Author

defenderadeleon

Browsing

By Ashley DeLeon– Executive Editor

The College community gathered at 7 p.m. last Tuesday for a candlelight vigil to commemorate the death of George Floyd. This came hours after the Minnesota state court convicted Derek Chauvin on three counts of murder. Students, faculty and staff members stood in silence for nine minutes and 29 seconds, the exact amount of time Derek Chauvin’s knee was placed on Floyd’s neck. 

Fr. Michael Carter led the vigil with an address to the community, beginning with a prayer and then a personal reflection. Watch more at defender.smcvt.edu/multimedia

By Ashley DeLeon
Executive Editor

Logan Hailey ’23, his roommate, and a friend were smoking marijuana in an Alumni Hall dorm when they heard a loud knock. They opened the door to two public safety officers who noticed a towel under the door. The officers asked if non-household members were present, and if there was marijuana in the living space. Hailey said yes. He handed a bag of marijuana to the officers, and they made him flush it down the toilet. After they left, Hailey slammed the door out of frustration. 


Someone knocked on Hailey’s door again. The officers had returned. “That’ll be $500 for disrespect,” an officer said. 

     In total, the cumulative fines added up to over $800. 

     “We do have the authority to issue a ticket for disrespectful behavior, and that is left broad by the College intentionally,” said Doug Babcock, director of Public Safety. 

     Hailey’s case is one of several, as fines are becoming an increasingly large issue for students living on campus at St. Michael’s College. Babcock declined to comment on the cumulative number of fines students received this year, but noted a high prevalence of COVID violations. Each COVID violation warrants a $250 fine and probationary status.

     “I feel comfortable saying, you know, there’s 30 to 40 COVID violations a week. And we’ve had between 10 and 15 students a week miss testing,” said Jeff Vincent, director of Residence Life and Community Standards. Vincent explained that within 30 to 40 violations, one violation can include ten people, for example, leading to an overwhelming number of sanctions. Household violations and off-campus guests on campus are the most common violations this year. 

     “The number is high. Too high,” he said. 

     Students claim, however, that they are fined for offenses they believe are unwarranted, and have led people to speculate why Public Safety is cracking down. Public Safety is rumored to receive financial benefits from fines. According to Babcock, this information is false. 

     “No fines whatsoever come back to the department in any form of revenue or budget,” he said. 

     Though an interaction may involve a Public Safety officer, or a report leads to a fine, Babcock explained that it is not always accurate to assume that Public Safety is issuing the fine. The director of Public Safety also denied rumors of a quota system put in place to make up for a budget deficit. “None of that is true. That has nothing to do with the way we do business,” he stated. 

     What students don’t understand, according to Babcock, is that most types of violations that lead to fines are levied by the Office of Student Conduct. “Public Safety has a very small number of things that we can write for citations and that we issue fines on,” he said. 

     At heart, each fine issued is an invitation for conversation, Babcock explained. “When we’re dealing with folks out in whatever space they’re in and whatever the reason we were called, it’s often not when everybody’s having their best day for one reason or another,” he said. Babcock uses this as an opportunity to educate people, and in some instances, the fine is waived.

Tensions between students and officers

     “I’ve always had respect for Public Safety, but the way I was treated made me feel like less of a person,” Hailey said. 

     The public safety officers coerced Hailey to open drawers and search his room for additional marijuana after he verbally expressed that none was left, he said. After they watched him search the room and claimed there was marijuana hidden, the officers realized that Hailey was telling the truth. He was then led to the bathroom and asked to flush what was previously handed to the officers.

     “I’m not even mad that they got us for doing something we really weren’t supposed to do, like smoking weed. You know, it’s off the rules. I was more mad about how they treated us,” Hailey explained. 


    The interaction with Public Safety had a particular impact on Hailey’s roommate. “For most of the week [when the incident occurred], I felt really on edge and had bad anxiety. I had nightmares for days,” said Julian Harris ’23.

     Tensions between students and Public Safety officers has been a contentious topic of conversation on campus, with some claiming that Public Safety is on a “power trip.” 

     People have also expressed concerns with the intentions of officers, and if their intent is deeper than wanting to keep the community safe. 

     “I think the incentive changed. Like last semester went from trying to keep students safe and helping them, and this semester was like trying to get kids in trouble, get part of that 250 dollar fine,” said Kenny Cesar ’22.

     Cesar explained an encounter he had with Public Safety, where he was caught in a residence hall other than his own. 

     “A Public Safety officer that’s been here for like a couple of years was like, ‘yeah, just leave… I don’t want you here. You shouldn’t be here,’” Cesar said. 

     For Julia Fitzgerald ’22, the switch in the behavior of officers, compared to her freshman year, is clear, she said. “[In the past], I remember them wanting to just make sure we’re OK, make sure everything was safe. And now it feels like they just have a bit of a power trip issue going on,” Fitzgerald explained. Within the past few years, she noticed many new, younger officers on campus. “I think that has really affected the way they treat us,” she said.

     “Whether or not conflicts between Public Safety officers and students are on the rise or of a different tone or nature, I don’t have statistics to verify,” Babcock said.  

