Updates within the Biden administration

CLAIRE HIPPS
STAFF WRITER

Joe Biden has served as US President for nearly two months. In this period of time, he has addressed the COVID-19 pandemic, foreign policy and the environment, all by signing over 40 executive orders.

Executive orders are not the same as laws. The Heritage Foundation says that, “an executive order is a type of written instruction that presidents use to work their will through the executive branch of government. Congress and federal courts can strike down executive orders that exceed the scope of the president’s authority.”

“A large portion of President Biden’s initial executive orders are focused on reversing policies of the Trump Administration,” said Jacob Keeley (’24), president of the Alma College Republicans. “While [it is] within the powers of the President to take such steps, it is important to note that a Presidency based on undoing… sets a dangerous precedent [and leaves] the nation stagnant in terms of leadership and divided politically.”

Biden, as promised, has enacted policies to combat the effects of the pandemic. First, Biden signed a $1.9T relief package which extends unemployment aid, distinguishes the first $10,200 in jobless benefits tax free and allocates $20B for vaccine distribution. Lost in this provision was the minimum wage increase, which House democrats were hopeful to pass.

Biden has also allocated $250M to encourage COVID-19 safety and vaccination in underserved populations, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Biden has also taken foreign policy action. He has placed sanctions on Myanmar with the support of the UN and has ordered airstrikes against Syria, escalating tensions in already-stalling negotiations with Iran.

“President Biden’s executive order taking economic action against those involved with the military coup in [Myanmar] was an important action for the United States to take,” said Keeley.

The strikes in eastern Syria were reportedly in response to Iran-backed militias who instigated a rocket attack on Feb. 15 which harmed American citizens. Despite this, Biden still intends to reopen negotiations regarding the Iranian nuclear deal tabled by the Trump administration, according to the NY Times.

Biden’s environmental agenda aims to guide the US towards net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Climate-related executive orders included, but were not limited to, directing 40% of federal sustainability investments to disadvantaged communities, rejoining the UN Paris Agreement and WHO and halting the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. These policies were popular with activists on the left and generally disliked by Senate republicans.

“[Biden’s steps] to stop the U.S’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization… should be [a unifying] factor for the country; however, it is important that President Biden recognizes and grants the republican minority party opportunities… to voice its input and make suggestions on these matters,” said Keeley.

Biden’s Presidential campaign was largely based on unity and bipartisanship. Despite the high volume of executive orders, many remain hopeful that compromise and the interests of everyone will remain at the forefront of his priorities.

“The Alma College Republicans stand by the President as he attempts to lead the charge for unification,” said Keeley on behalf of the Alma College Republicans. “Unity in the United States requires President Biden to…establish policy that works for all Americans”

Power to the People: the GME short squeeze

CLAIRE HIPPS
STAFF WRITER

The price of GameStop (NYSE: GME) grew dramatically over the period of just a few days in late January of this year, as well as a few other securities. At its peak, the stock reached a price of $500 per share, creating a stark contrast between its $17.25 value at the beginning of the year, according to data from Yahoo Finance. This was not due, however, to the release of a highly anticipated game or some other similar innovation from the company itself. This arose because of activity on reddit.

The subreddit r/wallstreetbets includes around 3.8 million members, all who could be classified as casual or “retail” investors. Members of this subreddit looked at the GME and recognized that it was being shorted (expected to depreciate in value) by short sellers.

From this observation came the idea that by buying up the shares available for public purchase, the members of the subreddit can trigger a short squeeze, which ultimately forces the value of the stock up very quickly.

A short squeeze can be triggered when short sellers, investors who borrow stock they don’t have at a high price to sell and later hope to buy the stock back for less than they borrowed it for, are forced to buy back their stocks at higher prices than what they originally sold it for in order to not lose more money.

This is bad news for the short seller, but good news for the stock. The buying back of these positions at high prices forces the stock to even higher prices, which meant high returns for members of the subreddit.

