Archive

October 2020

Browsing

By Elizabeth Hogan

Senior Editor

T.J. Donovan has been the Attorney General of Vermont since 2016, and is once again up for election.As the “people’s lawyer,” Donovan started the Rapid Intervention Community Court or “RICC” which is an award winning criminal justice program made available to non-violent offenders who committed crimes because of addiction or mental illness. He is currently working remotely from his home in Chittenden County, which he shares with his  wife Jessica, two sons Jack and Emett, as well as their dog Scout.

Q: You have been the Attorney General of Vermont since 2016. In your opinion what is the most important thing you have learned during this time?

A: “To be responsive and to listen to people. When they call you they are calling you because they need help. [And] to be creative in how we try to solve problems. Being responsive and listening to people and understanding that they’re struggling is probably the most important thing.

Q: In your opinion, how do you campaign effectively in the time of COVID-19?

A:  think a mix of traditional media with the news and social media.We have an office facebook, twitter, and instagram.  On the political side I have a Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. You have to communicate with your constituents because you have to tell them the work you are doing and why it is important to them as well as Vermont. if I can get on TV it is probably still the most effective. Then we try to amplify that message through social media.

Q: Tell us about the program Rapid Intervention Community Court (“RICC”) that you created.

A: The program is basically a diversion program for folks who struggle with addiction and mental illness, to keep them out of the criminal justice system. I don’t think the criminal justice system is the right place for those types of cases. 

What caused it is just being in a courtroom every day and seeing people who were poor, or addicted to drugs, or people who were sick and saying to myself this isn’t the right place for them. The traditional criminal justice system including jails is an appropriate place for a very limited number of people, but most people are sick. They have addiction issues and the criminal justice system is not the system to fix those issues.

Q: Public safety is an important part of your role as Attorney General, What are your main goals when it comes to public safety?

A: Number one it means that everybody is treated fairly and equally and that everyone has the same opportunity for success. When I talk about public safety I don’t really talk about jail cells or police cruisers or court systems, I talk about a community where people have access to health care, affordable housing, good schools, and kids can grow up here and afford to go to college. 

 Public safety is really about a safe environment and community, which means really investing in those foundational pillars that build a good community. On a much more direct level domestic violence and sexual violence are big issues and we have to be prepared and immediately responsive to that in order to keep people safe. But, the long term issue of public safety I think is those investments in people in our community.

Photo from Donovan Campaign

Q: How do you deal with violent and nonviolent offenders?

A: “ When you talk about murders, sexual violence, and domestic violence I think jail is appropriate in those cases. When you are talking about nonviolent crime you have to look at the underlying root causes of that crime which oftentimes is addiction, mental illness, circumstances regarding poverty and I think we have to have a different approach that is based on public health strategies and restorative justice.”  

Q: You are very involved with criminal justice reform, why is this so important? Any issues that you are currently passionate about?

A: We supported a bill that would change the use of force standard in policing. I think that force should only be used when it is absolutely necessary and should be the last resort. I think we have to continue to invest in a deescalation training, cultural competency, and really redefine the way we imagine how we police our communities. I don’t think police should use military style equipment because the message it sends to the community when you’re all kinda geared up and you have assault weapons and tactical vests is you’re telling the community that they are the enemy and we are at war with you. We need more trust in law enforcement and we need more problem solving and less force. I am not naive enough to think that bad things never will happen. I know they will, we see them all the time and we can be prepared. But, let’s have strict guidelines and use that force and equipment only sparingly and only when appropriately. Less is more when it comes to force.

Q: Tensions are currently high in the country between the upcoming elections, COVID-19 , and protests. Do any of these affect your work?

A: This is a moment of reckoning and rightfully so in my opinion, so how do we do better, how do we change, how do we not be afraid to change and bring people along with us, and I think we can do it. We want to minimize the footprint of the criminal justice system, and shrink the footprint of the police and become much more community based and use people’s public health strategies and restorative justice principles to solve disputes and problems while at the same time having that traditional system for the really bad stuff.

Q: You have won many awards, are any of them particularly meaningful? 

A: Oh I’m just overrated! Um yes I would say one is I got an award from the Dismas House, which provides transitional housing for people coming out of jail. They are not a religious organization but Dismas the good thief who was with Jesus on Calvary Hill during the crucifixion, it is all about reconciliation. When I was a young guy, I was arrested at 18 years old, I did something stupid, I got drunk and got into a fight. I got probation and a deferred sentence, so I have always kinda realized how privileged I was that my life was protected and my future was protected. So I try to do a lot to reform the criminal justice system to get people second, third, fourth chances because I was the beneficiary of those. But for the grace of god my life could have turned out dramatically different, I would like to pay it forward by reforming the criminal justice system and believing people and giving them opportunities.

