UWL students and faculty discuss silver linings and reflect on COVID-19

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Sophie Byrne, General Assignment Reporter

Due to the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision to eliminate Gov. Tony Evers Safer at Home Order, Wisconsin city businesses have begun to reopen and their hours have extended, including in the La Crosse area. In La Crosse an increasing amount of restaurants are open with normal hours with increasing seating capacity, businesses are reinstating walk-in’s in exchange for curbside pickup, and inhabitants have re-entered Riverside Park. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about positives to some that otherwise might not have been apparent. The Racquet Press reached out to three students and three faculty members from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse to discuss their perceived “silver linings.”

Abigail Bingenheimer, sophomore 

For UWL sophomore Abigail Bingenheimer, she said social distancing has meant personal growth and realizations. “I’ve learned a lot about myself throughout this whole quarantine,” said Bingenheimer. “Who my real friends are, who I want to be friends with and the kind of friend I want to be.”  

Bingenheimer notes that quarantine, and how people respond to it, reveals a lot. “I realize I am totally fine by myself. And I don’t need to have a big circle of friends. I just need my core group of people who I love, and that’s it. Be kind to everyone, be civil, be an adult to everyone, but you really only ever need that core group of people.”  

Bingenheimer works at Kwik Trip in her hometown of Waukesha, Wisconsin. She said her job has caused her to appreciate the little things. “I’ve had more wholesome experiences and interactions at work during Corona [COVID-19] than I had before.”

Bingenheimer said she has noticed how important kindness can be during hard times. “I’ve started to appreciate people doing the little, kind things…just giving a smile, or saying hello, or having a two-second conversation with someone while they’re buying gas.”  

Though quarantine has changed a lot for Bingenheimer, as she was living in Hutchison Hall at UWL and had to move back home, she said she recognizes her privilege. “I acknowledge that I have it really well, I do, and I understand that a lot of people don’t.” 

Bingenheimer said she tries to remember the golden rule: treat others as you would like to be treated. “Take a little bit of extra time to do just a small act of kindness for another person.” 

Jordan Wallner, sophomore 

UWL sophomore Jordan Wallner is from Waunakee, Wisconsin, and lived in Hutchison Hall at UWLFor Wallner, she said transitioning home and into online classes was difficult. “It completely changed my life. I felt trapped.”  

Wallner’s mother is immune-compromised, so she said her family enforced social distancing. “It was hard to keep living here when I was constantly doing something wrongdoing something they didn’t approve of.” She said her parents had also asked her to hand over her car keys. “All I could do to leave the house was running or grocery shopping,” she said.  

Despite quarantine and being unable to work due to her diner job being shut down, Wallner found ways to focus on positives. “I met up with friends outside, and we’d play soccer in a field down the street from my house.” 

Wallner said she found herself clashing with her parents a lot, but she thinks they grew closer. “We ended up having a lot of good discussions, seeing and understanding each other’s points, although it wasn’t always pretty. But we did get to talk, and I spent more time with them too.”  

Wallner said she renewed old hobbies during quarantine. “I did a lot of painting and other artwork.” She said she found herself journaling, as well. 

I just decided to write things down, and it helped me figure out how I’m feeling and how to go about itAt the end of the day I put in my journal how I would rate my day out of ten, and it helped me think about what I could do to be better and feel better the next day,” Wallner said. “Without the Coronavirus’ rainclouds, I couldn’t see my own silver lining.” 

Veronica Sannes, junior 

Veronica Sannes lived in Eagle Hall at UWL during the 2020-2021 school year and is from Saint Paul, Minnesota. For Sannes, the biggest impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was the cancellation of her summer job.

Sannes had an internship planned with the Minnesota state government, which would have given her valuable field experience. Sannes is now working in a warehouse over the summer. 

Despite these changes, Sannes says she is staying positive. “I get to listen to as much music and as many audiobooks as I want while I’m working, which I wouldn’t get to do otherwise.” 

Sannes said her mother has a history of health issues, so her family is taking social distancing seriously. She has stayed busy going for hikes, playing frisbee golf, and picking up baking.

Sannes visited La Crosse to see her new apartment recently. “The differences between La Crosse and the Twin Cities are astounding. People here [Saint Paul] have been a lot stricter about not going out unless you absolutely have to.” 

