Welcome to Le Monde!

Le Monde, the Honors College's magazine, is a review of happenings both in the Honors College and at the university. We cover a diverse array of topics from student-related issues to the finest eateries in the city. Please email vculemonde@gmail.com for submissions or other questions.

 

Wellness Q&A with Dr. Christy Tyndall

By Amelia Gulding

In the midst of a pandemic, a contentious election cycle that has yet to peacefully conclude, and after a semester of distance learning, which is set to continue in the spring semester, many honors students may be struggling with maintaining wellness. Here are some tips and tricks from the Honors College’s resident positive psychology expert, Dr. Christy Tyndall.

Q: Have you seen a difference in how or why students are stressed since the start of the coronavirus pandemic?

A: Yes.  All of the usual academic and life stresses have been exacerbated with the additional layers of Covid-related challenges.  Students are caring for sick family members, taking on additional responsibilities at home, and trying to stay healthy themselves all while navigating a completely different and overwhelming educational experience.

Q: In what ways do you think the topics covered in Flourishing and the practice of positive psychology can help with coronavirus-related stressors?

A: The practices and principles of wellbeing addressed in Flourishing are even more important now.  In times of challenge, it is vital to take time for self-care and to be mindful of how we are feeling.  I urge increased self-kindness and willingness to reach out for help.  We have many sources of support here at VCU and it is up to each student to take active steps to care for their wellbeing. 

Q: How have you adjusted your course or your Wind Down Wednesday program to adjust to the coronavirus pandemic?

A: WDW has successfully transitioned to the online format.  We still begin each session with a meditation, followed by a craft/activity. Participation has been amazing! The main challenge has been generating ideas for activities that can be created using items that people commonly have in their residences.  An exciting change is that we have more students sharing their talents and leading sessions. We’ve had students guide us in learning calligraphy and drawing. Student-led knitting lessons, bullet journal instruction, and Among Us games are coming soon!

Q: In what ways is the honors college supporting honors students during the pandemic and online learning?

A: All faculty and staff have been working hard to adapt and support students in multiple ways. For the Wellbeing program, we’ve added new programs such as CommuiTEA, Coffee, and Conversation. This semester, we have also launched the HonorsCares Wellbeing Check-in initiative.  This is a streamlined process for students to request information about mental health services or to connect with a fellow Honors student. Members of the Student Wellbeing Team are standing by to reach out to others with a friendly check-in, to answer questions, or to facilitate connections to appropriate support. The Honors community has come together to offer a variety of events online for students each week including HSEB activities, trivia nights, Berglund seminars, peer tutoring, Storytelling and Healing, Dean’s chats, etc.

Q: Are there any unhealthy behaviors/practices that you think students should avoid to help them manage their stress? 

A: I am concerned when I hear of students feeling isolated or suffering in silence.  Staying connected and engaged takes creativity and effort.  Within the bounds of safe practices and as health allows, I encourage students to get out, take a walk, and reach out to someone: family, friends, RAs, Tas, professors, etc. You are not alone.  Your Honors College family and your Rams Family cares about you!

Q: Do you have any specific advice or tips for honors students to implement positive psychology practices into their daily lives? 

A: In these times of uncertainty, it can be helpful to focus on what we can control. We can make healthy decisions and we can reach out to friends and loved ones.  Communication is important.  Practice social distancing but don’t isolate. Break large projects into smaller parts and take one step at a time.  Create a schedule, including time for self-care, and stick to it. Remember to stop, breathe (while wearing a mask and socially distanced), and be kind to yourself and others.

 

Honors College Spotlight: Collective Corazón

By: Roma Kankaria, MiJin Cho, Sydney Welles, Ashley Victor, and Shea Wenzler

Collective Corazón is a Latinx-oriented organization, but its focus is slightly different from those of other organizations. Its focus is specifically on the language and cultural barriers that many people experience in the community, given the increasing Latinx population in the US. Regardless of what profession a college student goes into, he or she will likely be interacting with someone who is Spanish-speaking, especially in the medical field (medicine, dentistry, PT, OT, etc.). Even if students who enter the workforce cannot speak Spanish fluently, the organization's goal is that they will still understand how to bridge cultural barriers effectively. 

The organization has three pillars: Education, Service, and Advocacy. In education, Collective Corazón features a monthly speaker series, with professors or community partners giving talks on Latinx health equity. They talk about their research or what students can do to address the needs of Richmond's Spanish-speaking population. Service involves providing students opportunities to interact with Spanish-speaking individuals and serving their time in some way. This could be translating (like at the Sacred Heart Center and Health Brigade) or helping with VCU events (like Primeros Pasos). Lastly, advocacy focuses on getting the word out to the population about the disparities in health seen in Latinx populations in the US and also, specifically, in Richmond.

