Letter to the editor: Student Employment Committee

YOUNG DEMOCRATIC SOCIALISTS OF AMERICA

10/24/2022

Since the beginning of the fall semester, the Young Democratic Socialists of America have been meeting regularly to discuss important topics such as voter registration and the conditions of student workers on campus.

Encouraging young people to vote is a focal point for YDSA. We will continue to have a table in the lobby of Hamilton Commons leading up to the midterm elections where students can register to vote.

The key focus of YDSA moving forward will be supporting the new Student Employment Committee. The committee was established to give on-campus workers a collective space to voice concerns about the conditions of working for the college.

Using the afflictions brought to light by its members, the Student Employment Committee has drafted a report on the dire conditions of student employment at Alma College. Some of the recommendations given in the report include the creation of a feedback system for employees, standardized scheduling systems, wage raises, and adequately staffed and fairly treated workers. This report was shared to administration earlier this month with the outline that further action would be considered if administration did not respond to requested changes to student employment policy within two weeks. The committee is still waiting for a full response to their demands.

On Monday, October 17th, the two-week deadline, the College’s Vice President of Student Affairs, Damon Brown, met with the committee to discuss the concerns in the report.

Following this meeting, Brown attended the student congress meeting, also on October 17th, at which any students could ask questions in respect to actions to be taken by administration to address the report. This student congress meeting was incredibly well attended, maxing out the seating in the chapel, and many Alma students were given the opportunity to hear the moderate and hesitant approach that administration is taking to repairing the appalling practices currently in place for our student workers.

The Student Employment Committee is expecting a more specific response to each aspect of the report by the next Student Congress meeting on October 31st.

Between acting as mentors for underclassmen as Resident Assistants and First Year Guides, to directing on campus activities as ACUB and Recreation Center workers and even keeping the college prosperous for years to come by providing individualized tour experiences for prospective students in Admissions, student workers are what makes life here at Alma College possible.

YDSA and the Student Employment Committee are confident that the Administration will think critically and follow the recommendations of our workers and implement the necessary changes so that we all may once again feel supported as members of the Alma College family.

Insight into Alma College interfaith program

KYLE SCHECK
PHOTOGRAPHER

EMMA FIGLEWICZ
STAFF WRITER

10/24/2022

Alma College has numerous clubs and programs that allow students to connect with peers and faculty. The Interfaith program on campus seeks to bring students, staff and faculty together through the practice of spirituality, religious identity and spiritual exploration.

“Alma’s Interfaith program gives students a community to activate their spirituality and curiosity about faith. Students at Alma come from many different backgrounds, and we want to support every person’s exploration and discovery,” said Reverend Alissa Davis.

Though Alma College is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, the campus encourages religious diversity and holds various programs for students to practice and discover different religious faiths.

“The Interfaith program acknowledges this diversity and hopes to offer space and resources for people who are Muslim, Jewish, Atheist, Hindu and other faith traditions. The Interfaith program makes it a goal to teach how these various faiths can interact and work together for a common goal, “said Reverend Katrina Pekich-Bundy.

The Interfaith program works explicitly to bring community engagement activities in which preachers and speakers explore and dissect spiritual life at Alma College.

“Sometimes guest speaker conversations are held in person, and sometimes they chat with people further away in a zoom call,” said Davis. “Interfaith will also travel occasionally to visit different worshipping and cultural communities.”

The program holds numerous activities to welcome new students, such as t-shirt dying and kick-off events. Alongside their bi-weekly meetings every Thursday, the group also takes trips outside of campus.

“This semester, we hope to take a trip to Lansing to the mosque where Imam Sohail Chaudhry is the faith leader,” said Pekich-Bundy.

As of Nov. 3, 2021, Revered Alissa Davis returned to Alma College, where she now holds the title of college chaplain. Almost a decade after she graduated from the campus, she returned to her alma mater.

“I chose to come back because I’m grateful for my experiences (friendships, travel, personal growth and a great education) through Alma and want to be a part of offering that to the next generation,” said Davis.