However she said recently, that has changed. “In the past two weeks, the attitude towards Coronavirus has changed dramatically because of the [Black Lives Matter] protests…you can sense a big shift in the Twin Cities. It’s not so much about COVID-19, it’s about making change.”

Sannes said she recognizes her privilege in her experience with COVID-19. “I am really lucky that the biggest impact on me was that my summer job got canceled, rather than way bigger issues.” 

Sannes emphasizes how strange it was to have her sophomore year cut short and be separated from college friends. “I feel like we were just getting into the groove of things, the second semester was going so well.” 

Sannes said that it’s odd to be separated from friends you don’t know as wellthe people you don’t talk to regularly, and wouldn’t necessarily reach out to—but still appreciate and have fun with. “I really miss seeing those half-friends, people from classes and campus [organizations]. 

Sannes said she is a very social person, so moving back home was a culture shock for her. “It sucked at first, but now I’ve learned how to spend quality time with myself…and realized how important it is to recharge. 

She said that she hopes to maintain these habits after things return to normal. “I think that that’s something I’ll take forward. While it may be fun to hang out with people 24/7, it’s probably not the healthiest thing you can do.

Sannes said she is grateful. “I appreciate my privilege in being able to be…alone in a good way.”  

Bradley Butterfield, UWL faculty

Bradley Butterfield is a professor in the English department at UWL and holds a Ph.D. in comparative literature from the University of Oregon. For him, he said it’s all about turning negativity into positivity. “It [COVID-19] really made me go back to the stoics [philosophers], and think about how to live simply, how to be happy regardless of what the outside world looks like and how to be happy with our inside world.”  

Butterfield is a self-described introvert and notes the upsides of social distancing. So much of the redundancy and superfluousness of all that we do on a regular basis was cut out and distilled to the essentials.”  

He said he has found himself practicing introspection during social distancing. “On a personal level, I’ve found it an inspiring time. I’ve got more reading done, more thinking, taken great walks. I say that while counting my privileges, of course, and realizing that those of us who have resources and employment and a place to be are incredibly lucky.” 

Butterfield has also found himself reflecting on how COVID-19 relates to the bigger picture. He references the economic crisis that will likely follow in the wake of the COVID-19, the recent momentum in the Black Lives Matter movement, and climate change. “It’s like the Spanish Flu, The Great Depression, and the civil unrest of the 1960s happening all over again—at once.”

Butterfield said he looks to the calamities we’re facing as an opportunity for growth. “We can’t avoid the negative. We’ve got to look it in the face and say, ‘alright, how can we positively respond to that negativity?’”  

He points to the Black Lives Matter movement as an example. “The visceral reaction to seeing George Floyd executed, lying down on the street, grabbed our attention. That was something extremely negative, but it had a positive reaction. People decided they were going to go out, and protest, and demand positive change.”  

Butterfield said he is optimistic that the Black Lives Matter movement will only be the beginning. “My hope is that the silver lining [of COVID-19] will be people waking up. People will wake up and realize, ‘hey, we can do this.’” 

Butterfield said he is a strong proponent of sustainability and environmental reform. “We’ve got to have the whole species start to think planetarily and stop consuming so much so often. The Coronavirus did that, it showed us that we can get by with less. We can live more modestly and learn to sustain our resources better.” 

Butterfield said he maintains an attitude of optimism. “Everything we have is only on loan to us, and everything can be taken at any time. Our only job is to not react in a negative way.” 

Judi Becker, UWL faculty 

Judi Becker has taught English and education classes at Winona State University, where she is currently a writer for Marketing and Communication and will return to teach full-time at UWL this fall.

Becker has said she has been confined to her apartment since the start of the pandemic. “COVID has completely isolated me to my apartment building due to underlying medical conditions.”

Becker is known for bringing home-baked goods in for students during finals week and she describes herself as a people-person. “I’m very much a comforter, I’m very much a nurturer, I’m very much a ‘let me help you with that’ kind of person.”

When Becker had to begin social distancing, she said it was a big change. “With every single decision I make about encouraging or providing for someone, I have to measure the need against my own wellbeing since I carry such severe risk.” 

In addition to these difficulties, Becker has also had to come to terms with the cancelation of upcoming fall semester plans. Becker was going to teach English at a school on Jeju Island in South Korea, where she would also live in the dorms and mentor students. Becker said teaching overseas has been a lifelong dream and bucket list item for her. “I was really excited about that…maybe one day,” she said.

