West uses campus leadership position to guide students through COVID-19 pandemic

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When Jack West first stepped onto Auburn’s campus as a freshman, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to study or what career path he wanted to pursue. Little did he know that just three years later, he would be playing a vital role in disseminating important information to the student body during a global pandemic.

West, a senior from Huntsville, Alabama, who is dual majoring in journalism and history with an English minor, is the editor-in-chief of The Auburn Plainsman, the university's award-winning, student-run newspaper. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, he has used his leadership position on campus to advocate for student participation in safety guidelines and protocols set by the university.

“Our focus has been making sure that people have the information they need and then with that information, we try to persuade students to make decisions about their own health,” West said. “The biggest thing we have done, in almost every issue, is that we advocated, ‘wear your mask and follow these guidelines.’”

Along with keeping the faculty and students up to date when the pandemic first impacted the university in mid-March, West also led the 45-member, student-run organization through a transition from print to digital publication on top of having to work together remotely.

Although it has been many months since then, West continues to make adjustments to how the newspaper is run in response to changes made by the university and local government.

“The biggest adaptation has been how we make decisions and how we think about the information we have, knowing that it could change every hour or every 30 minutes,” he said. “We used to joke a bunch around the office and say, ‘As of Tuesday at 3 p.m., here is what we know and here is how we are making decisions.’”

Before stepping into his role as editor-in-chief, West was responsible for writing editorials and managing columnists as the opinion editor during the first semester of his junior year. He then designed sections and wrote feature stories as the managing editor for the newspaper during the spring semester before taking over the top spot this summer.

“I’ve written for just about every section of the paper at this point, but I really enjoyed being an editorial writer,” West said. “Getting to speak for the newspaper was always really fun, along with getting to use our platform to talk about things we care about.”

West considers himself a feature writer at heart, and if there is one thing that he knows for sure, it’s that he loves to tell stories.

“Anywhere I see myself in five years, I’m telling someone’s story,” West said. “They might be living, they might be dead. Regardless, it’s about finding people whose voices aren’t being heard now, or whose voices weren’t being heard when they were alive and telling their story in a way that is engaging and that is an initiative for change.”

However, West is unsure what his passion looks like vocationally. Despite spending the summer working for Alabama Living, he is planning on putting his journalism career on hold after graduation to focus on his love for history.

“I’m probably going to go to grad school for history next year, and I’m looking to study American history and do the academic side of the world,” West said. “I love print media, but it’s just not something that I want to do as a full-time job.”

Although he is hoping to attend an Ivy League school to pursue his master’s degree, West is thankful for the education he received at Auburn and all of the experiences that shaped him.

“I was kinda floundering my senior year of high school,” West said. “I didn’t know what I really wanted to do, and Auburn seemed like a good place to try stuff out, and it ended up being exactly that.”

He considers his experience with The Plainsman as the most beneficial part of his time at Auburn. Coming from a small, private high school with no media program, West did not learn how to reach out to and approach new people until he joined the student-run organization.

“One of the best things that Auburn has done for me is taught me how to meet people,” he said. “Learning how to walk up to somebody, introduce yourself and start asking them really personal questions, I mean that’s hard to teach.

“That’s what I feel like my time at Auburn has been defined by, meeting new people and learning how to form relationships quickly.”

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