Alpha Xi Delta Philanthropy Change
September 8, 2021
Following twelve years of support for Autism Speaks, Alpha Xi Delta has changed their philanthropy affiliation.
Autism speaks has faced criticism for various reasons: lack of autistic representation in decision-making positions; lack of funds going directly into services for autistic people and their families; and promoting anxiety and stereotypes towards autism and people with autism.
These concerns sparked conversations in the Alpha Xi Delta Community. According to the official statement about Alpha Xi Delta’s philanthropic focus, the decision to disassociate from the organization came from “feedback received in chapter conversations, Listening Sessions, individual communications and philanthropy survey results from nearly 4,000 Alpha Xi Delta members.”
While the decision occurred at the National level, Alma’s chapter had its share in the conversation. Elizabeth Gotaas, the chapter’s philanthropy vice president, says “our chapter had privately discussed ending our partnership with Autism Speaks when our National Sorority headquarters decided as an entire group to end the partnership, so the timing could not have been more perfect. Change was both on a small scale and large-scale level. Sisters from all over the country spoke about their need for change, including our own sisters, and our nationals responded in an appropriate matter.”
An Alpha Xi Delta sister, Kate Stymiest (‘22), recalls “At the end of last semester we started having conversations about moving away from Autism Speaks and focusing on more local work. Shortly after this, we received emails from nationals with a questionnaire regarding our feelings towards the organization. A few months following this, we received word that we were officially disaffiliating and seeking a new Philanthropy.”
The sorority announced that it will be partnering with a temporary philanthropy: the Kindly Hearts Campaign. This campaign is a year-long campaign focused on service and fundraising to support local communities in some of the areas most directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In response to this new philanthropy, chapter president Lexy Maas (‘22) shares, “I am looking forward to focusing on working with our local community this year! We love being able to give back and see the positive changes we make right here in Alma.”
Looking forward to working with this new philanthropy, Gotaas plans on “being more hands on with the students and seeing where our fundraising efforts go.” They plan to be able to personalize their spending more in order to tailor their fundraising to the unique needs of the Alma community.
A permanent philanthropy isn’t expected to be selected until prior to the fall of 2022. Until then, Maas says “I think overall the chapter is excited about the change! We are ready to revamp our philanthropy events and looking forward to what is coming.”
Taliban take control over Afghanistan
Sept. 8, 2021
In August, just two weeks before the United States was set to complete its troop withdrawal after a twenty-year war, the Taliban again seized power over Afghanistan—marking the first time the group has controlled the country since the early 2000s.
The collapse began on Friday, August 6. As the country fell, White House press secretary Jennifer Psaki spoke in support of the Afghan government, “Now is the moment for the leadership and the will in the face of the Taliban’s aggression and violence.”
But in just 11 days, the country of Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, with the group taking over provincial capitals and the key city of Kundez before seizing control of Afghanistan’s capital city, Kabul.
As major cities fell to the Taliban, the U.S.-trained Afghan military units gave up without a fight. By August 12, Ghazni was under Taliban power.
The next day, Taliban leaders informed U.S. officials they did not intend to seize Kabul, but rather to surround it. Officials did not believe the city was under imminent threat.
On Saturday, August 14, Gen. McKenzie, Central Command chief, met face-to-face with Taliban leaders, with the intention of warning the Taliban to stay out of Kabul. By Sunday, August 15, the Taliban entered the city.
Following the events in Kabul, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country. Shortly after this, members of the Taliban could be seen taking “selfies” in the presidential palace.
John Sopko has worked as the special inspector general for Afghanistan since 2012. Sopko was surprised by the speed of the government’s downfall.
“I did not think it would collapse this quickly,” Sopko said, “Although once it happened, we realized that all the preconditions for failure were there.”
Although the rapid overtaking of the country was surprising, conflict between Afghanistan and the Taliban is not new. From 1996 to 2001, the Taliban ran the country under a harsh interpretation of Islamic law.