This short squeeze also had negative implications for hedge funds, which offsets risky investments by making counterinvestments that aim to cover the losses potentially incurred by said investments. Losses incurred by American firms exceeded $70B, according to a 2021 article by Reuters.

These large losses, and the way this squeeze came about, sparked the interest of Congress and the international community. “This really the first big case of what is essentially a social media group causing a big move in stock prices,” said Robert Cunningham, adjunct professor in economics here at Alma College.

“The hedge fund industry is very purposefully opaque in how it operates, and really only a relatively small number of people benefit from it. [Retail investors] joined up and made decisions that negatively affected a hedge fund’s profits—[that] is something worth following,” said Cunningham.

Caught in the controversy is Robinhood, a financial services company with an app popular with retail investors. Despite having famously said “let the people trade” in a 2016 tweet, they suspended the trading of GME and up to 13 other securities during the squeeze. Robinhood claimed that it did not have the required collateral to execute the high trade volume, but they also have contracts with hedge funds.

“One of Robinhood’s revenue sources is its ability to sell trading information to hedge funds, so I think Robinhood had to weigh the costs and benefits of executing trades on behalf of retail users, versus the costs and benefits of upsetting its large hedge fund partners,” said Cunningham.

Senator Ted Cruz and House Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez came out in opposition to this move by Robinhood.

“This is unacceptable. We now need to know more about [Robinhood’s] decision to block retail investors from purchasing stock while hedge funds are freely able to trade the stock as they see fit. As a member of the financial services committee, I’d support a hearing if necessary,” said Ocasio-Cortez in a tweet.

There will be a hearing on this matter hosted by the Financial Services Committee in mid-February.

Technology is constantly and consistently changing the world around us. For this reason, “average” citizens can communicate much more freely their ideas and make such things happen.

Unpacking the COVID-19 Vaccine

CLAIRE HIPPS
STAFF WRITER

Pfizer and BioNTech produced an FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine found to be 95% effective in November. Despite the existence of this vaccine, many Americans are apprehensive about receiving it. According to AP/University of Chicago, 35% of Americans aged 18-29 said that they will not received the COVID-19 vaccine; another 22% said that they weren’t sure.

Despite potential mistrust of the vaccine in the student body, President Jeff Abernathy states that “We expect students, faculty and staff to receive the vaccine before the fall term. As with the flu vaccine, there will be exceptions for individual circumstances. The science is clear that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and that it saves lives”

COVID-19 has a “wide range of infection outcomes, ranging from asymptomatic to fatal,” said Timothy Keeton, an associate professor of biology here at Alma College focused on microbiology.

While the CDC outlines certain COVID-19 risk factors, like age or preexisting conditions, there are rare deaths amongst college students. The chronic effects following an infection are also unknown.

“I suspect we will discover that the virus causes more serious illness in individuals who unknowingly carry a certain version of a [presently unidentified] gene,” said Keeton. “Many fatalities are associated with an apparently hyper-active immune reaction, which ultimately causes most of the damage which kills the patient.”

The COVID-19 vaccine uses mRNA technology to combat the virus, which “utilizes modern genetic cloning technology to manufacture the genetic sequence of the desired target,” says Keeton. give your immune system directions on how to defend against the infection without introducing the virus itself, said Keeton. “None of the COVID-19 vaccines developed for human use involves live virus.”

That being said, mRNA vaccines cannot alter your DNA. “mRNA molecules do not survive long inside or outside your cells, [nor do they] gain access to your genetic ‘vault’ in the nucleus of your cells,” said Keeton.

As with many vaccines, there are some mild side effects that may occur when the vaccine is administered. “A common side effect to date with the mRNA vaccine is soreness at the injection site and sometimes general aches and pains, [as well as a] mild fever for 24 hours or so, especially following the booster injection,” said Keeton. “If you have known severe allergies, notify the clinic where you plan on getting your vaccine beforehand. They may have special instructions.”