     Regardless of the conflicts between officers and students, however, Babcock attributes the perceptions of hostility to the lack of bonding activities between officers and students due to COVID-19.

     “We have not been able to conduct our usual outreach activities such as the campus safety field day, pizza social, Fresh Check day and more. When we are able to hold those events again, I believe we will see a positive shift in relations,” Babcock said.  

     In the meantime, Babcock wants everyone to remember that COVID-19 has created a very stressful environment that has changed our daily lives, disrupted our rhythm, and heightened overall stress and anxiety.  

     “We must all work to get through this together,” he said.

By Kit Geary

Contributing Writer

It’s a new year, and there are new variants. South Africa, The UK, and Brazil all had new variants emerge during the last few winter months. The CDC has confirmed that “these variants seem to spread more easily and quickly than other variants.” The world scrambles as it tries to figure out how to deal with a mutating virus. 

  At this point, we are all accustomed to the ever-changing nature of new information about COVID-19. Yet, a slew of new information is generally accompanied by myths and rumors. I got a chance to learn more about new Coronavirus variants and talk about myths and rumors with Dana Farber’s Alex Lynch and Janice MacGillivray. COVID-19 continues to change as we head into the spring. Do we need to change the precautions we are taking to keep up with this evolving virus? 

Alex Lynch is a Physician’s Assistant at the oncology and hematology unit for Dana Farber at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Lynch stands on the front lines for her patients dealing with COVID-19 and cancer every day in one of the most reputable hospitals on the East Coast. 

Question: Many people believe that once you have had COVID, you cannot contract it again. Is there truth to this statement?

Lynch: I can tell you for sure that I have had patients who have been admitted to the hospital months apart with COVID. Whether that was the persistence of the same infection or infection of a different virus, I can’t say for sure. We know that after you have a viral infection you usually develop antibodies. The antibodies should protect you from getting the virus again. What we don’t know, however, is how long those antibodies last. There have been reports of patients getting reinfected, possibly because they were exposed to a different strain of the virus, their prior antibodies were not effective upon reinfection, or their antibodies did not exist. 

With the vaccine right now we don’t know how long the antibodies from the vaccine are going to last. That’s something they’re looking into. Are people going to need a booster shot? Will you need a shot every year? We have good reason to believe that antibodies will last for about 90 days, but it doesn’t mean you cannot get COVID again. How long covid antibodies exist we just don’t know.

Question: “ A COVID-19 infection will last only two weeks.” Is this statement true or false?

There are definitely cases of COVID that last longer than two weeks. I have patients in the COVID unit who have been consistently positive for a month or two. For most people with a normal immune system, the level of the virus should be detectable after two weeks. The antibodies should have acted, making the viral load low enough to be less detectable. Patients who are hospitalized for severe symptoms of the virus are recommended to isolate for 20 days. Some people will be clear after two weeks, and others will continue to test positive after those two weeks.

Question: New variants of COVID-19 seem to be popping up weekly, will the vaccines we have right now protect us against new strains?

Lynch : That’s the million-dollar question. The short answer is we don’t know. According to the infectious disease group I work with, the vaccines we have now the new variants will be sensitive to. They will help protect people from the virus. Many fear that the vaccine will not be able to protect us because of the notion that the virus will mutate, become stronger, and confuse the vaccine for not recognizing it is the strain it is after. Of the different variants we know of now, the vaccine will protect us against the virus. When Moderna and Pfizer were past clinical trials, the South African strain hit the United States, leaving many doctors and passions worried that the vaccine may not be able to fight that strain. Johnson and Johnson’s vaccine is currently going through the approval process and has been since some of these new variants emerged. 

Fortunately, the Johnson and Johnson vaccine involves one dose and should be wildly available fairly soon. Although, people are nervous about Johnson and Johnson’s vaccine because it is only around 50 percent effective compared to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines which have around a 90 percent effective rate. It is important to note that everyone who has gotten the Johnson and Johnson vaccine has not died and has not been hospitalized. It’s ok if you get sniffles if you’re home, we just don’t want people dying. How else do you envision this pandemic ending? If not for the vaccine, a lot of people put a lot of thought into this and it’s really effective.

Question: Major newspapers have been reporting that wearing two masks, or at least masks with three layers, should be the new norm. Should we all be doing this?

Lynch: The harder it is for particles to escape your face, the less likely you are to spread the virus or catch it. You wearing a mask protects me and everyone in your presence. If I don’t wear a mask, for example, it won’t protect you all that much because my droplets could get on your face or hands. It’s most effective when everyone wears a mask if you are around others. The point of wearing double masks or teacher masks is to make sure you don’t inhale any droplets or particles that may be in the air. The more layers you have, the more barriers these droplets have to go through, the less likely you are to inhale any particles.

Janice MacGillivray is the Chief Physicians Assistant at Dana Farber at Birghman and Women’s Hospital oncology and Hematology unit. MacGillivray oversees the other Physician Assistants and deals with a wide array of patients. She always has to keep herself informed about COVID updates in order to treat her patients.

Question: Many people believe that once you have had COVID, you cannot contract it again. Is there truth to this statement?

