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Chris Fortune: 'A day-by-day thing'

Chris FortuneJunior Chris Fortune chose to stay at home in Overland Park, Kansas, in fall 2020 to take his classes online. He was surprised when the pandemic initially hit in the United States. He went home for spring break and has not been back to campus for classes since. 

Online school has been an adjustment for Fortune because he had never taken or planned to take an online class at KU. He feels like it is more difficult to make connections with peers and build relationships with professors when classes are not in person. He is glad the Journalism School is providing students the resources they need, such as equipment for projects. 

Fortune’s workload has stayed the same, but now that he is not coming to campus, he saves time on his commute and gets some extra sleep. He is hopeful there will be a vaccine soon and things will return to normal. In the meantime, he keeps in contact with friends to keep his spirits up, but when they do see each other he makes sure they are safe and socially distant.  

► Listen to audio version here.

Kate Robinson: This is Kate Robinson. Today is Nov. 11, 2020. I'm interviewing Chris Fortune for the William Allen White School of Journalism Pandemic Oral History Project. So going back to March, what was your initial reaction when the pandemic first hit?

Chris Fortune: I was pretty surprised because I remember just at school and then at work early winter months, like January, February, new cases were rising in like China and, you know, let's say Japan and South Korea and all that. And at the time I was just wondering, where were you going to -- were we going to experience that in the States? And when we were actually getting, you know, cases here and here and there in the States, I still wasn't sure, like, is it going to be enough to stop school? And it's something that I thought about every once in a while in March when everyone was sent home because it just felt, and it was so sudden and I don't know, it was just kind of caught off guard, I guess, but I wasn't, at the same time, I wasn't too surprised cause I'd seen what it had done to like China.

Kate Robinson: Okay. Do you remember where you were when you heard the news? That KU was closing?

Chris Fortune: I do not. That's like one thing I think about, too. Like I have no idea. I don't remember like the exact day or time or what I was doing when I found out. I just do remember when I was in Multimedia Reporting class with Dr. Finneman, the last thing we did in class was visit KSNT and it was our class and Professor Wolgast and we were at that station. And at that time, I did not know that that was going to be the last time our class was together. So that was pretty interesting because I know that I think about it. I think it was, yeah, we went there and then after that was spring break and then we never came back. So even before spring break, I didn't -- just didn't see it coming.

Kate Robinson: OK. How would you say this semester has been different when you're comparing this semester to, in the fall with the pandemic to the spring semester with the pandemic?

Chris Fortune: Definitely a lot more organized. Just remember, I just remember emails from professors at the time about how they're going to restructure the class and how the rest of the semester is going to look. And a lot of times, it was just like a process, like week to week. They're just kind of adjusting, adjusting to it. And this semester it was just a lot more organized. You know, if you're taking an online class and you know. You know it's online and the schedule is laid out how it's going to be.

Kate Robinson: What would you say has been the biggest challenge of adapting to the changes on campus?

Chris Fortune: It hasn't been too much of a challenge for me because I only do online classes this semester. So I've only been on campus like a couple of times a semester just for renting equipment. And so I can't speak too much on that. You know, I wore my mask on campus when I went there, but I haven't gone to any classrooms. So it hasn't, it hasn't been too different going into like the Resource Center and all that other than wearing the mask.

Kate Robinson: OK. And has your workload changed as a result of the pandemic?

Chris Fortune: It doesn't seem like it's really increased or decreased online classes, and they're still relatively new to me. The first time I ever took an online class in college was over the summer. So it was a little bit of an adjustment that way, but comparing like this semester to let's say last fall, we had a full semester on campus. I wouldn't say that I'm too much busier or have like a lot more free time. It's just the commute has been taken out of my schedule. So I'm able to get sleep a little bit more.

Kate Robinson: OK. How has your perception of the pandemic changed over time?

Chris Fortune: Hmm. When I go back to the start of it for us really, which was in March, I always thought it was a big deal. Cause in March we really didn't know anything about COVID-19. And for that reason, you know, just doing my best, you know, following guidelines to avoid catching it because I'm not trying to catch a disease that scientists and health officials don't fully understand yet.

So as the last spring semester was progressing and summer approached, it was kind of that same mentality because you see the rising cases across the U.S. and the increasing deaths. Like for me, I'm probably not in a vulnerable group, but knowing that I could catch it and then bring it to my parents, any loved ones or friends and do them harm it's, you know, that's enough to -- I'm sorry -- that's enough to let me know how serious this is. And especially now where we're setting daily records across the U.S.  we're not even close to being out of this. We're getting somewhere with a vaccine from what I see and hear, but we still need to take it very seriously, I feel.

Kate Robinson: And how have you emotionally coped with the pandemic?

Chris Fortune: Honestly, I feel like I've been doing pretty well. Like I haven't had any kind of like mood changes or behavior changes. I've been keeping in contact with my friends. And I have, you know, hung out with them a few times, of course, you know, being safe and everything, not do any kind of like handshakes or, you know, any kind of like risky stuff, but I think that's a big part of it just keeping in contact with friends and then that's one of the ways I've coped with it. And I don't know. I think -- I think that's just like the main thing. Yeah.

Kate Robinson: How has your involvement in J-School organizations, other student organizations, Greek life or other clubs been affected?

Chris Fortune: Yep. I currently I work with Dr. Finneman ‘cause she runs the Eudora Times and I'm still working with her in that group covering Eudora, but I remember maybe it was like late February, early March. I think it was Cal Butcher that I spoke to like Media Crossroads and I was about to get involved with student media over there. And I remember reaching out to 'em and like, you know, we had a little connection and all of a sudden -- to start with them last spring -- and not even like two weeks later, I think is when I got the news that the campus closed for the rest of the spring semester. And that's one of the biggest ways it's affected me so far because no, I'm not on campus this semester. So I missed out on volunteering with Media Crossroads in spring and it has affected me during the fall as well.

