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Connor Roberts: 'We can't really do anything besides wait'

Connor RobertsSophomore Connor Roberts was in the middle of transferring to KU from Johnson County Community College when the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown began in America. What was already a period of great change for the sports management major has only been further complicated by the abrupt shift to virtual learning and working.

Roberts wished to pick up work reporting on sports for the University Daily Kansan, but the condensed and nontraditional workload of the fall 2020 semester as well as a transfer student’s lack of connections has halted these plans. Instead, Roberts has focused on completing his work and smoothing out his transition between schools in hopes that he can grow his involvement with the School of Journalism beyond his current minor courses. 

Having anticipated class at KU for some time, Roberts did not quite arrive in the environment he hoped. He often describes the campus as it must have been at one point, and what he hopes it will return to in time. Until campus is able to rebound to what Roberts describes as the “normal mentality,” he’ll continue getting his work done – and more importantly, take fewer things for granted.


► Listen to the audio version here.

Sam Blaufuss: This is Sam Blaufuss. Today is Nov. 13, 2020. I am interviewing Connor Roberts for the William Allen White School of Journalism Pandemic Oral History project.

Connor Roberts: My name's Connor Roberts. I'm from Olathe, Kansas. This is my first year at KU, or first semester at KU, and journalism’s actually my minor. Right now, I'm just taking Journalism 304 and liking it so far.

Sam Blaufuss: All right Connor, going back to March, what was your initial reaction when the pandemic hit and where were you when you heard the news that KU was closing?

Connor Roberts: So, yeah, my initial reaction, my mind was just… I was just surprised because of schools closing in general and big universities closing around the country. When I first heard that KU was closing… I planned on going there for a long time. And so… it was just, it had me unsure, it had like, my plan just kind of got stopped, it felt like, because we suddenly, with KU closing in March and kids not being able to go back suddenly. I know it wasn't only me ‘cause we all had to go into… I want to say six months, but it felt like three months of quarantine at one time. Not even like quarantine, but like three months or at least 14 days if you travel. Like I said earlier, when I first heard it, I was in San Diego. Coming back and having to quarantine and just stay inside your house was a whole different, it was just… I've never had to stay in my home and it was just a whole different thing around our country at the time.

Sam Blaufuss: How has the semester been different comparing spring semester when the pandemic began with this semester? You know, when we're kind of in the thick of it.

Connor Roberts: So, comparing with this semester… OK, so this semester has been really different. And the reason… I did move to KU and I am now in an apartment, but not having any events really open within the university you can go to… I know there's, like, I guess you could say remote events that are always offered to everyone at the university, but just not being able to go to… KU basketball games, probably this year, limited attendance at KU football games and other sporting events or other activities on campus. It's just been an adjustment from… my first year at KU I would have thought would have been, I don't know, more connective and talking to different… just meeting new people around campus. My first year here has been kind of more of a… I don't want to say secluded, but I have a tight-knit [group] of friends that I kind of came with. And that’s who I'm still kind of just hanging out with right now.

Sam Blaufuss: You kind of went over this a little bit, but the biggest challenge of adapting or… excuse me. What has been the biggest challenge of adapting to the changes on campus in terms of the safety precautions?

Connor Roberts: Well, just starting with even getting here, just getting tested for the first time was really crazy for me, and then downloading the CVKey app also and using that daily, and having to fill out daily symptom checkers, and getting your pass… being able to enter buildings, and just following all these different instructions in the buildings has been… it's just a lot different than going to school regularly because even when I'm on campus, now, all my classes are – I want to say half – and then I've had classes where there's literally been five kids. And it's just crazy because I know at KU there's these crazy big classes, or at least bigger than 10 people. It's just been an adjustment following all these different safety procedures. Now, I'm glad they're doing it and wearing masks and all that, but not seeing as many people on campus has been really different than what I would have expected coming into.

Sam Blaufuss: We don't have a question for this, I think, but you were at JCCC (Johnson County Community College) when the pandemic hit, right?

Connor Roberts: Yeah, that's correct.

Sam Blaufuss: Okay. How did that go down over there?

Connor Roberts: So honestly, Johnson County Community College basically just kind of waited till KU pulled their trigger. I'm not gonna lie. It's like KU said they're closing, and then once Johnson County Community College heard that – I believe they honestly had reports of a case because I got a notification through my email and my phone for that. I think right when that happened and right when KU announced they were closing, Johnson County, they just followed and made it all online only for the rest of the semester.

Sam Blaufuss: How has your workload changed as a result of the pandemic?

Connor Roberts: From this year, would you say? Is that, like, from this year, changing, just going to all online?

Sam Blaufuss: I suppose. Any differences you've noticed in the homework and projects you're receiving.