Q: Where do you see yourself in five years?

A: Taking care of my family and providing for my family. 

Q: Is there anything you would like to say to young people right now?

A: Your generation is making a total difference right now on so many issues. On racial issues, on social justice, on environmental justice, on criminal justice reform and we are listening to you.

By Elizabeth Hogan 

Senior Editor

On Oct. 15 Erin Mikson’21 and her roommates were woken up by Public Safety officers banging on their door to tell them that their home in the 300s had just been broken into for the second time this semester.

In the early morning hours of that day burglaries occurred in multiple 300’s townhouses and an unlawful entry occurred in a 200’s townhouse. They are the most recent in a string of similar incidents that have occurred this semester, including burglaries on Oct. 8 and an unlawful entry to Residence Hall IV on Sept. 16.

 “What was taken was very weird: wine was taken from our fridge and placed in our neighbor’s house, my roommate’s jacket was taken and was laying outside of our neighbor’s house, and my other roommate’s longboard was stolen which had still yet to be found,” Mikson said about the Oct. 8 incident.

“Our friend had left their speaker in our house and that was taken, as well as another parka,” she explained.” That time someone Live-Safed a suspicious man on campus and Pub Safe came to our house and chased the person who broke in and the speaker and jacket were dropped during the chase. So everything was returned except the longboard.”

“There have been four different instances where residential spaces have been entered by an unknown person,” said Doug Babcock, the director of Public Safety, explaining that in total,  about 11 residences have been entered. 

“It’s not atypical for multiple houses to be hit in a run, but it’s rare that we have incidents this week and then next week,” Babcock said.

Kenzie Traska’s had a similar experience to Mikson as her 200’s townhouse was unlawfully entered, but  nothing was stolen. 

“Our doors were unlocked but we were all home except one of us, so we thought that it was okay. When the incident occurred two of my roommates had just gone to bed and I stepped out for five minutes and I walked back in and there was a man in my living room. I was afraid of him and he was afraid of me, we both screamed and he ran out the door,” said Traska ’21 “We were really lucky, since I walked in at the time he didn’t end up taking anything.”

According to the email sent out by public safety, entry into the buildings was made through unlocked doors in some cases and is still under investigation in others. “The very first thing students should do at all times is lock their doors and windows, and that is to both houses and cars. Second is any student living in a residence hall should make sure they do not prop or hold the door open for somebody else that they don’t know belongs in that space. I also encourage students to use the LiveSafe app to report at the time they see something,”Babcock said.

“Public Safety and the RD came back to check on us the day after it happened which was nice,” Traska said. “Pub safe also came back again at night to make sure we were okay which is great, but other than that we really haven’t heard anything from anyone else or gotten anything about staying safe since this is such an issue this semester.”

“On Oct. 8 our door was unlocked, but I am still not sure how we were broken into again on Oct. 15 seeing as the front and back door were locked,”Mikson said. Since the most recent break in, her townhouse has new locks installed on each of the  doors, curtains were added, and they have been diligent about having their doors always locked.

“I did sign up to live in the threes where we have no Knight card access and people can just walk onto campus and enter if the door is unlocked. It is our own fault for not locking our doors, but it definitely gave me a reality check,” Mikson said.  “I was very uncomfortable sleeping here knowing someone just walked into my house in the middle of the night. But the way Pub Safe handled everything, such as more check-ins and the Pub Safe car driving on three’s field, did make me feel safer.”

By Justin Madison

Staff Writer

Picture this: you’re scrolling through your Canvas announcements checking to see if there are any new assignments for tomorrow when a notification pops up in your email. You open it only to find out that your COVID test results came back positive. What NOW?

According to Dawn Ellinwood, vice president of student affairs, as soon as students are tested positive, “they are allowed to pack necessities they would need for a 10-day period before moving into isolation housing. Meal plans will be drawn up for delivery to the student’s room. And students will proceed with remote learning for the duration of their quarantine. Daily check-ins from the office of student life and Bergeron Wellness Center will also occur. 

Meanwhile, the Vermont Department of Health will perform contact tracing to determine who might have been exposed to COVID through you and notify the students when their quarantine is finished.” This information had already been announced on the school’s return to campus page and had been planned before any students returned to campus in August. Ellinwood also stated that “Saint Michael’s College is committed to early identification, isolation, contact tracing, and management of any/all Covid cases on campus. All students will be supported immediately after notification of a positive lab result.”

With the understanding of the outlined procedure, what would the experience be like should you receive a positive Covid test result then? From the experience of Kate Hines ’23 who had to quarantine for 10 days “It was pretty lonely, I mostly did homework, watched movies, tossed my rugby ball around, or even wrote a few songs. But the school fed me every day and my friends brought me coffee sometimes by delivering it at my window.”

