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Transcript of Oral History Interview with Noah Loehr, 2023
COVID-19 Oral History Project
All right. So I guess we can just start with you saying your name and I feel like yeah,
My name is Noah lair. I'm a student here at Augsburg in my second year here.
Yeah. Nice. so my name is Zach Woodhead. I'll be the narrator for this assignment.
So yeah, so my first questio...
All right. So I guess we can just start with you saying your name and I feel like yeah,
My name is Noah lair. I'm a student here at Augsburg in my second year here.
Yeah. Nice. so my name is Zach Woodhead. I'll be the narrator for this assignment.
So yeah, so my first question that I had for you was just, how did COVID How did the COVID 19
pandemic affect your college experience? Overall? Overall, how's this affected?
Well, I think one of the biggest things obviously was like the introduction to online classes. I
mean, and that started for me in high school and COVID hit, but then even when I got to
college, they're still having online classes. And so like, like, before COVID There was, like, I
don't think there was really like, ever online classes for like regular college. I mean, there was
like, like, technical colleges that had like, online stuff, like, that's what they were like, offering but
like, so like, yeah, the difference between like, now like, in a schedule, you're balancing, oh, I
have like one class in person. But then after go find this place, because I'm on an online class
the next time and like, different things like that, I think prize the biggest then also to probably
like, mean, during COVID to there's like different stuff. Like when I was a freshman to like, I lived
in the dorms, like we didn't have, we can only have like, certain amount of people coming in,
like, into our dorms and stuff. So like, you weren't able to, like invite all your friends over all the
time. Like there was like, strict rules about like, you only can have like, one or two people
besides like people living there. Sure. That sort of affected like social life too. I think so just
things like that, where it's like, mean, they're like little inconveniences, but like, it does sort of like
take away from your college experience, I guess a little bit. Sure. So I guess like, following up
with that. So with being like, limited with like, how many people you can invite or?
And was that your freshman year? Yeah, I was going on. Yeah. So like, that was like, I'm finally
I'm in college. Yeah. And like, that's your experience? Like how did that affect you? Were you
like upset? Are you not coming we I had a little bit lucky because like, I gotta live with at least I
had through the roommates. So like, there wasn't like a good amount of other guys with me in
the room, but because like we had a two bedroom room. And then we each had like two people
in each bedrooms after the roommates, which was nice, because like, it was a good group, like
amount of people but like, I know, some freshmen, like it's just them and one other roommate.
And then like, the pie was really isolating for them because like, you only can like, be with that
one person and then maybe invite like one other person over Sure. I mean, so yeah, that
probably is like, isolating for them. Sure. And then
so being in a dorm Did you were you from Are you like from Did you commute? Like are you out
of state or do you live close to the campus or? Well, I'm pretty close. I live Rosemount, which is
like 30 minutes south of here. Okay, but so like, I was able to like go home a fair amount
sometimes. But yeah, I mean, mostly lived here. Just because it's I don't know, I had basketball
going on. I always had to be here. So sure. I lived mostly in the dorms and went back like a little
bit here and there. Okay, yeah. So
you had stuff kind of going on, like, let's say class, and well, class was probably all online, too.
At that point. For some, some was online, some was in person, it sort of depended on there's
different masking policies to there's, there was like, it was like a gray period, because like when
I got to college, it was sort of like, like my freshman year, like my fall semester freshman year, it
was like the second wave, like sort of the tail end of the second wave. But like, there was a lot of
like, gray space where it was like, some teachers are requiring you to like wear a mask and like
are super strict about it. Other teachers are like, it's up to you. Like what do you want to do other
teachers are like still scared to hold in person. So that was why I was online. So I just like it sort
of was like I almost made it worse because like if it was just like one like all I lie and I feel like I
would have been able to like get used to it more. But it was like bouncing between like teachers
preferences and like all that stuff. Sure. Yeah. So did you
like how did you respond to that? Did you were you like fresh or you would you get like
frustrated if like a teacher was like oh I'm still not comfortable? And then you had to go in line or
like what was your what what was kind of like your
How did you like react to like being told you had to wear a mask to class every single day? Well,
it was like interesting because like in high school, we got to a point where like, we weren't
masked, like weren't required to wear masks. But then like, I knew like coming to a smaller
college like they're probably going to want to like required more. And so like I was
Finding like somebody just had like really valid reasons like they live with like a spouse or
someone that was like immediately immunocompromised and so like, obviously, like, just
wearing a mask, like, to me, it wasn't like that big of a deal. Like, I had already been like wearing
masks, because COVID had been going on for like, two years at this point in like a year. And so
like, I was already pretty used to, like, at that point, like, it didn't really bother me that much. But
definitely, like, it was frustrating. Like, like, taking I like, like being I like in person class better just
because like, I can be like asking teachers questions like right away, or like, before class after
class, like getting extra feedback, or like getting help on extra stuff, where like, when is over
zoom, it was like a lot harder. And like, you're like doing zoom office hours, which is like a whole
nother step. So like, I felt like that was probably the biggest struggle with online classes. And
then like, I had a teacher who was like, hesitate, because her parents were got sick in Mexico,
so she had to like zoom from Mexico. And so sometimes she'd have like, bad internet
connection, like different things like that. But yeah, definitely made it harder. Sure.
I guess another question would be
could you like Describe how your daily routine changed as a college student during the
pandemic? Or, like the how the pandemic like did this affect, like, the routine as a student that
we knew, or knew of our whole life and then having to kind of adapt to this like to Denny, like, did
you find that things changed? Or? Well, first off, I'll just say like, it definitely changed my, like,
athletic experience, like playing basketball, because so when I came in, like, there was still
COVID restrictions, like, it was not less because like, I know, the season before I came to
Augsburg, like they only had like a five game season like that was because it was like peak
COVID. And it was like, like, so literally, the whole season was canceled, but like, we had a full
season my year, but like, there was still a lot of different things like testing and everything like
that. And like, we basically you either had to get vaccinated, or if you weren't vaccinated, you
had to be testing, like every week, like twice a week. And then like, if, if you if you got if you
were vaccinated and got like COVID, you'd be out for like, seven to eight days, like maximum.
And then like, you'd have to do like, a play to like return to play like platform, you'd have to like
go through a bunch of tests to see like, if you're okay, and then if you weren't vaccinated, and
you got COVID It was like, an automatic two weeks out, like no matter what. And so like, that
kind of stuff, where it's like, you have guys in the team, like quite like, worried about getting
vaccinated or not. And so I think most of our players got vaccinated just to like, be able to, like,
not have to wait out that long if you weren't you COVID. And like, we had an incident where we
did have COVID. And so we like missed the game. And then we had to, like, everyone had to
sort of test and like do that kind of stuff. So like, and like sometimes if someone was exposed,
and they knew about it, like we'd have to wear masks during practice, like out of the blue, which
is sort of like a hard thing to do when you're running around wearing a mask. But so like that
kind of stuff like day to day definitely affected like basketball wise, but then school eyes. Yeah, I
think it's a lot of what I talked about already, but just like,
think bigger, it's honestly just the online classes. And then like the dining hall was when I was a
freshman, the dining hall was like, up and running and open and everything was fine. But I know
from other my father friends who were like, older than me a little bit older than me, like their
dining hall experience, like their freshman year was like really bad because it was closed a lot of
times. And so you'd have they had like, I think it was like the bring you meals to your room. But
like, it didn't always like work like bid sometimes we didn't get the meals or like it'd be like really
like on portioned and like all that kind of stuffs like, honestly felt worse for them. Because like,
they were like the ones like super, like, locked in the room and like couldn't like all their classes
online and stuff. But like, I guess our my time like with COVID in college is more of just like a
gray space of like, like, is it still going on? Is it not? Sure. Sort of like kinda like the middle of like,
is it over with is it not? And like, that can be frustrating, obviously, too, but I sort of feel for like
them more. Sure. Just because like they they really like their freshman year, which is rude. No,
no, like five games season. All online classes, like stuck in your room. Yeah, that was Yeah.
Fair. For you too. Yes. Yeah. So.
So yeah. So you kind of
for whoever's listening to this. You spent, I guess the second half of high school. Yeah. Where it
was kind of really strong. And then you came to Augsburg na was still going on, but really like
the forefront of it all happening was still in high school. Yeah. the forefront was junior year. I
think it was March 17. I think 2020
2020 Yeah, because that was when we were on spring break, like as juniors. And then we got
an email saying, like, you have an extra week of spring break. And it was like, we sort of COVID
like sort of been being talked about, but like, a lot of us did not know, I didn't really know what it
was, like, they didn't even give a reason reason why an extra week, it was just, like, we're
planning on stuff, we haven't really an extra week. And then from there, it was like, we went all
online for the rest half of my junior year. And like, that was really weird. Because like, in high
school, it was even, like, more weird to like, have like online classes, because like high school,
like you're always in person, like yes is like everything. And so like, a lot of teachers didn't know
how to like adapt. And like, I felt for a lot of them because like they had never had anything
happen like this before. And I was like, I feel like none and I mean, none of us really had
anything like this happen. And so like, yeah, like my prom got cancelled junior year. And so like,
I only ended up going to senior prom, which was nice. But um, but yeah, I didn't have a junior
prom. And then yeah, other stuff happened though to like, even in my senior year, in the fall,
there was like another wave. And so then, like, that was weird, too. Because like, we started
school in person, then like, picked off. So we went online again. But then it's like, and then I
didn't have like a football state tournament because of COVID. And we would have went to the
state tournament, I think.