Davis’s primary goal as chaplain is to create a safe and welcoming place for all people.

“I know many people have had poor experiences with faith communities, and we’re trying to undo some of that by taking a posture of hospitality. Even if you need a place to sit and process or talk through something, the chaplain team is here to support you,” said Davis.

To become involved in interfaith, students can find information about the program through Facebook and Instagram. Students can also reach out to chaplains or the Interfaith student leaders: Allyson Ehlert, Matthew Garland and Mariem Hamdi.

Religion can be a topic many students can struggle with as they begin to start adulthood. Even if students are unsure about attending church services or joining interfaith, leaders in the program always encourage students to try it out and ask questions.

“I tell students the same thing about any program: you won’t know until you try,” said Davis. “If you’re unsure, chat with Rev. Katrina or me and we can help answer specific questions.”

All of the leaders in the program are prepared to help any students when it comes to reassuring any uncertaities when it comes to interfaith life. 

“If you are ever unsure about joining the program come and visit an event or a Thursday interview. Have a conversation with someone involved in Interfaith, come and ask as many questions as you need,” said Pekich-Bundy.

The pros and cons of being an education major

LEIA LEHRER
GRAPHIC DESIGNER

CLAIRE WITTLIEFF
STAFF WRITER

10/24/2022

Since I declared my major my freshman year at Alma College, I have been a Secondary Education/ English double major for going on three years now. In that time, I’ve completed one placement and am currently completing another, accepted a work study position within Gratiot County, taken what seems like a boatload of education credits and have become President of the Education Club. You could say I’m rather involved with the education department and all things education related. 

Over the course of my time here at Alma, I’ve heard multiple things regarding the pros and cons of being an education major from my peers. Ash Holland (’23) said that there are both ups and downs to the major. 

“Some pros of being an education major are being part of an amazing community of people and the feeling of being supported and able to ask as many questions as needed,” said Holland. “I like how we have a lot of placement opportunities before we student teach.” However, Holland also recognizes the cons of being an education major. “A con of being an education major is being busy especially when doing a placement. Many times, education students have to drive to do a placement and it is a major time commitment to achieve,” said Holland. An overall change that is suggested to be made is to have students complete less “busy work” and a larger focus on assignments regarding teaching, such as creating lesson plans. 

Dr. Brian Hancock, an Assistant Professor of Education at Alma College, is happy with the work being done within the education department. “The program is nationally recognized and our faculty and clinical partners do an amazing job at preparing well- started teachers who are ready to do great work with Pk- 12 students,” said Hancock.

“The changes to our education program offerings are in-line with the new requirements from the state of Michigan and, especially important for the Pk-6 major, now include a clinical placement in a classroom during the first year of study,” said Hancock. Dr. Hancock also shared some advice for students. “I always encourage education students (and all students, for that matter) to take advantage of any and all travel opportunities during their time at Alma College. So much of “good” teaching is being responsive to students needs and interests and is not scriptable within a curriculum. We collectively can learn so much about ourselves and others when we visit new places, and it’s important to take advantage of those opportunities when they present themselves,” said Hancock.

As an education major, I greatly sympathize with other students in the field as I have worried about driving to and from placements, about completing my hours in a timely fashion and awaiting acceptance into the Teacher Education Program since some of the requirements do not fit the content area in which I am going into.

With this being said, I have had an overall positive experience with the education program here at Alma. I have enjoyed going into classrooms early in my years here so that I can determine whether or not teaching is what I truly want to pursue. I have endless gratitude and appreciation to the education department faculty, for they are always willing to answer any questions I may have as well as instruct classes that have given me new perspectives about my field. 

I additionally love being President of the Education Club as I get to connect with members while also acting as a bridge between student and faculty communication.

In conclusion, I commend my fellow education majors that are passionate about what they do. I believe the pandemic has been one of the greatest examples of how overlooked and overworked teachers are, and just how much we impact our students.

