Editor’s Note Episode 9: Semester in review

| Multimedia Editor

From COVID-19 to calls for Greek Life abolition to campus protests, it’s been a historic semester. In this last Editor’s Note podcast episode of 2020, Multimedia Editor junior Jaden Satenstein talks to Student Life Editor-in-Chief Emma Baker to discuss the moments that mattered to the Washington University community.

Graphic by Christine Watridge

Editor’s Note Episode 9: Semester in review can also be found on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or Soundcloud.

Music by Copy Chief JJ Coley

The transcript of the episode can be found below. It has been lightly edited for clarity:

JAYLA BUTLER (0:03-0:09) The abolishment really got started after that post, after it blew up and people were starting to talk more about their experiences in Greek Life.

JULIA ROBBINS (0:10 – How would you feel knowing that you might end up having to make that call to a friend and say, ‘Hey, I think I might have to contact trace you?’

JADEN SATENSTEIN (0:24-0:54) I’m Multimedia Editor Jaden Satenstein, and you’re listening to Editor’s Note, Student Life’s weekly podcast breaking down our biggest stories with the reporters and editors that covered them. 

Those were just a few of the major campus stories Student Life covered this fall. As we look back on this strange semester, I talked to Student Life Editor-in-Chief senior Emma Baker to discuss the moments that mattered to the Wash. U. community.

First off, looking back, what were some of our biggest stories of the semester?

EMMA BAKER (0:55-2:17) I think in retrospect what made this semester’s reporting so interesting is that we effectively had one central story to figure out and explore, which was, how does COVID impact campus, and how are students and faculty and staff impacted by the pandemic? And I think within that we found a lot of layers to not just the student experience in terms of people being distant learners or having to recalibrate how they consider themselves to be students, but we found a lot of the layers that impacted broader elements of campus.

So when we look at stories from this past semester, I think I see a general progression in terms of how the University responded to COVID and how they continue to respond. So I think back to, it must have been mid-August at this point, we had one of our reporters covering how housing was impacting students and the abrupt changes that Residential Life had announced in terms of people’s assignments. And so uncovering that scramble and figuring out how students were adjusting and making plans in terms of where they would be learning invited a story on how residential advisors and RAs and WUSAS would be handling that transition. And so there was a nice sequence of stories that I think we uncovered while covering COVID. 

JS (2:18-2:35) Mmhhm, and a lot of stories this semester related to activism, whether through different initiatives or protests. How has the University’s response to activism during COVID been similar to or different from their reactions to prior efforts?

EB (2:36-4:45) I think that’s a question that we’re still trying to learn the answer to. The most distilled way to put it, in that this is true for just the world right now, is that COVID is not a great equalizer of any sorts. It exacerbates inequalities, it exacerbates the needs to support vulnerable peoples and issues that impact how people’s well-being are defined. And so I think a lot of the activism that we saw, whether it be in response to critiquing [Washington University Police Department’s] positions on campus and their role to racial justice and socio-economic equity, all of these conversations have happened before on campus in certain capacities. I think there is an urgency that motivates student activism this semester, as students really had to figure out a lot of things for themselves. And I think that was true, starting from spring break in March when we saw this emergence of mutual aid happening between students and then other faculty and staff members, you know, from things being like, ‘Hey, I have storage if you need storage’ to ‘I have a bed and a couch if you don’t have a place to stay that is safe for you.’ And so, I think a lot of that mutual aid and care speaks to how student activism really unites students and unites people in need. 

I think the administrative response has been very typical. I think if we examine their response to specific demands and specific requests, there is a pattern of generating committees and action groups and people who study issues, and I think, to the question of, ‘How does student activism change in this conversation?’ I think we saw an increased commitment and a realization that we are a fundamentally unequal campus and we have an obligation to make a better, more equitable space for everyone who’s a part of this community. And I think a lot of that involves petitioning the administration to also change how they respond to those things. 

JS (4:46-4:51) In addition to the natural shifts due to COVID, have you noted any major changes at Wash. U. this semester? 

EB (4:52-5:57) Specific to just student activism and student change, I think we’ve seen a fundamental shift in conversations about structures on campus. And so the most immediate reference point to that is the conversation surrounding Greek Life and that role on campus and how, in a lot of capacities, that structure exists to reinforce inequities on campus. And I think conversations like that, once again, to use that word urgency. Because of this just explosion of experiences and people being very vulnerable with what they had experienced and what they had gone through, in many instances through platforms like Instagram and other online spaces, I think the humanization of that story and the inviting of other people into that story gave a different perspective on how and if and when do we abolish Greek Life on campus, as an example.

JS (5:58- 6:12) How do you think that next semester, in the spring, may be different from this one? We’ve seen a lot of similarities in terms of the actual plan for how spring courses and things will be conducted, but are there any things that you foresee changing?

EB (6:13-7:13) I think at this point online learning as a concept is not wholly novel to students and to professors. We have all experienced roughly a semester and a half of that to the point of the next semester’s beginning. And so I think the comfortability around that will inform how the student academic experience is defined in the spring semester, especially when we consider the Wellness Days that were assigned and the student backlash surrounding the lack of time off and that sorts of things and the tension of that conversation. I think we’ll see students and faculty and staff who are really burned out in a way that we should be cognizant of and concerned about. But then I also think it’s okay to say there’s a lot of hope now with respect to a vaccine and to an end of a pandemic that I don’t think was always the case this semester.

JS (7:14-7:20) And I know this might be a bit like picking children, but do you have any personal favorite stories from this fall?

EB (7:21-7:29) Oh, goodness. I think that something about my job is that I get to like all of the stories that we write and all of the content that we produce.

JS (7:30-7:31) [laughs] Right.

EB (7:32-8:37) In looking through all of the stories that we’ve been able to do, I won’t give you a story, but I think we came together at the opening of this semester with the understanding that this story, ‘this’ being, how does COVID-19 impact Washington University? is a remarkably human story. And we saw through every iteration of reporting the centering of that experience and of that humanity throughout all of this. And so I think our best work is the work that lifts those voices. And I think across all sections editors were able to find that. And I think that was one of the most important parts when we thought about, how do we cover this? So I think features and stories and experience pieces that do that to its best degree are the ones that are the most impactful. And I think we were able to do all that we could to make that happen. So not a favorite one, not a favorite child, but a favorite genre of child, if you’ll take that.

JS (8:38-8:42) Yes, I knew that’d be a hard question to ask but I was curious. [laughs]

EB (8:43-8:46) The podcast, which is just always fantastic. [laughs]

JS (8:47-8:49) Right, right, what else is there?

[both laugh]

JS (8:50-8:54) Just to finish off, is there anything that I haven’t asked you that you wanted to add?

EB (8:55-9:31) I think what is so important about what we do at Student Life is its acuteness to our community and our readers. And I take a lot of value and a lot of acknowledgement of the fact that we are not just reporters and writers on stories. We are students who are very often living the experiences that we’re covering, especially during COVID. And so I think, just once again, this whole semester has been a lesson for a lot of our reporting in making it a compassionate and empathetic endeavor, and I hope to see that continue into the spring.

JS (9:38-9:46) Editor’s Note will be back next semester to break down our biggest stories of the spring. For Student Life Media, I’m Jaden Satenstein. 

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