But yeah, and then my that was like senior year was like, Junior year was like, basically all
online. Like that was it that was the peak wave. But then like, see you again, because like,
there's basically like two big waves and COVID. And like, senior year, you got to like the point
where you got through the first wave, but then like, the second wave picked up again. And so
then it was like, weird, because like we were bouncing in between in person and online. And
then like, there was choice students had like choices to make too. And like I played basketball in
the winter. And like our coach recommended that like basketball players go online, because like,
if you get exposed in class in high school, then you would be out. So like a lot of like, athletes in
high school, like stayed virtual, like during their seasons. So like they could maximize being able
to play. But we were still wearing masks like the whole senior year too, which was pretty crazy.
Yeah, it was definitely crazy. Yeah, as a crazy time. But yeah, but then again, like when I went to
college, it was sort of like the second wave had peaked. And like, but they were still like, in a
gray space of like, is it still going on? Like stuff was like vaccines had sort of come out? But like,
like, it wasn't like, everyone hadn't got them yet. And so like, there was still like, a question of
like, is going on? And like, all these different like, rules about some people are like really saying
it's still going other people. They're like moving past it. So yeah, so
brought up vaccines, I guess. Yeah.
And how some players cuz
you know, this isn't about me. But yeah, some people were
a little bit more I feel like cautious about the vaccine and had different takes on it. Yeah.
What was that? Like? I know, you kind of touched base on it with I'm assuming a few players on
your team. Were kind of like that. How, how did you react to that kind of situation? And it? Yeah,
and the seemingly, you know,
I don't want to say it was forced, but yeah, it was almost like you were pushed into a direction of
not being able to not get it. So like how, yeah, how it coaches like basically just said, like, it'd be
in your best interest to get the vaccine. I wasn't like, forced, because like, we definitely thought
you didn't get it. But like, they basically just described it like, like the consequences of not having
it and then getting COVID Were like, far greater being out like automatically two weeks no
matter what. Versus like, if you were like vaccinated, I think it was like, a five or like five days,
but if you had no symptoms, or like seven days, but if you had no symptoms, it could be shorter,
or something like that. And like a lot of those rules like change, like month to month and so like
our athletic trainer, Mac, he had to deal with a lot of that and like, think about it like to is like for
them being on the trainers, like that added a whole nother element to like athletic training with
COVID. And like, it puts a lot of stress on him because like, he's like, trying to get guys like
contests and like do this and that and like, I don't think he ever anticipated his job being like that.
Sure. It's because like, He's almost like a real doctor now, like making sure people have COVID
tests and like, Who's who can play who can sit and things like that. But yeah, I bought the
vaccines and like some people not getting it. Like I understand like it was uh, I mean, when I got
the vaccine, it's sort of been around for a decent amount where like, people had been like, okay
with it and like, like, fine, but like, I had no question I was gonna get it just
cuz like, I didn't want to, like, I think the biggest thing for me was like, I didn't want to get other
people sick. And so like, that was the biggest thing. But like, I respected like the people's
choices to not get it. But like, they ended up having to sit out super long sometimes. And like,
they mean that's just on them. And that's alright, you know, but you know, so. But yeah,
definitely created some tension because there's like, some social tension of like, oh, some guys
aren't getting it, like, why and different things like that. But like, I was able to, like understand it,
you know, because like, it was a new like, it is a new, really new vaccine. And like, what if
something is bad? And like, everyone's getting it, but like, yeah, at the end of the day, I think it's
just on them. And like, yeah, they want to do, but it definitely did create, like a little bit of like,
social tension now it's Yeah, so
yeah, I guess kind of that's interesting. I'm kind of curious about if you can kind of go into that
more. So I feel like we're kind of going with like the basketball team, because that was yeah,
like, even if you were there, like, I mean, it's okay, if like, everyone, a lot of people will go and
say what they want to say behind other people's backs. Like, Oh, this guy isn't getting it. And
like, was there people were just, like, really? Like, kind of was it? Was it ruin? Did it like impact
people's relationships? Because they weren't getting it? I guess. I mean, I don't necessarily like I
think our least in college, I would say like, we have a pretty close knit guys. Like, I don't think it
like really affected our like, relationship with that with them.
I wouldn't, I wouldn't say that. But I would say like, I think the biggest thing was just like, like, oh,
like, why aren't you following like the mass? Like, almost everyone's getting, like, why aren't you
like kind of stuff? We're like, Yeah, I think everyone just had like that question in their head. But
like, at the end of the day, I think we just accepted their choice. And like, ended up working out,
like, for the most part pretty fine. Like, I had some similar stuff going on, like high school to
where like, Well, I remember this, I went to like a Halloween party. And like that, it was sort of
when COVID was like, on the down end, but like we hadn't done anything in a long time. And so
all my friends was hanging over kind of just have like a pop party or whatever. And then, like, I
ended up getting COVID and then select that it was the fat like that it was the talk about like,
like, I felt like I needed like, because at that point, like you're supposed to, like tell them if you
have COVID and like tell you've been exposed to like, I remember like the school nurse calling
me and I like say yeah, I was with these group of guys. And like, all that kind of stuff. And that
created some tension, like with my friends, because then it was like, Oh, no is like saying we like
he exposed us and like now they're out of stuff. And different things like that. Because like then
they get taken out of school and they get taken out of like sports and like, at the end of the day, I
made that decision because like, I didn't want them to like go expose, like the grandparents or
something. And like, I worked like all my relations, my friends, like worked out fine. But like,
they're always just like those, like social tensions of like, not like your actions or like your
disease is going to like, like, expose someone else. And like that, like has negative effects for
them. So it's that like, direct link of like, tension, I guess, cuz it's like, now I got COVID. And like,
say you got COVID have to tell people about it. Yeah. Exposed you. Yeah, definitely. That's one
of the things to think about with COVID is like it definitely created like, that kind of tension that I
don't think has ever really happened before. Sure. Because like, like, if someone gets the flu, it's
like, oh, it's just him. Yeah, like, yeah, maybe you could expose you but like, there's no like
negative effect unless you don't get sick. You know?
What? I like how you brought up that, like, you got COVID? How, how was that? To like, how
was that for you? Like it was? And then you go into that? And then I'm curious, like, after
experiencing it now that we're pretty much through COVID
Do you think the way people reacted and
the like, treatment that they had towards it? Like all these very, you know, mass can't be around
people like do you think that was the right move? Or did I think it should be or like do you think
after now that we're here, do you think it was kind of more like we should have been a little bit
more like the flu where it's like, you know, it's a sickness. You don't want to get people sick?
Yeah. And I know it was you bounced around high school and stuff, but also like,
kind of like, how do you think Augsburg kind of? Yeah, respond? Yeah, for sure. So yeah, I got a
COVID and it was I was lucky like I got it on the first big wave. And so I wasn't high school still,
I was lucky I didn't have like, all I had was like lack of taste and smell. That was it. And that was
a weird symptom to begin with. Because that was like a weird day to just one day like waking up
and like, I was eating some like cinnamon rolls and I just couldn't taste anything and like, oh,
shoot, like this is it? So I was like, I consider myself pretty lucky. Like I got my taste and smell
back pretty soon too. And I know like some people don't. So that's the like, I know I was lucky.
With that, but um,
but yeah, so can you repeat the question again? Sorry. Yeah. So, so I just Yeah, I wanted to
know how you how COVID affected you? And then yeah.
Like, like how your opinion on on like, Yeah, I mean, yeah, being at Augsburg how they kind of
responded, but I know obviously your, your, your high school as well and like kind of how, yeah,
your experience with how it was and how I feel like, I was very heavily pushed that it was I get it,
I get very, very aggressive disease, which I'm not saying it wasn't, but I know some people.
Yeah, I think Augsburg was pretty in terms of like, at the time, I was like, the title of what COVID
was, Augsburg was, I would say when I first got he was pretty strong with their like, with their
rules and regulations and mandates and stuff, because, like we were sort of tailing down at that
point. And so I know a lot of people were like, really frustrated with that just because like, oh,
like whatever masks like I didn't have to wear masks in any other places and like different things
In terms of like, I don't know, I was sort of annoying, but like, I'm just one of those. My mom
works in health care. And so like she like, she tells me all these stories about like all this, like,
really sick coma patients and everything like that. And like, anytime I was really annoyed, I was
just like, okay, like, it could be really, really worse. And like someone could get really, really sick
still. So like, and like the stuff that Augsburg was having us do like, like, and like in the moment,
it may seem bad. Like in the long run, it really wasn't, it was just like, some teachers could still
require you to wear masks. And like, to me wearing a mask wasn't that big of a deal. Like in
class you just have put on and just wait. And then like, being small, like the like inviting people
over to your dorm. Like, I thought that was a little intense just because like, you can decide you
like want to come over and like obviously you can't throw like a big party, like in your freshman
dorm anyways, because it's small. So it's like, but honestly, what they're trying to do, like they're
trying to still limit people a little bit like limit gatherings. But like, in the end, I'd like it was alright.