When I went to New York City this summer, I bought a pin in Central Park that reads “Teacher Power”. A dear friend of mine asked what that meant. After thinking about what it means, I took a few notes that I would like to share with you now.

Teacher power is inspiring students to become the best version of themselves. It’s acting as a role model when there’s no one to look up to. It’s providing stability when the home life of a student is rocky. 

It’s supporting them when there’s no one to hold them up. It’s motivating them to get what they want out of life and to not let go. It’s shielding students from gunfire.

It’s the bookmark my teacher made me that I use to this day. It’s the sympathy cards I received when my grandfather died. It’s the conversation I recently had with one of my past English teachers. 

It’s every hug I received at my high school graduation and every conference my parents attended. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if I could take care of every single child in the world, I would. And that’s teacher power. 

Title IX concerns at Alma College

ALIVIA GILES
LAYOUT EDITOR

10/24/2022

While several Alma College students have voiced concerns about how the college handles Title IX cases, it is also important to consider how misuse of the Title IX system causes victims to suffer. 

One student who chose to remain anonymous has seen their peers resort to filing Title IX cases in instances where they felt it may not have been appropriate. 

“I have witnessed many situations in which friends [or people in relationships] find themselves in an argument . . . and instead of solving these issues interpersonally or even through third-party mediation, one person will choose to file a Title IX case. This usually leads to the second person counter-filing a case.” 

This person believes fewer students would misuse the system if the college was more transparent about what Title IX really is. 

“[The college should teach students] the severity and weight of Title IX. These situations are not jokes, petty fights or minor disputes,” they said. “These are cases of genuine discrimination or abuse.” 

Another student who filed a Title IX case and wishes to remain anonymous also commented on misuse of the system. 

“When students abuse or manipulate the system for their own gain or advantage, it makes it so that legitimate cases are not taken as seriously and are more heavily stigmatized,” they said. 

“I can remember shortly after . . . my Title IX investigation…[people believed] I was lying . . . just for going to Title IX,” they said.

Aware of these students’ experiences, Alma College has made significant changes to the Title IX system. The college recently announced a partnership with Grand River Solutions and appointed a new Civil Rights/Title IX coordinator, David Blandford.

The college also expanded from two to four Deputy Title IX Coordinators: Alice Kramer, Kelley Peatross, Jonathan Glenn and John MacArthur.

“I oversee the process and make sure that we are doing our best to provide supportive measures, ensure the process is fair and timely and I also assign investigators, hearing officers and advisors as needed,” said Blandford.

Blandford wants students to know that they have options when filing a Title IX case. Students filing Title IX cases can choose to undertake a formal investigation, alternative resolution or seek supportive measures without formal action.

“. . . Alternative resolution, which isn’t always appropriate, brings people together to agree on a resolution and requires the parties to work together,” said Blandford. “Formal investigation is a long process that can require people to retell their story and is often the hardest; it is also the option that holds the greatest accountability and has the least amount of flexibility.”

While Blandford does not see misuse of the Title IX system as a major problem at the college, he understands why some students have concerns about it.

“I do not feel this is currently an issue on campus, but I can understand why students may feel that way,” said Blandford. “The process is very prescribed on handling false information and retaliation, and those things are taken very seriously.”

“This process also does not allow for any punitive measures to be taken against a responding party until [a verdict has been reached] at the end of a hearing,” said Blandford. “It does allow supportive measures to be put in place at any time to help support both reporting and responding parties.”

“All complaints filed with the Title IX office must be followed up on, and we will take every report seriously, regardless of what else is happening. We also investigate claims to make sure they are valid,” said Blandford.

For more information about the Title IX system, students can talk to Civil Rights/Title IX Coordinator David Blandford in the Center for Student Opportunity (CSO).

Hurricane Ian’s devastating consequences

WESTON HIRVELA
GRAPHIC DESIGNER

DARCY DAENZER
STAFF WRITER

10/24/2022

On September 28, Hurricane Ian, the landmark Category 4 storm, wreaked devastation on Florida with winds up to 155 miles per hour.

