“My parents sent me pictures from outside of our house in Seattle, WA, and you couldn’t see farther than a couple feet in front of you because of the smoke. It just rained so the smoke has mostly cleared, but when it was bad they were more afraid of the smoke at the time than COVID” –Maggie Taylor ’22
“The fires in my town, Tahoe Ca., have been closing in on us. Although my family and friends have yet to be evacuated, they have been instructed to stay inside due to air quality reaching up to air quality worse than 200 AQI. The Lake Tahoe basin received a small amount of rain over the weekend which made visibility and breathable air a little better,” Magnolia Neu ’22
“It just rained there a few days ago so the smoke has kind of cleared up. But they are getting more smoke this week because there are still new fires. I know that Whitworth University in Spokane canceled all sport practices last week because of the smoke. Every September is like this now and it’s kind of starting to look like Mad Max out there…we are lucky to be going to a school here where evacuations are not regular this time of year. We thought this summer was going to be better because last summer was so bad, there was nothing left to burn” Otto VanDerhouef ’22
As Saint Michael’s students power through their fourth week on campus following a successful first round of completely negative covid tests, many begin to worry about the student’s mindsets involving signs of overconfidence, and reduced personal concern towards the virus.
When the first batch of results on all on-campus students were reported back there was definitive joy and relief from many but also some speculation that the all negative results were simply too good to be true and concerns that students aren’t following the rules “It is disappointing that people are not fully listening to the rules,” said Nate Imbergamo ’22. “We need to see the bigger picture here,” he added, noting that students could all suddenly be sent home for good.
The state of Vermont is doing exceptionally well in comparison to the rest of the nation and at a recent press conference the governor welcomed Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert on the White House Covid task force. He warned that we cannot let our guards down now. The University of Vermont has reported less than 10 cases and Champlain College just a single case. By comparison, some colleges in other states have high incidence: Outside of the state, The University of Alabama and Georgia have more than 2,300 cases each as students returned for this Fall semester.
Coach Hall, head coach of the swimming and diving team, said we must take a step back to see what it is that we are here for. She suggests students should be “making a list of all the things that they value”.
From a psychological standpoint, students on campus may be starting to act in ways that are influenced by arrogance and feelings of invincibility. “There are things we can do to prevent falling into the overconfidence ‘trap’,” said psychology professor Sarah Nosek. Her tips include avoiding relying on ‘word of mouth’ and avoiding the tendency to listen to things that confirm our belief systems–a concept known as confirmation bias. Nosek as well as many professors that have been asked are extremely happy to be back on campus “Being on campus together this fall is a privilege and one that can change very quickly if people start to get sick,” said Nosek.
One professional in particular who reiterates this point is Covid Action Network (CAN!) advisor and political science professor Patricia Siplon. She works with a student led program helping to prevent covid-19 on campus. Siplon emphasizes harm reduction which will allow for students to still interact with each other in acceptable ways but make sure that the risks are limited for certain behaviors. “The campus will continue to operate on the lower level of risk,” said Siplon.
Students should simply continue to follow the same respectful and worthwhile practice that they have been since Covid-19 was classified as a pandemic back in March of 2020. If we come together (not physically) as a student body we have the power to encourage our peers to make the right choices and to take those down off their pedestals if they begin to show signs of overconfidence, and letting their much needed pandemic guard down.
Six months ago, worldwide depression had struck. People died and goodbyes were distant. Jobs were lost and financial securities went scarce. People living alone experienced the true feeling of loneliness. Nonetheless, there are silver linings embedded within tragedy. This first feature of The Defender’s new illustrated news series highlights stories of grief, loss, and silver linings uncovered by sophomores and juniors.
I connect with people through the art of storytelling. I create stories during the silent moments of conversations when words don’t need to be said, and in the sweet moments of happiness that we can’t let go. Though the pandemic has written a bleak narrative of grief and tragedy for many of us, there is always an opportunity to add color to the story. A digital media class I took this past spring taught me just that.
On the first day of class, I walked in with an open mind and an open heart. We often don’t recognize the power of openness to opportunity in our lives, but it has a tremendous impact in the way we view ourselves and the world around us. I became open to the stories that can be told through images, even though I hadn’t been familiar with this mode of storytelling before. Time progressed, and I developed a strong appetite for learning more about digital media and artistry. To satisfy this hunger, I committed to learning two lessons independently for each lesson taught in class. Two grew into three, four, five, then six. However, it was not enough to satiate my curiosity.
