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.

 

Honors Organization Spotlight: Dressember

Show off your style for a great cause.

By: Taya Coates

I want to be part of the generation that ends human trafficking. Do you? [View Image]

 

Photo Credit: @dressemberatvcu on Instagram

 

Human trafficking is one of the largest issues our country faces today. Traffickers profit approximately $150 billion each year off of assault, and the industry is growing every day. This issue is particularly important to Richmond because Richmond falls among the top 20 cities with high trafficking rates. As our campus is an integral part of the city community, this an issue that is impossible to ignore.

 

Since fall 2019, a group of Honors students has been hard at work to change that statistic.

Dressember is a national organization and movement founded in 2009. Participants wear dresses or ties for the entire month of December to create awareness and fundraise for human trafficking. According to the official Dressember website, “the dress is our uniform, the flag of our movement. Dressember is an opportunity to reclaim and reappropriate the dress as a symbol of freedom and power; a flag for the inherent dignity of all people”.

 

I spoke with founder Sammy Shabon, a sophomore from Aldie, Virginia, about the addition of this amazing organization to our campus.

 

TC: How did you get the idea to create a Dressember chapter at VCU?

 

SS: I was involved with the anti-human trafficking club at my high school three years prior and advocated during my senior year. When I came to VCU as a freshman, it was one of the first things I looked for on campus. After not finding a chapter, I decided to start one of my own. 

 

TC: What do you love about Dressember? 

 

SS: I love the power it gives us advocates, whoever we may be — whether that be college students, working moms, or community members — to make a significant difference in the fight against human trafficking. I love that the movement relies on the efforts of everyday samaritans, and I love seeing how big of an impact we actually can have when we come together.

 

TC: What is your vision for Dressember at VCU? How do you plan to interact with Honors students and the larger VCU community?

 

SS: Obviously, we’ve had to redefine our “interactions” with other organizations and the community in large due to COVID, but our collaboration with the Honors Colleges’ Berglund Seminars this past semester is a great example of how we’ve maintained advocating for our cause, albeit virtually.

Flyer for a Dressember Berglund Event [View Image]

 

Photo Credit: @dressemberatvcu on Instagram

 

This spring, we co-hosted a talk with the Center for Human Health and Rights at VCU in which staff members of the nonprofit organization Safe Harbor, who specialize in support of survivors of sexual and domestic violence and human trafficking, were invited to come and discuss warning signs and signals of human trafficking. 

 

Going forward, we’d love to do more Berglund Seminars through the Honors College to give Honors students an opportunity to both gain engagement points and gain insight into our mission as an organization. As soon as it becomes safe to do so, we also hope to host more in-person events/fundraisers to promote our commitment to ameliorating the lives of survivors.

 

As COVID-19 restrictions slowly decrease, I envision Dressember at VCU mobilizing more students, collaborating with other active organizations, and hopefully growing exponentially so we can gain a stronger foothold in the Richmond community and expand upon our mission.

 

TC: Favorite thing about the Dressember team?

 

SS: My favorite thing about the Dressember team is the sense of friendship and community we’ve been able to build because of it. The concept of socializing has certainly evolved drastically with covid, but I’m really fortunate that many of the advocates have continued with their commitments to Dressember amidst the unpredictability of these past several months. I think this has created a really beautiful stability for all of us. I really appreciate that I can always count on another advocate if I ever need anything and that we’ve all been able to maintain our connections even as other things in our lives have fallen apart. As they say “friends who advocate together, stay together!”.





Organization Spotlight: Triangle Club at VCU

By Amelia Gulding

Last Fall, second-year VCU student Keaton Thorum, along with peers Katherine Noble and Lucifer Hornbeck, created Triangle Club to fill the void they saw in LGBT+ opportunities on campus. 

 

“No matter how many clubs are out there for queer advocacy there’s still always room for more,” says Thorum. “We started the triangle club initially because we saw that there wasn’t a lot of clubs out there that specifically focused on queer socialization and social issues as well as health advocacy.”

 

Thorum now acts as President of Triangle Club, though his co-founders had to take a step back from participating in the organization due to the stresses of the pandemic. “COVID has been immensely difficult for them both… That just shows how much resources we need to bring to students,” explains Thorum. The pandemic has surely exacerbated preexisting social ailments and inequities that members of the LGBT+ community disproportionately experience, such as housing insecurity or unemployment. Such conditions provide the opportune moment for an organization like Triangle Club to come into fruition, and provides the drive for members of the Triangle Club to engage in advocacy. “I like to motivate the group, and I think that comes from me being really motivated to change what I have around me,” says Thorum. 

