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On Wednesday the 21st, SGA Recording Secretary Brycen Higdon and SGA Sophomore Class President Adam Penland debated against each other for the SGA Presidential elections that open Wednesday the 28th and Thursday the 29th.
Opening statements began with SGA Lead Senator At Large and Penland’s VP running mate, Shruthi Vikraman, followed by Higdon’s running mate, Ryan May.
Vikraman began her opening statement by explaining her and Penland’s strategy.
“The first thing we want to do is increase the amount of funding that every student organization gets from SGA,” Vikraman said.
Vikraman also said she plans on working with Penland to make registration an easier and more efficient process.
“The third thing we want to do is have increased transparency,” Vikraman said referring to how students perceive SGA.
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May began his opening statement by reminding the audience that he is not apart of SGA, that he is a normal student. He said his innovation and imagination will enable students’ voices to be heard.
After opening statements, the moderator began the Q and A session made of pre-submitted questions.
“What exactly does each ticket intend to do specifically to address housing and dining issues on campus?”
Penland said he had already talked to Chris Lockerman, the general manager of Aramark, about this issue. Penland said he plans on pursuing more vegan and vegetarian options as well as making sure that the available dining options do not close early.
On the topic of housing, Penland said he plans on talking to the administration about the three-year housing agreement. He said he wants to hear the students’ voice on whether or not they want a three-year agreement. Penland also said that since the size of Mercer is increasing, the amount of housing should increase as well. He said he would like to see new dorms not only being built for freshman, but also for upperclassman.
May said that he had an innovative plan to extend cafeteria hours. He said he had already met with Dean Pearson. He said as an athlete, not being able to eat in the Caf from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. adversely affects his performance on the field and if he can get Underwood to see this then that change made would benefit everyone.
“What are some ways that you think Mercer can improve its relationships in communities such as ethnic and religious minorities, women, immigrants and the LGBTQ community?”
Vikraman said as a minority herself, she can contribute to improving Mercer’s social relations by serving as a minority representative on SGA.
May said his minority status also benefits him in this situation. He said there would need to be more events with people of color. From eating together to just hanging out or planning events together, May said it doesn’t have to be awkward.
“How do you plan on prioritizing students’ safety?”
Penland said he has made room in the budget to take out $4,000 to improve campus safety. Penland stressed how safety is the number one priority on Mercer’s campus.
May said he believes in the strength of cooperative student relationships with Merpo. He said students need to be vigilant.
The next question was specifically addressed to the Higdon May ticket.
“Your slogan is ‘With you, not above you’ does this mean that you believe that our current SGA believes they are above us. If not, why does this slogan meet your campaign?”
Higdon said yes. He said he believes there is a huge disconnect between SGA and the student body. He said he has another slogan and that is, “Inclusivity, Innovation, and Engagement.” Higdon said he wants to empower the student body and at the end of the day, SGA serves as a lobbying firm to campus administration for the student body.
How would you deal with a situation that is highly supported by the administration but opposed by the student body?
Penland said that ultimately SGA is not elected by the administration, President Underwood, or by Dean Pearson. He said he prioritizes the students’ voice and want they want.
Higdon responded by mentioning Founder’s Day and if he had been able to, he would have rescinded the invitation and left the stage open in Willingham for students to be able to voice their opinions and concerns. Higdon said he supports what students support.
“Do you support the push for gender neutral housing on campus?”
Vikraman said that if the majority of students want gender neutral housing then that is what she supports. She said it is in her best interest to petition for what students want.
Higdon said that after a lot of consideration, he is not opposed to doing trial runs. Higdon said he is willing to open up a floor somewhere on campus as gender neutral. He said that just because something hasn’t been done before doesn't mean it shouldn’t be done. Higson also said he believes diversity is what makes Mercer a better place.
For the Higdon May ticket, “You have not been on SGA for as long as Senator Penland and Senator Vikraman, in what ways is this a good thing and how has this given you a different perspective?”
Higdon first addressed Ryan’s lack of experience on SGA. He said that although he hasn’t been a part of SGA, he is still a leader. Higdon said Ryan is more than qualified because of his dedication to the football team, how involved he is on campus, and the leadership positions he has in ASA and MAPS. Speaking about himself, Higdon said he has “a pretty rotund experience with SGA.”
“How do you intend to benefit or help the relationship between Greek Life and the administration?”
Penland said as a new member of a fraternity on campus, he wants to help the administration see that Greek Life at Mercer is not about partying and going out to have a good time. He said Greek Life here at Mercer is about volunteering and going out and benefitting the Macon community.
