In the last few weeks, things have rapidly changed at the University of Mississippi School of Journalism and New Media as faculty, staff and students have learned more about the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.
As journalists, we understand how to adapt to new situations pretty quickly, and that mindset has allowed us to move all of our in-person classes online using Blackboard and other multimedia tools in a short time.
This has required teamwork and innovative thinking, and it has allowed us to stay together as an educational family even though we are temporarily separated.
We’re together, though we’re apart.
We’re still a family of students and educators. We will persevere. Life and school will go on even though we face temporary challenges.
Some of our professors are offering words of wisdom about coping with these new changes.
Dean Will Norton, Jr.
Dean Will Norton, Jr., Ph.D., said faculty staff are here to help students any way they can, and they will be offering many interesting courses in the summer and fall, whether they are in person or online.
“I am grateful for the hard work our faculty members have done to adapt to the current situation,” Norton said. “Faculty are working long hours to get lectures online and to contact students so that they can finish the semester. We meet as a faculty once a day on Zoom, and the comments are heartwarming.
“I also am grateful for the many adjustments students are making so that they can complete their coursework. This has been an eerie time, but our faculty and our students have been superb.
“We are grateful for the amazing students we have as we navigate these uncharted waters. We are confident that our school will emerge from this stronger than ever.”
Assistant Dean Debora Wenger, Ph.D., said the school’s faculty and staff were determined to continue teaching students and were willing to make big changes to complete the semester.
“In just a little more than a week, our faculty rolled up their proverbial shirtsleeves and pulled off what might seem to be the impossible — they put every one of our classes online,” she said. “In addition, we have seen students, who have good reason to be stressed out, sending emails of support and offering good humor and kindness to each other in Zoom meetings and on social media.
“Add to that the incredible response from our staff. They are keeping this ship together so well that it doesn’t even look leaky, but day in and day out, they are plugging countless holes. Right now, we’re seeing the very best of what the School of Journalism and New Media is, and I could not be prouder to be a part of it.”
Assistant Dean Scott Fiene said he is also proud of faculty, staff and students for the strength and character they have exhibited adapting to changes.
“I am so pleased with how we’ve all come together – students, faculty, staff – to make the best of this,” Fiene said. “We are living through a terrible global tragedy, but I also think this could be our finest hour. I truly believe that.
“Everywhere I go (and by that, I mean on Zoom, and brief trips to the grocery store to see if they have any TP and hand sanitizer yet), I am seeing kindness, compassion, creativity, humor and a sense of community and purpose that has been long overdue in our world. We will get through this, and there’s one heck of a rainbow at the end. Stay focused, stay safe, and I look forward to all being back together on campus again very soon.”
Professor Samir Husni, Ph.D., director of the Magazine Innovation Center, offered these words of wisdom.
“In the midst of all the doom and gloom there is always hope… and this shall also pass,” he said. “Students, keep the faith, stay well, stay safe, and stay inside.”
Senior Lecturer Robin Street said she knows all of us are anxious and unsure right now.
“I cannot imagine how stressful it is to be a student right now,” she said. “My own ‘survival kit’ has three components that help me get work done and cope with the anxiety. Hope some of this advice can help a student:
Set up a work area. “I already had a great home office set up. Of course, it is all about purple (her favorite color) and has a standing desk!”
Exercise! “As a former health journalist, I know that exercise is proven to reduce anxiety. I just ordered some exercise equipment that I am using in my basement.”
Love on your pet. “My favorite anti-anxiety treatment is my beloved dog, Brooklyn. If you are lucky enough to have a pet, spending time with him or her is a proven mental health booster.”
Professor Kathleen Wickham, Ph.D. shared a quote from William Faulkner: “The problems man faces are usually bigger than he is, but amazingly enough, he copes with them — not as an individual but as a community.”
“Keep in touch with us,” Wickham said. “Ole Miss is your community. Together we will cope with your issues.”
Professor Cynthia Joyce said she won’t sugarcoat things.
“The next few weeks/months are going to be very difficult, and in ways we don’t necessarily anticipate,” she said. “The priority will be for you to take care of yourself and to make sure you are properly ‘sheltering in place’ while still trying to stay productive if at all possible.”
She said some of her tried-and-true coping mechanisms include petting an animal and drinking a glass of water.
“Check on someone you know who might be struggling,” she said. “Call your grandparents. Don’t forget that outdoors is still a safe place to be. Spend more time there rather than in front of the TV or your computer screen if you can . . . And here’s a little bit of good news to keep in mind in the midst of this crisis: This is likely to be the biggest story of your lives — and you all are storytellers. Make this moment count.”
Professor Jason Cain, Ph.D., said in times of crisis, we all want a sense of control.
“It can be difficult to embrace just how adrift in chaos our lives are at the moment, and feeling out of control is what causes so much anxiety,” he said. “We feel we have so little impact on these giant decisions by governments and institutions even though we’re so deeply affected by them.”
However, Cain said, the truth is there are many things you can still control – not just coursework – but the joy we bring to others.
“They may seem like small acts – all those times you made a brother or sister laugh, helped a parent relax, spent a few minutes on FaceTime with your grandparents, reached out to someone you know who needs to hear a kind voice, or just reminded someone that you love them – but they matter.
“I’d argue they matter more than anything else in the world. While I’ve seen people angry over hoarding and so on, I’ve also seen a few people cry just from being completely overwhelmed by the many small kindnesses their communities have shared . . .
“When it comes to bringing joy to the people in your life, you’re a king. That’s where your work lies,” he said. “All of you reading this are a king or queen in some area of your life. And no matter how big or small you think that role is, it’s important. That’s where you can find some control in this situation in which you’ve found yourself. Don’t worry about the places where you still feel like a pawn, find those places where you are royalty. That’s where you are most needed, and that’s where you now have an opportunity to shine.”
Professor LaReeca Rucker said the coronavirus was the topic of many current events discussions this semester before spring break.
“It seems surreal that we are here and the world has changed so much since some of those class conversations,” she said. “But I think this presents a unique opportunity for all of our student journalists to be community servants through their work, even if they are doing it only via phone and social distancing.
“If you were actually looking for a way to help your community during this time, one of the ways student journalists can do that is by doing good work. I believe the stories they write will ultimately mean more to them in the long run because they will know they were part of something bigger. It’s almost as if we have a responsibility to chronicle this situation and make sure the focus of our reporting is about helping our neighbors.”
Rucker said it’s also important to remember to take care of yourself.
“I know that a lot of people are feeling a little anxious,” she said. “One of the things that has a proven psychological benefit is being in nature. I would encourage you to continue practicing social distancing, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go out into the forest or spend time at a lake, especially if no one else is near you, and enjoy the beauty and the peacefulness of nature to clear your mind.”
Professor R. J. Morgan said it may seem like you are alone, but we’re all going through this together.
“It’s not easy, and it’s not normal, but it is necessary,” he said. “Listening to the recommendations of our world and local leaders can and is saving lives. We must keep doing our part. So put on your most comfortable pair of jammies, remember to tip the delivery person who just dropped off lunch, and let’s get through this semester. We can do this.
“We all stand with you . . . just not beside you.”
The School of Journalism and New Media is also asking students to report where they are with its #OleMissWhereRU social media campaign.
We want to see where our students are finishing their semesters. Are they taking their final tests in their childhood bedroom or on a beach?
Are they writing papers overlooking rolling hills or an urban skyline?
Use #OleMissWhereRU on Instagram, Twitter, or TikTok to show the university family where you are, and how you’re completing the semester. We may share your response on our school’s social media sites.