 

Triangle Club was founded upon the three pillars of socialization, health advocacy, and education, and the group routinely organizes events and opportunities that emulate these missions. Past social events have included an  LGBT+ documentary screening, queer trivia and games night, and presentation on significant queer female figures in history. They facilitate a mentorship program between club members and graduate students in the VCU professional health LGBT+ clubs Med with Pride and PrideRx, offering academic and career advice through the specific lens of being queer in the professional world. Additionally, Triangle Club has begun planning volunteer opportunities that allow members to engage in LGBT+ advocacy, which they are looking to expand upon in the future. 

 

“Having LBGT friends, I have been acutely aware of the struggles that the community faces and how little resources there actually are [for them]” says Charles Tran, Health Chair of the organizations. Tran is responsible for building and maintaining relationships with other volunteer and non-profit organizations across the greater Richmond area such as Diversity Richmond, who fundraises for LGBT+ causes across Central Virginia, and the Doorways, which provides housing, food, and amenities for patients receiving treatment at medical facilities across Richmond and their families. “I’ve always been bothered by disparities in health care, especially since I have queer friends that have been facing [the] consequences,” Tran continues. “I was drawn in because Keaton being one of my friends also motivated me to stand up more. He’s an inspiring person.”

 

This spring was the first semester of the Triangle Club being an official VCU organization, so the executive board and founding members are still in the process of receiving funding, increasing participation, and asserting themselves in the VCU and Richmond communities. When discussing future plans, Thorum says that “our goal is really bringing people together so that we have one common goal.” Some upcoming events are already in the works, such as a a speaker series in which queer community members who run organizations or businesses talk about their journies and experiences. 

 

“There’s a lot of students, especially queer students, who don’t necessarily have a place either on campus or even at their own home where they can feel comfortable to be who they are,” says Thorum. “I always end this off for my meetings and emails that we send for Triangle Club: If you haven't heard this today: you are loved and you are valid… I think that that message in general can hit hard for those who may not have received that-- I guess satisfaction-- of having those relationships with people generally checking up on them, especially if they are in an unsupportive familial condition or there just in a place that doesn’t allow them to be who they are.”



Your Spring 2021 Honors Horoscope

By Abby Reasor (Taurus)

 

Looking to the stars for guidance? Here’s some astrological advice for my fellow VCU Honors students. It will be hard to convince Ben Plache to add an Honors Astrology course, but this will have to suffice in the meantime. 

 

Aries: I know that online classes are getting under your skin -- you want to scream when your professor forgets to unmute. Take some advice from Professor Tyndall: stop, breathe, be. Should you consider hopping on the Wind Down Wednesday Zoom next week?

 

Taurus: WFH is pretty great! Take advantage of these virtual Berglunds and get some engagement points from the comfort of your bed. This won’t be forever, though -- start to mentally prepare for when you have to “go” to school again. 

 

Gemini: You’re basically the CEO of virtual communication. Check up on your friends who you haven’t heard from in a while -- you know if a text, FaceTime or DM is the right move. If you’re both on campus, suggest getting takeout together from your favorite spot in Richmond. 

 

Cancer: You need a break from life. Take a day to ignore your homework, studying and other responsibilities. What can you accomplish without looking at a screen? Take a long walk, do some yoga or read a book. Those activities are a little cliché, but everyone's a little bit cliché sometimes. 

 

Leo: Crank up the music for some study motivation! If you’re sick of your own playlists, try listening to the film scores of your favorite movies. The beats from those action scenes will create some energy, and you will definitely feel like the main character.

 

Virgo: Who have you been avoiding emailing recently? The introduction or wording of your question isn’t as important as it seems in your head. If it’s a professor, they will probably have “Sent from my iPhone” at the end of their three word response anyways. 

 

Libra: Can’t decide what classes to take next semester? It might be time to consult your advisor. It’s not the most exciting advice, but schedule that appointment soon before their Google Calendar fills up.

 

Scorpio: You need to tell your professor if you need an extension or clarification! Drop into those Zoom office hours or send a quick email, even if it’s a bit uncomfortable. You’re probably overthinking the situation anyway.

 

Sagittarius: If you wish you were on a semester abroad, you aren’t alone. Mess around on Google Earth and watch some documentaries about where you’d like to visit. Your time to travel will come eventually. 

 

Capricorn: If you’re taking the reins on every group project this semester, step back and let your partners do some of the work. The end result won’t be exactly what you imagined, but it’s okay to relinquish that control. 

 

Aquarius: Volunteering is good for you, the community and your resume! Who have you helped recently, and where else can you get involved? There’s probably an opportunity calling your name in an upcoming Honors Weekly Update email. 