“It was just really hard to be in such a small room for that amount of time and I wish the school had certain outdoor areas designated for quarantine students to sit outdoors,” said Hines. “Being inside for 10 days straight is really unhealthy both physically and mentally.” While some people may be fine with staying cooped up in their room for extended periods of time, not all students will be comfortable in the same environment for nearly two consecutive weeks with no other option to help meet their mental and physical health needs.

“The process of quarantine for positive cases itself has not changed,” said Christian Vogt ’23, a student who underwent an on-campus quarantine before the start of the semester. “But now you need to think about people that this person has come in contact with as well. I think we are doing pretty well so far. The college has demonstrated its ability to contain and isolate the positive case that occurred, but this requires the vigilance of all students. If we become complacent, it’ll all fall apart,” said Vogt. It is still important that we all as a community remain vigilant when it comes to Covid, and all understand our duties in maintaining a safe campus. 

Illustration by Sarah Knickerbocker

By Ashley DeLeon

Deputy Editor

The shimmers of joy and delight that illuminate our happiest moments in life exuberate a brightness like no other. When we reflect on the beauty of these treasurable moments, we are convinced for a second that we are reliving them. This edition of The Defender’s illustrated news series highlights these indispensable moments, and how they have transformed the lives of many in our community.

Alexis Comeau ‘21 

Illustrations by Ashley DeLeon

One of the happiest moments of my life was when I attended the Burlington Climate Strike last year. I felt a surge of hope seeing all the kids, students, parents, and elders come together with a common message. After years of learning about the grave future that awaits us if we fail to take action, being there truly made me believe that there was a potential for humanity to change. 

Jessie Anderson ‘21 

The happiest moment in my life was when I decided to date the love of my life. For once, I made a decision where I chose happiness for myself. Someone close to me made this decision seem impossible because they wouldn’t accept my sexuality. However, I stood my ground and decided to do what was best. My girlfriend and I had been friends for two years, and independently grew into who we truly wanted to be before dating. I am truly blessed to be with the best woman in the world. She makes me laugh, is supportive, and cries with me when things get hard. 

Maddie Van Winkle ’23

Parents always tell you that you’re a role model for your younger siblings. My happiest day was seeing that I did not just fulfill that role, but exceeded it. one of the biggest things I instilled in her was acceptance of others and herself. she highlighted how this one piece of advice that I drilled in her for 17 years made her feel comfortable to come out and speak out for those who needed it most. There is nothing more life changing than the feeling of changing someone else’s.

Kaylee Sayers ‘23

The happiest I have ever been was when I went to Peru on a volunteer trip to help a small village build a classroom. The group I went with provided resources and volunteers went to provide an extra pair of hands. The work was difficult, but it was rewarding to get to know not only the people we were working with, despite language barriers, but also become acquainted with the community. I loved the trip because we worked alongside the people there and did not impose our ideas onto them. We understood that they knew what was best for their community.

Mark Lubkowitz, Professor of Biology

Here’s how I describe my nirvana moment: Thirty years ago I was sitting in a Dairy Queen parking lot near sunset, basking in the radiant heat coming off of the asphalt. I had spent the day kayaking with my friends, and at that moment, I was physically and emotionally fulfilled and content. I have used that moment as my gauge for happiness and equilibrium ever since. This is from a self-guided trip down the Grand Canyon last summer with the same friends from Dairy Queen 30 years earlier.

By Bree Cotroneo

Staff Writer

With campus in a lull and students craving socialization, Friday Knight Dry (FKD) aims to provide students with a safe way to gather and fill the social void that COVID-19 has caused. The annual event filled with activities, food, and a raffle, hosted by the Student Government Association (SGA) will be held on Friday, October 30 will begin at 7 p.m., and will be open to everyone on campus. Just like most campus events this year, FKD will look a bit different this fall due to COVID-19, and will follow strict COVID-related guidelines. 

“Friday Knight Dry is a fun, campus-wide event every semester that aims to provide an alternative to partying on a Friday Knight,” said head organizers Anna Witkowski and Sierah Miles, the two co-secretaries of Programming on the Student Government Association. The two explained that October FKD is especially fun because the event includes fall and Halloween decor. “At Friday Knight Dry, there are always games at the beginning where students can earn tickets to then be used during the raffle later in the evening. There is also plenty of food,” said Witkowski.