But like I would say like, come with other people like definitely thought it was like harder and like
they shouldn't have had them at that time. Just but like, for me, I sort of just sucked it up and
just said, you know, it is what it is. Yeah. I feel like
a lot of people
I'll say being like Americans, you know, this, I feel like especially for our generation. I know
previous generations have had some experience with virus epidemics. But this was like the first
time in my in I'll say our life. Yeah. Where we
we weren't really like the mass stuff. Like it was a it was a you have to Yeah, not a choice basis.
I feel like that's where a lot of the Yeah, push back or.
And being a college student you know, you don't? Nobody thought when they go to college,
they're gonna have to. Yeah, that's like, so I feel like that's where it really created a lot of
tension. So yeah, I feel like that's yeah, I feel like that was part of the Yeah, that thing about
choice. And like, a lot of people like didn't like to have their like to be forced on them. I'm like, I
like didn't like it either at the beginning, but then I think, like, once I got to college, and like
sounds it had been going on for a while I just had, like, just got used to it, you know? Because
like, I mean, it's just, almost, it was like, at that point, it's been going on for like, a year and a
half, almost two years. And so like at that point, it's just like, yeah, like it just like, it is what it is,
you know, just getting used to like living that way. And but yeah, I definitely like, like, the
masking like when it first was introduced was definitely a big deal. Because like, like, I mean,
even my like grandpa, like a lot of the older generations, like my grandparents and stuff like that,
that comment about like being a choice and like we're American, like we can do what we want.
Like, for a lot of the older generations, like my grandparents, like they really like had struggled
with that and like, why do you why do I have to wear this? Like, why is this not even like even
though like they're the most at risk, you know? Like they're the ones that really should be
wearing it. Because like they're like in their 70s and like yeah immunocompromised and like it's
like I think that was like I don't know I honestly want to say like That's why so many like older
people got sick is like they just didn't want it like I feel like younger to our younger generation
like didn't like it at first but like we were able to adapt better to it. Yeah, like older generations
who like I don't want to change and like they ended up getting really sick you know? So but
So, how did you maintain like social connections and relationships during the pandemic? Was it
Do you feel like you lost
some connection with people and like, you just don't see. I don't know like how did having to
Basically, at least in my experience, it was you. I mean, you got shut down there was I was at
home. I was currently attending an out of state college, I had to go back home. And it was just
that was it. You know, like, if I didn't have any friends there, but yeah, I mean, I wasn't able to
connect with them. Did you feel like any of your, or social connections or whatever get affected?
Or how were you able to still? Yeah.
I think be on a contact. Yeah, that's a good question. I think it really just like everyone's sort of
just, like, condensed down like their core group of friends almost like being in like, high school
that was like, because like you would like in high school, you'd walk around and like, you know,
everyone and like, it was like, I mean, I went to a bigger high school, but like, I still knew a ton of
people. And like, I wouldn't say like, they were my best friends. But like, I had connections with
them, like on a day to day basis. And like, I don't want to COVID it. It really just shrunk down to
like, my basketball and my football friends really. And like my like, child, those are my childhood
friends that I've grown up with too. And like, but yeah, I definitely was weird. And like, it was very
true at that time. Because like my brothers were also like, back from college. They were they
were seniors or juniors to coming home from COVID Are they they were, they were like, they're
on spring break from college, and then college and let them go back either. Yeah. So they're,
and I was nice, because like, I hadn't seen them in a while. So like, I was lucky to like, have
them back. And like, it was really good. Like, it's almost like we're all back in like elementary
school. Everyone's back in the house. And my mom was hat like, at least happy about that. So I
have like my brother's there. But then keep t like, up with my friends. We did like some zoom
chats, which is like interesting. It's like a Friday night or like Saturday night and we'd like be on
Zoom or like, obviously, like played video games online with each other, doing things like that.
But like, yeah, there's a lot of the social elements like were like really changing like there was no
parties or like, was no like gatherings really besides like that one I told you about and then it
didn't end? Well. Just like Oh, great. Yeah, but yeah, we were supposed to zoom a little bit. And
like, that helped a lot. But you know, can't be like being with them. Yeah. Yeah.
Yeah, I had a similar situation like my brother came home to and everyone was just home. Yeah.
It was like nice for like the first like, like week or two because like, it just felt like a vacation. And
all of a sudden, like, you get past like, three weak point. And you're like, Oh, like this is like a
real deal. And like they eventually went back. But like, it wasn't to like, basically like late April,
like mid April. Yeah. And then they just like had to do because they like, they go on to the Naval
Academy. So they had some like military stuff to get back to. I'm not sure. And they were
definitely presented with a bunch of stuff being Yeah, government. Yeah, for sure. So yeah, but
it was nice, like having them home. But yeah, I think a lot of people had that too. And like,
siblings, were back home now. Yeah. Like, there was that first week of like, it was sort of okay,
like, we'll get through it. Let me look at our families here. And then it was just like, oh, like, this is
like, I remember thinking, Oh, like this one is gonna last couple of months or two. And then now
it's been three years since Sure. Like, where does it go? Yeah, you know,
that get a good question. And for that, so do you feel like
you feel like in a sense, this pandemic almost strengthened your family connection? Having to
do that? You know, I know, they weren't there forever. Yeah. But I feel like, people were so
divided during this time, and there was so much tension, do you feel like in a way, this almost
was like, a good experience? Or how was like, how did your family like, what was the family
experience? Like? Did your parents like? Were they expressing like, their beliefs? Or how they
believe this should be handled? Or what was that kind of experience? Yeah, I mean, my mom
working in healthcare definitely had us more on like, the more fog on the protocols rule. And
like, I understand, like, it was some of the stories she had about like patients and different stuff.
And like, like her work got turned upside down, too. And so like, we were definitely like, what,
like, would fall out of the rules and stuff like my dad, like didn't want to unmask at first, but then
like, yeah, obviously does now and like, things like that. But yeah, I definitely think it
strengthened like family relationships. And like, I think a lot of people like turned back in on their
family, because there was just so much chaos going around. And there's like, people like
hoarding food and like, it was just like, you know, and, you know, I mean, it's crazy to think but
like, it sort of created things like my mom, we like we'd go grocery shopping, we'd wear our
masks and stuff. And like, see people were in like hazmat suits, like during the peak. I mean,
like, we'd come home and like, we'd like, Clorox wipe all the groceries, like even if they were
sealed, like we're wiping the box down. And it's like, this is a lot like what did we like? Is it really
like it was all unknown at the time, like some people were saying, oh, yeah, COVID can like
survive on cardboard for three days. There was like all these studies coming out and like you
were so much
It's like, so I feel like all that insecurity people like really turned back in on their families. Yeah.
Like, I think it also did sometimes affect, like, Family to Family Relationship, though, because
then you had like some families like really following the rules and like, not gonna have
gatherings the other families like, there's more breaking rules and like, obviously, like, it's good
and bad with that like, obviously a lot like if you broke rule like you're not terrible person but like,
you create a tension like that because then it's like, Oh, like that that was not following the rules.
Like we can't hang out with them. Like that kind of stuff, you know. But yeah, I think it's
strengthened family relationships, but made of like, even weakened, like family to family
relationships, just because yeah, there was just so much. Yeah.
Transcript of Oral History Interview with Rebecca John, 2023
COVID-19 Oral History Project
HIS 300 INTERVIEW.mp3
This is Luke Salisbury with the history 300 oral history project for Augsburg University. I am here today to
interview Ms. Rebecca Johns, Vice President of Opera�ons for Augsburg University, about her
experiences in dealing with the...
HIS 300 INTERVIEW.mp3
This is Luke Salisbury with the history 300 oral history project for Augsburg University. I am here today to
interview Ms. Rebecca Johns, Vice President of Opera�ons for Augsburg University, about her
experiences in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. We are in Memorial 124 on April 4th, 2023. Track
one of Ms. Johns’ interview. So please tell me a litle bit about your background working here at the
And thanks for doing this project. It's very interes�ng and I'm really glad the students are documen�ng
this moment in history, which we all hope is only historical. I started at Augsburg in 2019. And I was head
of marke�ng. So my background is in community. I do have background in crisis communica�on, so that
was a litle bit helpful as we get into the actual event in 2019. Then I was moved into a new posi�on here
at Augsburg, which is Vice President of opera�ons. So now I in addi�on to marke�ng, had oversight and
s�ll do of public safety, facili�es and ﬁnance, all of which came into play.
Thank you. Now tell me, what did you ﬁrst think when you heard about the coronavirus on the news?
Like the ﬁrst �me I heard about it?
When the word coronavirus or COVID-19 ﬁrst appears.
