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By Charles Wilson

Multimedia Editor

cwilson3@mail.smcvt.edu

COVID-19 has brought every type of medical professional to the breaking point. Even though COVID-19’s physical health effects are generally minor for most healthy vaccinated college-aged adults, the mental health effects are a different story. Isolation, unemployment, and other byproducts of the pandemic in addition to the mental effects of COVID-19 are two byproducts of the pandemic that have resulted in the increased need for mental health support for students on college campuses.

“We found that a lot more students are in distress,” said Bhuttu Mathews, a counselor at St. Michael’s College. Mathews, who worked for public safety at the college for four years and has been a counselor for two years, noticed that the demand for mental health resources has increased on campus.

Bergeron Wellness Center’s counseling staff is made up of three full-time counselors, two interns, two per diem counselors (licensed counselors who come in once or twice a week), and one contracted clinician in the library. “I don’t think we’ve had this many options before,” Mathews said. “Because of the increased demand for our services, we are finding that our waiting time has increased,” Mathews added, but he still thinks St. Michael’s is ahead of many other college counseling services because the College has been on top of adapting to demand.

While there have been no changes in full-time staff and interns due to COVID, Kathy Butts, director of counseling at Saint Michael’s College, said “we were able to hire some part-time, temporary help for when things were particularly busy last semester.  We will do the same this semester.” 

Mathews confirmed that students may have to wait up to two weeks for an appointment, which is a significant increase from before the pandemic. Previously, students could attend an appointment no more than one week after reaching out.

 Even with the busy beginning of the semester, Butts thinks that as time goes on it will only become busier. There’s only a finite number of people available to help students and as demand increases, their availability becomes tighter and tighter. Despite this, Butts remains optimistic. For more urgent situations, every day three and a half hours of drop-in hours are available for students to seek help at Bergeron. These drop-in hours are important to the counseling staff. A counselor who has drop-in hours won’t schedule appointments during that time, instead opting to keep the time available for students seeking help that day. Butts emphasized that students in need of urgent help will be able to receive that help in a short amount of time.

“I don’t think it’s the case that there are more people living with depression or anxiety. I think more people are aware that they are living with depression and anxiety,” Mathews said when comparing the interpretation of mental health diagnosis statistics to the interpretation of autism diagnosis statistics. “Are we seeing a larger number of [autism] diagnoses because our standards are lower, or, is it that autism has always existed and we’ve just never treated it correctly,” he questioned.

The clinical range of depression and anxiety is characterized by persisting mental health symptoms, something many students have been struggling with because of COVID. “I think a lot more people went into the clinical range because of COVID because there are just factors that are out of their control that are affecting their lives,” Mathews said.

Major changes in demands for counselors came in the spring of 2021. In Mathews’ experience, the general trend in past years has seen a large volume of students seeking counseling services from the beginning of the fall semester that decreases significantly once the spring semester begins.

“Last year was an aberration… we were busy right from the beginning of spring as well [as the fall] which shows that people were taking their mental health seriously and coming to see us,” he said. Students have generally begun to take their mental health more seriously and this proactivity has resulted in a larger demand year-round.

There are options for students to seek help while waiting for an appointment with a professional at Bergeron. TalkCampus, an app that’s been promoted by the College in places like Alliot’s napkin holders, is a student-to-student support system. Students around the world can connect at any time. The app monitors conversations for certain keywords and phrases. Aside from extreme cases that suggest a user is at risk of harm or death,  “the conversations are pretty confidential between the students involved,” Mathews explained. If a conversation is flagged, “a clinician will then interrupt the conversation and intervene clinically and appropriately,” he said.

For professional help outside of campus, Mathews recommended smcvt.thrivingcampus.com. On the website, there are easily accessible local clinicians all over the country. Clinicians who want to work with the college population can be found by zip code, insurance, identity, and experience.

How to get help sidebar:

Don’t wait to reach out, no matter who you reach out to. Talk to people. Whether it’s a friend, a coach, a professor, or an online resource like TalkCampus.

If you need confidentiality, seek out professional help either through counselors at Bergeron, Dave Cavanagh’s private practice on campus, or outside clinicians. Outside clinicians can be found at smcvt.thrivingcampus.com

Never worry about seeking help from the wrong place. There are many supports for students on campus and no matter where you seek help, you will always be steered in the right direction.

To set up an appointment with the Bergeron counseling staff, contact Heidi Brodtman, Administrative Assistant at Bergeron.

hbrodtman@smcvt.edu

802-654-2234

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.