MacGillivray: That’s definitely not true from what science has shown so far. Some people tend to have immunity for 3 months or so, we don’t really know. This is interesting because the vaccine probably won’t last longer than normal immunity does. If natural immunity only lasts three months then arguably the vaccine will only last three months. You could get infected by a different strain: you could also get infected like you could with the flu back to back years. Most people are sick much longer than two weeks. Most people are sick for 3-6 weeks. 

Question: “ A COVID-19 infection will last only two weeks.” 

Is this statement true or false?

MacGillivray:It’s dependent on a person’s immune system. Most people are sick much longer than two weeks. Most people are sick for 3-6 weeks. 

Question: New variants of COVID-19 seem to be popping up weekly, will the vaccines we have right now protect us against new strains?

MacGillivray:From what I have learned the vaccines will provide some amount of protection from the new strands. I have read Moderna is not as good as Pzfizer with some of these new strains. The strains developed after the vaccines went through clinical trials. It’s possible that we will need a booster vaccine that has some of the changes to the spike protein of the Coronavirus. We will all need to get vaccinated annually.The question is will they be able to update the vaccines before next year or will we need a booster before then. 

Question: Major newspapers have been reporting that wearing two masks, or at least masks with three layers, should be the new norm. Should we all be doing this?

MacGillivray:That’s definitely what Doctor Faucci is saying. These new strains are more varialant. The more layers of protection you have the better.

By Ashley DeLeon

Executive Editor

Kaylee Sayers ’23 recalls the day she discovered a disturbing social media post about a classmate of hers while scrolling through Instagram. The post exposed her peer’s full name, and publicly announced that someone wanted to engage in sexual activities with her. Sayers clicked on the account, and found over 200 posts targeted to multiple students at St. Michael’s College. “I hope I don’t see my name,” she said quietly.

The Instagram account, @smc.crushes, emerged on the social media platform on Jan. 28, 2021, accruing over 300 followers since its launch. The account’s content ranges from innocent crushes to fantasized sexual desires, with many posts highlighting specific body parts that people find most attractive about their peers. This information is posted nonconsensually, with the targeted individual’s full name attached. 

“This account is all in good fun, and is meant to be an anonymous way to show someone on campus you appreciate them or are thinking about them,” the account admin stated through direct message. The account admin, who did not disclose their identity, claims that a conscious effort is made to filter negative responses and censor content based on Instagram’s guidelines. However, sexually suggestive language is rampant throughout the page, with sexualized emojis and overt phrasing found all throughout. “We created this account because it was previously an SMC tradition that ran on Facebook, and we thought it would be fun to bring back on Instagram since that seems to be more of the platform of choice these days,” according to the account admin.

Women are disproportionately targeted on this platform more than men, according to Sayers. This has led some to question the true intent behind this account. “Almost the entirety of the page is committed to boiling down intelligent, talented, and kind women, many of whom I have had a class with or know, to their bodies,” she said. Though she recognizes the demeaning nature of comments directed to men, Sayers noted that the amount of content sexualizing female students is overwhelming. 

According to an anonymous male student, however, it is believed that the intentions of this account are not so blurred after all. “I think this page overall has simple intentions, and does not necessarily purposely objectify the subject. However, it does post direct quotes. This gives it an objectifying effect,” he said. 

Few people have commented under the page’s sexualized posts to bring awareness to the claimed objectifying nature of the account. Some women have even conceded to sexualized posts directed towards themselves, and comment in support of them.

According to Traci Griffith, lawyer and associate professor of Media Studies, women have always been seen as objects, and it has been a long time technique (often used in the advertising business). “Social media makes it even worse because anybody can produce it. It’s called citizen journalism,” she said.

A 2018 research study conducted by Stef Davis Kempton, associate professor of Communications at Pennsylvania State University, observed two Instagram accounts and its impact on one’s identity, gender, and sexuality constructs. The study, titled, “Objectification, Sexualization, and Misrepresentation: Social Media and the College Experience,” observed the posting rituals of two college-targeted, sexualized accounts. Content, comments, and popularity were examined closely.

Kempton detected patterns in the objectification of female college students and their submissiveness to men. “The view of women as objects rather than individuals re emphasizes the idea that men should be able to determine a woman’s worth by her use-value. Men use and gaze upon women as they see fit, disregarding any individuality,” according to the textual analysis.

In an exclusive statement to The Defender, Kempton explained that “women tend to self-objectify to earn a sense of validation, acceptance, or attention,” especially from men.

“The collegiate environment perpetuates this because there is a disproportionate amount of young people in that population and they are all competing with each other,” she said. This competition spans farther than academic and athletic competition, as vying for friendships, social status, and romantic or sexual attention becomes a social competition.

Kempton agrees that the objectification of women has been normalized in mainstream media, and how “it’s easy to see how women would normalize self-objectification in an attempt for male attention,” she explained. “Many times, this objectification comes in the form of sexualizing ourselves and portraying ourselves as sex objects to stand out from the competition. Social media, especially, perpetuates self-objectification because we get instantaneous validation through likes and comments.”

A number of submissions were submitted jokingly, according to Sayers. “I could tell which posts were submitted as jokes, likely between friends from the way they read and feel, and others as well. The joking aspect of the page was not lost on me,” she said. However, she noted a clear divide between friends submitting their other friends, and people taking the opportunity that anonymity provides to objectify women at the College.