Becker said that the worst of all is having to distance herself from her two adult children. One lives close to her, and Becker said she is still able to see them. “They come to my back porch probably once every other week, or I drive to their house and they talk to me from the passenger side window, so we’ve been able to visit those ways, so that’s been good.”

She said seeing her daughter has been more difficult, as she lives far away and her fiancé works in a hospital, increasing the danger. “How do I not hug my kid and take that chance? It’s hard and it’s scary.”  

Becker said she cannot afford the risk. “It’s frightening for me. I look at what’s happening to other people who have my same conditions. They’re dying.”  

Becker said she looks at things with hope. “I’m learning more about what I need to take care of myself. I’m listening to a lot more music than I would normally be able to take the time to do. And I’ve done some journaling. Normally, I’m working, working, working.”

Though she admits occasional frustration, Becker said she looks at the situation with as much understanding as she can. “I’m not sure if there’s a right or wrong [way] to navigate through this. I think each person is doing the best they can with what they know and how they feel.” 

Instead of teaching in South Korea, Becker will be teaching at UWL in the fall. “I plan to pour myself into classes in the fall with even more life experience, and I’m looking forward to some deep, engaging conversations in those classes. What we’re going through right now is traumatizing, and it’s a shared trauma. I think that after this we’re all going to be like military buddies who had each other’s backs in the trenches. This whole generation of people, both older and younger, will have a bond.” 

Becker said she regrets this temporary inability to be close to her loved ones, but she also recognizes that the pandemic has reframed how people connect. “I think and hope that we, as a society, have re-discovered the preciousness of people. Personally, I’ve reached out more to my core people to express my gratitude and appreciation for them…online, of course.”  

“Nothing will ever be the same again. Our normal is gone…it’s been ripped from us. And that’s violating,” said Becker. “But pain is defined by resilience. And resilience is about getting back up again, and moving forward into that new reality, that new normal.” 

Shilpa Viswanath, UWL faculty 

Professor Shilpa Viswanath holds a Ph.D. in Public Administration from Rutgers University in New Jersey and is an Assistant Professor in the Political Science and Public Administration department at UWL.

A relatively new hire to UWL, and one of few women of color in the UWL faculty, Viswanath strives to draw attention to an issue that most are not considering about COVID-19: gender inequality.  

Viswanath said, “The most striking example of gender inequality is the lack of representation of women in COVID-19 task forces at the federal, state, and local levels of government. In particular, the [lack of] African-American and Hispanic women in decision making spheres. These communities [African-American and Hispanic] have been hit hardest. Without their perspectives and their inputs on public policy design, how will we ever overcome structural inequities?” 

Of the 27 officials on the federal COVID-19 task force, two are women, and one is a person of color.

“We have empirical evidence from past epidemics, such as the Ebola outbreak and the Zika virus outbreak, pointing to exaggerated gender disparities during a public health emergency. These past lessons should serve as important reminders to prioritize ‘women’s needs’ while implementing pandemic responses,” Viswanath said.  

Viswanath said that the pandemic could likely upset what progress we have made towards gender equality. “Consistently, across the board (irrespective of socio-economic class and educational qualifications), working women are still likely to provide all forms of informal care for their families at home, thereby disrupting their performance at work. It has taken women a long time to achieve the labor force participation rates we see today and this pandemic and the lack of access to universal childcare could set women back in time.” 

Viswanath said that recent adaptations in telecommuting, as a result of COVID-19, is proof that there are ways in which women can do both, rather than being discriminated against. “I hope going forward, both public sector and private sector organizations will invest more in work-life programs that enable women to continue pursuing economic opportunities while caring for their families. We have seen a shift in efficient telecommuting and remote working arrangements since March 2020. This is something organizations should sustain and pursue in the long run.” 

Viswanath will be teaching POL 102, 205, and PUB 210 and 330 this upcoming fall semester and plans to use her recent research in class. 

Gender inequities are systemic, structural, and institutional. Pandemics have a differential impact on men and women – mostly because of the already existing gendered norms and power structures within families and within organizations. Women’s voices and perspectives have to be included in the public policy design at all times,” said Viswanath.

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