Over the past month in the United States, the protests over police brutality have forced us to re-examine how we go about our daily lives when thinking about race relations. For myself, I have re-examined political beliefs and opened my eyes to new ideas and thoughts. For my college, this past month has put a spotlight on the need to listen to BIPOC and other minority students.

On June 1st, students from my university, Clark University, were arrested when a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest turned violent. Several of the students arrested were simply filming the protest and were not causing problems. None of the students were responsible for any damage or caused damage to any property. The resulting arrests led to student injuries such as bruises and scrapes, and outcry from the student body, as these students were arrested within feet of the university campus. Within 24 hours of the incident, the administration sided with the arrested students and said that they would end hiring non-campus police for events and patrols. 

While the administration’s decisions outraged the City Council and the police, it galvanized students to push for reforms. The Black Student Union sent out a list of requests for the administration to adhere to as a marker of support for the marginalized people of our university. According to College Factual, non-caucasian students made up 44% of the student body. Among these requests, the Black Student Union demanded that the University implement anti-racist training for staff and students, cut all ties with the city police, have more African American mental health providers, and more transparency with investigating reports of bias and racial incidents, including having a Black representative on the review panel. In response, the university agreed to some of the demands such as promising to hire a BIPOC mental health counselor but has not satisfied all of the requests made by the Black Student Union. In response, the Black Student Union, alongside student campus organizations have led a movement called for the removal of advertising material featuring the use of BIPOC students on the university’s page. This organized action is to shine a light on the exploitation of BIPOC students to show diversity, but not truly fighting for anti-racist and equality for all students. 

The opening statement of Clark University’s Black Student Union in response to recent Black Lives Matter protests

In addition to the changes pushed for by BIPOC campus organizations, a city-wide effort to transfer funds from the Worcester Police Department to other places such as schools, and mental health facilities have taken hold. The movement, Defund WPD, came to prominence after many citizens were concerned by the aggressive actions displayed by Worcester Police in early June from the Black Lives Matter protests.  Many people learned that the City Council was planning on increasing the budget of the Worcester Police Department by $250,000 for the next fiscal year. Despite outcry by the public who flooded the City Council meetings with calls and pleas to reroute the money, the Council unanimously approved the budget and sided with the police over those who have called for accountability. The outrage over the initial decision brought a torrent of emails, calls, and protestors to City Hall. After a deluge of calls and citizens making their voices heard, the City Council unanimously decided to reconsider the budget during their meeting on June 23rd. While a step in the right direction, Defunding Worcester Police Department could only be done by those who were spurred by protests across the country looking for a change. In addition to the movements in Worcester, another project brought nationwide attention to legislators taking police union money.

After watching the lack of action from politicians on police reform, one student became interested in how much money elected officials took from police unions. His research became a nationwide movement to hold officials accountable for making a change to their community. A college student from John Jay University tracked how much money members of his state assembly were receiving from the police. His project went viral and ended up having legislators donate money taken by police and similar unions to bail funds and other Black organizations. At this moment tens of thousands of dollars have been donated to funds and other organizations from politicians who have taken money from police unions. After making national news, many other spin-off projects sprouted, creating awareness of those who have taken money from police, corrections, or other agencies that could lobby against meaningful police reform. If you are interested in seeing if your legislator has taken money, here is the link. (https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1bu1wXgR8WKxhiF46W_VcVjk86myBC47S6bIfD8bwqic/edit#gid=830940746)

As a result of the Black Lives Matter Protests, people have gone beyond just protesting, they have begun to advocate and demand change through their own means. From my own university’s Black Student Union’s push to remove advertising of BIPOC, to standing up against police budget increases, to a college student going viral for showing how much politicians take from police unions, the Black Lives Matter movement will likely going to have a huge impact on the future of policing.

by Jay Abdella

With the closure of lots of schools across the country, many high school seniors are seeing their senior spring dry up right in front of them. For many seniors, realizing that after eleven and a half years the inability to celebrate the last semester of high school is devastating. In my hometown of Wayland, Massachusetts, Kate MacDonald, a mother of a Wayland High School senior, found a way for seniors to celebrate safely. After seeing her daughter devastated over the loss of her semester, MacDonald jumped into action.

“The realization that there will be no senior parties leading up to graduation, and no graduation at least in person or in November, that was a different impact than [losing] senior week,” said MacDonald. “Senior week was like it happens, but not going back to school and we aren’t graduating. I don’t want to be melodramatic, but it was devastating. She went from managing the situation to being very very depressed. That was the moment when I thought we had to do something.”