Lily Denslow ‘22 agrees. “I have noticed that many people are submitting complimentary things about their friends and crushes on campus,” she said. “In that way, I think it’s a great venue to lift up members of our community.”

The rapidly emerging account has raised questions about ethics and legality. “You don’t have a right to anonymous free speech in the First Amendment. There’s a court that might interpret that into the First Amendment, but there isn’t a right to anonymous speech,” Griffith said. The second part to this issue, she noted, is an administrative obligation to protect and ensure a safe learning environment for students. 

Dawn Ellinwood, vice president for Student Affairs, agrees that the College has an obligation to ensure a safe environment for students. However, “…if the account is anonymous and not affiliated with SMC, we may not be able to do anything,” she said. “Please know we would investigate and attempt to find the person responsible but in past cases that involved social media, we were not able to get the information we needed unfortunately.” 

“The decision to comment on another person’s appearance is insensitive, a sign of unexamined privilege. And to do so on a public, anonymous online platform? Well, even if it feels innocuous (or potentially empowering) it really isn’t okay,” said Maura D’Amore, professor of English and program director for Gender Studies. “The person you name and describe didn’t have any say in the matter. There’s no way to consent, no two-way communication,” she stated.

“Although these submissions are most likely meant to be complimentary and flattering, it’s important to remember that another person’s body is not your business, unless that person consents to share it with you,” D’Amore emphasizes.      

According to Denslow, the community needs to re-evaluate what is considered acceptable on social media. “Posting that you want to get with someone or that someone is ‘gorgeous’ or ‘beautiful’ or even ‘sexy’ is one thing, but posting about how big someone’s assets are is something else entirely,” she said. “As a community, I think that we need to think long and hard about what it means if we are ok with objectifying both men and women in our community on a public platform.”

COVID-19 has attempted to break the tightly knit bond of our community. Time and time again, we have faced the test of time and reunited. This pandemic has shown us all that our bond is unbreakable. It is stronger than the pulls of this virus.

From faculty baking cookies for students in quarantine to peers creating Valentine’s Day gifts for each other, we are reminded that in times of uncertainty, we have each other.

The scarcity of articles and stories about the pandemic in this issue is representative of a larger motif– there is life beyond COVID. We recognize the severity of COVID-19 and strongly encourage you to follow public health protocols to keep the community safe. However, there is more to life than this virus.

What’s going to happen tomorrow? What about next week? What will the rest of the semester look like? These questions ruminate our minds daily like a record on repeat. The Defender encourages you to deviate your focus from what you don’t know. Focus on what you do know. 

Live in the moment, and enjoy the beauty of what is in front of you.

When former Vice President Joe Biden was declared the President-elect of the United States, much of the local student and greater Burlington community displayed palpable elation. Many took to Church Street and other locations throughout the city to celebrate, relaying above all, extreme relief at the prospect of no longer living under the leadership of Donald Trump. This feeling is understandable, given the more than 400,000 coronavirus deaths and accelerated environmental deregulation that occurred during his tenure, to name just two, of many issues that plague an unstable nation. However, much of the voter base notes their primary reason for supporting Biden, according to a pre-election poll from the Pew Research Center, is because he’s not Trump. In fact, much of the electorate is so satisfied that America chose to vote Trump out, that they are willing to overlook Biden’s  record on important issues, which is questionable at best.

Take the issue of racial justice, which exploded into the public eye over the summer with issues of police brutality against Black Americans,  and the disproportionate percentage of people of color who make up the American prison system. This all too common narrative continues to plague low-income and racially diverse communities across the U.S. Outraged by the ceaseless violence and injustice, civilians took to the streets in masses, calling for a number of changes including cuts to the bloated law enforcement budget, banning the use of excessive force upon civilians, demanding accountability for the growing number of officers who perpetrated violent acts, and reform to hefty sentences for low-level crimes aimed at people of color. Unsurprisingly, animosity toward the 45th President and his administration was common among protesters, given his repeated unwillingness to condemn white supremacy and his history of racially discriminatory rhetoric. Although, many of the same people who condemn Trump’s actions may be surprised to learn of Biden’s involvement in perpetuating, and even creating, many of the laws and policies that are so vehemently opposed today.

Practices such as civil asset forfeiture, law enforcement’s ability to seize someone’s personal belongings if they are suspected of a crime, was  sponsored by Biden and a fellow senator during his time in the Senate. Furthermore, in an attempt to address drug abuse in the 1980s, Biden (in collaboration with Senators from across the aisle penned the “Anti Drug Abuse Act of 1986.” This law  administered harsher sentences for drug possession and distinguished the now infamous disparity between crack and powder cocaine acquisition. In short, those who were caught with crack cocaine received sentences that were 10 times harsher than those who possessed powder. This discretion targeted communities of color because of the prominence of crack cocaine in urban areas. These practices and many more, which Biden supported, have imposed skyrocketing incarceration rates in the US, specifically for Black and Brown men in the last two decades. He helped to create many of the practices and institutions his supporters now rally against. The destruction these decisions have caused are becoming more transparent. Much of this legislation was brought about by the 1994 crime bill which Biden co-authored. In October, he referred to the crime bill as “a mistake” but has gone into little detail regarding how he plans to amend the problems it continues to cause, and has defended it on other occasions.

