Should Jan Term be adjusted to support working college students?
By Riley Mulcahy
The vision behind Saint Mary’s Jan Term is noble, and having students take interesting courses outside of their major helps students create a more diverse experience at the college. However, one must question whether it makes sense for the college to mandate that every student participate during Jan Term, having one class, two or three hours a day?
In theory, students are supposed to take one class during Jan Term, and the homework load is not supposed to be as much as taking four courses in the fall and spring semesters. Classes include The History of K-Pop, Understanding Human Rights, or the Science of Beer. These classes give a certain depth, that I personally appreciate, other than your significant classes.
However, Jan Term becomes complicated when students have to fulfill multiple requirements to graduate, which means that there is a likelihood that a student will take a quarter unit class or another Jan Term. This entails more scheduling stress, with possibly four hours of instruction and double the amount of coursework just to keep up with the load.
As a student who works part-time, the structure of Jan Term is not overly problematic for me. I have to schedule work meetings in between classes and make sure that I am on top of my work, but I know that many students are not as lucky. I have a remote job, and if I needed to, I could ask for some time off work without there being a problem; however, students with off-campus jobs are inconvenienced. The disconnect between working students and Jan Term is that the format makes it difficult to have a stable work schedule. However, the educational value of Jan Term makes the inconvenience more understandable. Still, there must be a common ground in how SMC makes Jan Term more accessible, one example being allowing more online or hybrid classes to take place.
Congress refuses to signify the sanctity of voting at its own detriment.
By: Riley Mulcahy
Sometimes I wonder if the Senate thinks that voting is a privilege, not a right. With last Wednesday’s news of the blocking of the filibuster change, it looks like there will not be any chance of seeing voting rights legislation being passed in the near future. Like the Build Back Better legislation, the voting rights bill would enact bold and progressive ideas to help save our democracy; however, senators are too worried about perception and optics.
According to The New York Times, “Republicans aggressively fought both the voting measure and the attempt to weaken the filibuster” and accused Democrats “of manufacturing a crisis by exaggerating the impact of new state laws in an effort to realize a longstanding goal of gaining more control over state elections—and risking the uniqueness of the Senate to do so.”
Republicans fail to achieve any sense of transparency or truth in going after the Democrats for proposing changes that would help strengthen voting. The problem is that Republicans understand that they are the minority party, not just in Congress but also in real life. There is a disconnect between the party that creates laws that suppress voting rights and defend Donald Trump while not condemning those who created an insurrection last January. Somehow, the political process has been so badly bruised that it is based on which party can produce enough chaos to distract the fact that there is no sense of accountability for criminal attempts to block voting and attack police based on the falsehoods that come out of Trump’s mouth.
Senate Democrats have been at a crossroads for a long time, with their legislation being stalled and fought over by their Republican colleagues and moderate Democrats for too long. Voting laws that restrict how citizens express their right to vote and be a part of the legislative process are criminal. There is nothing that President Biden is saying to signal that the inaction in the Senate will translate into something positive in the coming weeks.
Uncertainty in the face of Omicron
By Joseph Amir
Should Saint Mary’s be going online in the wake of the Omicron variant? That’s the question I’ve heard on everyone’s lips lately, and to be honest, there doesn’t seem to be a good answer. Omicron appears to be milder than other previous variants of COVID-19, but it is far more contagious, with the FDA director saying “most people in the US are going to get COVID.” Some would ask, “if COVID is inevitable, why bother going online?” Obviously, this is reductive.
However, the arguments in favor of staying in person are fairly persuasive. Our vaccines work. Saint Mary’s College is over 97% vaccinated, and these vaccines prevent severe disease and hospitalization. Additionally, Zoom classes are harmful to our education and we do not get the same experience that we’ve (or our parents) all paid for. The professors hate Zoom, most of the students hate Zoom, and after these two years spent in the pandemic, we’ve realized that Zoom instruction is harmful to our mental health for many of us.
I still remember the day we were sent home, and I would assume that if you’re an upperclassman, you do too—the first-years and sophomores here have not known a Saint Mary’s College untouched by COVID-19. Additionally, the Omicron wave is predicted to recede within the next month or so, and we wear masks, have outdoor pavilion classes, and are a relatively small school—we can handle COVID and take precautions, whereas other, larger schools such as the UCs and CSUs do not.
If we want to stay in person, though, we need to be careful and responsible. I won’t even outline the precautions people should be taking because I think most of you could name them all while blindfolded after being spun around in a chair at this point. It’s been two years, and most of us are done. Be responsible, be careful, get vaccinated, and you will be okay.
By Benjamin Noel
With every new year comes a flurry of resolutions. Work out. Get back into an old hobby. Get into a new hobby. Start a diet. There are so many options when it comes to diets. Keto. Paleo. Atkins. But more often than not, these diets are a complete 180 from a person’s normal foods. And by the middle of the year, most people forgot the diet they started their year with.
