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Aseret Bertram: 'A lot of different emotions going on'

Aseret Bertram

Aseret Bertram graduated from the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications in spring 2020 with a bachelor’s in strategic communication and a minor in business. Bertam discusses the burst of emotions she felt when KU closed with just weeks remaining in her senior year. Like most people, Bertram felt scared and sad that her final semester at KU was cut short. Bertram talked about how her sorority events were canceled and the lack of closure she felt from not being able to have graduation. Bertram now lives in Olathe, Kansas, where she works from home for Woodruff advertising agency doing social media. Bertram thanks KU and the Journalism School for all of their support during a hard time for every student. 

► Listen to the audio version here.

Catherine Brierton: This is Catherine Brierton. Today is Nov. 2, 2020. I am interviewing Aseret Bertram for the William Allen White School of Journalism pandemic oral history project. 

Going back to March, what were your initial reactions when the pandemic hit and where were you when you heard the news? That KU was closing?

Aseret Bertram: Going back to March. Well, first, I was in my room. It was during spring break that I heard that we were supposed to be only two weeks, or I guess one more week of spring break, and we were going to be online for, you know, we didn't know how long. But we just, you know, for the time being, when we came back from spring break, we're going to be online. 

There was some hope in me, actually, a lot of hope in me that they -- that's truly what it was just going to be, an extra week of spring break and maybe two weeks tops of online school. I also was really worried, though. Something in me also knew that this was going to be for a longer period of time. So I was very sad. I was very scared and just disappointed that that's how my senior year was going to end.

Obviously at the time, I didn't know that's how it was going to end, but I was scared that that's how it was, it could possibly end. And I was actually supposed to be leaving on a trip with one of my friends the next day. So the whole ride there, it was just like, you know, constant talk and even getting more scared of how this year could have ended or could end. So yeah, I was mostly -- a lot of disappointment, a lot of scared feelings, and that was, you know, that was all before sadness hit. So it was just more confusion and scaredness than anything.

Catherine Brierton: How has the year been different comparing the spring semester with the pandemic to now working with the pandemic?

Aseret Bertram: Sure. In a way, it has kind of helped. I think I had all my hiccups during last semester, if I didn't know how to use Zoom or how to, like, chat people. So again, so, it was just kind of like, I got rid of those little hiccups during school and now that I'm in work life, I'm able to be more smooth about things. Not that it's normal, but it feels normal. Starting out a job through Zoom and meeting people through Zoom. You know, it's kind of like I already went through this, and so that was just another kind of like I'm more knowledgeable because of it.

Catherine Brierton: Mhm. What has been the biggest challenge of adapting to the changes in your job? 

Aseret Bertram: I would say just meeting people. Obviously no -- I have meetings with them every day, so I know them in that way, but there's something about being able to be right there with them that I know would be a huge, huge change. Asking questions, you know, I just started this job. So all the questions that I have, I know could be so easily answered if I was just next to the person, my queue. But you know, I have to chat them. Sometimes I get stuck doing a job that maybe I don't know how to do very well because the person I need help from is also busy or just isn't looking at their screen at the moment. So that's just been difficult, being able to not talk to someone right away, having to wait and also, you know, yeah, these are work people, but I only get to meet them like on that surface level of our 30-[minute] or one- hour long meetings that are work-only related. So you don't get that I guess bondage of a team as well.

Catherine Brierton: How has your workload changed as a result of the pandemic? 

Aseret Bertram: Hmm. I would say it depends on the day. You know, since I'm from home, there’s days I can be really distracted and there's some days that I can be very, very focused and get stuff done by, you know, 3 o'clock rather than 5 p.m. But it's definitely, I think again, could be either more light or more heavy on the workload, just because again, we don't have that office environment kind of vibe where if I have a lot going on, I can just be like, “Hey, can someone take this on?” Or if I can tell that someone is stressed out because they have too much going on, I can tell them like, "Hey, my schedule looks very light today. I can help out with something.” So it really just depends on the day. And I think that has caused, you know, this pandemic for us not to see how people are doing and if they need help or not because we are behind a screen. So yes, that's how the pandemic has affected my workload.

Catherine Brierton: How has your perception of the pandemic changed over time? How have you emotionally coped with it?

Aseret Bertram: Hmm, this is a hard one. I think I'm like a little roller coaster. I think at the beginning I was very like, “Ah, this is fine, you know, two weeks it'll be over. Wear my mask, I'll not -- you know, stay in lockdown.” Um, and then kind of, you know, it hit the fan real quick, real fast, and I started getting more scared of yeah, this virus that there was no cure of.

So I started being very cautious about it. I was one of the few people from -- I would say my class -- that was taking it seriously. If people were getting together, I wouldn't cause I was, you know, just scared that I actually like, you know, really wanted this to end quickly. And I think just like it has plateaued, like I am still very scared of it, but I'm taking the necessary precautions, you know, still wearing my mask, still trying to maintain my distance when I am around people, but definitely more relaxed now. If I see someone, we can get some coffee, obviously we don't necessarily hug or anything, but I'm more comfortable with that. Whereas, you know, a few months ago, that would have been a huge no-no to me.