I was inspired by my professor to pursue digital artistry more seriously after the semester ended, so I ventured to explore what my potential could be if I dedicated every ounce of effort and passion into my work. When we are devoted, passionate, and optimistic, we can surprise ourselves in what we’re capable of.
In the midst of worldwide turmoil, it could be difficult to stay motivated. However, motivation is what pushes us forward. Many of us were presented with two options– venture in finding a pastime or new craft, or search endlessly for control over the uncontrollable. My exploration started during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, but that didn’t stop me in the least bit.
Over time, the happiness and fulfillment that digital media brought into my life had bloomed. While honing my craft into the wee hours of the night, I learned about my love for color. Color can powerfully convey any emotion and intermediary imaginable, and by exploring different hues, contrasts, and tonal values, I learned how to manipulate a viewer’s emotional response to an art piece based on a variety of color palettes and combinations. Even though the state of the world would point to a grim color palette, there were hopeful prospects worth highlighting through bright, vibrant colors. Within the crevices of grief and tragedy, there is hope.
When illustrating, I characterize myself into the artwork. I jump from corner to corner and slide within curves and into corners, being careful not to bump into sharp edges or fall off of the artboard. I can tap into different emotional minds with the swipe of a digital paintbrush, bringing memories back to life in the ways I best remember them. Though the nature of the pandemic made me shelter at home, in my artwork, I could be anywhere at any time doing anything I wanted. When we discover a mindspace where we can lose ourselves for hours and days, sheltering in place doesn’t seem so bad.
Discovering my potential as a digital artist wasn’t always easy. Minor intricacies spawned dilemmas that couldn’t be solved by a YouTube video. Hours were spent solving the most minute issues that seemingly made no difference. I found myself wasting time by taking the long haul, without even knowing there were simpler and more effective ways to achieve my artistic goals. When hours and days were spent on an nonviable piece, it hurt the most. Frustration is part of any journey in life, but on the other end is serenity.
It’s easy to imagine ourselves in a position where we can supersede the expectations we set for ourselves, but nothing is more worthwhile than turning this into a reality. All this time, I had the tools in front of me. All it took was openness, optimism, and inspiration to open my eyes and see. I am in a place of fulfillment and happiness, always searching for ways to continue expanding the creative possibilities of my mind.
With a notebook beside me and newfound passion in my heart, ideas beam through my mind and flow through my hands with ease. For the first time in my life, I know what it really means to be an artist. Now, I can share stories and cherish memories using more than just words.
Around 6 p.m. every night, the quiet Battery Park overlooking Lake Champlain in Burlington floods with hundreds of people. “No justice, no peace” shout protestors as they peacefully march from the park to City Hall on Church Street. And that is exactly the plan, no peace until there is justice. On any given night, the protests can have anywhere from 100 to 500 protesters.
The focus is on three officers within the Burlington Police Department, officers Cory Campbell, Joseph Corrow and Jason Bellavance. All of them are under scrutiny for excessive use-of-force cases. The chants and cheers of protestors can be heard blocks away from the South end of Burlington to the Old North End. Protest rules state all protesters must wear masks or they are not allowed to participate. Everyone tries to stay 6 feet apart from one another and stay within the group they are there with.
On “Blackout Tuesdays and Thursdays” protestors get ready for the march by assembling into rows of threes at Battery Park. One row holds white cardboard signs with splatters of red paint signifying splattered blood, and written boldly in black are the names of black victims of police brutality within this country. The following row of three holds a bland cardboard sign with the names of the officers under fire, this pattern continues throughout the rows. Protestors raise their signs with one hand and with the other they raise a clenched fist high in the air, a universal symbol of black power, expressing strength, unity, defiance and resistance.
As protesters gather outside of City Hall, silhouettes of the leaders can be seen standing atop the steps of City Hall as the sun sets behind them. For the next hour or so the young leaders take turns passionately speaking on the racial injustices seen in the Burlington area before they start the march back to Battery Park.
These protests began on August 25 and have continued every night since. As the protests have sparked a strong sense of community amongst protestors, it has also exposed hatred and racism in Burlington.
“My roommate and I were blocking traffic at the Pearl Street intersection during a protest when a large black truck attempted to drive through the crowd, he was revving his engine and kept approaching the crowd slowly, he was shouting out his window to ‘get out of the way’” said University of Vermont student Caitlyn Kutash ‘22 . “As volunteers, we’re told to move out of the way if you ever sense a real threat, so we did. The man ended up getting by and luckily there were no injuries.”