So this would have been January 2020. So I'm going to give a litle context. So I moved into my posi�on
like I just said in the summer of 2019 and we didn't have a CFO yet and in January of 2020 we no�ced a
discrepancy in our budget where I'll just cut it short. Two diﬀerent spreadsheets and we calculated the
wrong number in our budget by a million and a half dollars in the ﬁnancial aid area. This is what was on
my mind. I didn't know where the problem was. I just knew there was a gap-I was very worried about
this. The board was asking about it, and a person in the next door oﬃce was very worried about this
coronavirus thing. And I remember her bringing her phone out and showing me a picture of a cruise ship
that had a whole bunch of people on it. And she looked at me and said, what is a residence hall but a
cruise ship that doesn't never leaves the dock? And I looked at her and I went $1.5 million and walked
away. And she's, I remember going really right. So many of us. Right, there's SARS, there's bird ﬂu,
there's Ebola. And in the United States, they don't come to us right because the public, the public health
people. People do all the work that they do and they stop it and it never comes, you know, deep into our
I didn't assume that's what was happening. I had no idea that that was my ﬁrst encounter with that. I
recall with the didn't last long right prety soon got prety serious, yeah.
Oh yes, for most of us it. Started oﬀ that way when you.
First hear about the. News now, when did it ﬁrst become clear that Augsburg would have to do
something about the spread of the coronavirus?
Two steps there. One was kind of subtle, so we put a task force together. We met in person, right? This is
before the shutdown. I remember being on a call with the Minnesota Department of Health and then.
Go to the mee�ng and on. This task force are people from our physician assistant. And our nursing right.
They understand some of this, so one of them. Was even an epidemiologist. And I remember hearing
from the Minnesota Department of Health. They used this phrase that made no sense to me. Back then.
It makes a lot of sense to me now, they said in a very calm voice. This has moved beyond mi�ga�on to
containment, which you know makes my heart skip a beat now, but at. The �me I'm like, what does?
That mean and. The physician assistant and the nurse looked at me and said. We no, sorry I got that
wrong. It has moved beyond containment to mi�ga�on, right. We cannot contain it. It's coming. All we
can do is manage how we respond to it, and then I said oh, what does that mean, right? So s�ll I don't
know enough yet to be scared. But that is a moment. Then literally we heard within that the governor
was going to shut things down. I think it was March 13th. We might have heard about it the day before
or two days before. So we knew we were all going home. And we didn't know how long or what that
So you said there was a two step process. So the ﬁrst step was when you put together a task force with
the MN Department of Health, and then the second part was when the governor made the
I mean, we didn't work right. We were working on things and looking at the informa�on, so the ﬁrst step
wasn't so much the task force as understanding that it wasn't going to be contained, even though it
didn't sink in. And the sinking in moment was when the governor says everybody go home and again, I'm
the head of opera�ons. And I run communica�ons, so an e-mail must go out to everybody that says
something and that e-mail has to come for me or the president that I help. Right, right. Saying you can't
just say the governor told us. Go home over the home. Right. You have to explain some stuﬀ so that. Was
a very. Pivotal moment from in my from in. My personal experience with this.
Thank you for your descrip�on. Now, what can you tell me about the course of ac�on that was ul�mately
decided upon by the university? Like could you elaborate a litle bit on what the university decided to
In that moment, that ﬁrst moment, not sure if I'm remembering all of it right, so I remember that in the
communica�on it said everybody, you know who can work from home do work from home and it was
very clear that there were some folks who couldn't. Like maintenance operators, if you're going to work
on the boiler, you're going to come touch the right because s�ll the all the public safety of course is going
to be here, but everyone else is going to go be home. We had I don't know what order everything
happened in. I remember ge�ng the call from the chief strategy oﬃcer, but he runs IT and it was a
phone call. So I'm all ready home. When this happens, so I can't. I don't think it was before the shut. I
don't think. It was a�er. The shutdown, maybe it was the weekend. He called me. And he said. There's a
thing called zone and we think it's going to be that everyone's going to get licenses for it and we I don't
have so many licenses with them already. Like we could right now, buy a corporate license before they
run out of IP addresses. I don't know if that all makes sense, but it costs. This much money. And
remember, I'm sure at one point. Well, $5 million already. But, but I'm far enough into understanding this
is bigger than a blip and like, buy it right? So by the �me you send the go home order, I think we had
zoom bought and everybody has a zoom account if you have a login, students included. OK. So we had
already extended spring break for a week knowing we were going to switch the classes online. Switch is
too easy of a word. It was a lot harder. I really had to work really hard to ﬁnish that year out. What I
remember about that e-mail most, though, was two things. One was sort of small and atack. We didn't
know how to not get COVID. So I was wri�ng like when you go home, you know social distancing and I
had to explain it. I had to ﬁnd what social distancing was. Nobody knew what that meant and what what
to do. I think we were even. I don't know if I advocated it like we washed our groceries. I don't know if
you remember that, so I remember that like weird explana�on thing we didn't have. We didn't have
masking yet on the radar. The bigger thing was that I understood that all of these people had to ﬁgure
out. I'm just thinking about their jobs. Not even their lives, right? Kid those to school. What are all those
things parent in a nursing home like? Just to keep things going. Every single manager I would say about
the managers, you know, they're. Some of them, you know, 30 years old, they've. Been working for a.
While but you know they're not seasoned. They got to ﬁgure it out, like, how is the marke�ng team
going to work? How's it advising going to work? Every single one had to ﬁgure out how, and I knew that I
had. I could do so litle to solve the ques�ons that they had to ﬁgure out how to do to keep things going
and. This is the. A really stark moment in a career this is you, vice president of I don't care what are not
in control and this only works if all of these people do the best they can and you do and you ﬁgure out
how to support them. And it was so I thought it was so unfair to put on this to me young. People
because I'm older. Young managers shoulders to like, hey, this thing has never happened in the history of
any of our lives and you. Go ﬁgure it out. Do your best. I remember I. Was here at in the. Oﬃce and it
was kind of an icky day like it is today. I remember going walking around the quad many �mes just kind
of I think I was. I was sad. I was grieving. It was. Too much? No, it turned out to be OK, but. You know,
can we? We didn't know. We didn't know. We didn't know if we'd ever see each. Other again, right?
There was an invisible disease out there randomly killing people. Right. So it was a bit emo�onal, yeah.
There was a scary �me. I mean for all of us, especially those of us who have vulnerable members of our
families. It was scary for us all.
Now would you mind elabora�ng a litle more on what experiences the university and yourself had
regarding things such as zoom and or online classes? Like what sort of pre-exis�ng experiences there
You know very litle with zoom. I'm I'm. I don't. I don't know. In the classroom. I did my MBA here and at
one point one of my classes, one of my instructors was traveling a lot and you know she did remote
mee�ng remote classes. She was really good at it. But it it takes a lot. So the preponderance of us didn't
have that. IT had had zoom for a while- two years before that. I remember being in a conference in
Chicago and we had to talk about the budget, and they (the IT) sent me a link and I clicked on it, and it
was so much beter than being on the audio conference. But we didn't rou�nely use it. So there wasn't
very much of that. This was all new, but not ge�ng groceries was new. Not visi�ng your family was new,
you know, so all those things were hard. But there was so much more. And there was so much more than
Thank you. So going on to our next ques�on, you said earlier that there was a planning process that was
enacted in order to decide exactly what the university would do to contend with the virus situa�on.
Could you go into a litle more detail?
Yeah. So we cons�tuted this task force and there was somebody on the team at the �me who had at a
diﬀerent university done a task force for H1N1 in 2009, and he helped set it up. You need these people,
these people. But his in his experience you have you talked and then the virus went away, right. So that
was the diﬀerent, so. Once, once we shut down. I went back to my. Calendar because it felt like forever.
And I'll tell you. What we met every morning. Seven days a week. For three weeks, it felt like forever. I
was surprised. It was only three weeks. There was so much informa�on coming in that you gave this
informa�on in the morning. I don't even remember if I mean the governor. Had a daily. Thing and we had
to decide stuﬀ. I don't know what we would have been deciding. I mean everyone, everyone went home
alone, the classes were online. We must have been we. We had to ﬁgure out things, how to make this
happen. We were s�ll doing. Our work, the budget, s�ll had to. Come in all of that. The mistake we made
and again I. Found it in. The calendar. It only took a week to ﬁgure it out and ﬁx it, but again, it felt like
forever. The mistake that we made was there was this really great group, this task force, that had IT on it
and help people and residence life, like all of the faculty representa�on that were students were all
these people and all their smarts doing all this stuﬀ. But it was disconnected with the leadership decision
making process. So everything we go in the morning and the task force. But then the President and the
Provost, when we said we're going to, you know, change this or do that or recommend they they went,
we had to back up and explain the because we knew a lot because we're in the ﬂow of it. And I
remember that was working so poorly. In a in a. You create a situa�on room. The leaders are in the
room. The informa�on comes in the room. The experts come in brave and we we were missing that and I
remember looking at a communica�on from the you and it was sounded very clear. We're all making it
up right, but we're going to do this. We're in this, we're going. And it was from the president. And then.