Connor Roberts: I feel like the workload has been just a slight bit harder, only because I've had more online classes, and not being able to go to class and learn that is… I don't want to say, making teachers add a little more work… but having teachers feel like they have to add more content to work in order for you to understand it because they can't teach it in class. I just feel like the workloads change regarding just more things that get done by certain deadlines, other than being in class where it would have been like, getting things done maybe on a Friday because you'll be doing stuff all that week in that class. Just adjusting to different dates and getting stuff turned in has been a little harder.

Sam Blaufuss: Going back to when the pandemic first began to now, how was your perception – how do you feel about it? How has that changed over time, and how have you emotionally coped with it?

Connor Roberts: It’s kind of changed over time regarding… I don't know if it's really changed because, from the start, I felt like it was a serious thing when I started hearing more and more about it and seeing how many cases were developing over time. And so I get what's happening. I get that we're at the all-time high right now. I wouldn't say it's full on changed, but it has definitely… I have had to emotionally cope with it in a different way because of… just kind of adjusting to my surroundings and what the world is now, and you can't really go anywhere without a mask. Now it's nationwide, like it's a must that you have to have that always on, and limited capacity and everywhere has kind of affected… just all me and my friends’ lives, me and my family's life just because it put my mom and dad out of work just for a little while.

That kind of emotionally… I had to cope with that, just knowing that we can't really do anything besides wait and just do our part because that's honestly all we could do at the time. It took me a long time to kind of understand that part of it. But I feel like now that things are kind of starting to slowly get back into it – knock on wood – but slowly get back into it for now. I feel my perception has kind of just changed and I understand what's happening and the more we can just work together, I guess we can slowly try and come back to “normal mentality,” I guess.

Sam Blaufuss: You're quite new at KU. So if you're involved in any J-School organizations or any student ones – I can't recall if there was one or two – but how has involvement with those been affected and in case you're not involved, how would you say that the pandemic maybe affected you getting involved with that?

Connor Roberts: I feel like, well… the only thing that I've kind of really thought about was maybe possibly just looking into the Kansan or reading some stuff into the Kansan, then maybe doing that. With the pandemic being involved, my workload with school and managing work and stuff like that has made me unable to try and attempt it… like maybe write for them for a little bit, but I was… yeah, other than that, I plan on hoping in the future to try and do something with that. Maybe when things change with the online learning and we go back to normal class – not even normal, just more in-person class – and more in-person time with the J-School.

Sam Blaufuss: What's your perception of the UDK throughout all of this?

Connor Roberts: What UDK?

Sam Blaufuss: The UDK would be the Kansan. Sorry if that was confusing.

Connor Roberts: I really just learned about it. I just really want to learn more about it and what they do and the different things you can write about within it… my major right now is sports management. I was kind of looking into something with sports writing, any sport, I wouldn't even care… a sport or activity. I've always wanted to write something and have an editor within the J-School, edit it and just give me some advice on how I can improve, or possibly start writing for them or something.

Sam Blaufuss: Has the pandemic played a direct role in keeping you from doing that or is it just the amount of stuff that you're having to deal with right now?

Connor Roberts: I'd say a little bit of both, honestly. The pandemic in a way would have… I honestly do feel like if the pandemic wasn't around or had it have lessened since the situation… because it hasn't, but if it would have lessened, I feel like I would've probably attempted maybe to go in and talk to people if it was easier to talk to people nowadays, but workload is… that's a major reason why I haven't been able to take more on or just get with people regarding that. Sadly.

Sam Blaufuss: How do you feel about the way your fellow students have responded to the pandemic in words and actions?

Connor Roberts: I feel like it's been a little half and half. I feel like some students are doing good. Some students could be doing better, but I don't really, I only go to class. So everyone in my classes has been perfect. And everyone I've seen on campus has been amazing, but I know we're at a college university, so I understand anything can really happen and no one can control what everyone does. So I feel like everyone's response to this has probably been about the same as mine. They understand what's going on, but they also get that they're in college and they don't know… it's not that it's very hard to know… who has it and who doesn't is what I'm trying to say, when everyone… it's just a very busy college town.

I feel like their response to it has been pretty positive so far, at least [from] what I've seen on campus. Everyone is always wearing a mask and they know what's… I mean, I don't know if they enjoy it. Like, I feel like everyone just wants “normal” to kind of come back. But I feel like throughout the university, all the students kind of understand what's happening now because they've all gone through the quarantine and had to leave the university last year if they were already here. But for freshman students – I couldn't really speak because I am also a new student – but depending on where they're living, I guess it could kind of affect their response to pandemic, but I'm currently in an apartment. So I'm unsure about the kids in the dorms, but it could possibly be different.

Sam Blaufuss: Do you have any examples in mind of students that you don't think have been handling the pandemic?