“ We know that blocking traffic in Vermont is illegal and obviously with the country being as divided as it is, situations like this are bound to happen. I think there are certain circumstances where breaking the law is doing the right thing, it’s imperative as a white person to put your body on the line to protect the BIPOC (black, indegenious and people of color) community.”
Although Burlington is not Saint Michael’s direct community, the marches and encampment at Battery Park are open to anyone who wants to join the fight to dismantle systemic racism. For those who can’t march, there are plenty of other ways to help and get involved.
On campus, there are several opportunities to engage in social justice issues. “The MLK
Junior Society, Diversity Coalition, Common Ground, the Peace and Justice club and even SGA are just a handful of the student organizations that work on various social issues, engage in advocacy work, and create opportunities for educational dialogue.” said Sarah Childs, Assistant Dean of Students and Director for the Center for Multicultural Affairs & Services.
“I want to be a guiding hand for students, if they feel the school needs to do something differently on a social justice issue, I am here to enable them and help them figure out what their next steps could be.” As well as helping the fight for social change on campus, Childs shared one of several programming plans in the works that was developed to benefit students of color. “I am developing some affinity based programming with students of color in mind where they can come and just have space with one another, share experiences and work on healing in an affirming and supportive environment.”
The Black Perspective Vermont was created locally by Winooski High School student activists after the murder of George Floyd. “This is an activist organization which is really working to uplift the BIPOC voices in Vermont especially because there are so few of them.” said Danielle Schiestle* “The Black Perspective VT has been really good about posting on social media and cross promoting with other local non-profits and organizations, so following them on social media is really important, especially just to stay in the know about protests and other activities happening surrounding racial justice.”
On Sept. 21, a proposal that city council approved was put forth where Jason Bellevance would be let go by Oct. 5. “The removal of all three officers that are publicly known to be violent from the Department is the very least of what should be done to protect all people in our community and signal a serious change in standards.” said a public statement on behalf of The Black Perspective VT. On and off Saint Michael’s campus there’s opportunity to get involved with racial justice issues. Protests are still happening downtown and welcome anyone. Clubs and other organizations are a great way to be pushing for racial justice on campus.
On the first Friday of September, only five days into the Fall 2020 semester, 1,409 Saint Michael’s College students lined up outside of the Tarrant Recreation Center, waiting to get tested for COVID-19. As the campus waits for the results from the second round of testing, the results from the first are still raising questions for some people in the community.
The test, a nasal swab RT-PCR test (Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction) wasn’t nearly as uncomfortable as having a long swab shoved up your nose to scrape what feels like the back of your brain. It was a simple swab of the nostril. Some students said it was so simple, comfortable, and almost too easy that they began to question its accuracy and its ability to detect the COVID-19 virus.
A quick 36 hours later, test results began to roll out. Students were notified via email but then had to complete what some considered a frustrating process to create an account in order to view their test results. Negative after negative, students began to wonder when the first positive case would appear, but it never did.
Sunday morning, the Saint Michael’s College community received an email from President Lorraine Sterritt that stated, “I am very happy to let you know that we have received the test results for the 1,409 students whom we tested on Friday, and there were no positive cases!”
For many students and staff, this came as a surprise. “I was surprised to hear that we had zero cases. I was expecting a couple of positives because people were coming from all over the country, so I thought there would be at least one or two people,” said Connor Scott ’23. Other students also wondered how accurate the test was and whether or not it could be trusted.
“It’s funny that people question the accuracy because the test was so comfortable, they almost wanted the more uncomfortable test,” said Mary Masson, Director of Bergeron Wellness Center.
“I have really high confidence in our tests, they are highly specific and reliable,” Masson said. “The lab that we use, The Broad Institute, is one of the best labs in the country.” The Broad Institute, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has taken on a large role in COVID-19 testing across colleges and universities throughout the US, Masson said. They are responsible for analyzing the tests of over 130 colleges, including Saint Michael’s College and they have the capacity to run 35-50 thousand tests a day.
“I could tell by the numbers coming in from UVM which were quite low given their large population that we would have some colleges that might even have zero. So it was exciting,” said Deputy Health Commissioner, Tracy Dolan. UVM currently has 10 cases, Middlebury, two, and Norwich, four.
“It has been our goal at the Department of Health primarily to protect the public health but also to continue to support the activities that make people healthy, and for young people, that’s having routines, going back to school, going to work, whatever it is, and so we wanted to support that as safely as possible,” (Dolan).
Amidst the doubts that many had about students returning to campus, eager to party and socialize, most students have been following the protocols to wash hands, wear masks, keep a six-foot physical distance, and take care of each other.