The storm was responsible for “at least 119 [lives], more deaths than any other hurricane had caused in Florida since 1935,” said Smith et al. of the New York Times.

Furthermore, estimated insured losses of infrastructure “could reach up to $40 billion,” said Mazzei et al. of the New York Times.

Both the devastation caused, and the lives lost make Hurricane Ian one of the most destructive hurricanes in Florida’s history.

The damage in Florida has been felt as far away as Michigan. “I have numerous family members who live in Florida. My family worried that we could not contact them when the storm first hit,” said Haden Gross (’23).

“Luckily, those relatives affected managed to come out unscathed. However, severe damage was done to many of their friends’ homes, and it caused them not to be able to go to work,” said Gross.

Gross, who is also an education major at Alma, was at her placement at a local middle school when she first heard the news.

“I was with my middle school students. They start their day by watching CNN 10. The news seemed to be devastating. It was the first time I had seen thirty middle schoolers quiet,” said Gross.

Hurricanes like these have become more and more frequent– Hurricane Harvey and Irma both striking the U.S. in 2017, Michael in 2018, Laura in 2020 and Ida in 2021–with all being either Category 4 or 5 storms.

The frequency and violence of these storms are not a coincidence. September is usually the peak of hurricane season due to warmer ocean temperatures caused by the phenomenon known as La Niña.

However, “waters off the coast were also two to three degrees Fahrenheit warmer than usual for this time of year, according to preliminary data from NASA,” said Shao, Popovich and Rojanasakul of the New York Times.

Higher water temperatures mean more energy for the storms, which means more devastation is caused, and higher water temperatures are not caused overnight.

“More than 90 percent of the excess heat from human- caused global warming over the past 50 years has been absorbed by the oceans, and a majority of it is stored in the top few hundred meters,” said Shao, Popovich and Rojanasakul.

Climate change does not necessarily mean more frequent hurricanes, but rather more powerful ones. And more powerful hurricanes mean more devastation to human civilizations and our way of life.

“Disasters like this should remind politicians and CEOs that the climate crisis rests on their shoulders. We as individuals should do our part to reduce our carbon footprint and hold others accountable,” said Gross.

It is important that lawmakers take climate change into account when rebuilding infrastructure. This can mean implementing better building codes, which will make homes less likely to collapse, as well as the possibility of relocating homes and communities.

Another way to protect shorelines would be to invest in “gray” infrastructure such as “dams, levees, flood gates and sea walls,” said Elena Shao of the New York Times. This would be the first line of defense, along with “green” infrastructure such as “wetlands, oyster reefs and mangrove forests,” said Shao.

Until we adequately reduce global carbon emissions and bring down the temperature of our oceans, it is important to rebuild with climate change in mind. If we do not, we will continue to see increased destruction and loss of life.

Natural disasters are inevitable, but there are things we can and must do to prevent the severity caused by such storms like Hurricane Ian.

Potential SCOTUS ruling jeopardizes Voting Rights Act

CLAIRE HIPPS
COPY EDITOR

10/24/2022

The Supreme Court (SCOTUS) is currently considering the case Merrill v. Milligan, where the State of Alabama allegedly attempted to redistrict their congressional map in a way that under represents black voters.

Alabama has been accused by Evan Milligan, the executive director of Alabama Forward, and his associates of illegally packing black voters into a single district while dividing other pockets of black voters across multiple districts. The case deals with Alabama’s 2021 redistricting plan for their seven seats in the House of Representatives.

In other words, Alabama is accused of gerrymandering.

“Gerrymandering” is essentially “laying out voting districts for political advantage,” said Benjamin Peterson, lecturer of history and political science at Alma College. In conjunction with other systems that do not represent most Americans, gerrymandering “creates a very real risk of the government only representing a minority of the people,” said Peterson.