We said we need to communica�on like that, Rebecca. And I'm looking at. I'm like that president's in the
room. I can tell she's in the room. My president isn't. We do this discussion and then So what we. Ended
up doing is. We had met in the morning with the task force and in the a�ernoon with the Provost, the
President and chief strategy shot four people. I mean, and we and it was only week gap, but it was so
hard that I almost couldn't speak about it on the phone with the President when I was trying to explain
the problem. It it, you know, we were �red. We were working prety hard. It was scary. Sorry, we got that
going and that helped a lot. I remember the �me we decided to not work on the weekend that we were
going to take the weekend oﬀ from the mee�ng. It was three weeks. And whatever the comment was,
the the the the inﬂux of informa�on has slowed enough that we thought nothing's going to change so
much over the weekend we have. To change our decisions.
I can imagine.
Tell you what we were deciding, though. There's no vaccine yet, and all the students were home. You
know, maybe, maybe athle�cs, social distancing. There was no tes�ng yet. All this stuﬀ is common. You
know? And then George Floyd's murdered. Can I talk about that for a minute? I don't know if it’s one of
your ques�ons. Luke Salisbury Go ahead. Rebecca Johns Though I'm not going to go into the history of
that, others can look that up. What happened here on campus? You know, 3 miles away from it so right
in the middle of all of this. And if you were around in the Twin Ci�es, there was a �me when what
ul�mately happened is the governor calls in the Na�onal Guard. But the reason the governor called in
the Na�onal Guard is that the Emergency services, police, ﬁre and ambulance were so busy they couldn't
cover things. So the head of public safety here calls me and says there's no emergency service. If
somebody falls down and cut and breaks something or cuts their head and I call 911 nobody's going to
come. Nobody's coming for anything. No ﬁre department. There's a ﬁre, there will be no ﬁre trucks.
There will be no ambulance. There will be no police. I can't keep this campus safe. We had about 100
people this summer living on campus. Mostly interna�onal students. OK, so we need to not have them
be here at risk, we think. And I remember we had a talk about a situa�on when we were all day long
trying to ﬁgure out what to do. And we ruled out things like bringing in armed people, and we couldn't
hire any because there weren't any because they were being hired everywhere else, and it was a bad
idea. We decided to evacuate the campus. But where to? Maybe a hotel. And he said, what if I'm moving
to the hotel and the hotel gets atacked? There's s�ll no right answer. So we decided we need to get
them out of the city, far enough away and the University of Wisconsin River Falls are just wonderful
partners. Our residents live called their residence life and yes, bring them. They didn't ask for money. OK,
we had to get a bunch of volunteers to get. In advance with a. Bunch of students. Students are the ones
who get COVID without symptoms. So you're right, because they're healthy ones. So we have that risk of
it's a pandemic. Well, once our student body hears that, they're going to Wisconsin, most of. Them didn't
want to go. Many of them, and this was an oversight on our part, and I'll tell you how we handled that
later. They want to be in their civic demonstra�ons. Some of them were afraid of Wisconsin. I don't
blame for that either. I'm from there, I can make fun of Wisconsin. The people who went had a great
�me. They were outside that pizza. Like it was like for them, a moment where there was no pandemic,
right? But I understand I. Won't stay here. So a�er we came back and the students were unhappy that,
you know, those were their two. Op�ons we we worked with student government and we've actually
talked about this at conferences because here's what you had to do. If you're going to, you're going to
engage students in a moment like that, and this is what we tried to avoid and avoiding it. Was the
mistake. You have to say we cannot keep you safe. You have to admit that to them. And we were
worried, you know, if we say that a parent's going to get mad at us or whatever. Well, if you don't. Cut
them in on the on the story. Then you can't. You can't explain your solu�on and you don't. Get their
input on the solu�on. So we we set the stage that next year and said if something like this happens again
we're. Going to come. To you, we're going to shoot straight and say this is how dangerous this is. What
we think what? Do you think big lesson? Following a pandemic, when we're all home on zoom with our
various challenges going on in our lives.
Well, that is certainly a very powerful story. Thank you very much for going into that. Now when you ﬁrst
chose to move to an online format, what challenges did you an�cipate for moving classes to an online
Well, I'm not maybe the best one to answer that because I'm not in charge of the academic program. I
have a degree that I got online in the 2000s. But I don't teach four classes. I can imagine doing one, but I
have. This was the Provost and the Deans, right? Figuring out how we're going to ﬁnish the semester.
The harder thing, so I don't think. I don't think I personally did. The Deans were on this task force and.
They held that. Maybe now I'm remembering some of the work we had to do right, like all the decisions
we had to make, that they were asking, there were ques�ons that were grading policy. Ques�ons were
all kinds of ques�ons that I might not remember because they weren't my decision. Make I mean it as a
test would sure make sure they were made and they were made with the right input. But that you know,
that's the purview of the academic program. The harder part wasn't there wasn't that ﬁrst year. You
didn't say this, but wasn't that ﬁnishing that spring of 2020, it was contempla�ng the fall of 20? 20 right.
How do you know where to stay? Because not everybody understood that we were going to be doing
this. More than a couple of months, that was not that might have been those folks that tried the denial
route. One of the things that happened I don't know, those are one of the things that happened was in in
May, in March or in April, we canceled commencement. We had a a date with. The US Bank Stadium by
which we had to cancel. Otherwise we owed a. Lot of money. So we cancelled. It and the. Students were
very mad. We can't believe you cancelled it. Why don't you just postpone it? Everybody else is
postponing it. And I knew that nobody could pick a date. That would be safe. There was no informa�on
that knew how long we would be not able to have an event. That size. But it wasn't common knowledge
yet, so there's no postpone those that postponed it, postponed it, and then cancel. Pulled it. We
canceled it. We were honest and then we got when? We got you. So we said ﬁne, ﬁne. Call the
postponement to an undisclosed date. We ended, which ended up being. 2022 Yeah, so, so I didn't
answer your ques�on, but I I wasn't very close to the thinking about the classes. I know it was a lot of
work. I know it was exhaus�ng for the for the those who had to plan their courses and they know it was
not necessarily energizing for everybody who had to go to class. Wait for a long �me.
Do you feel that events went “according to plan” in regards to virus con�ngency? What I mean is, do you
feel that the university’s plan went oﬀ successfully?
To the extent that one can be successful in a pandemic. I think we were able to isolate people who were
sick, give rooms to them, get food to them (unless they could go home) so that it didn't spread. I think
we did a fair job of containing poten�al spread early on. I think we did a really good job of ge�ng the
word out and making available both tes�ng and vaccina�on to everybody that wanted it. I mean, we
relied on government resources to provide those things. But for the coordina�on of ge�ng them out to
folks, I think we did a prety good job. You know, if you would have done nothing, I think that we would
have signiﬁcantly diﬀerent results, but I would not call the experience one of feeling successful. It feels
like you're barely holding on at all moments.
I see. Thank you very much for elabora�ng on that. Now, did you ever have any sort of worst case or best
Not projec�ons. I'm good at not envisioning a thing I don't have enough data on. That's the only way I
know, but I went to the Peace Corps when I got to Africa, people said “is this what you pictured?” I'm like
“I didn't picture anything.” So then I'm open to what happened. So I don't think I would have projected
it. There were models early on; nobody talks about this now. They were ridiculous. I mean, (they were)
based on what? Right, that's being building assump�ons to some kind of math and nobody knew what to
assume. I would look at those and think “oh well, this thing shows that it falls oﬀ if we just get to June or
if we can just get to April.” I was coun�ng my months away and every �me you got to June and April they
get pushed out, right? So this curious moment, which is not what you asked me, the scariest moment
because you're doing all this stuﬀ. And people in the hospital and we start to realize that masks are
important and especially for the healthcare providers. So it's PPE, personal protec�ve equipment and 90
ﬁves again for hospital people and ven�lators. This is when they were pu�ng people with COVID on
ven�lators. They don't do that so much. We learn a lot more if you can. Have a ven�lator, you die. And
the federal government was. Ge�ng in the way of states, procuring those things they were. Not
suppor�ng it. So now the now the governors are bidding against each other. So we're all compe�ng with
each other all in the same country. Not only that, the federal government was interrup�ng the supply
chain. There were governors who shipped things on private planes so that the federal government
wouldn't know it was a shipment of masks because they would take them. So you're si�ng there in this
moment going, you know, we don't know how to get food. I mean, there were people doing food, but
those people were at risk, right? We don't know how to-we hope the vaccine comes if one doesn't, this
is really bad. And the federal government is stealing it from us, we're screwed as well. Nobody's helping
now, and I just I have a lot of gra�tude to the Minnesota Government and governor's oﬃce, I think they
did an excellent job. Public health and his communica�on, Governor Walz’s communica�on and their
decisions. They made them kind of quickly. They would li� things and like, say, tomorrow you have to
wear masks. So tomorrow you don't have to wear masks. I'm like, does the government know? That he
can announce something that can go into eﬀect. You can implement that. And I don't just mean
Minnesota there. Were many many. Governors who deserve. A lot of credit for holding it together. But
that was that was the most dire �me when I thought the US government was working against us.
Well, thank you for elabora�ng on that. Now how would you describe the overall community response
here at Augsburg? Like how would you feel the community, the faculty, and the students responded?