The organizers have done their best to create activities that maintain social distancing and avoid large crowds, they said. “Instead of taking place in Dion and then Alliot, FKD will be on the Library Lawn, with carnival games all around the area and food trucks lining the edge of the lawn. Also this year, the raffle will be livestreamed so there is no crowd during announcements,” stated Miles. Along with a different set up, there will be different entrance time slots based on where students live. Students from the townhouses are invited to arrive at 7 p.m., Residence Hall 4 and Aubin at 7:30 p.m., suites at 8 p.m., followed by Lyons and Alumni at 8:30  p.m. 

This year, FKD is strongly enforcing “My culture is not your costume,” a precedent ensuring that culturally appropriative and offensive Halloween costumes will not be tolerated at Saint Michael’s College. “We are collaborating with the Secretary of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Ashley DeLeon and her committee to ensure that all FKD participants feel respected and supported at the event. Specific guidelines can also be found on the website in the week leading up to the event, so attendees can plan costumes accordingly if they choose to dress up,” said Witkowski. 

If you plan on attending, you must participate in at least one game to earn tickets, and a stamp to redeem for food. The organizers are excited to announce that two Nintendo Switches, two pairs of AirPods, an Apple Watch, and a Roku TV will be raffled. All information about Friday Knight Dry can be found by visiting the Student Government Association website at www.smcvt.sga.com

“I am excited to see what they’re going to do this year around COVID. I am happy they are still having it, it’ll be nice to have an activity for students to safely go to. It was a lot of fun last year, so I’m hoping it’ll be fun this year too.” Katie Bassett 

Illustration by Ashley DeLeon

By Victoria Zambello

Executive Editor

“Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” 

“Wow you can go a whole day without eating — that is self control.” 

“If you take apple cider vinegar shots it’ll make you lose weight.” 

“If you eat past 8 p.m. you’ll get fat.” 

Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt personally victimized by diet culture. 

From a young age, I was exposed to diet culture and, don’t be fooled, you were too. Ever seen the advertisement telling you that if you drink their product all day you will be able to “fit into” your prom dress? Diet culture itself dominates our world. 

When I returned home from my study abroad experience, I thought to myself, what a perfect opportunity to lose the ‘extra’ weight I gained. I felt beyond insecure and wasn’t comfortable with the fact that my once athletic and lean body was becoming, in other words, a woman. I immediately took quarantine as a way to follow accounts on Instagram that promoted calorie deficiency and weight loss. I even took it upon myself to download a calorie counting app and everytime I ate something ‘healthy’ or low in calorie it would give me a smiley face. But, when I plugged in foods such as peanut butter, coconut water, or Wheat Thins, I would receive a red frowny face. I removed peanut butter from my diet. Everytime I went to grab Wheat Thins and hummus, I froze and remembered that I would feel the guilt of putting red frowny face food onto my app. Slowly, but surely, I pulled myself out of this cycle and began following accounts that promote healthy relationships with food, rather than viewing food as demonized. 

“Way healthier than eating that kale is fixing your mindset surrounding you from what is stopping you from eating ice cream.”– Alexis Comeau ’21,

“On TikTok I saw that a girl had lost 10 pounds by drinking warm lemon water, cinnamon, and honey. She mixed it in a water bottle and drank it twice a day. So I religiously drank this twice a day. I was miserable,” said Jackie Ireland, Division I Soccer Alumni and Body Positivity Influencer in an email. 

“Ninety-one percent of women who were surveyed on a college campus had tried to control their weight by dieting, and 22% of them dieted “often” or all the time,” according to Mirror Mirror, an eating disorder organization. 

“I was at my leanest and I wasn’t even happy about it. I finally thought to myself, I am never going to be happy if this is all that I think about,” said Sam Gwaz, Lifestyle Coach and Nutritionist (MS CISSN CSCS), otherwise known as SamthePlan through a video interview. 

How it starts 

For me, it was the false diet fads mixed with meticulous attention to what types of foods I was putting in my body. This sprouted in an effort to enhance my sport performance then quickly turned into a common body obsession experienced by young girls and women wanting to be the leanest possible with the least amount of body fat. I stopped eating meat, focused on Tabata workouts, and tried to squeeze myself into smaller clothes. Monday through Friday I would constantly restrict myself just to binge on the weekends. But, this all changed when I came across an Instagram account called Samtheplan. I saw a photo of Sam devouring a burger and right away I thought ‘she can’t be fit’ – she is eating meat (yes, this is a disordered thought). I had stopped eating meat for mostly health reasons, believing in that moment I was making a positive decision. 

A restrictive lifestyle is a toxic pattern that forces you to not think about what your body needs, but rather to manipulate your body: “I see it all the time with my clients and my friends where you just under assess your needs and you think you need less than you truly do and that stimulates the mindset of ‘I can’t have that I shouldn’t have that, etc., ’” said Gwaz. 