Catherine Brierton: How was your involvement in the J-School organizations, other student organizations, Greek life and other clubs affected in the spring?

Aseret Bertram: Yeah, so I was in Greek life. So a lot of that, all of our social dues that we had already paid for, for any events that we had going on, were canceled, obviously. So that was kind of upsetting, again also being my senior year, you know, I didn't get my mom's weekend. I didn't get my last formal. So all of that was canceled and it was very sad. Also very upsetting because again, I had already paid for it. My organizations that I was involved in, a lot of stuff had to be on virtual, obviously. This was also very, again, new in the pandemic. So we weren't quite sure how much of it could be virtual. We didn't really know how to work things. So like breakout rooms were very new to us. So definitely now that we're so far in I can think of a thousand ways of doing it differently way better.

Aseret Bertram: But a lot of my meetings became virtual. You know, having to figure out how to turn this around. If we were going to do an award night, how could we do that virtually? How could we still be able to have applications go through, even though, you know, a lot of things depended on those last two months? So yeah, it was -- it was pretty tough. I was -- actually was not on exec board anymore on one of my organizations, but it was all hands on deck for a couple of things. 

So it was kinda like I again was on exec board and having to have all those responsibilities again for just hopefully being able to help out this organization that has never obviously gone through anything like this before. So yeah, a lot of thinking caps and a lot of people were necessary to make all these organizations keep thriving and keep, you know, try and make things normal.

It was very -- I don't know what the word would -- like the perfect word for it, but it was just very unreal, I think to me, like I think it would be happening and I was just like, I can't believe this happening. You know, like this is not how I envisioned my senior night award night or how I would envision giving out these applicants the news that they got their scholarship for the next month. Or even my campaigns, like, you know, I was supposed to prepare an hour-long presentation and it got cut down to 15 minutes. So yeah, a lot of things went into play, trying to figure all that out, and even throughout it, it was very just unbelievable that it was happening

Catherine Brierton: Surreal for sure. 

Aseret Bertram: That’s the word.

Catherine Brierton: How do you feel about your fellow students’ response to the pandemic?

Aseret Bertram: Um, there were a lot of different emotions going on. I was very -- I would say I saw all of -- all of the emotions that could possibly be happening during that time. I had people that were, you know, not affected at all. You were going virtual, if anything, they were happier because they could either go home or they just do better online. And then there were people that had never taken an online class before. So they were just super anxious about how this was all going and being able to properly plan out their day and be self-accountable for that. And then there were people like me that, you know, who I was able to do online work, but I missed the people aspect of it. And there were a lot of those, too. We were all good about having our schoolwork done, but it was the afterward off that was really what got us, got them, you know, wanting to, OK, now we finished this long assignment, but we can't in a way celebrate or we can't get together. 

So yeah, I definitely have some people -- though that wasn't what I expected -- and honestly, because of that, we kind of grew apart just because we didn't have the right views while all of this pandemic stuff was going on before we even knew that KU was going to be virtual for the whole semester. So it was just saddening to see, you know, some people trying really, really hard to do everything they could so this was really only a two-week thing, and then there were others who just kind of said, you know, screw it, I'm gonna party because we don't have school anymore in a way. So yeah, it was, there were some that again were very serious about it, and there were some that weren't, so yeah, it all just depends on the person overall, I think. There were -- there were mostly sad, but we kept going, so we knew what we had to do.

Catherine Brierton: So do you have plans to adopt your current career to the current situation, or have you adopted your career to the pandemic?

Aseret Bertram: Yeah, so I'm actually in social media. So in a way, it has been a huge trendy topic now that I'm in the workplace. How we look at things now, a lot of things are pandemic-based. So we work with, like, we’re in the pet industry. So, you know, if we were -- before this, they were talking about, Oh, how to be, you know, how to travel with your dogs in a safe way, how to -- what countries can you go to with your dogs? Like all that stuff. Whereas now, that's not obviously the point we can look at. So it's really shifting that, that point of view and thinking, how is this pandemic affecting our clients, too? And our clients, our clients -- what's the word I'm looking for?

The clients -- whoever's buying their product. So, you know, thinking of ways that we can help that. So now it's like, where can you road trip that your dog is accepted there? So dog-friendly places or what to do with your dog all day since you're at home. So it's definitely just helped us think of things in a different perspective. In that perspective, just being like, you know, everyone's at home now, they can't really do much, and you know, also like a lot of adoptions came out because of the pandemic, a lot of foster dog -- all that fun stuff. So a lot of thinking, thinking around that box because people just -- not just have a dog from the morning and they go to work and they come back and they have a dog again. They have the dog the whole day, so what can we help them [do to] think of ways with this pandemic? That was a really long answer, but I hope I answered that.

Catherine Brierton: No, that was great. Thank you. How do you feel about the School of Journalism's response to the pandemic?