Additionally, at the start of Trump’s  first term, women across the nation were outraged by his  nomination considering his numerous sexual assault cases and well documented instances of sexism throughout his career, as both a businessman and media personality. However, those who criticize Donald Trump’s crude behavior are less likely to look upon Biden’s record with equal scrutiny. Which includes a sexual assault allegation of his own, brought to light by his former aide Tara Reade. Though he has repeatedly denied the allegation, it brings into question his prior behavior particularly regarding the issue of assault and harassment.

In any case, even if Biden’s strongest supporters considered these factors and criticized his decisions on a variety of issues, many may overlook them because they believed his running mate, and now Vice President, Kamala Harris, will provide enough of a forward thinking balance to keep him from making similar choices. However, her record as Attorney General of California shows this inclination to be unlikely. During her time as a prosecutor, she kept people in prison beyond their sentence to exploit their labor, and threatened the parents of students who failed to attend school with prosecution. Most notably, she charged a Black man with murder and life in prison on insufficient evidence, after six years in prison he was proven innocent. These decisions as attorney general could prove to be  somewhat detrimental to Harris given the excitement expressed by many of her supporters as she is the first Black, Asian, female vice president, because her diverse background on its own does not negate her past decisions that imposed negative consequences on communities of color.

In spite of all of this, much of the greater New England area is outwardly pleased with Biden’s nomination. More importantly, they are satisfied with a repudiation of Trump’s chaotic, political brand. While this perspective is understandable, as a populace we must be able to scrutinize our elected officials when their decision-making has the potential to be harmful to marginalized communities, the environment, and the country as a whole. 

There remains a pervasive sense, particularly among white, upper-middle-class and affluent communities in the Northeast, that with Trump gone, unfavorable circumstances will cease. With Biden in office, we can all go back to brunch, assuming the politicians in charge have our best interest in mind. As freethinking citizens, we must not allow this narrative to continue. 

Just because many happen to agree with Biden on a larger number of issues doesn’t mean he is guaranteed to make the right decisions or even have the right objectives in mind. We must continue fighting for the policies and values that matter to us and be critical of elected officials when they do not represent them. To ensure that  reform focused policies designed to check the power of  corrupt institutions, communities  fought for over the summer, and over multiple decades are properly implemented, we must continually pressure Biden and his team to make cogent decisions the same way we would Trump. 

The first step was voting Trump out of office. Now, the real work begins.

A look at the candidates for Burlington’s mayoral race

By Jackson Stoever

Online & Video Editor

     In the coming weeks, the city of Burlington will vote for a mayor. Incumbent Mayor Miro Weinberger is opposed by Progressive city counselor Max Tracy, Independent city counselor Ali Dieng and Independent Patrick White for the leadership role in the Vermont city.

     In office since 2012, Mayor Weinberger aims to continue his role and will further his abilities to combat COVID-19 and lead Burlington into an economy and community that is, as his website claims, “stronger, more racially just, greener and more affordable” than the city had before the pandemic began. Under Weinberger’s leadership, Burlington became the first city in the country to be powered with 100% renewably sourced energy and plans to become a net zero energy city within the next 10-15 years. His website claims that with 1,300 new homes built in the city and millions of taxpayer dollars saved across the span of nine years, there is expectation to deliver again and an urgency that now, true leadership is important, more than ever before.

     On the city council since 2012, Max Tracy currently serves as Field Organizer for the Nurse’s Union at the University of Vermont Medical Center where he works with front-line health care workers to assure that they have all that they need to treat patients. 

     “I was focused on doing good in this role, especially during the pandemic, and have long felt Burlington needs new leadership” Tracy said. With the pandemic still surging, Tracy added he intends on pushing hazard pay, no City employee layoffs, a universal mask distribution program and a Hunger Action Plan to combat the virus. According to his website, if elected, Tracy promises to eradicate systemic racism that spans across city government and institutions. By expanding BIPOC business, land and home ownership, Tracy intends on cultural and economic empowerment for BIPOC residents in Burlington.

     In addition to his role as city counselor, Ali Dieng is the family outreach coordinator for the Burlington School District, in which he aids families in filling out paperwork and processes to access after-school programs for their children. For eight years, Dieng has worked for Burlington Kids and has been an involved community member and a board member at the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity. On his website, it is stated that Dieng believes that children are the greatest resource for the future and will fight for all Burlington children to have access to safe schools, a quality education and an opportunity to strive for higher education, no matter their background. According to the same source, Burlington has allocated $90,000 a year to support low-barrier housing, however, under Dieng’s leadership, he will establish a ‘tiny home village’ program for the homeless and those that are displaced.