Many Afghan people fear not only the current chaos and violence, but the reinstatement of the harsh laws put in place in the late 1990s. Afghan girls and women are concerned that they will again lose their rights to employment and education.
For Alma student Kaitlyn Stymiest (’23), hearing about the events in Afghanistan has been upsetting, but she is committed to learning more about the issue.
“My reaction to the ongoing events has been nothing short of heartbreaking,” Stymiest said, “Although, it’s been hard to decipher where my opinions lie right now, I can tell you that it has undoubtedly been saddening to watch unfold.”
Stymiest believes steps could have been taken years ago to prevent the Taliban from taking control of Afghanistan again and thinks it is important for the U.S. to take serious action now.
“We should have never been in Afghanistan to begin with and if not now, when?” Stymiest said. “There will never be a good time to pull out from the countries that we have severely destabilized.”
Benjamin Schall (’24) worries about the impact the Taliban’s rule will have on the lives of the Afghan people.
“I mainly feel scared for the people who are being uprooted from their lives by the Taliban’s control and women whose rights are being threatened by [the Taliban’s] enforced ideologies,” Schall said.
Like Stymiest, Schall feels that, had action been taken earlier, the current issue could have been prevented.
“I heard that [the U.S. was] starting to pull out even before defeat was assured,” Schall said. “So it might have turned out differently if they kept up defenses just as strong.”
Schall believes the U.S. is responsible for aiding the Afghan people. “As a world power with the resources to do so, it definitely bears most of the responsibility to help refugees,” Schall said.
“That is the most important thing they can do – provide evacuation efforts for any civilians who want to leave, and do not stop at American soldiers, as important as that is.”
The Delta Variant and Enhanced Unemployment
September 5 marked the end of the federally backed COVID-19 pandemic unemployment benefits. This spells the end for four types of unemployment benefits approved due to the COVID-19 pandemic: federal pandemic unemployment compensation, pandemic emergency unemployment compensation, mixed earners unemployment compensation and pandemic unemployment assistance. 7.5 million Americans will lose enhanced unemployment benefits as a result, according to a Century Foundation estimate.
The expiration of the benefits, which were intended to be temporary through the COVID-19 pandemic, coincided with the expected return to normalcy around Labor Day. With the rise of the COVID-19 Delta variant, return-to-office plans are being shelved, international tourism is largely shut down and entertainment and restaurant industries are seeing slowdowns according to the NY Times.
Long term unemployment causes productivity and socioeconomic well-being to decline. “Long periods of extended unemployment do represent a use of [government] resources that could be spent [elsewhere],” said Dr. Robert Cunningham, associate professor of economics at Alma College. “Workers who are unemployed for extended periods see that their chances to become employed again begin to decline. Other social problems become more prevalent as unemployment persists, [such as] higher divorce [and] crime rates.”
Biden has encouraged states to extend these benefits at their discretion, and Congress had allotted $350 billion for states to provide financial relief to their citizens, but it is looking unlikely that many states will take this opportunity to extend the unemployment benefits.
The roadmap to recovery from here is uncertain given the Delta variant, and it is unclear how ending unemployment benefits will affect this recovery.
“We know that [ending enhanced unemployment benefits] will take spending out of the economy. We also have the unwillingness of still too many of us to get vaccinated, and thus we are now having some states essentially shut down again,” said Cunningham. “Consumer spending increases slowed in August, and fewer new jobs were added. I think we will see a period of bumpy economic activity.”
Approximately 26 states have already ended enhanced unemployment benefits on the grounds that the benefits disincentivize returning to work, according to Forbes. These states did not see a decline in unemployment or significant economic growth, according to the NY Times.
“[This] suggests that something else is entering into people’s decisions to return to work,” said Cunningham.