Side effects are normal. “Know that [side effects] happen to many people and monitor your temperature for high fever. In most people this only lasts about 24 hours,” said Keeton.

Receiving the vaccine is integral for protection against the unknown effects of the virus. There is not enough evidence to determine whether or not exposure to the virus provides adequate immunity, as initial immune responses are oftentimes weak.

“We know that humans who have been infected usually are producing antibodies, but we do not know if those antibodies are protective,” said Keeton. “There is evidence which indicates

some people who have been infected may in fact be immune to a second debilitating infection but can still carry replicating virus in the respiratory system [and can thus transmit the virus to others].”

It is imperative that students take the vaccine within the guidelines outlined by the CDC. “You DO in fact need both doses,” said Keeton. “Some of our best vaccines provide long term or even lifelong immunity, but many do require periodic boosters. Be prepared to [receive boosters after the initial vaccine and] down the road.”

Although many compare COVID-19 to influenza, they are not the same infection. “Your flu shot from the fall will do NOTHING to help you against COVID-19,” said Keeton.

Despite the idea of herd immunity, “only those who are truly immune through vaccination or prior infection are truly protected,” said Keeton. “There will always be a small percentage of individuals who, due to pre-existing health conditions, cannot be vaccinated safely.”

The vaccine will likely be available to Alma College students in the summertime, according to Abernathy, although that estimate is subject to change.

COVID-19 has changed our lives in unimaginable ways. Serendipitously, each of us have the opportunity to prioritize our health and the health of others by receiving the vaccine in the recommended way.

Problematic TikTok sparks admissions scandal

CLAIRE HIPPS
STAFF WRITER

A tiktok user under the username “coochiee.scouttt,” which has since been deleted, published a controversial video that sparked outrage among Alma College students early this month. The video in question, in which the user explained that they were admitted to Alma College on a scholarship despite the college knowing about their tendency to spread problematic and backward rhetoric, received 463,100+ views on Tiktok. Students were quick to share the video, tagging the admissions department and Jeff Abernathy, the president of Alma College.

The Alma College Admissions Department was quick to dispel these claims, replying within 24 hours to the outraged students sharing the video. “We can confirm that the individual has not applied to the college and is not an admitted student,” said Admissions in their response to the student body. “Once we are notified, the college engages in an immediate review process for any instance of this nature. Alma College denounces all forms of hate speech and we will continue to do all that we can to provide a safe and welcoming community to all.”

This response is consistent with the college’s goals for upholding practices of diversity and inclusion on campus, and campus administrators are also committed to reviewing and improving these practices. “I appreciate the swift response from Admissions and from the student body,” said Donnesha Blake, director of diversity and inclusion on campus. “There is

always much more work to do to educate our campus and incoming students about the importance of creating a safe and inclusive campus for LGBTQIA+ people.”

While it is reassuring to know that admissions and campus administration does take steps to protect both current and prospective LGBTQIA+ students in the admissions process, it is helpful to know what this process looks like.

“All reports of this nature are investigated in partnership with our Civil Rights and Title IX process,” said Admissions. “That review process leads to any subsequent actions, such as rescinding a student’s offer of admission.”

With this comes a responsibility to market Alma College as a place where attitudes of inclusion and acceptance are not just encouraged, but necessary. “We always have a responsibility to outline our values related to equity, diversity, and inclusion,” said Blake. “[We must] make them clear to prospective students and families at every stage of the admissions and onboarding process.”

In regards to the students who found the video and called on Admissions for a response, they are a good example of what it means to be an ally for marginalized communities. They have made it clear that inclusion is important to the student body.

“It was disheartening to see the image of Alma’s acceptance email because Alma is trying to take notes to diversify the campus,” said Carrie LaFranchi, ’22. “The fact that they launched an investigation and got the response to students out so quickly meant a lot to the student body to assure us that inclusivity is extremely important to this institution.”