In order to address these pillars, Colective Corazón has made a tremendous effort to raise awareness of the barriers that the Latinx community faces to obtain proper health care in the United States. In the Undergraduate Research Conference for World Studies, Colective Corazón teams presented the how language, economic barriers, lack of cultural competency and cultural stigmas inhibit the Spanish-speaking communities from receiving adequate health care service. To minimize some of the hurdles that the Spanish-speaking population undergoes, the organization has partnered with the Health Brigade to facilitate the needs of an increasing Latinx population in Richmond. Volunteers with varying levels of Spanish fluency worked together to translate medical paperwork to Spanish. In the past year, Collective Corazón has also sought to reach out to a variety of sectors in the Richmond community, including elementary-aged children with behavioral disabilities, and has partnered with ChildSavers, a mental health and behavioral therapy center, to offer undergraduate students the opportunity to give back to their community. Here, volunteers helped sanitize the therapy rooms as well as interact with children in the waiting room.  In the Fall 2020 semester, Collective Corazón also collected stuffed animals to donate to the Sacred Heart Center, to benefit local Latinx families!

 

A pile of stuffed animals, collected by Collective Corazón [View Image]Stuffed animals collected through Collective Corazón's stuffed animal drive, to benefit the Sacred Heart Center 

 

In order to educate and empower undergraduate students, Collective Corazón recently hosted a student-led roundtable discussion on Latinx health disparities during COVID-19. The aim of this discussion was to not only raise awareness of the current barriers preventing the Latinx population from receiving proper health care, but also how VCU students can mitigate the pervasive issues surrounding cultural competency, language, documentation and socio-economic status. Last year, the organization reached out to the creators of Bebe Listos, a prenatal healthcare app culturally tailored to Hispanic and Latinx parents-to-be, to inspire students to take action on issues surrounding Latinx health disparities. To further educate the student body, CC invited Professor Moreno as a guest speaker to share this research about Latinx health disparities and how culture plays a role in physical and mental health. CC hopes to continue strengthening its education pillar by offering more opportunities for undergraduate students to engage in discussions promoting positive change in our community.   

As the founding members of Collective Corazón, we want to take with us lessons of cultural competency that can apply to all professional scenarios. Most professions involve human connection, where there is a need to understand, communicate, and empathize within and between one another. Collective Corazón hones in on this ability to connect and understand, specifically within the Latinx population in Richmond, VA. We’ve reached out to connect, educate, serve, and communicate with underserved medical populations in the greater RVA, and we hope that the lessons of empowerment, cultural competency, and Richmond communities resonate with our members and within VCU.



 

Despite Racist Backlash, Local Schools Change Confederate Names

By Abby Reasor

 

There are still dark, sad corners of the World Wide Web that are more outdated than Internet Explorer. Take the Hanover County Public Schools (HCPS) Facebook page -- this school system is less than ten miles from VCU, but it could be confused for another universe. As a response to the Black Lives Matter movement, HCPS finally decided to change some racially insensitive school names. Pandora’s virtual box opened wide, and hatred flowed in full force. Richmond is in the process of removing its Confederate statues after the growth of the BLM movement, indicating a desire to move away from its antiquated past of insensitivity. While HCPS tries to do the same, the pushback has been overwhelming. 

HCPS opened Lee-Davis High School in 1959, referencing Confederate leaders Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. The LDHS mascot was none other than the Confederates, and Stonewall Jackson Middle School was located right next door. No, this mascot wasn’t quite as horrendous as the Robstown Cotton Pickers. However, Black students (about 10% of the school’s population) still had to live as the LDHS Confederates for about 60 years. 

The HCPS school board finally voted 4-3 in favor of changing Lee-Davis and Stonewall Jackson on July 14. They voted against a name change in 2018, but George Floyd’s death started a conversation they couldn’t sweep under the rug again. While some county residents quietly celebrated, Facebook users of Hanover County came out of the woodwork to defend the former Confederate names. The social media backlash was mind-boggling. It would take forever to dig through the hundreds of comments and “angry face” reaction emojis. Criticism came pouring in from alumni, parents and Karens alike. One commenter told HCPS to “Leave the names alone you bunch of scumbags!!!”

HCPS put out an online survey where residents could vote on potential options, and angry Hanoverians made their opinions known.  Someone who must love the winter weather recommended “How about Snowflake High and Middle?” A resident who probably did not vote for Joe Biden asked “Can we write in Donald J Trump??”