Depriving voters of congressional representation “violates the 14th Amendment and the [Voting Rights Act],” said Kristin Olbertson, associate professor of history and pre- law program coordinator at Alma College. “[A ruling in Alabama’s favor has] potential to undermine citizens’ ability to translate their will into representation and policy.” The 1965 Voting Rights Act

(VRA) was signed into law by Lyndon Johnson, outlawing discriminatory voting practices adopted in many southern states after the Civil War, according to the National Archives.

The VRA “provides a series of systemic protections against measures intended to deprive people of the right to vote, or to simply make their vote less important,” said Peterson.

Alabama argues that to prove the VRA was violated, the plaintiffs must show the legislature was intentionally designed to discriminate against black voters. Further, the defense contends that the plaintiffs must provide maps of the districts based on other factors that would still result in majority- minority districts, electoral districts where most voters are racial or ethnic minorities.

“Neither of these standards [for the plaintiffs] are required by precedent or by the VRA,” said Olbertson.

“[The argument is essentially] that you cannot prove that it was an illegitimate gerrymander unless you could make a map that would produce the new district without considering race,” said Peterson. “If the Supreme Court did not have its current composition, I think Alabama’s argument would be weak.”

Despite weaknesses in the defense, SCOTUS is likely rule to in Alabama’s favor.

“This case is ultimately about the larger question of representative democracy,” said Olbertson. “The conservative supermajority on the Court has [been] skeptical about its role in preserving or protecting our democracy.”

Olbertson pointed to the Court’s position in Shelby County v. Holder (2013), where SCOTUS ruled parts of the VRA unconstitutional. SCOTUS argued in Shelby County v. Holder that “racism no longer [affects the American] electoral system,” said Olbertson.

Olbertson also noted that SCOTUS has overturned precedence-setting cases and that such cases are in danger of being overturned.

“It wouldn’t be shocking of SCOTUS overturned [Thornburg v. Jingles],” said Olbertson. Thornburg v. Jingles is a case from 1986 in which SCOTUS unanimously ruled that a North Carolina redistricting plan unlawfully discriminated against black voters.

So, in the case of Merrill v. Milligan, the question becomes one of how large the margin in Alabama’s favor will be.

“The margin might be Chief Justice John Roberts,” said Olbertson. “[He seems] slightly uncomfortable at times about how fast and loose [SCOTUS] is playing with institutional norms and has concerns about [SCOTUS]’s legitimacy.”

SCOTUS is expected to release their decision following November elections.

Choir and Orchestra tune up

CLAIRE WITTLIEF
STAFF WRITER

LEX FLINT
COPY EDITOR

10/24/2022

Alma College’s Choir and Orchestra programs have begun practicing for their fall performances and for the rest of the school year to come. Both esteemed programs on campus, the choir and orchestra, are some of the ways Alma College features musically talented students. 

The Choir’s performance this past weekend was focused on works by the German-British composer, Handel, including a treble-focused song. 

Alina Malinowski (’23) has been a choir member during all four years of her college experience. She started in the chorale her freshman and half of her sophomore year. She then moved up to choir the winter of her sophomore year.

“I am most looking forward to being able to travel to Scotland with the choir for Spring Term and singing all across the country in different churches, [along with] exploring different landmarks such as castles and rivers. I cannot wait,” said Malinowski.          

“We have not been able to do this trip for the past 3 or so years because of COVID-19 and it impacting travel so highly,” said Malinowski.

Malinowski is feeling the emotions of this being her last year as a member of the Alma College choir. “I feel it may affect me a bit more during the end of the year and [during] the Christmas concert with those being the biggest and most memorable concerts through the whole year,” said Malinowski.   

However, Malinowski has some advice for the freshman members of the choir. “A piece of advice I would give to the freshmen is to have fun with it, make friends and enjoy all your time in the class. It goes by way too fast, and it will be over in the blink of an eye,” said Malinowski.

The orchestra concert that took place this past weekend featured pieces by Mozart and Arensky. Abby Skerik (’23), the concert master of the orchestra, said some changes had to be made regarding the formation of the orchestra.

“Since COVID-19, we had to adjust to a string-only chamber orchestra, which has given us new opportunities for different types of music to play,” said Skerik.