Aseret Bertram: I think they did an awesome job. I think, if anything, I would have enjoyed having like a graduation little PowerPoint or just something, but again, it was all very, very new. We weren't sure how this whole pandemic virtual thing was working and all of that. So, but I do know like other schools had, were able to have a little yeah, like a PowerPoint slide live through Zoom, so that would have been nice. But other than that, you know, they were very, very helpful. I personally really enjoyed the free Adobe Cloud. They obviously knew we needed it because we couldn't check out laptops anymore. So they were very understanding about that and gave us that free access I used a lot. And because of that, they also had all these -- Heather Lawrenz had all these classes and now that I had it for free, you know, I went to them.

So I even gained more skills because of it. All my professors were super understanding to, you know, how hard this was. My campaigns professor was very helpful through it all, if we had any questions with our client or just us, as a group, she was always able to help us very easily to be reached. And they always asked for any, like, if we need any help or if we just want to talk about this, especially to seniors, a lot of stuff was sent out that they knew this was not our ideal spring semester, but they were just very concerned, I guess, about our emotions and our feelings,and so, yeah, I was very, very grateful not to have just a school that cared, but professors that also cared so much about how we were doing throughout this pandemic in our senior year.

Catherine Brierton: How do you think the pandemic has changed the William Allen White School of Journalism and KU as a whole?

Aseret Bertram: I think in like a non-educational way just how important and how grateful you need to be when you meet a stranger, you know, like I think I shook someone's hand the other day and it just was so like weird to me. I think I took for granted when I met someone, yeah, you know, you meet so many people while you're in college and you don't realize how impactful they're going to be. And so, yeah, this pandemic has just made me learn that like, even when I was still in college last semester, like all those people that I probably didn't get to meet that second half of the semester because of it. It just kinda shows you, you know, no, don't take anything for granted, live it up during your college years at KU.

I think something that hit me the most was I was never, ever going to walk the halls of any KU building as a student again. And so, you know, that last time, I didn't know it was my last time. I took it for granted. So as a whole, just Jayhawks know that like, we're so incredibly blessed to go to an amazing school like University of Kansas. And everyday we get to walk Jayhawk Boulevard or walk into any classroom of the KU buildings. It's just, we need to take it in and just be so grateful every day.

Catherine Brierton: How do you think KU will be better from everything that's happened?

Aseret Bertram: I think now, obviously, this is like a one-time in a century kind of deal, but we're so good now with knowing how to persevere from a situation and be able to bounce back quickly, especially with technology growing and expanding and whatever every day. I think it's important to always have that in mind. When something doesn't, like for example, like a class, it’s now so easy now to just hop on a Zoom or hop in like a quick video chat. So there's no excuses now, I guess is what I'm trying to say. We know that there's all this technology, there's all these resources. So yeah, I think that's one of the biggest things that KU has changed now. Like we know there's no excuses and we can, or KU can, keep going no matter what.

Catherine Brierton: Mhm. What advice would you give someone 100 years from now who may be dealing with another pandemic?

Aseret Bertram: Yeah. It sucks, and that's OK. Like, I think my biggest advice is to not try to fluff things. I think I try to do that at the beginning, you know? And they hit me in the butt whenever things didn't turn out the way I was hoping, I was like, “You know, we were going to -- we're going to go back like probably mid-April, for sure we’ll be back.” And, you know, I kind of had that in my mind and I kind of just let myself down because of it. And so then I was really upset with myself with just everything. So I think my biggest advice is to like, no, it sucks and it's OK. And you don't have to -- you don't have to just be positive about it at all times, you know, like this situation sucks and no matter what anyone tells you, your feelings are valuable and they matter. So if you're sad, if you're angry, if you're happy, like you feel what you need to feel and then keep going, you know? So that's probably my biggest advice. It sucks, but what are you going to do about it? You can either stay mad or you can just do amazing work that later in years, people are gonna be like, “Wow, she did this during a pandemic.” So yeah, that's my biggest advice, I think.

Catherine Brierton: Is there anything you'd like to add before we wrap up?

Aseret Bertram: Sure. Oh, I know what I should say. The support we had from not just KU but all the organizations I was in was just incredible. Like even last month, I was still getting gifts in a way, you know, like, we were sorry that your graduation, that happened, but there's this cute little Jayhawk for you to always remember us for. So it was just very humbling to know that, out of so many students in KU, but also just as seniors, like we were not forgotten. We were always heard whenever there was still talk about, you know, are we going to have a commencement? They sent out an email to seniors, like “When would you like it?” So our voice was heard, our voice was wanted. So that was just something I really appreciated from KU. They weren't just making decisions for themselves, but they really wanted to hear our input and what us seniors would like to see, would like to have. And even when it didn't happen, they still sent commencement books and they still sent, you know, the J-School did some features on their social media. You know, so we were just never forgotten and I really appreciated that from KU.

Catherine Brierton: Mhm. And that's awesome to hear that there's nothing else that you'd like to add. Then this is the conclusion of this oral history.

Aseret Bertram: Awesome.

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