“Schoolly McSchool Face Middle & Schoolly McSchool Face High” was not the only comment that just didn’t make sense. “Hell Yeah Brother High School and Send It Middle School” was another suggestion. 

The old signs for Lee-Davis and Stonewall Jackson were quickly removed by Superintendent Michael Gil, which led to more online heat. The school board decided to put the signs back up after they had already been taken down. The county administration was scrutinized from all angles.

 

Comment: “Spineless Leaders High School. Describes our current school board leadership.” [View Image]Comment: “Ridiculous names from a terrible selection committee out to waste taxpayer money!!! You will be known for doing a terrible job and most people will always call them what they have been for 60 some years or at least LDHS and SJMS!” [View Image]

Many comments mirrored those sentiments, accusing HCPS of fudging the survey results. Someone called it a “Dumb. Ridiculous. Fraudulent process!” Another expressed that “I hate that this is the name that will be on my daughters diploma.” Some kept it short and not so sweet, such as “The names suck.” The occasional positive comments were lost in a sea of stubborn bigotry. 

It doesn’t matter what bright, shiny, new signs hang from the buildings -- residents have made it loud and clear that they will continue to refer to these schools as Lee-Davis and Stonewall Jackson. How many years will it take for the new names -- Bell Creek Middle School and Mechanicsville High School -- to be accepted? 

Hanover County is just one example of a small town stuck in the past, but there are similar pockets across the United States. At least for now, Hanover residents will scream into the virtual void while much of the world, like Richmond, moves forward.



 

A Visit to the Marcus-David Peters Circle

Richmond is home to a new national treasure.

By Taya Coates

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Handmade ‘Black Lives Matter’ signs hang in the houses’ windows on Monument Avenue, scattered along the road’s length like flower petals. The Marcus-David Peters Circle sits as an island oasis at the intersection of Monument and N Allen Ave. This iconic area is completely encapsulated in a roundabout. Saturated colors meet the eye from all directions, the once brown concrete and white marble decorated now with a rainbow of powerful script. Even the outer barrier is decorated with colorful bubble letters stating things like “Love is Law” and “BLM,” leading to the lawn where many stand in awe at the work of art.


The statue commemorating Confederate General Robert E. Lee stands defaced at the center, so high one has to tilt their head towards the blinding sun to see the explicative on the underside of the horse Lee sits atop of. Once serving to glorify Confederate morals, the narrative of the statue has been reclaimed by the people. The spray-painted words convey the raw response of anger that many people of color experienced in recent months due to the many incidents of police brutality. What was a monument for an institution that preached racism and exploitation now stands for justice and change. Recently, The New York Times named the Robert E. Lee Statue in its current state the Most Influential Work of American Protest Art Since World War II.

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 While the statue is the main attraction, the circle offers so much more to the community. The area has been named the Marcus-David Peters Circle by protestors, a tribute to a 24-year-old Black man who lost his life at the hands of an officer in Richmond in 2018. His lesser-known story is one of an individual needing emergency mental health assistance and receiving a death sentence instead. Peters was a VCU alumnus, a teacher in Henrico, and had no history of substance abuse or mental illness that his family knew of. How he ended up in that mental state remains much of a mystery today, leaving his family without closure or justice. The area taking Peter’s namesake touched his family members. In an interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, his sister said, “I love it, and the reason why I do is the family had no idea this was going to happen. We love it so much because it was done by the community”. Attempts for reform have happened since his death, like the Marcus Alert Bill, now named House Bill 5043. The House approved the bill in September and by the Senate in October but still has a few more steps to go through before it can be put in effect by the Governor. The bill proposes that future responses to mental health calls be completed by a team of mental health professionals and officers, creating a database of citizens with mental health conditions for responders, and further required training on how to handle situations properly.

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The protestors that took matters into their own hands have planted the seeds of a new beginning for the Richmond area. Lined along the bottom of the statue, there are mini-memorials for Peters, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many other police brutality victims whose stories were not covered on national news like Richmond’s own Marco Loney. On the outskirts, there is a community garden sponsored by a local church and a basketball court that provides a safe space for Richmond youth to gather. The Marcus-David Peters Circle will forever be a symbol of the community’s strength and a standing history lesson.



Dear Abby

By Abby Reasor

Dear Abby,

 

How do I stop treating my online classes as optional? I can’t grasp that college is still happening. 