Illustration by Ashley DeLeon

We make the rules 

Diet culture is filled with everyday habits and rules that we don’t even realize we make up. The key to removing yourself from diet culture is understanding that being healthy isn’t necessarily exactly what you eat, but your overall mindset around food, stress, and overall life is. “I can’t have bread, I’ve already had bread twice today…what? WHO made that up??” said Alexis Comeau ’21.”In reality, way healthier than eating that kale is fixing your mindset stopping you from eating that ice cream.” 

Focusing our attention from how others are doing to how we are doing can remove ourselves from the common comparison game that diet culture promotes. “Disordered eating and exercise addiction are almost always because the individual is in pursuit to be THE best, THE fittest, rather than being THEIR best self,” said Nicole Adach, Mental Skills Coach at St. Michael’s College. 

For Adach, self talk is something that she often uses for herself: “I’m having a constant conversation with myself all day, challenging my own narratives I have about food and what I taught myself to think and believe about foods,” Adach said. 

For me, it is a mix of self talk and awareness from my inner circle of friends. I am beyond lucky to be surrounded by women who can recognize disordered thoughts and call me out quickly and productively. I have found a sense of both mental and physical strength, that has allowed me to fall in love with being strong without worrying about weight. Over the last six months, I have watched both my body and mindset change, from a girl who wanted to fit into diet culture by being the thinnest possible, to being a self-aware woman, who has fallen in love with being strong. 

Raise your hand if you’re ready to cancel diet culture?

Illustration by Ashley DeLeon

Victoria Zambello is the Executive Editor for The Defender. She is a Senior Media Studies, Journalism, and Digital Arts major with a minor in Sociology. She is an advocate for a balanced lifestyle and focuses on empowering others.

By Kaitlin Woolery

Photography Editor

Illustration by Kaitlin Woolery

I never imagined my first time voting in a presidential election would occur during a pandemic by absentee ballot. One of the rites of passage that comes with turning 18 is the privilege to vote. For years I tagged along with my mom to our district’s middle school gym, which for one day was transformed into a polling place lined with strategically placed tables shielded with privacy curtains. My mom would feed her ballot into a machine that appeared to gobble it up. At the exit, a smiling volunteer would hand me a red, white and blue “I voted” sticker which I proudly placed on my jacket. 

My first voting experience has certainly been different from all of those I remember. It is only October, and my vote has already been cast one month before the traditional election day which occurs on the first Tuesday in November. 

It  began in September when I received an application for an absentee ballot in my campus mailbox. The form was relatively straightforward to fill out. All I had to do was choose one of several reasons for voting by mail. I checked the box which stated that I will be “out of town” on election day. This year an additional choice for COVID was added for those voters who feel unsafe voting in person. I mailed the application in it’s prepaid envelope. Next, I waited for the official absentee ballot to arrive.

 Each day I anxiously checked my campus mailbox, anticipating the ballot to arrive like a kid waiting for a birthday card filled with money from Grandma. In about a week, the ballot arrived. I rushed to my suite to open the surprisingly thick envelope. The package contained a list of instructions, two envelopes and a bright yellow cardstock ballot. The instructions this time seemed a little bit more involved than those for the previous application. I was a little nervous because I heard if you don’t follow the procedure correctly, your vote may be thrown out.

 I waited 19 years for this monumental occasion and I did not want to mess it up. 

After filling out my choice for president, I discovered that there were also local candidates on the ballot. I realized I did not know much about these candidates and had only focused on the presidential race. Since I’m not at home, I didn’t have the benefit of seeing those hundreds of campaign lawn signs scattered throughout my town. At times, it felt like I was blindly voting for candidates based on name recognition or party affiliation.

After completing the ballot, I folded it and placed it in the inner envelope which I sealed and signed as instructed. Next, I placed the inner envelope in the outer envelope. The outer envelope was addressed to my hometown town hall and had prepaid postage which was a relief because I do not own a stamp. I was a little confused as to whether I should mail this ballot in the regular mail or if I had to find one of those special “ballot boxes”. I decided to drop the ballot in the regular mail and for a brief moment I had the feeling I used to have when mailing my letter to Santa. 

After the ballot left my hands, I felt a sense of pride. I performed my civic duty and voted in a contentious, heated, polarized, and important presidential election. Yes, the experience was a bit different than I had remembered years ago tagging along to the transformed middle school gym.

 I did not get to “feed” the ballot eating machine nor did I get an “I voted” sticker, but somehow it felt even more rewarding because for the first time it was my vote.

By Sarah Knickerbocker

Design Editor

As students prepare for their fourth round of COVID-19 testing, Saint Michael’s College employees, including faculty and staff, have yet to be accounted for in the community’s test results. That has left many people on campus questioning the decision.