     As a life-long Vermonter, Patrick White uses his free time to get out and utilize everything Burlington has to offer. On his website, White calls for a police reform and aims to abolish the “us vs. them” mentality on both sides. He then states that these officers are members of the community and the general public of Burlington should feel safe with trained law enforcement officers. Offering to lead by accountability, White also plans to bring attention to Lake Champlain and the authorized dumping of untreated sewage into the waters. Demanding a change, White promises to bring anyone who has allowed this to happen to task, if he is elected. The candidate compares his feelings toward this issue with how he feels about all city government. White’s goal is to reduce the overall cost of running a business in Burlington as this is a necessary action to relieve small businesses and their employees.     Mayor Weinberger urges registration for polling at the town hall meeting on March 2nd. Students with Vermont citizenship can register to vote by visiting https://mvp.vermont.gov/.

By Mikey Halligan

Managing & Visual Design Editor

The Vermont International Film Festival (VTIFF) along with the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival (MNFF) will be hosting their Split/Screen series on Feb. 19 to Feb 28.

Saint Michael’s College along with Middlebury College and Champlain College will be hosting the event which features 6 films directed by African American women as well as two separate recorded conversations with the directors Natasha NGaiza and Ashley O’Shay.

“As February is Black History month, sponsoring this month’s series felt like an important thing for the college to support”, said Alex Bertoni, Director of Marketing and Communications. “We hope that students, faculty and staff will take advantage of this opportunity to see and discuss these films.”

Split/Screen Monthly Passes are usually $40 but because of the school sponsorship, 250 students, faculty and staff will be able to view the event for free via a virtual screening site on both the VTIFF and MNFF websites.

  • VTIFF Now: watch.vtiff.org
  • MNFF Online: watch.midfilmfest.org 

The films that will be featured include:

  • LOSING GROUND by Kathleen Collins | 1982 | Fiction
    • One of the first movies directed by an African American woman. Sara Rogers (Seret Scott), a black professor of philosophy, is embarking on an intellectual quest to understand “ecstasy” just as her painter husband, Victor (Bill Gunn), sets off on a more earthy exploration of joy. Over the course of a summer idyll in upstate New York, the two each experience profound emotional and romantic awakenings. 

  • FAREWELL AMOR by Ekwa Msangi | 2020 | Fiction
    • After 17 years apart, Angolan immigrant Walter is joined in the U.S. by his wife and teen daughter. Now absolute strangers sharing a one-bedroom Brooklyn apartment, they struggle to overcome the emotional distance between them.

  • ILLUSIONS by Julie Dash | 1982 | Short Film
    • The time is 1942, a year after Pearl Harbor; the place is National Studios, a fictitious Hollywood motion picture studio. Mignon Duprée, a Black woman studio executive who appears to be white and Ester Jeeter, an African American woman who is the singing voice for a white Hollywood star are forced to come to grips with a society that perpetuates false images as status quo.

  • BLACKOUT by Natasha NGaiza | 2013 | Short Film
    • A sudden power outage leads to an impromptu shadow performance that inspires an African immigrant to revisit the past and confront her marriage. Blackout explores the intricacies of transnational African identity, motherhood and memory.

  • A MOTHER by Natasha NGaiza | 2020 | Short Film
    • As a town copes with the disappearance of a little girl, a mother of two must come to terms with her own decision to abort an unexpected pregnancy.

  • UNAPOLOGETIC by Ashley O’Shay | 2020 | Documentary
    • captures tensions between a police board led by Lori Lightfoot (now Chicago Mayor) and abolitionist organizers at Chicago Police Department Headquarters in a polarizing moment in Chicago’s fight against racial injustice after the slaying by police of two Black Chicagoans – Rekia Boyd and Laquan McDonald.

For more information about the event, go to: https://vtiff.org/vtiff-now/splitscreen/

By Ashley DeLeon

Executive Editor

Preparations for the Spring semester are underway, and the Saint Michael’s College administration is mandating the adherence of stricter COVID-19 guidelines this up-coming semester compared to the Fall.

On Jan. 13 at 4:30 p.m., the Emergency Planning Group (EPG) hosted a Town Hall to provide students with information about COVID-19 guidelines for the Spring semester.

“New and updated policies are created to benefit the student body,” said Lorraine Sterritt, president of Saint Michael’s College. Though new strains of the virus are more infectious, Sterritt shined light on the anticipated effectiveness of vaccines. “New strains are more infectious. The good news is that the vaccines are expected to be effective against them,” she said.

Mary Masson, executive director of Bergeron Wellness Center, says the virus’ impact in our community and state is being watched carefully. “Although the COVID rate is lower than three percent, we’re watching it with concern,” she said. “Last week’s numbers equaled the total number of cases from May to October. Why we’ve done so well is because we have a very conservative commissioner and governor. It is the reason behind things we’ll do moving forward.” Decision making from the State of Vermont is the reason why many of the College guidelines are in place, Masson explained. She specified that Saint Michael’s College follows directives from the State of Vermont, though there may be discrepancies with the CDC (Centers for Disease Control).

For individuals who were diagnosed with COVID-19 over winter break, the College requests a copy of the testing result sent to mmasson@smcvt.edu for medical record purposes. Those who were previously diagnosed do not need to undergo surveillance testing for a full 90 days. Administration will notify these individuals when they are due for testing. Though surveillance testing may not be mandatory for this time period, they are expected to follow all other COVID-19 guidelines on campus, Masson explained.