 

From a Lazy Learner 

  [View Image]

Set up your office space away from your bed and out of your bedroom if possible. You need to say “Hey Brain! This is where work happens, and this is where relaxing happens.” Creating this separation can help you be more productive -- you’ll get in the “work” mindset when you sit down to take some notes or hop on Zoom. 

Write down a to-do list and specify all of your due dates. Instead of opening every syllabus and digging through your email, you’ll have a record of everything coming up. Prioritize the closest dates and keep those looming assignments in the back of your mind. You won’t get caught frantically writing a discussion board post moments before midnight. 

This is obvious, but please put that phone on “Do Not Disturb.” I’m begging you. Scrolling through TikTok can wait until after that biology Zoom lecture. Your GPA is still real, even if earned on the computer. You can’t pull the same Pass/Fail move as last semester.

 

From Abby



Honors College Students and Faculty Adjust to the Loss of the Honors College Building

By Anna Mitchell

As the Fall 2020 semester continues, and the students have started to trickle back onto campus, life is returning to VCU. Even though the students are masked, and there is a space no smaller than six feet between each person, the lawns of Monroe Park are no longer empty, and the dorms, dining halls, and academic buildings have begun to flood with eager students once more. The pandemic has not stopped VCU students from thriving, and even though life is different in the era of coronavirus, both students and faculty have adjusted well to what is their new normal. 

 

However, for students and faculty affiliated with the Honors College, this new normal has required a bit more adjusting, as the Honors College building is now closed, and both students and faculty must now participate in all Honors events remotely. 

 

As students left Richmond to enjoy their spring breaks in the semester prior, coronavirus was nothing more than a small worry in the back of their heads. However, on March 11, VCU President Michael Rao released a statement announcing that due to the rising urgency of the pandemic, spring break had been extended by one week and that following the extended break, all classes would be held remotely online until further notice. 

 

As the pandemic and semester progressed, this change became permanent and all students living on campus removed their belongings from their dorms and moved back to their hometowns. The Honors College building, with its single bedrooms and bathrooms, was converted into a space for overflow patients with COVID, and this change continued into the Fall 2020 semester. 

 

Now that the Honors College is being used for a different purpose, both students and faculty are no longer permitted to enter the building. Faculty members must now teach remotely from home, students desiring to live on campus must stay in one of the other residence halls, and all first-year Honors College courses are now taught online. 

 

Honors College professor Christy Tyndall is one such professor affected by this change. Though Tyndall has been trying to keep on the bright side and acknowledge the positive parts of working from home, she does miss her office space in the Honors College and seeing both students and faculty as she walked around the building. 

 

“What I miss [is] the energy of being in person with the students,” Tyndall said. “I miss the opportunities for informal engagement, like seeing people in the hallway, or people popping their head in my office, that’s really something that I’ve missed … those opportunities for informal interactions with students and with colleagues.”

 

Tyndall coordinates the Honors College’s Student Wellbeing Program and teaches all sections of Flourishing, a required first-year course that teaches students about the intricacies and importance of mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing. The Fall 2020 semester was taught in a synchronous online format, and the Spring 2021 semester will follow suit.

 

Sections of Flourishing are usually quite small, with around 20 students and 2 teaching assistants for each section of the class. With the switch to online learning starting halfway through the Spring 2020 semester, Tyndall and the teaching assistants have successfully been able to adapt the class successfully for this new format, though Tyndall acknowledges that 

 

“With Flourishing, we’re fortunate in that we’ve been able to closely approximate the experience online,” Tyndall said. “It’s just different. There’s not as [many] opportunities for spontaneous engagement in the class. It’s more structured online than it is in person, but I still think we have ample opportunities for students to form connections in Flourishing.”

 

Tyndall also hosts Wind Down Wednesdays, a weekly event in which Honors College students come together to make arts and crafts, chat, earn engagement points, and relax from the stresses of the week. Wind Down Wednesdays are also being held online this semester. 

 

We’ve just had to be really creative in coming up with things for students to do with stuff they have on hand at home,” Tyndall said. “We’ve had to change the different supplies that are needed [and] be more creative.”

 

Normally, Wind Down Wednesdays are centered around arts and crafts, and past themes have included painting pumpkins in October, cutting out paper snowflakes in the winter, and using markers and colored pencils to fill in seasonal coloring pages. In the past, when Wind Down Wednesdays were in person, it was easy to distribute and gather supplies, find your seat in the room, and bond with other students while coloring with Crayola paints or creating vibrant, lively collages with a stack of old magazines. However, with the new online format, Wednesdays in the Honors College are now a bit different.

