This year has broken me.
The day the 33 professors were fired was a never-ending torrent of mourning faces, broken hearts and ghosts. I saw professors walk in a building I was locked out of and emerge a few minutes later with news that their lives will never be the same.
Even so, the next day was harder.
Sept. 16 was a day of student protest. Over a hundred students came and went from Plumb Hall, protesting the dismissal of their professors.
I began the day with them, sitting watch as police officers walked in and out, saying they were protecting everyone in the building while staking out in front of the president’s office.
I had to go take a Theories of Persuasion exam that day. I did alright, but the rest of the class didn’t seem to do as well based on what I heard from others and what the professor told us when we got our grades back. Students were struggling but classes didn’t stop. I had to watch dozens of professors get fired the day before, covered a campus protest, helped direct the Bulletin staff to where I heard there was news and still, I had to leave to go take a test, then come back to resume my watch.
When I came back from the test, I interviewed one of the fired professors. I walked up and down the Plumb Hall stairs with him, following his tiny daughter as she ran around, having no idea her dad was talking to me about a day that not only changed his life forever, but hers as well.
Then that night I had to go back and study like it was a normal day of homework.
That’s the thing about being a student journalist on Emporia State’s campus. I’m working an emotionally gut-wrenching job while also being a full time senior trying to graduate. There’s no way to tell how many hours I work. Some days it feels like I don’t have time to breathe with all my work and classes. I find myself helping staff with their stories at all hours of the day, writing stories in the office until 3 a.m. and sometimes waking up as early as 6:30 in the morning to prepare for interviews and start looking through materials for articles.
Senior year is hard enough. I’m trying to pass all my classes, plan for graduation, find a job in May. Enjoying my time here just isn’t an option.
I've become one of the walking ghosts these days. It may not be obvious in the articles you read or the person you see in your classes, but who I was is gone.
There was a night a few months ago where I sat on the floor and cried my way through a mental shattering as I sorted through court documents scattered across the floor and taped torn up pieces of paper covered in Sharpied notes to my bedroom wall trying to organize a story about ESU President Ken Hush missing a legal financial disclosure deadline. I was drowning in the mountain of sorrow I had pushed down, stress from trying to survive finals week, pressure to write multiple investigative articles all at once and the knowledge that no matter what I said and how careful I was, there would be hate coming my way after the article ran.
In 2020, my everyday life stopped because of a global pandemic. This year has been worse for me.
Sept. 14 was the last day I was a college student.
Pulling into the Earl Center parking lot the next day, I was immediately faced with the crying face of a professor I knew well. I wasn’t even able to get out of my car before being slammed with the emotional weight of the coming months all at once. I became a journalist who also took classes on the side in order to get a degree in a matter of seconds.
Before writing this, I went back through the recordings from Sept. 15 stored in my phone and pressed play on the first one. The recording began as a fired professor’s voice filled with heartbreak as she told her story. She had just walked out of the Earl Center, a building off campus, where she had been fired with no warning. Only a few seconds in, I lost the strength in my hands, my entire body tensed up and I began to zone out. I turned it off.
Sitting outside of that building I made a decision to tell the stories on campus that no one else could. I have spent every day of the past six months fighting for the public and putting my own needs to the side in order to offer readers a glimpse into what is happening at ESU.
Every article I have published has been faced with backlash. There are members of the community that have been incredibly supportive, but I have also received more substantial negativity from those who don’t like what I show the public.
I feel years older than the person I was a few months ago. I’ve had experiences that will affect me for the rest of my career and shape the way I take on stories. I may be graduating this May, but the stories I’ve told outside of the classroom taught me more than any test could have.
We’ve been told that the changes on campus this year are for the students. In a way, that is more true than I could have imagined for me. My program has been cut, my advisor fired, the ESU of next year will not be made with students like me in mind. Still, this has given me the opportunity to cover the extremes of campus. I’ve talked to those who are beyond excited for the future and others who have had theirs taken away.
I may have stopped being a college student in September, but this university will be a part of my story and the stories I tell for the rest of my life.
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