“Faculty should be getting regularly tested because they’re coming in contact with hundreds of students if they’re teaching on campus and they could be potentially bringing the virus to SMC from off-campus,” said Madison Tremblay 22’.  

On the COVID-19 section of the college’s website, it says that faculty and staff are required to abide by Vermont COVID health guidelines and if they come in contact with the virus that they are expected to work with their primary care provider and the Vermont Department of Health for testing and quarantining procedures. 

Saint Michael’s faculty and staff are also required to abide by all Vermont COVID health guidelines. This includes a quarantine of 14 days if traveling back to Vermont from an area with high rates of COVID as defined by the state’s travel requirements. 

“This [COVID-19 pandemic] was a situation where everybody had to figure out very quickly what to do and what strategies to make. The school did a lot, it was very proactive. But I think that there is this weakness in our overall strategy and we need to fix it,” said Patrica Siplon, director of the public health program and Saint Michael’s professor. 

Similar to students, college employees are required to fill out a health affirmation form every morning to ensure that they are asymptomatic before coming to campus. If they are showing symptoms of COVID they are advised not to come to campus until they are feeling better, but there is no testing protocol required before returning to campus. 

“Testing is not prevention, said nurse practitioner and director of the Bergeron Health Center, Mary Masson. It helps give us data on how well we are keeping the virus at bay, but the real work comes from wearing masks, washing hands,  staying home when ill,  physically distancing,  keeping classrooms at a lower density,  keeping dining halls at a lower density, avoiding travel, asking visitors not to come to campus right now, and keeping track of contacts.” 

Vermont colleges are excelling at preventing COVID with only 51 cases recorded since the start of the semester in all of the colleges across the state. Vermont’s rates are so low (positivity rate of 0.06%) that the Vermont Department of Health did not recommend that all K-12 students and faculty need to be tested in public schools. 

Siplon said she believes that faculty and staff should be provided testing on campus for many reasons, but particularly so that there can be proper surveillance of the potential spread of COVID-19 at the community level. “It’s about having a picture of what’s happening all the time,” she said. “We can’t have a complete picture of what’s happening when we’ve excluded a major portion of the people that are a part of that community.” 

Not all faculty and staff may have access to healthcare and other COVID testing resources, Siplon said. “If there’s a danger of exposure at the workplace, it seems like it’s reasonable for people to expect that the workplace takes care of that initial baseline assessment for people who don’t have health insurance,” said Siplon. For example, adjunct professors are not covered by the health insurance that full-time people are given at the college. Plus, not all employees have a flexible work schedule or the time to get tested outside of work because of other responsibilities. 

Kristin Burlew 21’ says, “Many professors want the option to get tested on campus for the sake of them and their students which is also kind of disappointing that if their voices haven’t been heard how are ours going to be heard.” 

Students are concerned about potentially infecting their professors with the virus, but want faculty to have a reciprocal response which is difficult to ensure when they are not being regularly tested. “It might cause some tension seeing that students are making the necessary precautions to protect our fellow students and our faculty members that we see in person,” said Tremblay. “If professors are not getting tested then they’re not taking those same precautions that we are to protect them.” 

These issues have been brought up to several SMC groups including the Faculty Welfare Committee, Staff Welfare Committee, COVID Advisory Council, and several faculty meetings. Saint Michael’s Emergency Management Team member Alessandro Bertoni said, “While the CDC and VDH (Vermont Department of Health) still do not recommend or require testing of employees, the College has heard from concerned employees and students who felt employees should be tested. The College is now giving careful consideration as to how to include employee testing for the spring semester if additional tests are available from the Broad Institute. No decision has been made on this yet.” 

“I think our professors do care about our health though and if they were sick they would stay home,” said Burlew. “But they should have the option to get on-campus COVID testing because the school doesn’t provide any other resources and their health is just as important as ours. We’re just trying to work together to get through this semester.” 

PHOTO BY CAM WILSON

By Victoria Zambello

Executive Editor 

On Friday in an African American Literature course on Zoom, the professor read out loud a passage with a racial epithet from Toni Morrison’s literature, Beloved. The word appeared three times in the passage. The first time the word appeared Smith replaced it with an offensive term that also starts with the letter N. The second time the word was presented she said the word “blank,’ and the third time the word was written she read out loud the racial epithet. 

One student logged out of the zoom meeting from shock and anger. About five minutes later, a student called out the ‘elephant’ in the room. “Somebody else (in the class) spoke up and said ‘well, Toni Morrison is a black author and a black woman. You are white,” said an anonymous student. 