 

“We’re missing that opportunity for informal interaction,” Tyndall recalled. “That was one of the fun parts … sitting at a table, talking to people.”

 

However, even though Wind Down Wednesdays are now being hosted in Tyndall’s personal Zoom meeting room instead of in the large meeting room downstairs in the Honors College, students are still given the chance to meet new people and forge new friendships with the assistance of tools such as breakout rooms and by unmuting their microphones from time to time to show off that day’s drawing or craft. 

 

Additionally, the floor is now open for students to submit ideas for or even host Wind Down Wednesdays, and so far this semester, student-taught sessions have included character design, calligraphy, and introductory bullet journaling. Things may be different in the Honors College this year, but with the resilience, strength, and optimism of both students and faculty, good things have come out of this pandemic alongside the bad.

 

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Sophomore Jay Snyder offers another interesting perspective on what it’s like to be an Honors College student during a global pandemic, when students no longer have access to the Honors College building itself. Snyder serves as a teaching assistant for Rhetoric, a required first-year course in which Honors College students investigate topics they’re passionate about, learn how to conduct research using a variety of tools, and write a final paper discussing the topic of their research. 

 

This is Snyder’s first year serving as a teaching assistant for Rhetoric. Snyder works under professor Mary Boyes, and their sections are taught exclusively online this semester. Despite the rigor of taking on a challenging position and the overall stress of online classes, Snyder has found that working as a teaching assistant in an online setting actually works out very well for them. 

 

[Being a teaching assistant is] good for the most part,” Snyder said about their experience. “I just feel like students can feel disconnected [from each other] at some times.”

 

With all of the first-year Honors College courses being online this semester and the Honors College building itself closed to students, students no longer get the same social experience out of the Honors program as in years past.

 

Snyder, who lived in the Honors College dorms during their first year at VCU, sympathizes with the Class of 2024. 

 

I made friends with people almost immediately,” Snyder commented about their experience living in the dorms. “It was good to make friends that way, because then there were people taking similar classes to you, and you knew what to expect.”

 

While students still get the opportunity to meet each other through the first-year curriculum, opportunities for them to actually bond and develop friendships are limited, especially for students living off campus and attending online classes from home instead of the dorms on campus. This has a particularly big impact on Honors College students, 


“Obviously first semester students don’t know what to expect out of Rhetoric or Expository [Writing], but because you’re able to talk with people who are taking classes different from you [while living in the Honors College dorm], you get a sense of what’s coming up, and that’s really beneficial,” Snyder said. “Nobody gets that now because they’re not interacting outside of class and they’re hardly interacting with each other in class—they’re mostly interacting with the professor or TAso they’re not making friends or socializing. … It’s good to have support who understands what you’re going through.”

How the Country’s Youngest Voters Are Coping in the Lead Up to Election Results

By: Sahara Sriraman

It’s not a secret that the 2020 election was very much a high-stakes election. Voter turnout levels reached an unprecedented high prior to Tuesday, November 3rd, with previous non-voters registering so they could cast their ballot for the first time early. Not to mention, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a large number of American people sent their ballot from home. Due to this novel form of voter accessibility, there was a record number of overall votes cast in this country. Demographic groups that have previously been known to maintain generally low levels of voter turnout, such as racial and ethnic minorities and various socio-economic groups, have had a major increase in their voter turnout numbers in this year’s election. In addition to these groups who never exercised their right to vote before, people who have never had the ability to vote cast their ballots for the very first time. At the forefront of this groups are the younger, first-time voters who have only recently turned 18.

First-time presidential election voter, Vidhi Phadumdeo was the most influenced to vote because she has previously volunteered in elections, so she knew the importance of making your voice heard. Leading up to Tuesday, Vidhi tells me she was feeling extremely anxious and tried her best to reassure herself. Her worry about human rights issues also pushed her to exercise her right to vote. When asked about if she talked to anyone to help calm down, she stated that she confided in some friends who had also voted for the first time.

“We were all in this same ‘Oh my god, what’s going to happen? This is going to decide so much for our future.’ It definitely made me feel like I wasn’t crazy because I told my parents and they were like ‘What is wrong with you?’”

She tells me as someone who already does a lot of journaling, that helped her a little when dealing with all of the stress the election brought.

“I ended up just like going on a walk with my sister for a bit. We both left our phones at home and were just like ‘We’re not going to look at the election’ and just chilled by ourselves for a bit.”