MacDonald’s daughter wasn’t alone; her entire grade felt the same way. The Wayland mother saw how “my daughter and her reaction and watching and knowing her friends, both male, and female, and knowing how impacted they were by this decision, I felt that the senior class as a whole was just so melancholy and so in the dumps, much more so than the first month of the quarantine.” 

MacDonald found support from parents of the community and originally planned for the celebration to be for her daughter and her friends, but she then decided to expand the event to the entire senior class. She then ran into a problem: what is the best way for seniors to be celebrated without breaking social distancing rules? Her first idea was a parade, but she found that there would be too many logistical issues regarding organizing a parade for 200 seniors.

“The issue here is that there are so many logistics that come with organizing a starting parade spot or making sure the kids don’t get out of their cars, it’s potentially 200 kids,” said MacDonald. “What I thought was that instead of doing a parade and organizing that, ‘what if a parade naturally happened where the seniors could be celebrated? We can have them in front of their own homes and next to their family members only and in safe spots and people can drive by within a set timeframe and wave, cheer, yell, and scream, whatever they want to do to celebrate, and that’s really how [the parade] came about.” 

image1(High school seniors drive with their families as they celebrate completing high school)

With the help of the senior class adviser, MacDonald was able to reach out to all of the parents of Wayland students as well as students who attended Wayland High School and lived in Boston. She came up with a plan to celebrate all of the students over the course of several weeks. The idea was that parents could opt-in their children to be celebrated, or just have their kids celebrate others if they were too shy to want to be celebrated. Every week, a convoy of decorated cars would drive through town to celebrate a portion of the grade who would stand outside of their house to take in the cheering crowd. Eventually, the community jumped into the affair.

“The first parade was fantastic. The community jumped in and we see families with little kids lining the streets and they are all waving and cheering. It’s great.”

image2

(Caitlin Newton, a student at Wayland High School stands and smiles on her driveway as the parade of high school seniors drives by)

The planning that MacDonald put into for the senior parade paid off for her and for the senior class. Even though her daughter was hesitant to be celebrated, MacDonald pushed her to stand outside and bask in the cheering. The end result was happiness instead of sadness.

“She’s a social person, but she doesn’t want to be the focus of attention. Her first reaction was, “I’ll drive around and celebrate others, but no way will I be celebrated,” MacDonald said. “Being the mom that I am, I said, “No, you are.” She was part of the first celebration and she smiled through the whole thing; I got a video of her ear-to-ear smiling and cheering.” MacDonald continued, “Afterwards, I remember coming inside and she said, “I needed that,” and that made it for me.’” 

MacDonald found her idea impacted many members of the senior class. She found that many of the seniors who participated were sending her messages, thanking her for what she did to raise their spirits during a trying time. 

“The number of seniors that have reached out to say thank you and tell me their thoughts and how it changed their spirits after finding out school was not going back into session,” said MacDonald. “The fact that these seniors would take the time to reach out shows their humility. It shows that my idea has an impact that I am thrilled about, one that I could not imagine creating.”

By Jay Abdella

When gyms are closed and working out with your friends is not an option, what do you do? For myself and other students at my university, twice a week, we are treated to Zoom Yoga by my friend Melanie Adams. Adams, a certified instructor-led a power hour yoga class every Monday while school was still in session. Melanie’s goal is, “to provide yoga to other people in a high quality and accessible way.” Her classes are often the first time a student is exposed to a structured yoga regiment. For those who do not have access to a structured fitness program, yoga is a great way to dip your toe into exercising.  

Many college students are drawn to yoga because of its accessibility and lack of equipment. Many people equate exercising with using big fancy machines or running for miles on end. With yoga, all you need is yourself and a small amount of space around you. Due to this, yoga is a highly accessible recreational and athletic option for many students and adults!

 Melanie’s classes allow students both new and old to stretch out, relax, and become one with the universe. As someone who flexibility is close to zero, having a chance to stretch out each week was a great weight off my shoulders. In addition to taking the weight off my shoulders,yoga has strengthened both my muscles and my endurance, traits that are important for my primary sport; Karate.. For those still in school, yoga has benefits between different athletic fields. For instance yoga promotes flexibility in your muscles which are beneficial to those who are involved in projectile sports such as throwing basketballs, baseballs or any sort of flying object.

Melanie Adams’ class poses for a picture before class lets out for Spring Break. Adams (Front and center) has been leading classes at Clark University since September. (Photo Credits to Melanie Adams)

Adams began her yoga journey, taking her first yoga class in high school. It was there where she found herself connecting with her teacher Casey on a deep level. [add some description]“My teacher, her name was Casey and I have been practicing with her for almost five years now. She has really inspired me over the years through her teachings and having a relationship with her,” said Adams. Through her relationship with her teacher, Adams began to think about her future in yoga. The summer before Freshman year, she found herself hunting for opportunities for certification. Eventually, after surfing the web, Melanie took the biggest leap of her life so far; investing $3,000 of her own money into becoming certified as a yoga instructor. 200 hours of yoga training later, Adams walks out with her own certification to teach.