As a class, there was an agreement made between the professor, Lorrie Smith, and students at the beginning of the semester, saying that in no context will the racial epithet be used. “We had agreed that the word would not be spoken aloud in our class. I violated this agreement, and I apologize for the impact it has had on my students and the fallout it has engendered in our community,” said Smith in a statement. 

“I made a split-second decision to maintain the integrity of Morrison’s prose and to read it in its entirety. I felt that although the word would be spoken aloud, we would be able to discuss how the author used it to reveal the racist inhumanity of the slave-catcher’s perspective. I was working as a literature teacher whose primary practice for 40 years has been close textual analysis, and this was a conditioned reflex I didn’t fully examine in the moment. I was not taking into account the explosive, damaging impact of this toxic word, even as a quotation in a text,” Smith said. 

The administration is aware of this incident. “We in the administration are actively engaged in a process of discussions with students and the professor,” said Dean of Faculty Tara Natarajan in a statement. 

For the students, the experience left them questioning how the professor handled it. “In my perspective, we needed a response from her, at the moment. The part that gets to me is not the during, it is the before and after acts. Before the act she never asked for consent, she never warned us. Then after the act, she had no remorse,” said one student in the class who did not want to share their name. 

“It impacted me. My first initial reaction was to reach out to the students of color in the class,” said Jane Bradley ’23. “Obviously, it didn’t impact me in the same way because I am white, but I trusted Lorrie so much and now I am questioning if I should take her advice. It is also hurtful because she hasn’t reached out to me. She has reached out to the students of color in the class, but I don’t get why she didn’t reach out to the entire class,” Jane Bradley ‘23 said. 

Twice in Two Months 

During the first week of fall semester, an adjunct professor used the same racial epithet in his theories: conflict and resolution course. Students from the African American Literature course talked about this after the fact to Smith. “I cried in front of Professor Smith and told her the emotional trauma I had from this word,” said a student who did not want to share their name. 

Margaret Bass, special assistant to the president for diversity and inclusion met with the students in the class later that afternoon. “I have talked with members of this class and I understand how deeply wounded they are, but I have to also say as a human being and a professor whom I have had some relationship with, this is an extremely painful time for Professor Smith as well. I feel great empathy for what she is going through. Everybody involved is deeply pained and it is unfortunate.” 

Bass also said that this incident will be treated differently than the previous incident on the first day of classes. “ There are two reasons. One is that in this case the professor has tenure and with tenure comes certain protections and one of those protections is academic freedom,” said Bass. “The second is there is a remarkable difference between reading the terms in service of the academic enterprise and saying them and that is a distinction between those in these situations as far as I know.” 

The faculty member who replaced the adjunct faculty member from the first incident said. “Other black people might have a different perspective than me. I’ve heard other people say that it does depend on the context, whether you can use that word or not, but based on how I feel when I hear that word, especially from a person of authority, I think it is incredibly damaging and hurtful,” said Kayla Loving, who now teaches the theories: and conflict resolution course 

“This class had worked hard to build trust and openness with the difficult subject matter, in a difficult semester, with the difficult medium of Zoom, and at a difficult moment in history,” said Smith. 

“As a person who has been part of the professoriate, I stand firmly behind academic freedom. As an African American woman of color in 2020, my position is, under no circumstances do we say read, utter, any variation of the n-word,” Bass said. 

Bass said she stands by the St. Michael’s Racial Justice Task Force, which is nearly two months old and whose members include Amdework Assefa, Valerie Bang-Jensen, Margaret Bass, Sarah Childs, Kathryn Dungy, Kerri Leach, and Mark Lubkowitz. “The RJTF recognizes the importance of academic freedom but it does not extend to actions, deeds, or speech that create an unsafe classroom and thereby hinder learning. “It is the obligation of educators to learn and be aware of what is harmful,” they wrote in a statement. 

“In my perspective, we needed a response from her, at the moment. The part that gets to me is not the during, it is the before and after acts.”

-Anonymous student from the course

“Now we have to have a direct conversation about this issue so that people don’t have to be hurt by other people’s missteps or mistakes. It’s too much pain, too much pain,” said Bass. 

One approach to healing after an incident like this, is to hold a restorative justice session. According to Loving, restorative justice circles are where harm can be addressed. “Generally you should have both parties, the affected party, and the responsible party. Restorative justice is often portrayed as a fluffy, kind of happy thing, but it’s not that at all. It’s very uncomfortable, and I definitely think restorative justice should be used in situations like these,” she said. 

The Dean of Faculty is encouraging faculty to go to a forum on the use of language in class at the end of this month. “That is not a training, that is information so that we don’t have to have this distressing situation on campus again,” Bass said. 