Another first-time voter, Kaitlyn Fulmore says she was the most inspired to register so that she could have her voice heard and to also influence others to do the same. As a passionate environmentalist, Fulmore felt compelled to make herself heard now more than ever. During the days leading up to the election results, Fulmore began to get nervous when she saw how close the election was becoming. She tells me that she tried to distract herself the best she could while waiting for the results.

“At one point, I was like ‘Ok, we’re not going to know what happened because of all the battleground states,’ so I turned off the news, I watched a couple episodes of Schitt’s Creek, and then I went to bed.”

Fulmore says her biggest fear is what might come after the election.

“I think there will be an even bigger divide between [the] left and right because I don’t think we should be making it bigger; we should be coming together.”

“But at the end of the day, we have to put our trust in the voting process,” she says.

Dear Abby

By Abby Reasor 

Dear Abby,

 

My online classes are making me hate my computer! How do I maintain a healthy relationship with my screen?

 

From a Zonked Zoom Student

 

You can’t spend every waking moment glued to your laptop -- you’ll be more burnt out than a VCUarts skater boy. When you take a break from work, don’t mindlessly scroll through Instagram. That’s just a smaller screen! Take a little walk outside to see something that isn’t digital. Maybe there will even be a cute dog! If you just need to consume online content, listen to some music or a podcast. 

Buy some blue light glasses! They filter out the harsh light that your computer screen produces, reducing the strain on your eyes. I’m often a skeptic when it comes to products like this, so I’m not here to sell you essential oils or herbal supplements. However, I believe in the headache-reducing power of my blue-light glasses. You can grab a pair for under $15 online, and you can make a fashion statement. You’ll be protected and stylish.

Don’t get all of your textbooks online. Keep Virginia Book Company in business -- rent a printed version if possible. Looking at physical pages is great for a change of scenery. There’s something nice about flipping physical pages, don’t you think? Highlighting with a marker feels a lot more legit than clicking to highlight the text. Similarly, write down your notes in a notebook instead of typing them on the computer. Handwriting is better for memorization, and it keeps you from staring at that glowing box. 

Your eyes will thank you for setting a few boundaries with your computer. While your Weekly Screen Time Report may still be embarrassing, it could be worse. At least you aren’t stuck wearing a mask in a lecture hall. 

 

From Abby



Honors Course Spotlight: VCU Votes

Combining collaboration, creativity, and student engagement to increase voter turnout.

By Taya Coates

VCU Votes Logo [View Image]

 

The VCU Votes logo.

 

With an intense presidential election looming, politics is understandably at the forefront of most of our minds. Normally, the walkways near Cabell library and the University Student Commons would be lined with voter registration tables. Like everything else this year, the lack of in-person opportunities affects the way Rams get involved. 

This deficiency of events could decrease the number of active voters on campus and damage VCU’s reputation as one of the best colleges for student voting. The VCU Votes course could not have come at a more perfect time. The course strives to increase voter awareness with VCU students on social media, serving as the perfect substitute for the usual approach.

 

According to the course list, “VCU Votes is a special topics class in which undergraduate students explore the theory and practice of social media in political communication – especially in the context of the 2020 presidential election”. The class offers so much more to students beyond the description. Lectures cover everything from voter suppression to social media campaign strategies. Assignments are not centered around tests, rather focused on the team effort of running an assigned VCU Votes social media page. 

 

As a member of the Instagram team, I have greatly enjoyed working at the intersection of graphic design and social media campaigning. There is a ton of room for creativity and my amazing team is always generating new ways to get our peers engaged.

 

A collage of social media posts from VCU Votes’ Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram social media accounts. [View Image]A collage of social media posts from VCU Votes’ Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram social media accounts. [View Image]

A collage of social media posts from VCU Votes’ Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram social media accounts.

 

The VCU Votes class expands into the larger network of staff and the VCU Votes Student Coalition. The organization works to serve as a resource for students and help them get to the polls. The organization is making quite a splash on campus, racking up features on many campus outlets like VCU News, local outlets like NBC 12, and even receiving a nod from President Rao on Twitter.

 

This timely course provides students with the perfect platform to express their passion for creating a civically engaged campus. While the main goal is to educate, the great thing about social media accounts is that they are a two-way street. The conversation aspect allows students to express what matters most to them and ask questions. Creating educated student voters is important because the four years spent at college is the perfect time to create a habit of voting. Most college freshmen just reached the age requirement to vote, and if the habit is established early and reinforced for years on end, they will graduate as citizens who can go out in their respective communities and increase voter turnout.


If you are passionate about voting, VCU Votes may be the perfect class for you! Keep an eye out for the course in upcoming semesters and follow @vcuvotes on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for the latest updates!