Congress’ refusal to extend the unemployment benefits further might not bode well for other pandemic-era action items for Congress and the Biden administration. For example, the further cancellation of student loan debt. Biden has cancelled $9.8 billion in federal student debt thus far, but he argues that he does not have the legal authority to expand this program to all student loan debt, according to Forbes. This has become a point of contention in Congress, with prominent democrats arguing that he does in fact have the authority to do so, which would allow Congressional democrats to sidestep the long path to enacting the necessary legislation to cancel debt.
It remains to be seen how the ending of other pandemic-era policies will impact Washington’s dialogue around student loan debt
The terrible politics of COVID-19
Over the last year and a half the entire world has faced a global pandemic the likes of which we have not seen in over 100 years. There have been over 4.4 million people killed worldwide and over 200 million more infected with the virus. In the United States alone, 650,000 people have died; a number similar to the number of people killed during America’s bloodiest war, the Civil War.
So why, if we know that a deadly virus is spreading, are we still debating the most very basic steps we can take to fight it?
Vaccinations are one of the most effective ways to bring an end to pandemics, and as a result, some cities and states have considered making them mandatory to enter public places. The mandate issued by certain municipalities has created an uproar from Republicans and praise from Democrats.
All politics aside, is there not a known way out of the pandemic readily available to everyone? Are vaccines not accessible to everyone over the age of 12?
The basic questions ignored by so many on all sides of the debate are truly dumbfounding. Republican Governors in states such as Texas and Florida have moved to make sure that no corporation can require their employees to be vaccinated and to ensure that no one is required to wear a mask.
Not only do such moves endanger the lives of those who are under 12 years old and not authorized to receive the vaccine yet, but it also blatantly ignores the science behind the spread of COVID-19.
Mask mandates were issued in part because of the science, presented by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), showing that they can prevent upwards of 70% of water droplets from spreading. However, politicians quickly seized on the order to argue that the wearing of masks is not about protecting those around you but about the government trying to close off our liberties.
I would consider myself to be a libertarian-minded person and very much put into question the thought process of many of those who believe the government is trying to limit their liberties.
For starters, the most basic function of a government is to seek out the interests of its people and protect those interests.
Generally, I would consider dying of COVID-19 to not be in the best interest of anyone and would consider the government trying to look out for us as a positive good.
After all, it was the government who paid the vaccine developers to develop vaccines specifically for distribution to the American public. The question still remains though, why is the American public itself so hesitant to “take the jab?”
On Aug. 23, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted full authorization to the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine fulfilling one of the most cited reasons for not taking the vaccines among the unvaccinated. Yet the United States has close to 70 million people who even after the authorization refuse to get vaccinated.
As for the governors who are enacting laws requiring that businesses not mandate masks or vaccination, does the authoritarian attitude taken by them put into question the very liberties they purport to be protecting. If they really cared about individual liberties, they would not enact laws restricting corporations in any way with regard to COVID-19.
Rather than the government dictating what we can and cannot do, we the consumer should be able to choose. If enough people band together in support of one corporation that favors mask and vaccination requirements over one that does not, we can enact change from the bottom up. That is the ultimate goal in an even freer society than the one we currently have.
Alma’s reaction to the new school year
Bailey Langbo and Sarah Sheathelm
In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic left students and faculty across the world scrambling to adapt to circumstances no one had ever seen before—jobs and classes were moved online, and nearly everything that could not be done over a computer was stopped indefinitely. Streets emptied, buildings remained locked up and the world itself seemed to stop moving overnight.
A year and a half later, although the world is still feeling the effects of the pandemic, it seems as though campus is returning to some sense of normalcy as a new school year is ushered in. While masks still must be worn indoors, other aspects of campus life have been welcomed back with open arms, including athletics, self-served meals at Hamilton Commons and in-person classes.
With these new changes in mind, one cannot help but wonder how students and faculty alike are feeling about this upcoming semester.
Seniors are happy to spend their last year on campus and being given the opportunity to make connections with peers.