Connor Roberts: Maybe just larger events that would happen at current places. I don't really know exactly what places, because I feel like the bars around here are actually handling the situation pretty good. They are having limited capacity and I guess the only one bar, and two of them are still kind of shut down. So, I mean, I feel like the bars aren't handling it the worst. It's just, I guess not being able to know where all the students, I mean, where everything is because it's just such a big university.

Sam Blaufuss: Do you have plans to adapt your education or career to the current situation in the long-term?

Connor Roberts: Yes I do... I don't think the current situation will always be as bad, but I feel like it will forever be around now. So it's just going to kind of change things forever. I am probably going to start adapting my education a little differently because just that -- the uncertainty of what's going to happen in the future.

Sam Blaufuss: The way you mentioned things will probably stick with us forever… what kind of things do you think… what parts of this pandemic do you think we’ll…

Connor Roberts: I don't know exactly what will be always happening, but I feel like masks will at least be around for another two or three years, mandatory everywhere. And then they'll just probably be around globally or nationwide for a while because people are always going to be kind of affected and scared by it, and this also has to do with whether or not they can come out with a vaccine. I know they kind of are starting to figure out some things. So if that comes out that could also help the current situation, it’s kind of been a waiting game for a long time. I understand that. If the waiting game still has to go on, then yes, I would adapt. I would have to adapt my education career because I feel like the sports, just the sports field and sports field in general would be harder to get into.

It’s a very competitive field. So I would probably adapt my education and major career regarding that. But I guess it's just kind of all waiting on whether or not they can find a good vaccine and what happens nationwide.

Sam Blaufuss: How do you feel about the School of Journalism's response to the pandemic?

Connor Roberts: I feel like they've actually been really, really helpful. They've probably been the most helpful school and the most helpful even in the building and just getting everyone… making sure everyone's in there and living in the capacity. And I mean, they understand what's happening, so they understand it's kind of hard to work online and they've… at least the professor I've had and some people I've talked to in the J-School have all had positive things to say, and they know the situation is hard right now, but they're hoping for it to improve in the future.

Sam Blaufuss: How has the pandemic changed the William Allen White School of Journalism and KU?

Connor Roberts: Yeah, I think it just definitely, you can just see… I can definitely tell when it's --  there’s not a pandemic happening or… when things are kind of normal it's definitely busy and they're in the classes and they're up and downstairs. There's an amazing room of cameras, like just quality stuff in there. So it just looks like… you can just tell it gets a lot more busy, and more teachers will definitely work more hands-on and start talking to you and teach a little more effectively in classes. I feel like that's the only way it's changed. I don't really know how it would change, but I can tell when it's at full capacity or when it's kind of normal, things are a lot different within the J-School. And with KU definitely, I've seen pictures and even been on campus when I didn't go to KU. There were so many more kids and so many more people just talking and having fun and you could actually just see their faces. So that was just something that's changed within the university and the J-School.

Sam Blaufuss: How do you think KU will hopefully grow to be better from everything that's changed?

Connor Roberts: I think a way they can grow to be better… being more cautious of the people around you and… I'm trying to think, sorry… not taking anything for granted now because last semester you just saw how everything kind of…  everything at KU was very different. It was normal. And then with a snap of a finger, while you went on break, suddenly everything got canceled and school hasn't been the same or life hasn’t been the same since. I feel like this will better KU in the long run because everyone here will appreciate kind of the people they're around and the different things they're learning because they don't know when it could end. And just like that, we've seen with our eyes only they can change.

Sam Blaufuss: What advice would you give someone 100 years from now that may be dealing with another pandemic just like this one?

Connor Roberts: Some advice I’d give them is… I guess be patient from the start or not just -- except always be safe and be patient because I guess you don't really know what it is until I guess it's announced. And so I just recommend don't take any, like I said earlier, the question above, I recommend if you're in a pandemic, just don't take anything for granted. If you're with the people you want to be with and the people you love, you should just stay. Just don't take anything for granted and always… yeah. I almost, they connect. I'm still trying to get used to it, too. It was kind of a weird [thing] to think about, but if you can do your part and come as one, but of course not too close, but come as one, I guess I'll just try and connect and work together and that's the best you can do.

Sam Blaufuss: We're close to wrapping up here. Connor, if you had any other remarks on the pandemic and your experiences that you'd like to share, the floor is yours.

Connor Roberts: OK. I think it's been a little different to get used to, and I hope that the University of Kansas can better from this experience and not only the University of Kansas, but nationwide could be better from this experience. It's a once in a lifetime, so it was crazy for us, but hopefully we can get through it together and there will be change happening. That's all I got.

Sam Blaufuss: I'll go ahead and stop it there. Thank you, Connor.

Connor Roberts: Yeah, of course. Thanks Sam.

Sam Blaufuss: This is the conclusion of this oral history.


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