Let me paint a picture of the human mind with the empty gyms of the second week of January. The turn from crowded globo-gyms on the second of January to a barren land of iron and tumbleweeds by the eighth is very telling of human tendencies. We often seek to better ourselves, but when results don’t come overnight, most people quit. This is the problem with diet culture. Folks who want to lose weight give up when their diet doesn’t become effortless, or they don’t see significant change in a few weeks. People often cite an old saying that it takes 21 days to form a new habit. And just like that, they quit their diet and go back to their old ways. Based on how we humans operate, diet fads are unsustainable, difficult at the least. And when swimming against the current, it’s easy to let the river take you downstream.
A solid diet needs to create subtle changes that are sustainable over time. If you spend your whole life munching down carbs, cutting them out entirely will lead to cravings, and eventually a failed diet. Foods need to be replaced slowly, swapping out chips for baby carrots, and oatmeal for cereal, until, eventually, you’re eating clean and feeling good. The same goes for losing weight. If you’ve spent 5 years putting on weight, don’t expect yourself to burn it all off in 5 months. Creating long-term changes will lead to a successful, sustainable diet that beats out a crazy juice cleanse that will have you reaching back for the chips in no time.
Covid-19 testing is needed to ensure everyone’s safety, but long wait for results and unreliable tests make a return to “normalcy” difficult.
By: Riley Mulcahy
When Covid-19 spread like wildfire in March of 2020, the whole world was essentially locked down. Schools closed their doors while the economy suffered for the overall wellbeing of society. Testing, and the lack thereof, has made it difficult for everyone to return back to work, school, and everyday life. With the spread of the Omicron variant, finding a PCR test is like finding a rare piece of art. Trying to find a rapid test? Drug stores have been wiped clean, and even if you can find them, rapid at-home tests have been proven to be far less accurate than PCR tests.
With vaccine and testing requirements being the reasonable response to the changing guidelines and new surge due to Omicron, Saint Mary’s, like many schools, made it mandatory to have a negative test result to return to on-campus housing for Jan Term. The news came as many colleges announced the switch back to online classes, citing the sheer amount of cases and the fear of an outbreak.
Saint Mary’s announced the requirement to test only four days before students returned to campus on January 3rd. Naturally, students relied on rapid tests to prove they were negative in order to come back to campus, which the university accepted. By not explicitly requiring students to submit a PCR test, the accuracy of the tests must be in question.
According to Vox, the difference between the PCR test’s accuracy compared to the rapid tests’ is that the PCR test is more sensitive. However, the publication argues that if you test positive on a rapid test, “you almost certainly have Covid-19.” However, rapid tests, which test for antigens, are not as sensitive as the PCR tests, making it possible that you test negative on rapid and positive on the PCR.
Two years into the pandemic, there is still a struggle and no clear plan on how to deal with the virus and how to test for it. This trickle-down effect makes it difficult for students to learn and retain information, let alone function in everyday life with the stress of a positive test result hanging in the balance.
Additionally, Saint Mary’s has struggled with its communication surrounding the return to campus for Jan Term and the testing requirements. Given the rapidly changing surge of cases, Saint Mary’s was allowed to announce a concrete plan only days before the planned return. However, it felt like the college was waiting for the last possible moment to announce anything other than a full socially distanced in-person and masked return. Students had to submit two tests to the college, one before move-in and one at Saint Mary’s; however, the use of rapid tests makes one question the precision of the process, with students and faculty feeling a false sense of security with a negative result.
According to Saint Mary’s Covid-19 dashboard, as of January 9th, there have been 41 cases since the return for Jan Term and 122 reported off-campus cases (this number considers the timeframe of 12-10-21 to 1-9-22). To put this number into perspective, according to the Fall 2021 dashboard, there were 45 cases of Covid-19 at Saint Mary’s.
The number of cases shows that Omicron is here as well as the importance of testing. Although the risk of severe illness reduces significantly when one has been vaccinated, there is still a need to isolate for 5-14 days. The testing process should be painless, and it needs to be. To continue on with life, testing must be perfected so everyone can feel safe about attending class in person.
Revaluating during what may be the biggest spike in cases of the Covid-19 pandemic
By Melanie Moyer
There’s no more denying the presence of Omicron in the United States, nor the case numbers that resemble those from the beginning of the pandemic. Our government and collective society must answer now how we will react to this new development in what we once thought of as a disappearing problem.
The Covid-19 pandemic was all but forgotten during the busy fall semester here on the Saint Mary’s campus, as students were attending regular in-person classes and most of the community was vaccinated—which, up until now, was enough protection from classrooms where people chose not to wear masks or busy hallways during passing periods. Reporters from The Collegian uncovered and reported on several stories regarding the safety on campus—such as forged vaccine cards, illegitimate religious exemptions, and the reality of outdoor, unmasked classes—but as we learn more about this more contagious and evasive but less dangerous mutation, we see that our strategy needs to change to ensure that safety is our first priority.
Our present situation seems as simple as deciding whether classes will be conducted totally online, in-person, or a combination of both. However, it is unclear how the school will change its strategy to decide if any in-person classes are safe for students and professors. Omicron complicates this decision-making process even more than it already was (who knew the unprecedented could become so unprecedented?). Dr. Jeffrey Shaman, an infectious disease modeler and epidemiologist at Columbia whose team built one of the first Covid-19 models, reveals that institutions such as Saint Mary’s will need to take more into account when considering the safety of the campus.