If someone has fallen ill or is a contact of a positive case, quarantine will occur in Ryan Hall, differing from the College’s previous policy of quarantine inside of an individual’s Fall housing. Contacts with a history of a COVID infection within the past 90 days are still required to undergo a full quarantine. This guideline is mandated by the VT Department of Health.

The full duration of isolation is 10 days, with a planned release on Day 11. If symptoms are developed during isolation, “the clock restarts and it becomes 10 days from the start of symptoms,” Masson noted. “There is a new strain coming out of the UK called the B117 strain, which is more contagious. They are finding that because it’s more contagious, it can affect larger communities, increasing the risk for a larger subset of the community to be hospitalized,” she warned. Luckily, testing provided by the Broad Institute can detect this specific strain. 

According to Masson, Mark Levine, Vermont Health Commissioner, stated that no plan is in place for college students to receive the vaccine until the late spring or early summer at this point in time. If there is an uptick in doses or more companies approved by the FDA for vaccination administration, then this may change. “The COVID vaccine does not prevent us from being exposed to the virus or potentially sharing it with our community. It won’t be effective until 70% of the population receives it. If you get the vaccine, you must still continue the guidelines of testing, quarantining, masking, etc.” Masson said.

 ”We learned a lot from the Fall,” said Dawn Ellinwood, vice president for student affairs. A survey conducted by the Student Government Association (SGA) provided the EPG with feedback and data to consider in their Spring semester planning. 

“We have received lots of feedback and data recently. The SGA leadership met with the EPG group from a survey they just did. We are continuing to work and there are works in progress. It was important for the EPG to share what we have so far and it may not change a lot, but it may,” she said. 

Ellinwood notes the biggest protocol change is the mandate for quarantine in Ryan Hall. “Meals will be delivered, and the hall will have more pantries. We are trying to make that space more than it was in the Fall,” she said. Additionally, are encouraged to only socialize with their households.

Saint Michael’s College administration and student leaders of the COVID Action Network hosted a Town Hall via Zoom to address student concerns and increased safety measures

Testing changes

Faculty and staff are encouraged to receive testing weekly on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., though testing is not mandatory. 

“The configuration of what you experienced last semester will be different. Testing will be conducted around the track, because the numbers of people coming in will be dramatically different.” Students must bring their KnightCards to testing, as they will be swiped upon entry to record attendance. “If you do not show up, we will find you,” Ellinwood warned. 

The virus is fully expected to be present on campus upon arrival, therefore, the precaution and vigilance are crucial until the arrival testing is completed. 

Mental Health and Wellness

Kathy Butts, director of counseling at Bergeron, encourages students to contemplate whether returning to campus in-person is in their best interest. “When you think about coming back, knowing what the challenges are, think about how that will work for you and if you have the supports and capacities available to take on that challenge,” she said. Butts notes that learning remotely can be beneficial for many students. 

If anyone is in need of support in making this decision, reach out to kbutts@smcvt.edu.

In addition, individual counseling will be available by appointment, and urgent needs can be accommodated on the same day.

Communication and messaging

Alex Bertoni, director of marketing and communications, explained new changes to the College website. There is a new section titled Information and Resources, with newly integrated alert levels. “Alert levels give people a level of where we’re at. Some of the requirements for orange are spelled out there. If there is a lower incidence of COVID, we can get to yellow.” The administration can’t specify what guidelines can be relaxed with yellow and green levels, as they may be subject to change. To access the dashboard, it will no longer be linked on the landing page. It can be found under COVID Alert Levels.

Additionally, information that defines terms such as “household,” further details of quarantine and isolation, and information about hygiene can be found on this page. 

Academics

Jeffrey Trumbower, vice president for academic affairs and professor of Religious Studies, reminded students that classes begin virtually on Jan. 25, for those who quarantined both at home and on campus. Classes with in-person components are expected to begin on Feb. 4. 

“We didn’t plan break days well in the Fall because we never experienced a semester where the only break day was in the middle of the week. There was a sense of not having any breaks, and we stressed to faculty that break days are actually break days, and no assignments should be due the day after or the day of,” he said. Department and committee meetings should not meet either, as these are meant to be breaks from the normal routine.” 

If a student is contemplating remote learning for the semester, they must contact Tim Mackin, Associate Dean of the College. 

“One caveat is that not every course is available remotely. One-third are fully virtual, one-third are mixed, and one-third are in person. Some mixed and in person models can make accommodations for fully remote students, however. It is not too late to decide if you want to be virtual,” Trumbower stated.

The EPG later addressed specific questions submitted by students, highlighting, re-iterating, and supplementing specific information previously provided in the informational session.

For more information on health and safety protocols for the Spring semester, visit https://www.smcvt.edu/return-to-campus/

By Ashley DeLeon

Executive Editor

If there’s anything we can learn from E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, it’s that spiders are capable of teaching humans valuable lessons. Neuroscience research with the eight-legged creatures at St. Michael’s College now shows that the high volume sound that pumps through many earbuds is causing irreparable damage to hearing in young people.

Through complex experiments with Central American Hunting Spiders, biologist Ruth Fabian-Fine, associate professor of biology and neuroscience, has researched sensory mechanisms in spiders that are strikingly similar to hearing in humans. 