Kate Robinson: Okay. How do you feel about your fellow students’ response to the pandemic?

Chris Fortune: Since I’m not on campus, I don't see too much, but from what I've read, there hasn't been any real explosions, like in the number of cases, cases on campus and all that. So if it seems like I'm going to say that they're doing better than I thought they would do. I think there was some kind of viral video about these fraternity -- I mean, it was a fraternity that was kind of like partying, like maybe before the semester started. And that was kind of, I saw that and I was kinda -- that was kind of unfortunate. I was like, that's, hopefully that's not a sign of what's to come. And I think overall it seems like everyone's been handling it pretty well and following most of the rules, because from what I understand the positivity rate isn't very high over there and that's one thing that I was pretty surprised about and it's pretty uplifting going forward.

Kate Robinson: Yeah. Do you have plans to adapt your education or career to this current situation or because of it?

Chris Fortune: That's a good question. Cause that's something that I think about quite often because there is like a good amount of hands-on experience that I would have liked to have gotten, you know, especially last semester and this semester, of course. And that's still something that I'm, I don't know, I haven't, I've been thinking about it as like, I wonder how this is gonna affect me going forward. And, and even at this moment, I'm kind of thinking like, do I want to return to campus this coming semester or not? So I can't quite say yet. It's like, it's just really like a day-by-day thing.

Kate Robinson: Right. And where are you doing school from this semester?

Chris Fortune: I'm doing it from home.

Kate Robinson: And where is home?

Chris Fortune: In Overland Park.

Kate Robinson: OK. So I know you're not on campus, but maybe from emails or classes, something like that. How do you feel about the School of Journalism's response to the pandemic?

Chris Fortune: Again, from what -- I mean, when I was on campus, you know, like a couple or a few times I was renting equipment, it seems like the J-School, you know, they're doing things the right way. They have good safety precautions set. And even while we have these safety precautions, we're still able to access these resources. Like I was still able to go in there and get in camera when I needed it. So while they are taking extra precautions, the opportunity is still there. And for that reason, I think they're doing a pretty good job with it.

Kate Robinson: Great. How has the pandemic changed the School of Journalism and KU in general?

Chris Fortune: Well, I think as far as the School of Journalism, I think journalism students right now, or I think it's going to make everyone better because of it, because this having to adapt to not being able to have like, you know, sit down like right in front of you to kind of interview as much, it's kind of making people a little bit more resourceful.

It's a little different, but I think it can only help going forward, once things return to normal. As for KU in general, I think it has -- the pandemic has the possibility to kind of affect people for, you know, quite a few years to come because you have the graduates last year who were certainly affected and you have to believe graduates this year are going to be affected as well, as far as like, you know, the job market.

Chris Fortune: But going forward, you had high school students graduating that will graduate and we don't really know how their families have been affected. And, you know, if they do have parents that lost their job, is it going to affect them, you know, going to school? Like, I feel like there has to be -- there's probably students out there who are coming out of high school who are probably thinking about attending KU or some kind of -- any kind of university or college. And maybe because of the pandemic, because of situations at home that they're not able to, you know, follow their dreams of going to school at the moment. And I think maybe it won't affect too many students, but I think there's going to be quite a few that are going to be affected by this for possibly for years to come because there's so many people out of jobs.

Kate Robinson: OK. And you kind of answered this with the last question, but how do you think KU you will be better from everything that's happened? Do you want to elaborate on that a little bit more?

Chris Fortune: I think KU will be better because we see students right now, you know, following these rules, wearing these masks and everything to get to class and everything and all that. We -- I think we see now that even if some people might not like the rules, they don't really feel like wearing a mask. That it's shown that some -- like a lot of people can really step up if it's for the greater good to come together and make sure there aren't -- we don't have any, you know, outbreaks on campus. And I think that that will help going forward as far as I don't know, student relations and, and just building real relationships going forward. I think once things are back to normal and we're able to interact like normal, I think people will be excited to get back to that normalcy. So I think there'll be more student participation in extracurricular activities and campus clubs. And I think for that reason, KU will be fine going forward.

Kate Robinson: OK. And what advice would you give someone 100 years from now who may be dealing with another pandemic?

Chris Fortune: That's another good question. I would definitely say take it very seriously. Even if like, there's times where if it's across on the other side of the globe, there's certainly the possibility that it could reach the United States like it did this time. So definitely take it seriously and do whatever it takes to keep you, your family, and then have everyone else safe as well. Don't just, don't be afraid to take those extra precautions. Even if you think you might look a little silly to keep everyone safe because what we didn't really take seriously six plus months ago has turned into something that has affected us for almost a year now. So whenever there's a threat of something like this, again, if there is something like this 100 years from now, definitely take it seriously.

Kate Robinson: OK. Great. Is there anything else that -- about your experience that you would like to share that you would like to add that we haven't touched on?

Chris Fortune: Maybe the -- just adjustment to online classes because, like I said, before this past summer, I didn't take any online classes and I didn't plan on taking any online classes at KU, but as a result of the pandemic, you know, this is where I'm at. I'd prefer to be in-person because if it's easier, I feel like it's easier to build relationships with your peers, especially professors, if you're in the class and you're able to interact with them, like in-person, and being online, it certainly makes it a little bit tougher. But I think that is the only thing else I can speak on that hasn't already been covered.

Kate Robinson: OK. Well, thank you, Chris. This is the conclusion of this oral history.

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