There's a range of responses to the virus itself that I'll talk about ﬁrst. Or maybe I should talk about the
second one. So some people are much more comfortable, you know? Let's get back. I want to go to my
athle�c prac�ce. You guys are making a big deal out of it. Not that, you know, I don't, mean. That all the
poli�cal moment. They were making fun of anybody but they were ﬁne. And then there were people on
the other end, and everyone, everywhere in the team who's like, I'm not ge�ng a room with anybody.
Once they have to have a mask on and they have to be vaccinated once we have vaccines, right and
everywhere in. So there was no way to decide protocol and prac�ces that was going to work for
everybody. So that on one side they're pushing it. You know, we're we're in close contact for for for more
than 15 minutes and you have to quaran�ne. They make sure not to stand next to any. But they're like,
look, look. At their clocks and make sure they were only 14 minutes so they wouldn't have to quaran�ne.
Maybe I'll do the same thing, no? And we had a couple of �mes where there was one big. What we call
what you call those. Clusters like where 10 or 15 people end up ge�ng coded because a bunch of
students. Got together, played football. I mean, it was football. It wasn't even but, but. But then there
was this football party and we know that that's though that was the source. Of it, I think what everybody
did. I'm a litle disconnected from this. I think there's this place where our mission really maters to us.
Educa�ng this student body is really important to us. And whether or not people thought about that
directly, the energy that went into making this work was prety substan�al. So I don't know if I would say
people were energe�c, but they didn't give up and tried a lot of things, you know? I know diﬀerent
�mes, faculty, you know, people have their videos oﬀ, maybe for good reason. We discovered new things
we should have thought of it, but we didn't. We gave out laptops for students that didn't have tech. Well,
the bigger problem was they didn't have Wi-Fi. So we have new Wi-Fi hotspots and so it's doing all this
stuﬀ and then some of them, even if they have the Wi-Fi, there's no place. In their home. Where it's
quiet enough, they've got a big. You know, they don't have extra rooms, so, you know, zoom wasn't the
answer to them. That was just the beginning of the things they needed. So all along the way, we're like,
how do we make this work? How do we? Make this work for everybody. Do you just kept doing that
when I'm skipping in all of this and I'm aware that I'm skipping it because I didn't see it, although I
experienced it. Were the deep losses and concerns people had for their friends and family that we were
also carrying along the way and that wasn't part of the task force job, but everyone had. We were all
losing things. If nothing else, Christmas together or whatever our holidays were, right? And people were
losing people and s�ll trying to. Go to school and so. Showing up and keeping going is a way bigger
success than it sounds. When you say that. And a lot of people s�ll graduated. There was a moment you
just this just reminded me in the honest convoca�on. I can't remember what year it would have been. It
was the people gradua�ng that year with honors who? Would have done their last two. Years in COVID,
so they would have been sophomores. And kind of. Somebody said something from the podium like you
did. Really well in. You applied yourself, whatever. And in this �me you did this and it kind of dawned on
the whole world what these people had done with a lot of help, you know, back everybody. Right. And
we just started clapping and just couldn't quit clapping because it was kind of amazing. To see success in
the face of that kind of a hurdle and it and those are the honor students and not everybody did right.
You say the community, but there's a whole bunch of people who. Who couldn't keep going to school?
There's just too much headwinds in their world and their families and whatever was going on. So a lot of
people fell through the hole who might have made it if it hadn't been for the pandemic.
That's really awful. What lessons do you think were learned from this whole situa�on?
The one I men�oned earlier about how nothing's top down. You're not in control-that one is stuck with
me. The need to equip and support, but believe in the disparate talents of everybody. It's not a new
lesson. We all know you know communi�es and diversity and all those things. We say it was just so
palpable, but this this wasn't one person or even a task force making rules and everybody following the
rules. When when you made decisions and then people tried them and they said, you know, it doesn't
work this way, can we do it that way so that feedback loop that input, that exper�se from the people on
the ground showed up big �me? The other one, which I don't think we learned it but should have: a
pandemic should have odds. Works ﬁne, but like generally in our society, it should have made us more
generous with each other, and I think we didn't learn that lesson. I think we as a society are more
polarized and more fearful of the other and more “I got to protect mine and if you're successful, then I
need that too, not you.” Not to be too successful. Because it means somehow means I'm not. I think we
went too far in that direc�on. And I worry about it because another pandemic and or climate change is
going to call on us to act like this again. Maybe it already is. Which means we need to solve things in
community with everyone's exper�se and I'm afraid we didn't learn that lesson well enough.
As a community is Augsburg prepared for situa�ons of a similar nature to the coronavirus pandemic?
Yeah, if you know if a diﬀerent virus came and you know public health, said what public health that said
we got to do this. We would be able to do it again. It won't be exactly the same, but you know, we know
some things that none of us knew because we didn't live through it before. But everybody's, I don't just
mean house, but everyone's fragile. Right ﬁnancially. There would be people just like I can't do it again.
I'm not. I can't teach this, I can't learn this way. I thought we'd be done. And it won't be the same, so I
don't know. I don't know if I have a good predic�on on that. Some people just pumped. It's no fun. I
don't blame them. Some people will s�ck to it. Some people will say, hey, I've seen this before because
we all have. Here's what we do and maybe, you know somebody who didn't have the lead last �me
because they were younger or whatever will say I can. Leave this one. I have energy.
Now, earlier you men�oned coopera�on with the MN Health Department, how would you describe the
coopera�on with health oﬃcials?
Yeah, Minnesota Department of Health is amazing, but they have a team that was focused on higher Ed.
and speciﬁcally our challenges, so you know the Center for Disease Control or Minnesota Department of
Health will come out with guidance on events or guidance on congregate living and we'd say does this
apply to a dorm? Is congregate living a dorm or not? Like what is (congregate living)? How do we know?
We've literally had the head of that group walk through our dorms with us and look at how it's set up
and get her opinion from physically looking at Urness Hall, which is diﬀerent from Luther. But she's like,
oh, the apartments are ﬁne. Do this. That that's how commited they were. And we had a, I think it was a
weekly call where they would tell us everything that they knew and provide a lot of documents which
were very deliberate, right. They didn't just write them and send them out so that they and every �me
they made a change, they understood the impact on 15 other things. And so there was food service,
there was events, there was all kinds of pieces. They were quite amazing. There was funding focused on,
you know, and I remember not that recently. So when the they that the special funding stopped and
those people had to go back to their other jobs and they s�ll doesn't go but. They're not dedicated like
they were. And maybe we don't need it, but I don't think we would have made it without the
informa�on they gave us and they end up brieﬁng the governor that they were amazing. Thank you well.
What would you say were the biggest challenges for the community here?
You know, coming back. Then we come back in the fall of 2021. I remember saying this mul�ple �mes. It
was harder to ﬁgure out how to come back than it was to shut down. Nobody wanted to shut down, but
we knew that at least we'd be home, not exposed to anybody else. Right. And then you just ﬁgured out
and realized how much you hated it coming back. Now that was not everyone. People were comfortable
in their cocoons, and now you're asking me to come back and I live with my, you know, 90 year old
mother and I, you know, I have this immunocompromised child and we're one that can't get vaccinated
or what have you. And so there was a lot more mo�on around the decisions that had to be made to
return, and it was trickier and one size couldn't ﬁt all. And then there are people who are, like, you can't
have excep�ons. You have to have the same rules for everybody. I'm not sure I agree with that. It was a
lot more emo�onally diﬃcult to decide to talk people into doing it and then for them to actually in many
cases do those things. We were at one point, so the vaccines came out in. So I don't know what we did
the fall of 2021 It's all a blur, like when? When you ﬁrst emailed me and said, you know, would you do
this interview? And I was going to go back. I did go back in my calendar. To look at kind of my schedule. I
went back. To last year I went back to 2022 and I'm like I'm not even close this start. Like that's how.
Weird �me is I know you know this, but. The people listening to this tape don't. So I don't. Know when
we did the fall change? Want the vaccines start coming out early? 2021 and by fall 2022, we're having
this conversa�on about whether we require the vaccine or not. So what does? That mean, and there
were faculty don't remember par�cularly. Maybe not only that there were faculty who were. Adamant
that we had to mandate it and if. We didn't mandate it. They weren't. Going to come back to. The
classroom, because they needed everybody vaccinated, and I wasn't certain. I s�ll not. Then a mandate
made more people get vaccinated than would have other. Guys, we have good numbers, but it wasn't
100%, it wasn't going to be 100%. There were some schools who said “if you're not vaccinated, don't
come here.” That became moot when Omnicron hit then later on in 202122 when Omnicron hit me.
Being vaccinated didn't stop me from transmi�ng it, so there's no there's no point in making somebody
else. It reduces a litle bit beter than stop it, so having people. You know, I remember the. Late summer
2021, I'm talking to some people, prety smart people and they said two of them. If you're vaccinated,
you can't get COVID and you can't transmit it. And I'm like “oh no, that's not true.” So we didn't have
everyone even understanding everything together. And then there. Then the emo�on on top of that.
And then I talked about people who want to stay home. And remember there's like “we got to get back
together.” You know, this campus needs to be vibrant and alive. And so you have both those things
happening at once. That was really hard, and you had to make judgment calls and decide stuﬀ and tell
people to follow it, and hope you weren't wildly wrong.
