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Kirita James: 'I miss the kids'

Kirita JamesKirita James is a custodian for the William Allen White School of Journalism and tasked with keeping Stauffer-Flint Hall clean and safe for students, staff, and faculty. Each day, she sanitizes classrooms to ensure they are safe for students on top of her typical custodial duties, such as mopping and dusting.

The rest of the School of Journalism knows what a critical role James plays in keeping Jayhawk Journalists safe. They all treat James kindly and with respect, just as they always have. Because of this happy relationship, James misses the students that she used to see throughout the day but is more concerned for their safety and wants to stay the course until the number of cases decreases. To keep her spirits up during the pandemic, James focuses on wearing masks and doing her part to try and flatten the curve. 

► Listen to the audio version here.

Emma Bascom: This is Emma Bascom. Today is Nov. 16, 2020. I am interviewing Kirita James for the William Allen White School of Journalism pandemic oral history project. So, 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?

Kirita James: I was here at work, and I heard about the virus and then I keep on working a couple of weeks until they make us start wearing masks and all that long distance from each other, and it's kind of weird, terrible for all of us.

Emma Bascom: So when you compare the spring semester with the pandemic to the fall semester with the pandemic, how has this been different?

Kirita James: Oh, it's different. And especially I miss the kids and everybody coming into the school and do my work, too. It's a lot of difference.

Emma Bascom: So, in what kind of ways has it been different?

Kirita James: Missing the kids come in and out. And my job, you know, is for the students, take care of the building for the students. So, I miss all that and just go for the best. This virus, it’s terrible.

Emma Bascom: What do you think has been the biggest challenge of adapting to the changes on campus?

Kirita James: Pretty much for the traffic and the kids in and out, and especially the kids, too, because to me they're more comfortable to come in and see the, you know, the professor and feel comfortable to do the work and, you know, around the campus. But since this virus going on, we’ve got to do our best for everybody else.

Emma Bascom: How has your workload changed as a result of the pandemic?

Kirita James: Mmm difference, because especially this mask I have to wear all the time. It's terrible, it's difficult, but we have to do the best that, you know, we can, make this virus going down somehow, somewhere, but it's a lot of difference.

Emma Bascom: So, do you think that you've had to do more work because of the pandemic?

Kirita James: Not pretty much, not much work now, but I had to pretty much every day, like, you know, sanitize the table and clean bathrooms, sanitize all the doors and make sure dust, all that dust, you know, dusted up so it won't be, you know, stay on everywhere else. So, we’ve got to keep up the cleaning for, especially for, you know, that’s my part of my job. Do it for the students. Yeah.

Emma Bascom: So how has your kind of perception or idea of the pandemic changed over time and how have you emotionally coped with the pandemic?

Kirita James: I just do what everybody out there was supposed to do, you know, like wear mask, distance, wash your hands and clean up and take care of yourself until all this virus going down somehow.

Emma Bascom: So, at the beginning of the pandemic, do you think, like, did you think that this wasn't going to be a big deal and then slowly realized that it was a huge deal, or did you sort of have one constant idea of what this was?

Kirita James: Yeah, the beginning of it, I didn't think it was going to be this bad, and it's going to be this much worse and worse. At the beginning, I make, you know, I was looking at all the China people, they wear a mask and I say to myself, Oh my God, what happened if I get to wear that thing? I get it now. It's not funny at all. No, I'm serious. I was always watch those people in China, and they wear masks until we get in to us. Now we got to wear, so we got to do something to make this virus going down for everybody else and, you know, for the community so we can go forward and living life, enjoy life while we’re on this Earth. Yeah. Life is too short.

Emma Bascom: Yeah, absolutely. So has  there been anything that you've done to sort of like lift your spirits emotionally?

Kirita James: Yeah. Lift my spirit for all the people that, you know, they didn't deserve to go away that fast. Everybody needed to enjoy life till you go away. Yeah. It lifted me up, especially those little babies, too, those kids. I don't like it because kids, they should be enjoying life and live til go away. Yeah.

Emma Bascom: So, can you walk me through your routine? Like what do you do each day to make sure that we're all staying safe?

Kirita James: At my work? Yeah. I'll make sure I'll sanitize everything else, clean bathroom, mop, cleaning good, you’re supposed to do and wipe it down, everything else, you know, and yeah, I’ve got to do my job, is clean up and dust and everything else to make the virus going down somehow. So, that's part of my job. I'll make sure, you know, doorknobs wiping and the table before the kids come in, you know, after the class and stuff. Yeah. That's part of my job. I got to do my job. Make the virus go down somewhere.

Emma Bascom: So, you have one of the most important jobs in the school. Do you have people treated you differently since the pandemic started? Like, have they shown more appreciation for what you do?

Kirita James: Yeah, but people here is so nice. Everybody's good. Everybody's nice. And I'm happy to, you know, they treat me the way I want. I treat them the way respect. Yeah. Yeah.

Emma Bascom: How do you feel about the School of Journalism's response to the pandemic? So, like, the procedures and everything that they've put in place.

Kirita James: I think it's pretty good. The way they handled the problem, the virus, I think is pretty good. They make sure they sanitize, and they make sure they have the chemical for the cleaner. Yeah.

Emma Bascom: How do you think, or, how has the pandemic changed the School of Journalism and KU as a whole?

Kirita James: It's changed a lot. Kids, you know, kids is -- less come in. I guess they take their online class, but it changed a lot. Changed the campus, too, changed people, too. The way I see for myself is – it's different than the normal life we usually had. I guess this is the virus, we’ve gotta do something. Help out. Wear the mask.

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

Kirita James: Ah, you got to do better. Every professor, they know better. They do some better. So, this virus going down and make everybody live happy.

Emma Bascom: What advice would you give to someone 100 years from now who might be dealing with another pandemic?

Kirita James: Oh, I guess we just take care and, you know, just follow the science and take care of each other and take care of yourself – it's our Kansas. Virus come along. So you just gotta take care of yourself.

Emma Bascom: This is the conclusion of this oral history.

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