Fabian-Fine describes hearing as “one of the least understood sensory modalities that we have.” Therefore, she devised a model system to further explore hearing, and discovered that spiders are similar to mammals. 

The hairy legs of spiders are attached to sensory neurons. These sensory neurons are chemosensory, meaning that spiders can smell chemicals with them, she said. For example, pheromones, scents emitted by some animals that trigger a response in members of the same species, are tactile (mechanosensory). If you touch or place pressure on a tactile area of a spider, you are coming in contact with these hairs. What we don’t see are tiny slits in their cuticles hidden inside an exoskeleton (the outer hard part of the spider). “These slit-sense organs are the equivalent to ears in humans. With slit-sense organs, spiders can detect vibration and ‘hear,’’ Fabian-Fine said, explaining that they “hear” the same auditory waves we hear. Through the study of sensory neurons and slit-sense organs, Fabian-Fine offers a new way to study hearing, showing the long-term implications of overstimulation.

You’re driving home one evening from a long day at work, listening to your favorite radio station while a steady breeze brushes upon your face from the open  windows. The next morning, you turn on your car radio. You are startled by its volume. “Why does my car always do that?” you question. Fabian-Fine explained that this is not the fault of your vehicle, but rather, changes to your ear’s sensitivity. The sensitivity in your sensory neurons were down-regulated by the central neurons the evening before, as a way of protecting your ear from this loud stimulus. “You’ve had this same experience with vision, and when you suddenly turn on a bright light at night, it hurts your eyes. This is not the case when you’ve adapted to it, because the sensitivity of your photoreceptor cells is down regulated,” she said.

Fabian-Fine then explained how these signals are transmitted from the organ to the brain.

“When you sit in a restaurant, and you talk to the person sitting across from you, which can be done easily, you can hear the conversations of people from neighboring tables. We’ve all done that, right? We had a conversation and sensed something in our environment. We then focus our hearing on what’s going on outside of the conversation,” she said. The reason we can do this, she said, is because the neurons in our brain can signal our ears, and say, “down-regulate the sensitivity of this part of the ear, and up-regulate the frequencies of this other conversation that I want to listen to.”

Risks of hearing loss in youth

According to the American Academy of Audiology, “The average, otherwise healthy person will have essentially normal hearing at least up to age 60,” assuming that one’s unprotected ears are not exposed to high noise levels above 85 decibels. With headphone use prevalent among youth, risks for compromised hearing at an earlier age greatly increase.

“An estimated 12.5% of children and adolescents aged 6–19 years (approximately 5.2 million) and 17% of adults aged 20–69 years (approximately 26 million) have suffered permanent damage to their hearing from excessive exposure to noise” according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). This hearing loss is a consequence of damaged structures and/or nerve fibers located in the inner ear that respond to sound. This specific form of hearing loss is known as noise-induced hearing loss, and is a result of excessive exposure to loud sounds. This is often irreversible, and cannot be corrected medically or surgically. This form of hearing loss can occur from exposure to a dangerously loud sound or blast, or listening to loud sounds over an extended period of time.

A study conducted by Siemens Hearing Instruments (SHI) notes that teen hearing loss may be on the rise, with 1 in 6 teens having hearing loss symptoms “often or all of the time,” and nearly 9 in 10 engaged in activities that place them at risk for hearing loss. SHI notes that a survey of 500 teenagers, aged between 13 and 19, found that “46% reported experiencing ringing, roaring, buzzing or pain in their ears after engaging in risky hearing practices, including listening to excessively loud music and using lawn and power tools with no hearing protection.” One in 6 teens admitted to experiencing these symptoms often or all the time. 

Interestingly enough, for many teenagers, this information is not new. The study reveals that teenagers are aware of these risks, yet make a conscious decision to not protect their hearing. Almost 88% of teens in this study admitted to engaging in activities they know may lead to hearing damage, with listening to loud music being most popular. “When asked what their parents or teachers would do if they knew how loud their music was, 78% of teens confessed they would tell them to lower the volume or wear protective gear,” the study found.

“Oh no, is my music too loud?”

Music plays an integral role in the lives of many teenagers. This past decade, however, earbuds have been cause for concern among hearing care professionals. So, how do you know if the volume of your headphones is too loud? 

Apple has implemented software within the Health app to measure headphone audio exposure, and provides statistical data to show if the volume is too loud.

To access this data, in the Health app, scroll to “Show All Health Data,” “Headphone Audio Levels,” and a range of audio exposure information will appear. This data will explain if the volume of your headphones is unhealthily high, average, or under the health recommendation. Additionally, it provides data surveying your exposure over the past seven days, and notifies you if you are over the limit.

On an Android, a warning will appear on your device if the volume is harmfully loud, stating that listening above the level may cause hearing damage. 

This information is vital for monitoring volume limits, while encouraging mindful listening to prevent irreversible hearing damage in the future.

If we don’t protect our ears nor understand the sensory systems that impact our hearing, we may face irreversible damage, Fabian-Fine expressed. By educating ourselves and others, we can protect people from the devastating reality that millions of children, teens, and adults will face in their lifetime.