Shaman shares that his team’s “models project that the United States is likely to document more Covid-19 cases in January than in any previous month of the pandemic, but a smaller fraction of those cases will require hospitalization.” This is due to the more contagious and immunity-evading nature of Omicron. “Whether hospitals experience more or less strain than they did in January 2021,” he shares, “will depend on case numbers and how severe they are.”
Thus, Shaman indicates that the most critical number to look at now will be hospitalizations and deaths rather than just cases. We have learned that herd immunity is not much more than a pipe dream and that our best hope is to get vaccinated and boosted. We cannot know if future variants will be worse than Omicron or if they will also evade immunity from previous strains. Further, it should be our goal to prevent higher infection rates to protect those who would require hospitalization if they contracted the virus.
With this in mind, Saint Mary’s is posed with the challenge of keeping students safe—especially considering that we cannot know who will need to be hospitalized and who will not—while also maintaining a sense of normalcy and connection for the Saint Mary’s community. As a senior who is involved in many community-building clubs and activities, I hope that we can return to a Fall 2021-esque world again. The more practical part of myself knows, however, that to ensure the safety of our community during another spike in the pandemic, we must reevaluate our approach to on-campus learning. The fact that we’ll still be reckoning with Covid-19 on a large scale this spring is a hard truth to swallow, but our community needs to stay patient and keep our most vulnerable safe. Please stay safe, get boosted, buy an N95 if you haven’t already, and remain open to the possibilities of the new year.
By Joseph Amir
New Year’s resolutions! For some, they evoke images of frantically spinning on the treadmill for two weeks until the inevitable failure and abandonment of this resolution come. For others, they’re decried as “stupid,” something that only the weak attempt, or an exercise in futility. However, I’m here to tell you that it’s possible to set realistic resolutions that are entirely doable.
First, start with a goal you think would be easy to accomplish. For example, you could set a goal to “exercise for one hour a week” or “only 5 push-ups per day.” Then, increase this goal until you think it might be challenging to reach, for example, “5 hours of exercise per week” or “40 push-ups per day.” Really, all you need to do is start with the straightforward goal and then ramp up once per month until you’re at your final goal at the end of 2022!
In case you didn’t want to produce some New Year’s resolutions, or you were too impaired to think of any (21-year-olds only, of course), here are some sample resolutions that you can try on for size. Some of them are satirical, and some of them are serious – it’s up to you to tell.
Only 1 alcoholic beverage per day
Only 1 fistfight per week
Read 1 book per week
1 swearword per sentence limit
Make sure to wash your hands every time you go to the bathroom
Don’t yell at your mom
Get a new plant every month; if any of them die, you spend 1 hour freezing in the snow (bonus points – find snow)
Are we having fun yet? I’m glad. New Year’s resolutions are a tradition in American society for some reason or another. Making fun of the poor saps who abandon them has lived on in the culture for as long as the tradition has existed. Feel free to make, break, or forsake them, but they can be a fun way to improve yourself and might produce positive changes, even if you don’t hold onto them for the entire year.
By Ariana Perez
In the world of academia, the texts we often analyze are literary works of classic nature, renowned for their significance to a person, movement, or era of past and noteworthy history. In our Seminar curriculum at Saint Mary’s, everyone has read and discussed Homer’s The Odyssey or excerpts from Dante’s The Divine Comedy. Meanwhile, little thought is given to the value of modern narrative formats like comics and their ability to invoke discussions of similar depth. An exception is the graphic novel Maus, but even then, it is one modern comic book in a sea of literary texts.
One Jan Term course emphasizes the educational value of comic books and graphic novels by pairing them with philosophical discussion. Led by Professor Anne M. Carpenter, Jan-100 (Comics Books and Existenz) takes the philosophical ideas of Bernard Lonergan and pairs them with assigned comics that reflect Longergan’s concepts of human existence, particularly, of how one becomes oneself in the world.
Besides reading well-known DC and Marvel comics about well-known superheroes and teams like Superman and the Teen Titans, the class analyzes indie comics as well, providing a wide range of genres and archetypes to analyze in relation to how they connect with philosophical ideas of the self. Various aspects regarding the composition of the comics are talked about in seminar-style discussions along with the philosophical text that accompanies it. The result is long and engaging talks about details, and how themes of the accompanying philosophical text appear in the narrative, whether in themes or character arcs.
When I first saw this Jan Term course during registration, I jumped at the opportunity to analyze a form of media outside of the typical literary format. Although I’ve never considered myself a fan of philosophy, in this class I have found myself enjoying the connections I have been making between the complex philosophical excerpts and the diverse variety of comics.
I personally believe there is great value in using graphic narratives as conduits for critical thinking. In a format where every detail from dialogue to coloring and composition is carefully considered, how can comics not be considered as valid to analyze and discuss as the written hero epics of old? All in all, I highly recommend this course for anyone interested in philosophy, or who loves analyzing media and wants to try something new, familiar, or outside of their comfort zone.
Madison Sciba '24,