Yeah, that's certainly powerful. You say when you.
It's exhaus�ng, is what it was. That's exhaus�ng now I think.
Well, how do you feel that Augsburg as a community has changed, or did we already discuss this?
I don't know if you asked me how we changed. That's hard to do because even then, even without a
pandemic, every year a group of students graduates and a new one comes in. So we have. The same we
have a culture, but the students. Create this place and as much as anybody, right? And that popula�on,
4th of it. I'm oversimplifying changes, right? So during. Who would know that turnover happened but
away from here? And by the �me we come back, some of the folks that graduated? It had never been on
campus, and so they're building their their their because they love zoom. Their Co crea�on didn't
happen right. So I keep saying it now, everybody's new and then there's the big what they called the
great resigna�on of the employee turnover, right? So some of the departments I run, nobody's been
there for more than a year. So how did we how do we print the magazine? How did we decide stories of
why does the locksmith report to DPS and not to? This is not like all of this historical stuﬀ. It almost
doesn't mater like how should we do it now if we've got smart people, everybody's new. So we have an
event and the person running that. Events that it's the end of the school year, so every student org has
an event and that advisor has never done that event. Here at Oxford, all of them. So do I invite? The
president's leadership team, do I? Does everybody like? Well, well, how do we do this? Not how do we
put the event on the events team is good, but there was a staﬀ apprecia�on event recently wasn't on the
calendar. I'm like going to put it on the calendar. Nobody knows to come, but everybody know we're all
just. So did we change? I think we're changing. We got to kind of ﬁnd ourselves. Again, I will say that the
mission of this place didn't, in fact, it cemented more than ever. It became we know we have a lot of in
our student popula�on, folks that. You know, they don't have a lot of, they don't have extra money,
period. Right. So they're already in a scenario where the kind of major thing happens in their family and
school just got a lot harder and. And so you know that's that's that's s�ll true, but it is, it is exactly those
popula�ons that we're trying to. Make sure get a degree so that they get into leadership posi�ons so
that those families and those scenarios have people in leadership spots. They can serve that the world
that they're experiencing is represented in the kinds of products we make, services and policies and all
that. So our mission didn't go anywhere but deeper. A way of ge�ng things done. Actually, our culture is
always asking ques�ons. Anyway, so I think that serves us well. Why are we doing it this way? How do
we? Do this? Who's? In charge. Lots of ques�ons, right answers. I don't know if you've ever seen the
movie Indiana Jones. It's old. There's a point in there. He's chasing the truck. All this stuﬀ is happening
and somebody turns him and goes. What now and. He says. I don't know. I'm making this up as I go.
That's what a lot of what? It's like that was a litle bit.
Although that was wonderful, I appreciated the analogies so. What would you? Describe as overall
posi�ve and nega�ve changes.
So a posi�ve change. I don't think everyone agrees with me on this. I think we were over scheduled. I
was, I'm an introvert. I work, I get worn out by people and in my job I have. I have a lot. Of things I'm
going to be going, I. Have something three nights a week now for. The rest of April. This celebra�on now
and and what's fun? It's beau�ful, I. Don't even have to interact that much. I have to sit there and enjoy
it and it wears me out. And I know before I keep saying this before the pandemic, I almost never went
home from work I had. I went to something else. I don't know what I was like. What was I doing? And
and how did I do that? I was exhausted before the pandemic. Now the pandemic made me �red
emo�onally and it was scary and all this, but I actually changed my sleep. So and you see this, this is the
part where people might disagree with me. You see this cadre of. I'll just call it people. I don't know if it
what the age is, but you know 40 and under and as they think about their careers and where to work
and how how much to go in and all this, the considera�on about loca�on and and and working there.
And I don't want to call work about. What work life balance? Because I mean using that term. I think it's
good that. We're asking that ques�on. That I'm not just iden�ﬁed by how hard I work, how long I work
for this corpora�on. Maybe I believe in it. Maybe it's a good product, but really. It's here for shareholder.
And so I'm OK with working for places product or service I believe in and their shareholder return, but
how? Hard do I want. To work about how much of myself and my family's �me do I. Want to give up? I
think that's good that people call it selﬁsh. It's hard as a manager, it's harder as a person who's like we
need to be together. We need everyone back the the the management hasn't ﬁgured it out. But the
United States produc�vity went up when we didn't make everyone drive to Zen building every day. Boy,
we would have never that that was an experiment that we would have never done if we hadn't been
forced to. There's a lot. Of learning le�. In how we work, and I think it's a posi�ve that it's being asked
versus. Just being assumed that you're just. Going to pay your dues and. Work really hard and. Maybe
you'll rise up and maybe you won't. Not nega�ves. I think I men�oned already, which is unfortunately it
didn't bring us together. As a na�on it cause. Just this and this is true if you study. I haven't I what I know
from people who've studied autocracies. Is that challenging �mes? Economic collapses those those are
actually moments when people tend to go more, not toward community, but more towards strong man
and autocra�c leader, because everything's such a mess. People are so frightened that if somebody
promises they'll ﬁx everything they believe in, then they're willing to give up their freedom for that. And
that's what's happened here to for some of us who are trying to change the vo�ng laws and make it
harder for par�cipatory democracy to happen. And I worry about that.
We'll see what changes here at Augsburg. We think will be las�ng.
Oh, I wish you to ask me that early in advance so I could have thought. About it, there's some things. I
think the. Maybe this is just too prac�cal, but so faculty. If I teach. Tuesday, Thursday and Wednesday
a�ernoon. I don't necessarily comment on Wednesday morning, but maybe I have oﬃce hours, right?
It's not a. Nine to ﬁve job, but it's not and it never. Ends to be. Factual about it but but but the oﬃce.
Time, right? If I don't teach on Monday, I. Don't drive up from Northville if that's where I live on. And
staﬀ, it wasn't like that he came to. The oﬃce in the morning and. You le� in the a�ernoon. And I think
that in my opinion, I don't know if I've never said this with leadership and who knows. Who would agree
with me or not? That's a litle more ﬂuid now and we've got more. People working from home. Some
days we've got and you know you come in if you have a mee�ng. But does the mee�ng have to be in
person? Can we so we. This extends beyond Augsburg. You know, I can meet with our my bankers in
Chicago and they don't have to ﬂy here, so it's easier to schedule and it doesn't harm the environment
and we get our work done there. Our board, there are board commitees that meet that way. So there is
a a facility with Zoom that has an advantage some�mes. If you don't always opt to it. And never get to
meet the people in person. So having ge�ng rid of those arbitrary boundaries, I don't know enough
about the classroom experience, which you know is the whole reason we're here to comment on that,
that that's a prety important one. What does this mean for teaching and learning? But I wouldn't. I
don't know enough to answer that.
All right. Well, thank you for answering that ques�on anyway. So how would you describe Inter
community? Coopera�on here at Augsburg.
You mean related to the pandemic or this?
Like sort of related to how, like coopera�on between faculty and coopera�on between students, like
how well did people respond to dealing with the changes caused by the pandemic?
Again, I'm a litle less close to what the facul�es experiences. I know a bit more about the students living
on campus than the students in on athle�c teams. You know, there was unfortunately during maybe this
is don't know how great of an example this is always two dining services. All right, so. The ﬁrst days that
we had people living on campus and we were going to bring dining services back again. I don't know if
that was a. Fall 2020 or not? And we had a plan to keep. Everyone apart from each other. So we set up
this giant stanchions. You remember the s�ckers on the ﬂoor, and you know that line was going to wrap
all the way around downstairs. Down the steps and into the ﬁrst level of Christensen. And we had events
was organizing all this. It's just lunch. We didn't do it right, but. We were, you know, when people going
to it was going to be boring in line and all this and we were really worried about the experience. And so
they asked for volunteers. So I came. Chief strategy oﬃcer was there people from athle�cs. They were
great volunteers, you know, to help with. The line and. Make and make sure people weren't upset or
whatever. And I remember because it was the ﬁrst day that I was going to, we had we're wearing masks
by now. The ﬁrst day I was going to be in a building with. Hundreds of people, we're all. Going to be
wearing masks. But I hadn't been in the building. With I didn't. I didn't go to. Grocery store and I, I and.
Again, remember, 20 year olds are healthy. And they don't. You can't tell that COVID, so I'm like, oh, and
and and we talked about it because we're afraid. And So what do you do? You go and you don't die, and
then you go again because you're ﬁne. So that kind of coordina�on. Had it happened a lot, a really sad
story happened later that year, which was. A person in the dining. She was an employee. I don't
remember for stroke or heart atack. Anyway, she passed away in the in the dining hall. In the morning
when we're ge�ng ready. And so we couldn't serve food up there, you know, though, medical people
and all that. So the kitchen was able to use the other kitchen and make to go meals again for up down
campus. And then we set up at the botom of the stairs, you know, not not up in the dining hall, but
down at the botom. To to to for people, to. Pick up their meals and leave and so. Again, I'm at my house
and this is all being planned takes. Say, how can this? Work will be hot. I don't know how the students
know. Whatever all this. How do we tell the students without trauma�zing? It was so sad and it was
based on so many die and people who knew that person and they were there when it happened. DPS
people did CPR and it didn't work was trauma�c, trauma�c and so I came to campus to see how it was
going. And the events team was or some of them were, you know, standing there handing out the meals
and the students. I mean, I don't want to. Say they were ﬁne, but. Maybe it was just like just one more
thing. Of course, of course. I'm picking on male, but nobody was complaining. They're like thank you for
the food. Can I? Have more granola. They they just took it and s�rred. That happened a lot. How do we
do this? OK, I got to do that. OK, now I got to get tested twice a week if I want to be in this theater
produc�on or in this play on the soccer team or whatever. How do I do that? Do I do that? The students?