By TJ Sangare

Contributing Writer

“Write your own story, dramatic scene or collection of at least five poems inspired by the readings of the course.”

For my final project in African American Literature, we had the option to choose any direction that demonstrates our understanding of the texts, and synthesize the work of the semester. I chose the Creative Call and Response. I never thought I would say, “I enjoyed this final assignment,” but unlike most finals, the format of this project allowed me to step out of my comfort zone and explore poetry. For all but one of the poems, I explored different themes and writers from this semester and connected their work to ideas and events relevant today. In “Bullet or the Ballot,” I sought to convey some of the same feelings I share with Malcolm X and highlight the wickedness of the country we live in. In “Black Woman,” I outline some struggles and hardships Black womxn endure that are often ignored by society. “I’ve Known Rivers” is a cento poem with lines from various Langston Hughes’ poems; this piece regards the anxiety, PTSD, and generational trauma of being Black in America. Lastly, “Middle Passage,” the name speaks for itself.

Photo Courtesy of TJ Sangare

The Bullet or the Ballot / How many more times

The Bullet or the ballot

Some freedom or some bullshit

Telling me “pursue his dream”

Nah, I feel like it aint working

“Stay calm, and stay peaceful”

“Keep ya hands up, don’t resist”

“They wouldn’t shoot for no reason”

“I don’t care if he got 4 kids”

It’s crazy what I’ve seen.

I’m ready to explode.

George yelled “I can’t breath”

Trayvon only 17 years-old

They telling us to chill

Don’t riot, don’t loot

Trump’s exact words were,

“When they loot, we shoot”

They’re supposed to protect us 

They’re supposed to serve

But they killing us on the daily

And control us like a herd

I can’t imagine if it was my own mama

Got her child stolen, because they black

8:46 with his knee on his neck

How fucked up is that?

Uncle Sam is the problem

Uncle Sam is the criminal

Uncle Sam will look you in your eyes and unload 16 shots

And keep a straight face, as if he got nothing on his subliminal

Malcolm I need you

Why cant they understand?

They think we got a death wish

We just want peace and equality, cause aint no freedom in this land

We spell “Amerikkka” with three K’s

How many more will we let them kill?

They traded their robes in for a badge

Trayvon Martin, Darryl Mount, Laquan McDonald, those are my Emmet Till’s

If I could change matters, I would spare a life

I’m up all night, thinking about these lost souls

Rest in power

Rest in paradise

Not everyone rests in peace, what goes around comes around

Keep thinking you got away with it

Cause you goin rest in piss

And you karma goin’ be my favorite

It ain’t goin’ be no regular piss

Its comin straight from me

Got my hoodie on, fist up, head down

Screaming “I’M A REVOLUTIONARY…BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY”

They killing us in the streets

They killing us in our homes

They don’t even try to hide it

Just like them colonizers, call it Columbus Syndrome

I’ve had enough of this peaceful shit

They ain’t goin’ take none of mine

Got the boots strapped, and I’m ready for war

We screaming out, “how many more times?”

To be black and women

Ingredients;

1 tablespoon of the sun’s nectar

3 drops of colonizer tears

4 cups of oppression   

and

2 teaspoons of unnoticed 

Blood

Sweat

and 

Tears.

I am the angry black woman.

The same angry black woman

Who carries her child just to die

By the hands of the ones with a

Stethoscope and a pointy hood

I am an angry black woman

The same angry black woman

Who defies the gender norms.

Beret on tight glock on the hip of the right

I am an angry black woman

The same angry black woman

Who receives unlimited bullets

By the pigs 

when i’m sleeping

I am an angry black woman

The same angry black woman

Who had someone’s unmentionables

Stuffed into her 

By the very black men

That are supposed to set fire to the world for us

i will never understand 

why the world 

will pour it’s misogynoir into my belly

like pure gasoline

and then leave 

when i explode

the middle passage

It is dark. I don’t know how many days have passed. How many weeks it has been. I think I might be dead. But I cannot smell feces and rotting flesh. Both others and my own. The pale ones let us crawl out of this confined space once a week. Always naked. Always cold. They make us dance. They throw the dead ones over for the big fish with fins that stick up from this never ending blue abyss. They stalk us. They whisper to me, “you must taste so juicy let me get some of that dark meat.” my chest no longer produces the nutrients for my daughter. I am afraid she will be the big fish next meal. There are hundreds of us. Packed in on top of eachother. Different tongues. Connected by chains. I would rather drown for the next 400 years than to see where the pale ones will bring us. And what the pale ones will do with us next.