“I understand why my students feel hurt, angry, and confused,” Smith said. “I deeply regret my error, and I apologize for the pain it has caused. Having devoted my whole career to building bridges, not shying away from difficult conversations, advocating for diversity and BIPOC students, and sharing the richness of African American literature, I am heart-sick that my good intentions caused racial harm rather than racial healing,” said Smith. 

“I hope the class and I—and, indeed, our whole community and our whole nation—can will be able to use moments like this as an opportunity to find our way to a place of mutual understanding, authentic connection, and trust.” 

“As an African American woman of color in 2020, my position is, under no circumstances do we say read, utter, any variation of the n-word.”

-Margaret Bass, Special Assistant to the President for Diversity & Inclusion

Correction:

It has come to our attention that in our recently published article, “‘It’s too much pain, too much pain’: Professor uses racial epithet reading Toni Morrison’s Beloved,” referred imprecisely to academic freedom. Vice President of Academic Affairs, Dr. Jeffrey Trumbower explained: “At Saint Michael’s College, all professors, whether they have tenured status or not, whether they are full-time or part-time, enjoy the same standards of academic freedom.  This principle is enshrined in our Faculty Regulations, adopted by both the faculty Assembly and the Board of Trustees.  The two recent cases that Dr. Bass was referring to in the article had a number of differences that explain the differences in outcome for the professors involved, but tenure status and standards of academic freedom were not among those differences.”

 

By Isabella Davitt

Associate Editor

Illustration by Mikaela Dorsey

While few students have tested positive for COVID-19 in the first eight weeks of the semester, that hasn’t prevented another problem from cropping up on campus — stigmatization. 

Of the 1,347 students living on campus and the 4,674 PCR tests conducted throughout the semester so far, we have experienced 9 cases of COVID-19. When the first positive case was reported, the president sent out an email.  “We must not stigmatize anyone who tests positive. A positive test can result through no fault of the individual,” President Lorraine Sterritt wrote on Sept. 24. 

Despite the messages students have received from administration reminding us that we must not stigmatize those affected by the Coronavirus, when the community was notified of the first positive case, there was an unspoken fear of where it came from, who had it, and what might happen next. Although there is a protocol set in place for the presence of positive cases on campus, students felt that the communicated information was unclear and not formal enough to protect the student body, particularly the first student who tested positive. 

“I definitely felt a sense of panic and I felt like something had gone wrong. Something bad was happening and I don’t think it should’ve felt that way,” said Tess McCabe ’21. Some classes immediately got switched to meet on Zoom, rumors started to flutter, and there was a palpable switch in the air on campus.

“I think being back on campus with COVID-19 has really affected the way students judge others about the situation we are all in as a community,” said Kerri Ann Campbell ’23. 

“Imagine you’re that person. What would you want? How would you like to be treated?” asked Kathy Butts, director of counseling at Bergeron Wellness Center. “It could be any of us.” 

Amidst the fear and the stress that the COVID-19 pandemic places on students, it is important to remember that there is a set protocol that the college is to follow. 

Upon reporting a positive case to The Vermont Department of Health, the school steps aside so the state can conduct contact tracing. Individuals will be contacted if they need to quarantine. The state, which has only had 1,987 cases and 58 deaths in the last seven months, has a high success rate with their contact tracing in terms of keeping the spread under control.  However, fear and uncertainty create another story in the public perception.

The singularity of the first case was highlighted not only in person, but also in the virtual world. “Spoof accounts on Instagram, specific to the college, made statements about students and posted memes about the first positive case we had, which stigmatized the case even more,” said Campbell. 

“I think we are living in a time where there is a lot of fear in our culture, and everyone is dealing with a collective level of it,” Butts said. “We’ve been through a traumatic experience as a country and we’re still going through it.”  This fear can manipulate the way community members think, act, and feel towards each other. On campus, it comes in the form of stigmatization. “People are looking for someplace to put that fear and a place to blame it and unfortunately that can land on a person who tests positive for COVID-19.”

A common stigma that students had about the first case was how the student contracted the virus. “I think people assume that if someone tests positive, the reason is because they somehow aren’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing, and that’s not always the case at all,” said Jeff Vincent, assistant dean of students.

The COVID-19 virus can be transmitted and contracted in many ways, some we aren’t even aware of yet. “We’re in the stages of still trying to figure out exactly how this illness spreads and how there are super spreaders and there are people who don’t spread it at all…so we’re still trying to figure this whole thing out, I think we are just afraid,” Butts added. 

“We’re all human,” Butts said. “When something happens that’s sort of dramatic, like a positive case on campus, we all get activated to want to figure it out. I think if everyone could just stay in their lane, and trust the protocol, we’re all going to be fine.”

Illustration by Mikaela Dorsey