VCU's New Safety and Wellbeing Model

By Shea Wenzler

 

In the midst of riots in response to police brutality and calls to abolish VCU PD, President Michael Rao announced some changes to VCU’s policing.  These transitions involve moving from policing the community to a more equitable and holistic system in order to ensure the safety and well-being of the students and citizens that the department serves.  The university aims to accomplish this goal through a five point plan consisting of the following: establishing a civilian oversight and advisory function, workforce realignment, fair and impartial policing, transparent metrics, and community feedback.  What does this new commitment mean for the VCU Police Department and the VCU community?

 

Civilian Oversight and Advisory Function

In President Rao’s announcement, he stresses that the oversight for campus safety is civilian, with VCU police officers falling under the jurisdiction of VCU Human Resources and safety being coordinated by the vice president of administration.  However, the new safety model now includes a civilian advisory committee, to help oversee and review VCU’s safety and wellness activities. Students can directly share their opinions on the committee and the new safety model by submitting this Google Form, or emailing safetymodel@vcu.edu

 

Workforce Realignment

In roles that do not require police officers, VCU has now replaced officers with unsworn and unarmed safety and mental health professionals.  Also, whereas students used to have to call VCU PD if they were experiencing a mental health emergency, they can now call University Counseling Services.  While these moves may prove vital in reducing the amount of police encounters that result in the use of force, the university has made it  unclear as to what specific situations they will deploy safety and mental health professionals in place of police officers. 

 

Fair and Impartial Policing

President Rao’s announcement states that VCU has and will continue to implement policies and training to encourage fair and equitable treatment of all members of the community.  Examples of these include implicit bias awareness training and participation in the One Mind Campaign, to improve police responses to people suffering from mental illness. It is worth noting that the baseline implicit bias awareness class for recruits and patrol officers offered by Fair and Impartial Policing is only 8 hours long. Mental Health First Aid training courses sponsored by the One Mind Campaign are also only 8 hours. Based on President Rao’s announcement and the VCU Police Department’s website, it is unclear whether officers are expected to attend these classes multiple times, or if  they only need to complete the classes once. 

 

Transparent Metrics

VCU currently tracks and releases performance data through safety reports and crime logs which can be found on the VCU Police website. Currently, the university is developing a public safety dashboard which will include officer complaints, department use of force and resolution, random body worn video camera reviews, and excessive use of force complaints.  This dashboard is not currently available to the public. 

 

Community Feedback

Students can currently give feedback on the new VCU Safety model through the VCU Police website, the LiveSafe mobile app, by submitting this Google Form, or by emailing safetymodel@vcu.edu

 

Only time will tell if the changes to VCU’s policing has the administration’s desired effect.  There is clear evidence that the university is attempting to change it’s police department for the better.  However, everybody involved could benefit from increased transparency and clarity about what policies will be used in specific situations, and how debiasing and mental health training works for VCU police officers.



Honors Freshmen Housing

By Kaitlyn Fulmore

 

I applied to the VCU honors college one day before the deadline.

Even before Covid-19, my life was a mess, and I had no idea what I wanted to do in college. My friend, who was at the time an honors freshman at VCU, texted me the day before asking if I had applied. I hadn’t.

“Why should I?” I asked.

“Well, you get your own dorm and bathroom.”

I was sold.

 

As Covid-19 began to shut down businesses and schools, I still held on to a hope that we would have a normal fall semester. However, as VCU shut down and converted the Honors College into a location for hospital overflow, worries about having the dorm ready for freshmen in the fall grew. 

 

On June 17th, the Honors College Housing sent out an email informing freshmen that the Honors College would be used to “house low acuity patients”. Freshmen who were originally planning to stay in the Honors dorm were given the option to stay home, stay in Gladding Residence Center (GRC), or stay at the Graduate Hotel (which was later changed to Cary and Belvidere). These new housing options did not have the option for living alone, and honors students previously looking forward to a single dorm would now have to decide if they wanted to live with a roommate. In a poll completed by 50 honors freshmen, 58% said that one of the main reasons they applied to the Honors College was for the single dorm provided.

 

“One of the most appealing things about the Honors College to me was the dorm, so it [not having the option for the honors single dorm] was a little disappointing. My mom had told me that ‘oh you’re going to have a lot of roommate horror stories if you don’t get this, you don’t want that,’” freshman Claire Darcy, who opted to stay home for the Fall semester, said.

 

With honors students now being divided between home, GRC, and Cary and Belvidere, many freshmen feel like the advertised  Honors College community is harder to be a part of, whether it be because of the mainly Zoom communication, the physical separation, or the honors classes not being in one place. 

