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Shola Aromona: 'Trust science, trust the process'

Shola AromonaPh.D. student Shola Aromona was in Lawrence when she first found out KU was closing for the rest of the spring semester. At the time she felt like it was a precautionary measure being taken and that it would only last a couple of weeks. She said one of the biggest challenges she has faced throughout the pandemic has been social distancing and not visiting the J-School. 

Another challenge Aromona has faced is teaching online and trying to read the room across the screen. She said this is a lot more challenging than being in a physical classroom, and it is difficult to see whether or not her students are engaged with the lessons. She thinks the William Allen White School of Journalism has done well responding to the pandemic and has consistently checked in with students and faculty to see how everyone is feeling with all of the changes.

► Listen to the audio version here.

Kara Daneck: This is Kara Daneck. Today is Nov. 10, 2020. I am interviewing Shola Aromona 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?

Shola Aromona: Well, I was in Lawrence, and I was actually on campus the day that school -- I got the notice that school was closing. I guess I was -- I guess I felt like most people did, a mixture of, what’s the word? At that point, I guess I was overwhelmed and I didn't really feel -- I didn’t think that it would, like, last this long. So I was like, Oh, this is great. You know, for the time being, I had assumed that it's just going to be, you know, kind of a precaution that wouldn't last more than maybe like two or three weeks or maybe like a month at the most. But here we have like seven or eight months down the line.

Kara Daneck: How has this semester been different comparing spring semester with the pandemic to fall semester with the pandemic?

Shola Aromona: I guess the spring semester was filled with a lot of anxiety. The fact that it felt like it was the peak of the pandemic and we didn't really know what was going on. You know, I didn't know what was going on. There was a lot of, you know, it was a lot of things going on and anyway, it's just -- it was drastic. It was -- it was drastic. And so getting used to that normal in the spring, you know, having to transition in the middle of the semester was kind of hard compared to the fall. I mean, in the fall, we had like maybe two or three months to prepare and to just mentally prepare for a pandemic semester, if you may. So I guess, I mean, there was a difference. Absolutely. You know, between both semesters, spring was filled with lots of anxiety and not knowing exactly what's going to happen or what was even happening. And then transitioning the middle of the semester was pretty hard, you know, in the spring compared to the fall. So yeah.

Kara Daneck: What has been the biggest challenge of adapting to the changes on campus?

Shola Aromona: Well, I haven't been on campus a whole lot this semester ‘cause I'm like really socially distancing myself, but I guess that the fact -- I mean that in itself is a big deal and adapting to that. I mean, I’m a “go to campus, be in the J-School” kind of person. So, you know, not having that or not being able to do that has been pretty hard, but it's not -- I just take it as I take each day: as it comes. It's been challenging. Not being able to be on campus or to even be in the J-School. Yeah. So that has been quite challenging.

Kara Daneck: How has your workload changed as a result of the pandemic?

Shola Aromona: I think -- I don't know how to answer that question, but I feel that there is a little bit more to do now. Because yeah, there was a little bit more to do now because I teach online and you have to figure out -- you have to try to read the room across the screen. You know, you have to try to read the room and see where your students are. So I guess that's in itself a lot more than being actually in the physical space where you can actually read your students' countenances. And you can tell, you know, you can tell how the class, you can sort of feel the temperature of the class. So that is -- that makes it a little bit -- makes the workload a little bit more compared to when there was no pandemic and we could be in class together, you know, in person. Also you have to ... you have to prepare yourself mentally as well.

Shola Aromona: You know, just sometimes. So I guess, the workload isn't necessarily different. You still have to do all the things you have to do, but I guess that there is something to say about being around people and being able to -- I mean, being around people just sort of doesn't affect your mental health, I guess, as much as not being able to see people and talk to people. And maybe that's just for people who are like people persons, you know. Maybe people who are like very introverted, maybe they don't have that sort of issue. So workload wise, I think, I don't think there was any difference except the fact that you have to do a little bit more to ensure that your classes are going OK and that you're staying -- that actually I'm responding and engaging with your materials in class. So yeah.

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

Shola Aromona: I don't think my perception has changed. I still feel like there was a lot going on that we probably don't have a full understanding of. That has always been my perception since March. It hasn't changed. And I still feel -- I still think that people need to take absolute -- what’s the word -- precautions to ensure that all of these things just, you know, to ensure that they are keeping safe, basically. I do phone calls with my friends and my colleagues. I try to keep in touch with family and friends over the phone, thank God for the phone. Yeah. And just, you know, every day, mentally telling yourself to think positively -- know that this is a phase and everything would be back to normal pretty soon. So that's, that's how I've been coping. Essentially being able to at least talk to people if not physically, but still being able to talk to people and, you know, hang out, have Zoom hangout with friends and colleagues. So that has been -- that has been, yeah, that's been helpful.

Kara Daneck: How do you feel professors have handled the pandemic?