When students received the notice that Clark University was moving online and all athletic programming was being suspended, Melanie sensed a problem. Many students that attended her class throughout the school year had no access to yoga from home. In addition, she was concerned that the connections she had made with her yoga students throughout the year would fade away “I had certain student relationships with the people who came to my classes every week, and I was worried about when school was closed having those relationships put on hold, so I started teaching the classes on zoom so that I could still have a weekly connection and still be a part of those peoples wellness routines even though it is in a much different way,” said Adams

Now, Melanie hosts yoga sessions twice a week for students who are interested in continuing their weekly stretch-out. On Mondays, it’s Happy Hour Flow (Destressing), and on Wednesdays, it’s Rest and Restore (Finding Your Inner Self). 

As she has transitioned to online yoga, Adams has found that it helps her keep a connection to those who have attended her classes in the past. While zoom powers this connection, online classes only go so far. Adams laments that some participants have their cameras and microphones muted so that she can’t make sure they are properly following along. She also has found that she can’t be as emotionally invested in her classes as she was back in school. 

“I feel like I can’t get as emotionally themed in my classes because I don’t know whether people have a place to work it out after class is over. I have to find the balance between talking about real issues and knowing it could trigger someone to have a worse experience after class and not being able to help,” said Adams

Adams leads a free yoga class near her home in Massachusetts. (Photo credits to Melanie Adams)
For now, as we all sit in isolation, at least for a few days a week, we can stretch out, relax, and pretend that the entire world isn’t falling to pieces around us. If you are interested in joining Melanie’s class, it is every Monday at 5 pm Eastern Standard Time and Wednesdays at 7 pm Eastern Standard Time. For those who want to get their stretch on, here is the link to the classes! Zoom link: https://zoom.us/j/9697543823 and the access code for the room is  969-754-3823.

COVID-19 has had disastrous impacts on college students’ mental health. Students now must figure out the next five months of their lives as colleges have forced people to return home or stay in one place. For many people, just being isolated can exacerbate anxiety and depression. For myself, I handle my anxiety by talking to and helping other people with their own mental health struggles. One of my favorite things to do to help people is, simply, to hug them. Whenever I hug someone, I imagine hugging out the negativity and self-doubt of my friends and absorbing those emotions into myself. Like kidneys filtering out blood, I like to think I can filter out my friend’s negative emotions without weighing myself down. Sadly, with COVID-19 forcing everyone to isolate, hugs are impossible. Now, whenever I see a post from a friend who is having a bad day, my heart aches for them as I want to hug the sadness out of them. All I can do is message them and let them know I am here for them. Texting them, unfortunately, only does so much. Words help, but the act of hugging goes so much further, especially when it takes days for people to answer. Without being with my friends in person, I feel powerless to help my friends, and through that my anxiety is slowly edging back to my periphery. While I feel this, I have found a new way to help other people through text.

One thing that I found to be helpful during this time is to reach out to those who are younger than us. I have reached out to people I know who are still in high school who are probably just as terrified of their future as we are. High school seniors who have worked for three and a half years and have made it to the fabled Senior Spring, only to have it ripped away from them two and a half months before they would be finished. At my high school, the seniors would perform a show during senior spring, all run and produced by the students themselves. As of now, the show is postponed until late May, but at this point, it is a major possibility that students will not go back to school this year. The implications of that are massive. No walking across the stage at graduation, no saying goodbye to your teachers, no smoking cigars with friends after graduating, nothing. To come all this way and not being able to be rewarded for your success is nothing short of heartbreaking. While we are mourning the loss of our spring semesters and time that we could be spending with our friends, seniors have lost their final hurrah of high school (I’m not forgetting college seniors either, you guys deserve everything too), and they need someone who will comfort them in their time of need.

-My friend and I during a highlight of senior spring: The Senior Cruise

By being a figure in these people’s lives, either older or younger, it provides meaning in our lives despite us not being there in person. For myself, in addition to staying in touch with my college friends, I had a long talk with a camp co-worker until five in the morning. While I did not interact with her as much in high school or at camp, it felt good to be able to talk and be hopeful towards the future. While COVID-19 has changed the dynamics of how friends can help friends, you can always get in touch with those who are younger than you. If you do, you might find yourself making a difference in their lives!