Campus COVID stories presentation to highlight perseverance, struggle

Photos courtesy of Pat Flood - Malida Chang said COVID-19 showed her how precious time is while working as a CNA.

Photos courtesy of Pat Flood – Malida Chang said COVID-19 showed her how precious time is while working as a CNA.

Cory Sparks, Staff Writer

Humans of Oshkosh founder Grace Lim and four UW Oshkosh honors students will present “Campus Covid Stories” at 5 p.m. April 27 in the Music Hall of the Arts & Communications Building.

Tanner Sarauer, MaryAnn Reindl, Emelia Smith and Cory Sparks will be telling an audio-visual story of various Titans impacted by the pandemic. They will present anecdotes from people of all roles on campus to display the struggles and perseverance of the community.

Vicki Sadler, on the left, and her daughter Mandy Olesen, on the right, worked as custodial supervisors throughout COVID-19.

The UWO Music Department will also provide music to accompany the presentation.

The students worked under Lim with the goal of showcasing the storylines of students, professors, coaches and other faculty from 2020 to the present day.

Lim spearheaded this project dating back to fall 2021, when she started having students from a class interview individuals about how COVID-19 altered their lives and the lives of those around them. Lim and her students tell over 120 stories with over 1.5 million words that’ll be archived for future generations to read.

Lim said that what started as a suggestion from Chancellor Andrew Leavitt turned into something much larger.

“My initial thought process was what stories do we want to tell?” Lim said. “Who will tell these stories? How will the stories be collected? Who will collect the stories? To tell you the truth, it was just a germ of an idea from Chancellor Leavitt and it grew into something truly important.”

From there, Lim and the honors students transcribed, paraphrased and helped archive the interviews into stories about people in different segments of the campus. The stories are printed into a book about the shockwave that the pandemic sent through UWO.

Sarauer, a senior at UWO, has spent the last eight months talking to a variety of UWO students and faculty, including Chancellor Leavitt and Provost John Koker, to help recall the process of shutting down an entire campus with little to no notice. 

He keyed in on students’ unknown fate as they packed their bags and left town while the weight of the world was on Leavitt’s shoulders during an unprecedented time.

Reindl, an Oshkosh junior, covered the stories of essential workers. While many fled home to take shelter during a horrifying and uncertain time period, essential workers didn’t have that option. There were still bills to be paid, mouths to feed and work to be done.

Many of these people put their lives on the line, and Reindl documented what they had to go through.

Lim said that by creating a massive archive of Oshkosh’s venture through the pandemic, she gained an increased appreciation for those unsung heroes.

“I had really little idea of what the members of the Emergency Operations Committee and the Recovery Task Force were doing,” she said. “Talk about unsung heroes of the university during the time of COVID.”

Smith, a UWO junior, covered the fall 2021 semester where classes were back in a hybrid format. COVID-19 cases were on the rise with students back on campus, faculty were reluctant to return to the university and Leavitt was doing everything from running the front desk at a residence hall to teaching a lab course. Leavitt’s ability to lead by example was one of many acts that guided UWO on the road to recovery.

Smith also talked about the nursing program and how so many brave students administered vaccines and ran the on-campus clinics. 

Sparks, an Oshkosh senior, covered the spring 2022 semester, UWO athletics and the gymnastics program’s historic run to a national championship. The gymnastics program, like other teams competing into the playoffs in March, was sent home right before traveling to the national championship.

Sparks covers their resurgence to glory after 24 long months of tripled practices, positive COVID-19 cases and an eventual national title.

Sarauer said that upon reflecting on his work throughout the past calendar year, he hopes that the thoroughness of this project is able to accurately describe what so many Titans have gone through.

UWO baseball player Tom Cermak in 2021.

“I have spent countless hours listening, reading, writing, cropping, editing, searching, you name it,” Sarauer said. “We want to make sure that the campus story is told correctly, and hopefully our finished product does just that.”

Sarauer and the other honors students are getting a thesis credit for this year-long project. He said that this route is one that he prefers as it differs from the style of papers he writes for his major-related school work.

“I am always writing very formal works on politics and government in my major course work, so it was nice to do something unique like this project for my honors thesis,” he said. “It is so important to not only know what we went through, but how we were able to survive that time of extreme uncertainty.”

Lim referred to the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, happening just over a century prior to the year COVID-19 was declared a pandemic-level threat.

She said that there isn’t nearly enough information available from that time, and while everyone may be eager to move on from this pandemic, they shouldn’t be so quick to drop the lessons it taught.

“We humans are a forgetful bunch,” Lim said. “We have lived through a defining moment in the 21st century. We have to preserve our stories before we forget them.”

Doors to the Music Hall will open at 4:30 p.m. on April 27.

Editor’s Note: The event’s location was first reported incorrectly. The correct location is the Music Hall in the Arts & Communications Building.