The funniest thing about that thing is to line up outside across the street to get tested at people center. It
was cold out too, but that especially athletes had to get tested mul�ple �mes a week and they're all with
their bikes, right? So they they would be joking around and having fun in. Line in a pandemic and that
was heartwarming to have people s�ll. You know, enjoy each others company. People just stayed people
a lot. That that helped.
So overall in regards to the whole pandemic situa�on here, Augsburg, if you were to sort of summarize
what happened or rather summarize what was learned, what do you think could have gone beter?
Think about I don't know beter. I think that. Would have made it. Easier, and this is never going to
happen. Is it would be that more people would be. Comfortable with ambiguity. Because some some
people are more or less comfortable with it, right? And maybe that's a mistake. But the folks that wanted
clarity when there's no clarity to be had, it was hard for them. It was hard for the task force and people
like me making decisions and explaining. And and they were upset because it wasn't clear. And I can't
make it clear now if I give my wish and everybody's comfortable with ambiguity, maybe we would have
planned poorly. I don't know. So I don't know about beter, but in a �me of basically chaos. That's what
we're talking about. This is. There's actually a theory. It's called complexity leadership, but it's basically
leadership theory based on chaos. The the biological you know your biology major, right? The biological
and physics chaos. Quantum theory where? You have to watch what's happening because a small ac�on
can create a big ac�on later on and you don't control either of those things, and the power is in the
interac�ons among the. Nodes and the nodes. In this case are people. And so the more you lean. Into
that you're doing as best you can. Again, right. I think about folks. In a war zone. Who are doing all of this
stuﬀ as? Best a human can. And it's s�ll a tragedy. Does that mean they could have done it beter? Which
means the the condi�ons aren't impossible. And yet, heroics happen, and the diﬀerence between our
COVID experience and those things are that moment when we ﬁrst shut down and I'm standing in my
yard at 8:00 PM and it's it's it's it's March, so it's dark. And silent. So nobody on the freeway. I can
usually. Have like nobody right at that moment. I don't know if it's ever going to get beter. And I think
about the folks in the war zones where, you know, it ﬁrst becomes clear that there's going to be conﬂict
and ours didn't end up in the worst case scenario. And there's and there's do, you know, the refugees
who they literally have to abandon the place. So I I I don't want to make the comparison that I know how
they felt at that moment and we lucked out because in retrospect we are. Beter oﬀ. I was going to say
ﬁne, but. I'm not sure. That's true. So I don't know. Most, most of Mandela said this once in an interview
with Oprah about himself. She asked him something like. And do you have any regrets about how you
handled this and that the other? Thing and he says it sounded wrong. Whole audience gasped. He said
no. I couldn't have done anything beter. And I was like, here's me. And then and and he kind of no�ced
that his what he meant was and he explained. He says, I'm just one person. One person can't make the. I
can't be so. Thinking so much of myself that I might think that if I had done. Something the whole world
would have been beter oﬀ. You know that's that's thinking too much of yourself. So could we have done
it beter? But maybe the point just is that we did.
Well, thank you for men�oning that. Now one thing I was going to men�on was you said earlier that you
didn't know. If I think you said things would get beter. So so you also men�oned that �melines kept
ge�ng pushed back as to when things would improve. So could you elaborate on that a bit like did you
ever have any sort of personal thoughts on when or if things might? Quote UN quote become normal.
Yeah, yeah. I was always ﬁve or six months out in my head. So The thing is shuts down and I know that
it's. That our our biggest problem is next fall. Remember whenever I. Was yelling about. Commencement
and then I'm working on commencing. But I know right. And then when fall starts. We didn't know how
it was going to work because we had some students back, right? So I'm like, well, we'll know a lot more
in November. We're at November 2020 is when the. Football party started. We had giant spike in cases,
right, and it was really hard because we had to isolate all these people and test them and ﬁnd them. And
we contact tracing. We did a lot of contact tracing. And who are you with and? And get those names and
ﬁnd that person. It was just in the medical team, you know, in athle�cs work. Too exhaus�on. They
worked so hard on that. OK, so then you think. All right, well, it will be. Will be good in January, but we.
Come back in January. I'm like now we have a vaccine, but it's rolling out slowly and while ﬁgh�ng for. I
don't know if you. Remember that and I remember saying at that �me. Three years from now. But I got
my vaccine a month before you were met. Won't sound like anything. But in that �me. Oh, my God, you
got your vaccine, and I haven't goten on. The list yet? A week was a big. Deal. OK. So then we hit in the
summer or when I referred to the summer of 2021 is the �me. We all the ﬁrst �me we thought COVID
was over. And my dad had passed away in February of 2021 and we couldn't have a funeral, so we had it
in the summer of 2021. So we're outdoors is nice, and I remember if you've ever had to plan a ﬁlm with
funeral, you ﬁght with your siblings because you're all of your stress. And I. I was the only one in my
family who s�ll thought there was a problem with COVID. I'm the only one plus some really old people.
Who were mastering the church service, right? Like no one ever wants to ﬁght, nobody got killed during
that. That we know of, right? And my sister who's. A medical doctor. She's like we were planning it, of
course, in April, we were planning it and she said, well, you know, it's going. To be diﬀerent. In July. And
I'm like, yeah, it's. Going to be worse and it's just it's been July just at the end of July, cases start creeping
up because Delta. Was star�ng. We didn't have a. Word for it. Yet by two weeks later. Here they they
shut the church back down, right. Built it incoming. I remember taking a box of masks over to the library
because we're going to reins�tute the mask mandate and the students working on the library see me
show up with this box, and they could tell what it was. And they're, like, incoming. They may write down.
Their reins�tu�ng it. So people thought was over with the vaccine. People thought it was over with
Delta. A lot of people thought it was going to be over, including medical specialists did not see armed
crime coming because a whole diﬀerent variant. And I just kept doing the well-being. I'll do a lot more in
December, so. Then what? It's actually helped me not be so diligent. Vigilant is they don't report the
numbers anymore. So I can't tell if things are going. Up and down very well. They've been prety steady. I
I do a month, a weekly report. So they s�ll look at that. It's prety low right now, it's prety good. Right
now, do I think it's all over? It wouldn't surprise me if not, and it wouldn't surprise me if so, so I always
people say, where is this going to? Be in three. I'm like, well, we'll see in three months. So yeah, I had a
diﬀerent rela�onship with the �meline than most people I was working with, which helped in making
decisions and was some�mes harder because. You had to bring along. I listened to a lot of podcasts with
epidemiologists who are way more. Pessimis�c than me?
Well, thank you very much for men�oning all that. So we've hit the one hour mark.
Yeah, we're going to conclude things here. Like what sort of lessons for prosperity do you think you
would men�on about this whole situa�on?
You know, I don't know if I thought about it exactly the way you just worded it, which is really nice, but
when when Professor Michael Lansing told me that, you know, we're doing this project and that it was
going to go. Into the archive. I was thinking, you know, somebody listening to the the narra�ons.
Decades from now, as as we've done now about, you know, this 1960s or whatever. To to hopefully hear
not the mechanics of it, but the emo�on of it right? How how, how hard things were. How you how you
gonna have to do this work while? Now, losing your father in my case. He didn't have COVID at a heart
atack, but it's s�ll met my mom. Didn't go into the hospital with. Him and it s�ll meant we. Didn't have a
funeral. And there's a million families like that or more, right. Who went to this diﬀerent, diﬀerent pace
of that, that there's a las�ng. Having us on all of us from that. And you know, in the future when people
read about what happened or don't like the 1918, I don't think we hear the emo�on enough. How hard
it was to. Stay in it emo�onally. And so I'm, I'm hopeful that. What did you call it, prosper. That's the just
recognize. Can hear the humanity of it. Not the horror show the scary contagion movie. Not, I mean, the
science is important. Ac�vi�es, the decisions, but the humanity of it. I hope that this projects like this
help people tap into that.
Well, thank you very much for men�oning that. So did you have any other ques�ons or anything else
before we wrap things up?
No, I really appreciate your ques�ons. I remembered a lot more things because of them and this whole
project, so I'm just very grateful to. Should be a par�cipant in this look.
Well, thank you very much and I appreciate you taking the �me to go through this with me. So once
again, this is Luke Salisbury concluding my interview with Ms. Rebecca Johns, Vice President of
Opera�ons for Augsburg University, about her experiences dealing with the coronavirus Pandemic in
Memorial 124 on April 4th. 2023. Thank you again for your �me and for all of your considera�on with