 

“For me personally it’s been a lot harder to connect to everything when it’s all through Zoom. You feel less present then you would if you were doing things in person, or meeting face to face other members of the honors community. Obviously I know a few people around the hall, but I don't really feel like I’m in this big Honors College community,” freshman Arbi Abazi, who is staying in GRC, said.

 

Some members, however, are grateful for this unique experience.

 

“I probably would have just been extremely lonely [in the Honors College]. Having a roommate is actually pretty great, and being in Cary and Belvidere actually facilitates that even better, because we have our own rooms. We have our own space, but we also have a common area,” freshman Fabian Fontanez said.

 

The honors dorm was not the only part of the Honors College community that freshmen were looking forward to. Students were also looking forward to the smaller (in person) class sizes and engagement events.

 

“I thought those would probably be like the most helpful aspects of the Honors College, because they give you more opportunities to discover interesting things and get to know your professors,” Arbi said.

 

Although freshman year isn’t at all how we expected it to be, I and other Honors freshmen are hopeful for the future. Getting involved with other honors programs, like Honors Student Executive Board, has made me feel like I’m in the honors community. Virtual zooms aren't the same as in person connections, but it also makes every club much more available- with the ability to attend meetings at any location possible now. 

 

“I'm starting to find the positives of staying at home, like I didn’t have to leave my pets behind, I can have candles in my room, I don’t have to pay for a meal plan. I’m hoping to have [the Honors College] experiences next year or in the spring,” Claire said.




 

How Should Disruptive Parties be Addressed?

By Malina Gavris

 

Since the start of the semester, there have been at least 265 on campus cases of coronavirus according to the VCU COVID-19 Dashboard. 253 of these have been student cases. Although VCU’s infection rate is lower than other Virginia schools, such as JMU’s (which surpassed 1,000 cases), the coronavirus still poses a great danger to campus life. To promote safety, VCU leadership has called for a plethora of regulations which include: wearing face masks in common areas, upholding physical distancing, and limiting gatherings to a max of ten people. Despite the rules, it’s college, and a lot of students really haven’t been listening. 

 

Every day, talks and rumours about parties circulate around the student body. These parties and rowdy gatherings are happening on and off campus and are particularly prevalent amongst freshmen. On August 26, VCU’s Public Health Advisory announced that eight students who tested positive for COVID-19 had recently attended a party. Even though VCU has issued a statement saying that “Students hosting parties or other personal gatherings on or off-campus with more than 10 people are subject to interim suspension,” the party scene is still very much alive and a clear issue. 

 

The problem now shifts to how these disruptive parties should be addressed by other students. Many people are faced with the dilemma of whether to snitch or not snitch. It’s the wellbeing of the campus versus the consequences for partygoers, some of which may be friends or peers. The question of whether or not to call the police on partiers is also up for debate. 

 

When it comes to large parties during COVID, freshman Sahara Sriraman states that “I think that college parties right now are the most inconsiderate and frankly idiotic idea ever. The fact that people are willing to risk their lives and other people’s lives in order to get a few hours of fun is beyond me”. Sriraman notes that it is difficult to monitor all student events but thinks that “The students at these parties should be reprimanded. It could be like a 3 strikes thing: the first time is a warning, the second time is some kind of punishment, and the third time is being sent home. It might seem severe but I don’t think this issue should be taken lightly, especially when people’s lives are on the line.”

 

Some sort of reprimand for partygoers seems to be the consensus, and junior Kali Delay thinks that fines could be a good idea to implement. However, when it comes to students alerting the police, Delay stresses that “In regards to calling the police, I think that puts certain students too much at risk. I agree that there should be some form of punishment in regards to fines, but I think it’d be much better for everyone’s safety if these issues were addressed by CDC response teams rather than local law enforcement (who don’t even follow COVID guidelines themselves).” 

 

Concerns about police involvement are definitely viable, especially given the recent protests in response to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other victims of police brutality It may be wiser for students to contact an RA or a school official if they need to report a party. 

 

Overall, college life during the pandemic is tough. It’s definitely hard to resist the allure of parties, especially when it comes to students who are new on campus, and have been subjected to a socially distant summer. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember why social distancing regulations were put in place. As Delay explains, “We may not be the highest age demographic in fatalities, but it doesn’t mean we’re immune, or that it hasn’t already permanently altered hundreds of thousands of lives.” The best thing for all VCU students to do is to avoid large gatherings, follow the advised regulations, and to responsibly report instances of safety violations to the proper school authorities. 



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