Lessons learned from the COVID pandemic
UND event introduces and provides glimpse of digital oral history archive
Community resiliency, comparisons to the 1997 flood, the need for good communications and the effectiveness of local cooperation were familiar themes from those who experienced the COVID pandemic from 2020 to 2021.
On Wednesday evening at the Empire Arts Center in downtown Grand Forks, about 50 people braved snow and cold to attend “The Power of Our Community: How UND responded to and was affected by the pandemic.”
The event unveiled UND’s COVID archive of oral history, containing more than 50 interviews conducted by Chuck Haga, a part-time UND writing instructor, Grand Forks Herald columnist and retired journalist. A 35-minute video featuring a sampling of the interviews was shown during the program.
In late 20201, UND President Andrew Armacost selected Haga to conduct the interviews because of his journalism experience and interest in history. At the Empire event, Armacost recognized Haga for his work on the project by presenting him with a miniature version of UND’s Eternal Flame sculpture.
“I want to express my deepest gratitude and appreciation to Chuck Haga for his kindness and help since my arrival at UND and Grand Forks,” Armacost said. “He is truly a treasure to our community and to the University of North Dakota. Chuck and Hagaland (a mythical island in the Red River described in Haga’s columns) will forever hold a special place in our hearts. I can’t thank him enough for his contributions to this project.”
Haga interviewed a wide variety of individuals, including community leaders, health officials, UND faculty and staff, and students about their experiences and perceptions. Armacost said creating a record of UND and Grand Forks’ pandemic experiences will help future leaders make knowledgeable, well-informed decisions when confronted with unexpected crises.
As Haga recalled, “I was pleased and a little surprised, frankly, at how willing almost everyone was to take part. I asked them to come into the UND studio in O’Kelly Hall.
“I asked more than 50 people I interviewed how has the pandemic had affected them, how they responded, how they felt the university generally had dealt with the challenge and whether they took from the experience any lessons about themselves,” he said.
Haga summarized his takeaways from the experience.
“There was a good, general sense that the University had performed well in handling the challenge, in spite of the always-shifting-nature of that challenge,” he said.
“Nearly everyone cited the importance of communications and transparency, and nearly everyone gave good marks for that,” he continued. “Most people who were interviewed said there were lessons to be learned from the COVID experience, and they hoped those lessons would guide the University.”
During her interview, Rosie Dub, director of UND’s COVID response who has since retired, described the challenges she faced during the pandemic
“We needed to mediate prior to the hospital being exhausted or overstretched,” she told Haga. “We were trying to stay a step ahead of the hospital all the time.
“The good part about ending my career during a pandemic at UND was that I don’t think ever in my life I’ve had an opportunity to work so closely with so many different entities and different hats with really one same goal.”
Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski recalled getting back-to-back voicemails from two citizens making complaints from polar opposite directions, one accusing the city of going too far and the other of doing too little.
“We kind of rebounded off that and said maybe we’re threading the needle and doing okay, if we’re hearing it from both sides,” he said.
Jonathan Puhl, a UND digital media designer who assisted Haga in recording and editing the video, said, “I’m very happy that we were able to showcase it, but more importantly, that we can keep it available for whoever wants to see it.”
Sarah Heitkamp, UND art collections curator, and Zeineb Yousif, the digital initiatives librarian at Chester Fritz Library, also spoke on their roles in developing the art exhibit and online digital archive through the Scholarly Commons at the Chester Fritz Library.
“When I was looking at the images I was pulling for the exhibition, It was just really amazing to think about everything we’ve been through that has gotten us to this point,” Heitkamp said.
Yousif said she was grateful to be involved in the project and learned from the experience by viewing the videos.
“It was so interesting to hear how everybody had such different experiences with the pandemic,” she said. “The Grand Forks Herald covered the communications they were getting from UND and how it reminded them of the (1997) flood.”
Armacost focused on the importance of gaining perspective from challenging events.
“Whether it’s a flood or a pandemic, we learn through our life experiences that with the passage of time comes perspective,” he noted. “Perspective helps us understand now what we didn’t know at the beginning; what’s important and what’s not; and perhaps, most importantly, what lessons have we learned to help us through the next challenges we face individually, as a university, as a community, as a state, as a nation and as a global community.”