“[One way to be an ally is to] speak up when someone is being harmed and share it with others,” said Blake. “I believe that a person working toward a more inclusive and welcoming campus cannot and should not be doing the work alone.”

Allyship, however, can take many forms. “Allyship is an ongoing process and it begins with learning about the communities we seek to support,” said Blake. “There are so many ways to be an ally, but simply identifying as an ally and doing none of the work to actively create change is not allyship.”

Some ways that students can learn about an actively support LGBTQIA+ students on Alma’s campus include joining or requesting a Safe Zone training session hosted by the Office for Diversity and Inclusion and joining the Gender and Sexuality Diversity Club.

At Alma College and in the wider world, it is important that we remember to use our individual power for good. Creating a more equitable and just world benefits everyone, and it should be a priority in everything that we do.

September is Suicide Prevention Month

CLAIRE HIPPS
STAFF WRITER

In accordance with the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention, September is Suicide Prevention Month—a time to circulate mental health resources and engage in discourse regarding suicide in order to help those struggling understand that they are not alone.

Suicide is extremely deadly amongst college populations. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, “suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-34,” yet there is a significant stigma against mental health in America.

“[The] Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM)…gave the impression that mental health was based on controllable behaviors [when it was published in 1952],” said Linda Faust, a licensed master social worker in the Wilcox Center for Counseling and Wellness. “Mental health has been viewed as more personal or negative than a physical illness would be.”

Stigmatization of mental disorders has had numerous consequences.

“[Stigmas have lead to a] reluctance of seeking treatment, bullying or intimidation of others [and] difficulty getting health insurance to cover treatment,” said Faust.

Unsurprisingly, many individuals experiencing suicidal ideation do not reach out for help. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, only 46% of suicide victims have been diagnosed with a mental disorder while 90% of suicide victims experienced symptoms of mental disorders. It is therefore important to be aware of how suicidal ideation comes about, and how we can best support ourselves and those around us.

In addition to common risk factors, such as chronic pain or a family history of mental disorders/substance abuse/suicide attempts, college students face additional stressors.

“In college age populations, that being 18-22, there is quite a bit of transition going on,” said Maggie Magoon, a lecturer in the psychology department. “Changes can be [positive] or negative and can cause stress. There is also sometimes a cultural shock, coming to campus and being away from friends, family and ‘normal’ structure.”

Some college-specific stressors facing students include heightened independence, alienation from peers and increased access to illegal substances. There are also many traumatizing and dangerous experiences that may or may not take place in college.

Knowing these things, action can be taken in order to nurture positive mental health practices. Internally, suicidal ideation and tendency can occur as the result of many different forces.

“Since mental illness can manifest itself in many different ways, I think it is important to pinpoint your struggles and be honest with yourself,” said Asia Patterson (’21).

According to the Suicide Prevention Center, up to 87% of suicides are impulsive (unplanned) attempts.

“Even right now is hard, understand that it won’t be that way forever,” said Patterson. “Emotions are temporary.”

It can also help to foster positivity. “If there is something negative happening, it is okay. We have negativity in our lives,” said Magoon. “The problem occurs when you begin to ruminate or obsess about that negativity. A positive viewpoint in life can help in so many ways.”

Lastly, understand that productive mental, physical, and social practices are key in managing stress and combating suicidal ideation.

“It sounds very simplistic, but the top three recommendations for being mentally healthy are sleep well, eat well, and exercise,” said Magoon. “Additionally, social contact is a protective factor against suicidal ideation.”

Remember to be kind to yourself, and find someone you trust to confide in.

“Whenever I find myself [struggling with something], there is a lot of realizing that… I can’t always change it but I can learn and grow from it,” said Ryan Calhoun (’24).

As human beings, we often underestimate the impact our lives have on those around us. All human lives have intrinsic value and those struggling with mental illnesses are no different.

Our Student Chapter of Active Minds is a club focusing on Mental Health Education, Awareness and Suicide Prevention. September 21 at 7 pm via Zoom, Active Minds will feature John Tessitore of the JCK Foundation, who will discuss his mental health journey.