“I am most looking forward to performing in the upcoming concert, and to keep playing with the orchestra and learning more about the violin and the opportunities that come with playing and working with others,” said Skerik.

Skerik has some advice for new members of the orchestra. “The most important thing is to keep pushing yourself every day and always try new things with music and never get too comfortable with how you play, you can always improve,” said Skerik.                      

The students work hard with each other, a few hired professionals and our community members to produce music for everyone to enjoy at our public concert.

The October concert is a culmination of over a month of work in regular rehearsals and dress rehearsals.         

“I would describe orchestra as one big family that comes together to play amazing music while also encourageing each other to be the best musicians we can be,” said Moranda Johnson (‘22) a former member of the orchestra.

The Alma College Choir’s next performance will be a Halloween concert at 11 p.m. on October 31 and the Festival of Carols on December 3 and 4 at 7 p.m. and 2 p.m. respectively. The Alma College Orchestra’s next performance will be with the Choir at the Festival of Carols concert. Both performances will take place at the Oscar E. Remick Heritage Center.

Gender affirming closet open to campus and community

MEGAN ROBERTSON
STAFF WRITER

10/24/2022

It can be a challenge in a rural town like Alma for queer people to be visible and feel accepted. The Gender Affirming Closet of Alma College exists to help support the queer community express themselves and feel comfortable, offering access to free clothing for LBGTQ+ people on Alma College’s campus and the surrounding campus community.

The Gender Affirming Closet is open to the community Friday from 6 PM to 8 PM, Saturday from 10 AM to 6 PM and Sunday from 2 PM to 4 PM.

The primary goal of the Gender Affirming Closet is to “provide free, safe, equitable [and] appropriate access to clothes to all people.” said Sydney Powers, Americorp VISTA LBGTQ+ Support.

The “hope [in creating and maintaining the Gender Affirming Closet] is that [access to these resources] will inspire our queer community on campus to express themselves and feel that they are supported.” said Kate Stymiest (’22).

The Gender Affirming Closet strives to provide gender-affirming clothing options for non-binary students specifically. The closet achieves this in part by not organizing their clothing in gender-specific sections, a practice that is common in chain stores and boutiques.

The Gender Affirming Closet aims to give queer people options and encourages shopping without feeling pressured to conform to a particular gender. The closet stocks clothing for queer people of all shapes and sizes.

“The clothing supply is abundant and versatile. [We are] trying to cater to all styles, occasions, and body types,” said Stymiest.

The Gender Affirming Closet has been open for over a year as a part of the Alma College AmeriCorps Vista program.

Previously located in Highland Blush, a coffee shop in downtown Alma, the Gender Affirming Closet was recently moved to Tyler VanDusen. The closet is now located across from the Center for Student Opportunity (CSO). The move into Tyler VanDusen creates easier access for students.

Students are excited about what the Gender Affirming Closet offers to the campus community. “I think that it is amazing that the Gender Affirming Closet is on campus. I truly believe that this resource can be used to better the lives of the queer community.” said Sam Bjordal (’23).

The affordability of “fashionable” clothes is often a barrier to access for queer people. The cute, gently used clothing available at the Gender Affirming Closet is a great way for queer people to express themselves without overspending.

The Gender Affirming Closet is in need of a few specific types of donations.

“We do have a need for more binders, unopened cosmetics, jewelry, paper bags and tote bags for ‘checking out’,” said Powers. “Otherwise, we have more than enough clothes.”

If you are looking for a local volunteer opportunity, the Gender Affirming Closet relies on volunteers. Volunteers can help with several of the closet’s different functions.

“I had the…opportunity to volunteer at the Gender Affirming Closet,” said Jacob Keeley (’23). “[I helped with] washing clothes, organizing their inventory and locating resources for the [communities served by] the closet.”

To sign up and explore volunteer opportunities with the Gender Affirming Closet, please visit Alma Connect or reach out directly to Sydney Powers in the CSO. You can also drop off any donations for the Gender Affirming Closet to the CSO.

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