Shola Aromona: I think in the J-School, at least from the professors that I have interacted with, I feel that they've handled it pretty well. This is something that we haven't -- well, I wasn't born in 1918, so this is something that I, for one, and I think a whole lot of professors haven't really experienced before. So I think, given the novelty, I would like to call it a novelty because of our generation, given the novelty of the pandemic, I think they’ve handled it pretty well.

Professors are allowing for -- they are really allowing for -- would you say giving room for students to not only engage, but to just get to the point where they can be like -- just letting student be humans, you know, letting everyone be humans and just enjoy -- not necessarily enjoying, but knowing that this is something that no one has ever experienced before and just going with the flow and allowing people to be people, be humans. You know, not expecting a whole lot of -- not expecting students or even colleagues or friends to be super humans, you know, at this period. I mean, I think that has been really, that's been pretty awesome. So yeah, professors I've spoken to in the J-School at least have been pretty awesome in the way they've handled the pandemic.

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

Shola Aromona: Oh, I think that they've done wonderfully well and I mean, that might be some bias, I don't know, but I just -- I feel strongly that they've done absolutely well. From the spring when we had the school set up like welfare [nutrition nook food pantry] … for the J-School so they could go in and pick whatever they wanted and also could email the leadership for whatever it was they wanted at the time in the spring, that was pretty awesome. And just checking in that actually was pretty good, you know, checking in every time to see how they were feeling. I think that -- I think the response so far from the spring down to now has been amazing and I don't know what other schools are doing. I would assume that they also are doing similar stuff, like the J-School is doing. But back to your question and how the J-School, you know -- I feel like they handled it pretty well, pretty, pretty well.

I don't think that there was anything that -- Yeah, I think they've done pretty well, amazing job, you know, also considering fact that they have also -- they're not super humans, you know, they’re also going through this pandemic just like everyone else, you know, is doing, so for the leadership to be proactive and to really think about, to be thoughtful about the students and about ensuring that everyone is safe and the community is, you know, like safe, I think that that's pretty awesome that they deserve a pat on the back for that.

Kara Daneck: How has the pandemic changed the William Allen White School of Journalism and KU?

Shola Aromona: Well, I mean, for me personally, I feel that the changes have been essentially in terms of like in-person gatherings and yeah, essentially that's what I think has changed. Because I feel strongly that the J-School is a party place, and I don't mean that in a negative way. But I feel like the J -School is a place where you always have people going around and, you know, it's quite busy,. Stauffer Flint is a busy building in my opinion. And again, I haven't been there in months, so I don't know how busy it's been these past months, but I would assume that it's also -- it's been lacking the people traffic that we usually see.

So I think the pandemic has changed the J-School in terms of gathering, like in-person gatherings. I don't think it's changed the core of the school. I think that, you know, everyone in their capacity is still being ... the capacities to doing everything that they should do to ensure that the goals, the values of the school still -- how would you say -- still reign supreme. I mean, even doing it maybe virtually, but yeah, I don't think it's changed much. It's changed definitely in terms of how we gather, in terms of how we celebrate. But yeah, and for KU, I think it's also the same. I wouldn't -- and maybe I'm -- OK, maybe something else that this pandemic could have -- another change that this pandemic could have maybe like caused might be maybe students coming in, you know, like enrollment and things like that.

I think that might also be, I mean, ‘cause everyone wants to be safe, so maybe KU is losing enrollment, you know, and they are not coming in the J-School. Of course, that would also affect the J-School somewhat. So yeah.

Kara Daneck: What advice would you give someone 100 years from now who may be dealing with another pandemic?

Shola Aromona: Trust science. That's No. 1, trust science. And, and I mean, don't freak out. Definitely. Don't freak out. Don't take toilet paper, you know- don’t yeah, don't go to Dillon's and whatever store to just, you know, to fight over to find out what toilet rolls, please don't do that. But yeah, essentially trust science, trust the process, trust that things will be fine, you know, and do your best. Do your best to be -- do your best to stop this spread.

I think that I strongly, strongly believe that if everyone would do something to ensure that they stop the spread, you know, I think that we could -- things could have been different if people were not trying to be selfish. You know, if people were thinking about other people and knowing that, OK, whatever I have to do, it's not going to be forever. I wouldn't have to do -- I mean, I won’t to have to sit at home or not attend a party for two years and I wouldn't have to do that for five years. You know, it's just for some short period of time. So I feel that just -- you just think of what you can do to stop whatever virus or whatever, whatever would be the pandemic, you know, 100 years from now.

So do your best, do your part and stop whatever the, you know, stop the spread. And stopping the spread, stop the virus of the pandemic but also stop the misinformation, ensure that you do your best to yeah. To stop whatever evil is in the society at the time. Don't amplify misinformation about the virus and don't amplify the virus also, you know, don't spread it. So yeah. Do your best. Stop the spread. Don't hoard toilet papers and trust the science and the process.

Kara Daneck: This is the conclusion of this oral history.

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