If you or a loved one is struggling with suicidal ideation, know that there are resources for you. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or text HELLO to 741741. The Counseling Center is open Monday – Friday 8:30 – 5 pm, closed from noon – 1pm for lunch.

They offer free sessions, up to 14 an academic year and it is completely confidential. With having three full-time counselors, students can typically get am appointment within the week. If it is a more urgent matter, there are 2 crisis hour appointments offered per day. Simply email Wellness@Alma.edu or call 989-463-7225.

Water sold in Joe’s despite Nestle ban

CLAIRE HIPPS, JACOB SMITH
STAFF WRITERS

Many years ago, Alma College students worked together to ban Nestle products from our campus. Today, many products produced by Nestle and the companies they own, such as Ice Mountain water and Kitkats, are sold on campus.

Nestle, the multi-billion dollar food conglomerate, has participated in more than its fair share of controversy. According to the Guardian, the Associated Press and Mighty Earth, Nestle has greenwashed, participated in forced labor in impoverished countries and contributed to deforestation in Ghana
and the Ivory Coast. Their former CEO, Peter BrabeckLetmathe, expressed in a 2013 interview that water is not a universal human right and should therefore be privatized (Nestle now claims that this quote is frequently taken out of context).

A controversy that hits particularly close to home regards Michigan’s abundant freshwater supply and how Nestle has been able to cheaply mine water in Michigan, which has destabilized wetland ecology in Evart, MI.

“As a result of [the company’s belief that water is not a human right], Nestle is taking extremely good quality groundwater in west/ southwest Michigan and bottling it. They are doing this at an excessive rate – many people feel it is a rate that cannot be replenished within a reasonable amount of time,” said Murray Borello, professor of environmental science. “The data I have seen supports this conclusion.”

Nestle’s consistent ethical controversies encouraged Alma students in the early 2000’s to enact a ban on all Nestle products, including Ice Mountain water, through the Student Congress.

“The process began on campus in 2001 or 2002, shortly after we learned that Nestle was going to start production [of Ice Mountain Water] in Michigan.” said Edward Lorenz, an emeritus professor of history and political science.

The ban on Nestle products coincided with another initiative to ban bottled water in the name of sustainability on Alma’s campus.

“President Abernathy – and now Provost Dougherty have been very adamant about not allowing bottled water on campus. That made it pretty easy to ban Ice Mountain, ” said Borrelo.

This ban, however, did not withstand the test of time.

“After the group of students from [early 2000s ban] graduated, the college
reintroduced bottled water in vending machines and used the reasoning that we got a ‘deal’ as a ‘Pepsi Campus,’” said Lorenz in reference to the 2012 Pepsi deal.

The aforementioned Pepsi deal details that our campus will be provided with Pepsi-brand products, amongst other things.

“The agreement provides equipment and general support for the college and provides recycling support provided by Pepsi. The agreement does not mandate which specific beverages are sold,” said President Jeff Abernathy, who, after his 2020 inauguration as President of Alma College, oversaw the Pepsi deal.

Along with the general support provided by the deal, Alma’s administration is considering sustainability when making decisions about the allocation of Alma’s resources.

“Our strategic plan focuses on the college’s impact on the environment and on working to ensure that we are lowering our carbon footprint. We have for the past ten years prioritized renovation rather than new building projects for this reason,” said Abernathy.

Implementing a complete ban on water bottles (and perhaps Nestle products by extension) is complicated, and the 2019 COVID-19 outbreak has added nuances.

“We have not yet achieved a ban on water bottles— the pandemic makes that difficult since we cannot serve water to the public in other ways—but I remain committed to moving in that direction,” said Abernathy.

Although the pandemic has complicated day to day lives, the Alma College mission statement calls on its students to “live responsibly as stewards of the world they bequeath to future generations.” As students, consumers and citizens of the world, there is all individual power.

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