 

Pisces: You need to release some creative energy. Add some artistic flair to a school project, or find a hobby that allows you to harness that inner Picasso. You don’t have to be a VCUarts student to enjoy it. 



I’m obviously not an astrology major -- you decide if you want to pursue this cosmic consultation. What’s the worst that could happen, though?



Random COVID-19 testing on Campus

Is this the new normal? 

 

By Taya Coates

A scientist examining vials in a lab [View Image]

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels

 

I was genuinely surprised when I received notice to schedule a random COVID-19 testing appointment as “surveillance testing requires VCU to test a random sample of... approximately 5 percent of residential students and approximately 2 percent of non-residential students and employees”.

 

I was unbothered by the requirement because I view providing data for the university as an obligation for students on campus. Data collection on cases and provides statistics to help evaluate future plans and frankly, peace of mind. While the campus is fairly empty this semester compared to usual numbers, it is required that all contribute to the community’s research. 

VCU stated, “the decision was made to make asymptomatic testing mandatory for all students and employees who spend time on campus for the spring 2021 semester to ensure a large enough pool.” 

 

Impressively, the process was fairly smooth and only took a few minutes out of my day. There were plenty of times to choose from, so it did not interfere with anything on my schedule. I simply walked a few minutes from my dorm to the testing site, currently at the Capital Assets and Real Estate Building near the VCUarts Depot. When I arrived, I was asked for my ID as expected but then was asked to show my appointment QR code. The only instructions I received in emails were to show up with my student ID and mask. When I participated in exit testing back in November, no code was required because employees were checking people in by hand off of alphabetized lists. 

 

I was glad to see the process had moved from paper to electronic, but missing that detail delayed my check-in by a few minutes. Logging into the Kallaco website, waiting for it to load, and pulling up the code in the grand scheme of things is insignificant, but details like these can add up over time and drag out the process when testing begins on a larger scale. 

 

Our random testing model is sufficient in the current state of primarily online classes and high safety regulations, but what is the long-term sustainability of random testing? A five percent sample will not be the safest option to monitor the spread on campus in the near future as reopening appears to be on the horizon due to the increasing availability of vaccines. VCU’s next steps are up in the air, along with student and staff responses to changes in testing.

[View Image]

Photo by Stanley Morales from Pexels

 

Schools across the state are approaching testing in various ways, some of which’s tactics could benefit the VCU community while transitioning to reopening.

 

After a slight spike in cases at the end of February, George Mason University has required on-campus students to be tested twice a week. Kenya, a sophomore, states that “I have a love/hate relationship with it because it was annoying at first to get tested twice a week. Now it’s kind of something that’s just another thing added to my schedule.” George Mason’s dedication to requiring frequent student testing has led to them having some of the lowest numbers of any college in the state, with only 14 active student cases as of March 14th, compared to VCU’s 41 active student cases on the same date. From Kenya’s perspective, students can integrate frequent testing into their lives just as other covid safety protocols like wearing a mask have become second nature.

 

James Madison University sent students home a week after the August 26 start of the semester due to an alarming amount of cases. Upon the student’s October return, the university made some changes to prevent another huge outbreak. Curtis, a freshman, was glad students had to participate in rapid entry testing before they moved in. “I felt a lot better knowing we all were negative before going back to the dorm and seeing my friends. I got selected for random testing  last week and it was no inconvenience for me”. The university currently follows an approach similar to VCU’s five percent random asymptomatic testing but instead of five percent of all students, it is five percent of students in each dorm every week. As of March 14th, the university has 84 active student cases, a large improvement from last fall.

 

Virginia Tech also has a prevalence testing system, for randomly selected students. As of March 14, there were 109 active student cases on campus, slightly higher than James Madison University. The details on how students are chosen for the sample were not listed on their website and are not known to students. This lack of transparency can be frustrating for some students. Tricia, a freshman, has been randomly tested six times since arriving on campus in August. She states, “I don’t understand why I’m selected for a “random” selection again when I was tested less than two weeks ago. I don’t have in-person classes and rarely go anywhere”. To have everyone on board, issues like this must be addressed to repair rapport with the students before implementing new strategies. 

 

VCU is taking significant first steps, such as the Fall 2021 Planning Student Survey released by email on March 12. The university announced the plan to “return to a more robust campus experience during the fall 2021 semester while adhering to the guidance of federal, state, and local governmental agencies...we anticipate receiving vaccinations this spring and summer and are planning vaccination clinics for our students, faculty, and staff as soon as vaccines become available.” The survey asked students about their comfort level with getting vaccinated, going to in-person classes, and living in dorms. Despite all the uncertainty, one thing is clear - it will genuinely take each member of every college community to create a sustainable and safe return to something close to normalcy.