“I’m grateful to be back on campus to finish up my senior year,” said Binta Kassama (‘22). “Now that things are back to normal as they can be, it feels both exciting and bittersweet to experience my last first everything—football games, Homecoming, recruitment and many more.”
Others share similar sentiments about the improvement of the social climate of Alma College. “It feels good to be on campus and doing more things in person,” said Lexy Maas (‘22). “I’m thankful for being able to do the simple things like walk to class and see people in person, and I am living for [waving] at people in Swanson Academic Center again.”
Students are not the only ones who are excited to be back on campus this year—faculty are, as well. “I like being back to in person counseling,” said Molly Pocsi, a counselor at the Counseling and Wellness Center on campus. “It’s nice to be in the same room as the person I’m talking to instead of virtual counseling—I feel connected to my colleagues and students again.”
Although many students and faculty are excited about being in-person this year, there remains some anxiety about face-to-face schooling and how to re-adjust to this newfound sense of normalcy. “I wish there was still an online option available for those who cannot make it to in person classes for a variety of reasons,” said Chloe Sandborn (‘22).
From March 2020 until now, the pandemic has altered the day-to-day life of the campus community. “I’m fine with wearing masks inside because it takes away some of the pandemic anxiety and I’m just used to it at this point,” said Maas.
On top of these changes, the transition from post-pandemic living can be difficult, especially having these heavier restrictions lifted. “I’m nervous about what the school year will bring,” said Emma VanDeusen (‘22). “COVID-19 is unpredictable, and right now, we have a good thing going for us on campus. I don’t want to mess that up.”
Through it all, students remain positive and recognize the support from their peers. “The transition from mostly online classes will be tough, but I’m so grateful to be here to enjoy my senior year with all that have supported me along the way,” said Kassama.
Amid feelings of excitement and nervousness alike, the Alma College campus has ushered in a new school year with an attempt to return to some sense of normalcy. Although masks are still required indoors, they do not need to be worn outdoors, and students can study or hang out in rooms besides their own. Whether or not these policies change remains to be seen, but only time and vigilance will tell—and the idea of more freedom is something most, if not all, of campus can get behind.
COVID-19 spread continues fueled by Delta Variant
Scenes reminiscent of the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic have again crept their way back into the daily lives of many Americans. On Sep. 5 alone 161,327 new COVID-19 cases were reported in the United States according to data collected by the New York Times. On that same day, there were 1,560 deaths across the country.
The recent rise in COVID cases comes after recent pushes from the Biden administration and many other government officials to increase vaccination rates. The CDC estimates that 72.2% of the eligible population has received at least one dose of the Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson and Johnson Vaccine.
The Delta Variant is behind the newest influx of cases across the country. First identified in India in Dec. 2020 the variant quickly spread to Great Britain where it became the dominant strain by March 2021. On Jul. 27 the Delta variant officially became the dominant strain in the United States, accounting for 51% of all new infections in the country.
According to the CDC, the Delta Variant is extremely dangerous as it is two times as infectious as the original COVID-19 Alpha Variant, as well as causing more severe illness.
While the main concern about Delta’s spread remains among those who are unvaccinated. Increasingly more people who are vaccinated are contracting breakthrough infections—infections that occur when someone who has received fully vaccinated status tests positive for COVID-19.
On Aug. 7, the United States hit the 40 million known infections mark according to the New York Times. That means that a little over 12% of the entire United States population has contracted COVID-19 over the past year and a half.
Because of the recent uptick in cases among both the vaccinated and unvaccinated, the CDC reversed its previous statement released in May that vaccinated people no longer needed to wear masks in public settings indoors or outdoors.
Their newest recommendations state that all people regardless of vaccination status should wear masks while indoors. Their stance on outdoor masking has remained unchanged as they only recommend masking up for those who still remain unvaccinated.
“I feel comfortable on campus,” said Claire Neeb (’25), “the mask mandate is a good thing if it keeps people on campus.”
