, I mean, God forbid, don't want another like, pandemic, but like, if there was one, like, how are we planning? You know, and preparing for like, what, what processes should be? So it just made me really, like, think about that, and, like, understand the importance of that, and yeah, and I think like that people are very, like, communal, and I've always known that and seeing that, but also, 00:29:00on the flip side, seeing how like individual individualistic people can be and like, self-centered too. So I think those are the things
VV: Knowing what you know, now, what, if anything, would have what, what, ifanything, would you have done differently in regards to your work here at the university?
TB: I think the biggest thing, and I'm thinking about this in terms of teaching,I think when I started I just, you know, it was like, Okay, here's the syllabus, we're gonna go through it. I'll tell you a little bit about me, and then we'll kind of make our way through. And I think as I've gone through now, recognizing the importance of explaining to students my philosophy on teaching my 00:30:00understanding of education in general. Not that it means that everyone will be like, oh my gosh, I love this. This is great. Like, there's so many people who are like, I hate this. But it at least puts everything into context, and I don't think that I really understood that. I think I just was like, well, they'll figure it out or like, you know, they'll have their own opinions but really, like, I think, for me, it's important to really ground like, this is where, you know, this class may be taught differently than how maybe other people would teach it and this is why because this is connected to this part of my philosophy and like understanding of education, and that's why I approach things in this way. And so that there's always that consistent grounding, and at least understanding of like whether, you know, it fits for you and your understanding, at least you like, know where it's coming from. 00:31:00
VV: So as long as we still have time, I wanted to ask you a few questions abouthow you personally in your private life, fared during COVID, would that be okay with you?
VV: Okay. So when you started working at UW, oh, where were you living? And withwhom? How, how were COVID protocols dealt with, that was at first in your home, like, mask, social distance, social distancing, sheltering at home, was there much friction, or were you all in agreement about them?
TB: So I am actually still living in the same place. So I live in an apartmentby myself. And it's pretty close to campus, not on campus, but close part of that was because I knew it was going to be snowing here, and I'm not as familiar with snow. So I was like, probably should be close and, you know, have that 00:32:00safety. So in terms of like, there wasn't a lot of friction, because it was just me. And in terms of like, masking or social distancing, I really didn't have to worry about that too much. Except when I came to campus, or like, went to the stores and stuff like that.
VV: Was everything that happened, and happen and so quickly, how were youfeeling emotionally? How were the people around you coping?
TB: I mean, I think I was filling all types of emotions, because I think, like,so much was happening with, like, COVID, in general. Just on media, you just saw everyone's responses to it. And, you know, also thinking about, like, are we ever gonna get to the point where we can, like, not wear a mask, but, like, in a 00:33:00safe way, because I also don't want to be like, unsafe with that. Just then you had all the, like, political tension happening, like racial tension happening, just everything. And so for me, you know, feeling like, extremely sad about it sometimes feeling like hopeless because it's like, all of these things are just like compounding. Like, is it ever gonna, like settle? Or is it just gonna get worse? feeling anger, about, you know, just all the things and just people just, you know, we're all in our own ways, like struggling and you know, just being disappointed that people can have compassion for each other. And, you know, we're just focused on like, you know, either harming other people or like, not trying to help other people and yeah, so that was hard. So I think like, in 00:34:00terms of people around me like in my social circles, how they were coping. I think like, most of them we ended up talking to each other talking to family occasionally going outside and I think with at least like one person who I'm pretty close with, I think we turned a lot to like, our spirituality and really leaning into that and engaging with that community just you know, to really get to like have some release have some like cleansing
VV: Okay, well, do you have anything else you wanted to add like to any of yourstories, like your time here at UWO
TB: Not that I can think of. I think that's mostly it00:35:00
VV: Well, thank you for sharing your stories with us. We appreciate yourcontribution to the campus COVID stories at UW Oshkosh.