 

 

Robert E. Lee Memorial Mayhem

The undecided fate of a new historical landmark.

 

By Taya Coates

 


Fences and workmen surround the newly reclaimed space in Marcus David Peters Circle [View Image]

Photo Credit: RVAHub

 

Richmond was attracting tourists from all over the state this past summer due to the new historical development. Citizens of the city reclaimed the monument for Robert E. Lee and turned it into a memorial for Marcus David Peters, a Black VCU alumna murdered by police in 2018, and many other victims of police brutality. People of all ages and races flocked to the enclosure to witness one of the boldest acts in history right in front of their eyes.

 

After six months as a lively reclaimed community spot, the Marcus-David Peters Circle was taken away from the public. Governor Northam approved the removal of the monument back in June, during the development of the Marcus David Peters Circle. No action was taken throughout the summer due to legal complications. In the following months, the fate of the monument laid in the hands of the courts in a tug of war of cases to remove the monument and appeals fighting against the removal of the statue. 

 

The first action to come from these trials was on January 25 when crews began to install eight foot fences around the circle. According to a statement from the Department of General Services,  “.. the fence will be installed around the Lee Monument grounds for the safety of visitors and workers in preparation for the removal of the Lee statue on Monday.” That was two months ago, and the monument still stands. So what happened? 

 

The delay was due to the efforts of organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia (ACLU of Va.). who claims that it is unconstitutional to put up fencing around the monument at the moment because the final approval to remove has not been given to the active case. The organization states on their petition that as of now, the monument is protected under the first amendment as a “traditional public forum”. 

A closeup on part of the fence around Marcus David Peters Circle [View Image]

Photo Credit: RVAHub

 

You can still drive and walk by the monument circle to catch a glimpse of what the glory days of the circle were like in the summer. Today, a space that was once full of people appreciating the efforts of the community during such a hard time stands relatively abandoned. I went by on a Sunday afternoon and was deeply saddened by the scene. Compared to my visit in August, the circle was a ghost town. The fence’s presence was a physical representation of restraints on protest imposed by the Virginia government.

 

The new expected date of removal is July 2021, an insensitive deadline considering it aligns with many one-year anniversaries of the very murders that sparked the protests that lead to citizens reclaiming the statue in the first place. The liveliness of the Marcus David Peters circle was halted, but the voices of the community will not be stifled for long. No matter the fate of the Marcus David Peters Circle, the legacy of the area will forever live on. The community created a space for healing and reflection while honoring those that lost their lives due to racism and anyone who saw the monument and Marcus David Peters Circle will never forget that. 

 

If you are interested in preserving the monument and the Marcus David Peters Circle you can sign the petition here and follow ACLU of Va for updates. 




Dear Abby

By Abby Reasor

Dear Abby, 

 

I’ve never been deeper in the online school rut. How do I rekindle my inspiration?


From an Unmotivated Undergraduate

 

Tap into your childhood hobbies. What did you love before society made you think your passions were silly or weird? Did you read fantasy novels, play the piano or draw? Spending your free time on a “childish” activity will be more inspiring than mindlessly scrolling on TikTok, and you might find that your passion still exists. Honestly, I’ve spent my free time painting with watercolors, rereading YA book series and playing Wii. Those activities give me a break from staring at my computer, and they remind me of before I had “adult” responsibilities. 

 

Even if you don’t want to log into Webkinz (or you just can’t find your password), try out a different computer game or app. If you can’t think of something original to draw, pick up an adult coloring book. Not having ballet shoes doesn’t mean you can’t dance around your room to your favorite music. 

 

Look, I know that new activities can be expensive. I’ve always thought pottery would be a rewarding hobby, but I don’t exactly have the funds or space for the clay, wheel and kiln. However, spending a few dollars may be worth it for resparking your motivation and imagination. Pick up a pack of colored pencils and a notebook, or splurge on the 99 cent game that you’ve been eyeing in the App Store. Checking out a book from the library costs nothing but your time. 

 

Some simple, youthful hobbies should remind you of your roots! Take a break from pre-recorded lecture videos and textbook readings, and hopefully you’ll find the inspiration to get through this semester. You got this!

 

From Abby



VCU on TikTok

By Malina Gavris

We’ve all had it. That feeling when all you want to do is toss your textbook aside, let your mind go blank, belly-flop into bed, and aimlessly scroll through TikTok. You watch the latest recipe trend, maybe a funny skit, and finally see that one video that makes you go “That’s enough Tiktok for today”. Although sometimes pointless, TikTok is a fun way to pass the time, especially during a socially-distanced pandemic. As many students in the Honors College have elected to stay at home this semester, it can be hard to really connect with the VCU community when you’re not attending in-person classes or walking through the bustling streets downtown. The divide between campus and COVID reality pastimes led us to wonder; is VCU on TikTok? How is our school community represented on the popular app and what can we learn from these student-made TikToks? 