Alma College has also changed its policies over the course of the summer to better reflect the changing trajectory of the pandemic. In May, Alma allowed students to go without masks in outdoor spaces and that rule has remained in place since its initial implementation. Additionally, the rules were changed over the summer to allow all students regardless of vaccination status to remain maskless both indoors and outdoors.
Students were informed two weeks before returning to campus that they would once again be required to wear masks in the academic buildings and public spaces within residence halls.
“Masks also help prevent other diseases such as the flu, common cold, and other illnesses. If the mandate is lifted for people who are vaccinated… then it might encourage people to go out and get the vaccine,” said Neeb.
Moving forward, the Alma College administration hopes to reevaluate the need for masking on campus based on the number of COVID cases among students. If cases remain low the campus will remain in Phase 1, in accordance with the Plaid Protects phased approach to COVID-19 Policies.
Despite the optimism expressed by Alma College many experts warn the United States is not out of the woods yet. Experts, such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, have come out and expressed concern about the stagnation of vaccination among rural communities that are seeing the most spread of COVID-19.
A top concern expressed by Dr. Fauci has been the rise in cases among children 12 years old and younger. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 22.4% of COVID-19 cases within the last week have been among children. The trend is especially alarming as it comes at a time when children are returning to school and children under the age of 12 are not authorized to receive COVID-19 vaccines.
August 31, 2021
It is no shock to anyone that the Earth is going through some changes. In 2021 alone, there have been eight weather/climate disasters; this does not include Hurricane Ida, which is currently making its way through the Louisiana and Mississippi area. From those eight natural catastrophes, there has been over $8 billion worth of damage done.
Since 2000, 98 percent of the Earth’s surface has been impacted by temperature increases. This is leading to longer and hotter heat waves, more droughts, heavier rainfall and even more hurricanes.
For the past 30 years, there has been a decrease of the arctic sea ice. Per decade, there has been an average 3.2% reduction of the sea ice. Not only does this temperature inflation decrease the volume of the sea ice, it also restricts the re-growth of the ice, making the decimation of the arctic come even sooner.
The amount of heat that the top layer of most major oceans absorb has also significantly increased. This leads to coral reef damage, threatens marine ecosystems and disrupts global fisheries. A change in heat content can also alter patterns of ocean circulation, which can point to far-reaching effects on global climate conditions. This includes changes to the outcome and pattern of meteorological events, such as tropical storms and temperatures in the northern Atlantic region.
The air temperature over the ocean has also increased; this leads to escalated evaporation. More water vapor in the air contributes to more warming, and it also acts as fuel for hurricanes.
Sea surface temperatures have had a momentous increase, and are actually at their highest levels within the last 30 years of being measured. From 1901 through 2015, sea surface temperatures have risen at an average rate of 0.13°F per decade. They are expected to continue to accelerate.
Sea levels have been rising at a rate of 0.04 to 0.1 inches per year since 1900. The growth is due to higher sea water temperatures and the added water from melted land ice, such as the glaciers in the northern Atlantic region.
Higher sea levels could lead to permanently flooded areas, increased seasonal floods and worse and higher storm surges. It also threatens freshwater supplies and ecosystem services, such as natural water filtration and human coastal infrastructure.
Because of the increased measurements of water vapor in the air, humidity levels are now notably higher. Due to water vapor being categorized as a greenhouse gas, this development causes additional warming.
The warming of the Earth seems to be concentrated more in the lower levels of the atmosphere, called the troposphere. This is the layer where people live, where weather occurs and where planes fly. It is warming at a rapid rate due to the release of emissions from burning oil, natural gas and coal.
It is important that the Earth is treated properly and taken care of. There has already been a tremendous decrease in its longevity, due to the damage that greenhouse gases and their emissions have caused.
There are many different ways to help: always remember to recycle all plastic and paper items, try to reduce the amount of time spent in the shower, and be conscious of the products and items purchased. Reducing personal carbon footprint will help extend the Earth’s life.