A quick look-up on the search bar brings up a multitude of diverse videos including compilations of fun things to do on campus. Mentions of Belle Isle and Insomnia Cookies are frequent. Some students even explain their top foodie reccomendations in detail. One shoutout video includes Kung Fu Tea located on West Grace Street. This boba tea place is a customer favorite and their fruity and flavorful milk teas can serve as a delicious pick-me-up after a difficult test. Another worthwhile stop featured in a TikTok is Roots Natural Kitchen also located on West Grace Street. The build-your-own bowl concept is accentuated by Roots’ providement of healthy and nutritious ingredients such as sweet potato or BBQ tofu. If you’re a VCU student looking for new food to try, a scroll through TikTok is definitely worth your time.

Besides students, student organizations are also present on TikTok. VCU Sports Performance is an active user with a variety of videos showcasing student athletes to gym gains. Their video on the importance of a “strong mind, strong body” is an engaging lesson which emphasizes the importance of meditation and imagery when it comes to mental and physical health. Other organizations making their voice heard on TikTok are VCUArts and VCU Honors Ambassadors. The Honors Ambassadors page features all of this year’s student ambassadors in a humorous compilation of introductions. A quick look at their videos can introduce you to all of the students working to represent our beloved Honors College and you can also learn more about their majors and their interests.

For me, exploring VCU on TikTok was an interesting experience. Comical explanations about the school, shopping and dining suggestions, snippets from protests, and organization awareness videos were just some of the main TikToks that popped up. In the comment sections, students laughed along with the jokes and thanked the creators for their tips, tricks, and reccomendations. If you’re looking for something fun to pass the time or want to learn more about your own school community, look through TikToks about VCU and you are sure to have a fun and informative experience.



VCU seniors contemplate the possibility of an in-person graduation

By Sahara Sriraman

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has caused events and celebrations that people were excited about to be cancelled or postponed. Included in these important events is a common right of passage for emerging adults-- graduation. 

As the end of the 2021 academic year draws closer, people are beginning to discuss the class of 2021 graduation that is supposed to take place in May. Some VCU seniors have even begun pushing for what kind of graduation they want, whether it be normal and in-person or safe and virtual. 

Senior Political Science student Angelica Tsveykov said that she understands how significant it is when you graduate and what a big accomplishment it is, but she is also aware that we’re still in the middle of a global pandemic.

For that reason, she said she doesn’t think VCU’s class of 2021 should have an in-person graduation this spring.

“Yes, it will not feel the same, it will not feel great to be on a Zoom call, I’ll feel like I’m in class or something, I still would not want to risk other people’s lives,” Tsveykov said.

She said that she understands the perspectives of her fellow seniors who are really pushing for an in-person graduation this semester, but ultimately, it comes down to the well-being of everyone.

“In this pandemic, we really have to set aside, sometimes, our wants and look at what we really need as a community, not just our community at VCU,” Tsveykov said.

She said that we students need to be aware of the impact we live on the Richmond community when we leave as well.

Another student, senior Political Science student, Gennaro Milo also agrees that this year’s graduation should be virtual for safety reasons, but provided a different approach to dealing with this problem. 

Milo said that VCU should consider doing individual graduations for each school (School of Fashion, School of Political Science, etc). 

He also said he would push for a later in-person graduation when it is safe.

“I think they should allow everyone who didn’t get to graduate in person since the start of the pandemic to be able to have a chance to be able to graduate in person,” Milo said. 

Milo said that if he could speak to other seniors, he would say that if they’re going to advocate for a normal graduation this semester, they should advocate for individual graduations for each school.

“They’ll be able to manage it better that way and might even consider it because I think a huge graduation they’re not going to even consider, I don’t think they should,” Milo said. 

VCU itself is currently working on a possible solution for this quickly approaching problem. Michael Porter, the Associate Vice President for VCU’s Public Affairs, said via email that VCU will not announce their final decision on the semester’s graduation for the class of 2021 until March. VCU also won’t announce if they will hold a later graduation until March.

He said that deciding factors on whether the university holds a commencement ceremony for the class of 2021 include COVID-19 positivity rate and trends on campus, in the city of Richmond and throughout the state.

Porter said other factors VCU will consider when making this decision include the availability and amount of COVID vaccines along with state and federal guidelines on large gatherings.

 

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 

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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!

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