Higdon said as member of a fraternity on campus he wants to improve Greek Life’s relationship with administration. He said that is why he supported delayed recruitment, which he said he still believes is a good idea and that it was just implemented in the worst way possible. Higdon said he wants to show administration that Greek Life is about accountability. He said that his fraternity has the highest GPA and it is because he has his brothers to keep him accountable.
“This year a SGA senator publicly accused other Senators of not being fair, what step would you take to ensure Senators are not intimidating to each other?”
Penland said that since SGA is made up of elected students to represent the student body, Senate should be an open area where Senators represent the students who elected them.
Penland said, “This year that was very unfortunate. That’s something that I think there should be rules in place to where Senators shouldn’t be able to intimidate other people.”
Penland said there should be consequences such as impeachment or sanctions against that Senator to ensure that all Senators feel free to speak for their constituents.
Higdon said that he plans on changing how Senate operates. Higdon said he wants to see Senators stand when they speak to the entire body. He said that way the speaker feels pressure to add value to the conversation and to think twice about what he or she is saying.
Higdon said he also plans on re-organizing how office hours work. Instead of holding office hours once a week behind closed doors, Higdon says he will assign an organization to each senator and that these senators will be responsible for finding out three problems the organization is dealing with and proposing solutions to those problems.
Closing statements began with Penland.
Penland said he has a three-pronged plan to change registration, SGA transparency, and increase funding for student organizations. He said he has been working with Vikraman to create two different plans for funding campus organizations. One plan involves petitioning for a higher budget from the school board, while the other focuses on re-allocating money from the current budget.
Higdon said he serves the voice of the student body. He said it will take “ultimate persuasion” and that he and May will do anything in their power to get the students’ opinion heard. He said he plans on making big changes to Senate.
May ended closing statements.
May said that it is his imagination and innovation that will bring change to Mercer’s campus. He said at the end of the day, “It’s about empowering students to empower each other.”
Mercer’s dining facilities, in particular the cafeteria and Chick-Fil-A, have received complaints from Mercer students regarding employee behavior. Chase Peplin, Student Government Association (SGA) senator and chair of the Contract Services Committee, said students are coming forward with claims of sexual harassment.
“We have received some complaints about how our workers speak to students,” Chris Lockerman, general manager of Mercer Dining, said.
Peplin said SGA is taking steps to address the dining complaints they have received.
“SGA is responding to reports of ‘sexual harassment’ where employees will make remarks to students that are entirely inappropriate and unacceptable,” Peplin said.
Peplin said SGA is in the process of installing a few preventative regulations after receiving these complaints.
“On behalf of the student body, SGA has called for a tripartite action plan,” Peplin said.
Peplin said the first initiative will be enforcing the cafeteria workers to wear name tags. He said the name tags will allow students to correctly identify each worker. The second enforcement will require the cafeteria workers to take part in sexual harassment training, he said.
Peplin said the third and most effective way to resolve and prevent this issue relies on the Mercer student’s communication. He said students should fill out the YourDiningVoice.com survey, a website that uses students’ feedback to enhance their dining experience.
“As long as students either fill out the MyDiningVoice survey or contact me, their concerns will be properly and aptly relayed to Aramark to respond to them,” Peplin said. Aramark is the food providing company that supplies all of Mercer’s dining options on campus.
Lockerman said he wants to speak to faculty first while they are waiting on student reports to come in.
“As soon as (the reports) come in, we will begin investigation.” Lockerman said. “If (the claims) are sexual harassment, we will revisit and possibly revise our policy.”
Lockerman said he plans on reinforcing business conduct policies as well as having meetings with all employees to ensure appropriate behavior.
“We expect all our employees to behave in a professional manner,” Lockerman said.
The Mercer Club Tennis team aced their competition at the Southern Championships Feb. 23 - 24 in Auburn, Alabama. With an overall three out of six matches won and coming in second in their pool, Mercer Club Tennis placed in the Gold Bracket.
Club President Josh Allison said that they had close matches from University of Tennessee Chattanooga, University of Alabama and North Carolina State University, just to name a few.
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“We had an awesome comeback win against UGA to win our first match in the Gold Bracket Player,” player Julia Stephen said.
Overall, Stephen said the Mercer Club Tennis team placed 23rd out of 48 teams.
The team did better this year than last, and Allison, although competing in his last year, said he wants to continue to encourage their growth.
“From our team that traveled, we have two male seniors, but young freshmen who are fully capable of stepping up to fill the void,” he said. “Since club tennis is a co-ed sport, male and female participation is just as important. With a strong team returning next year, I expect them to build upon the success that we had this year. I believe I will be leaving the club with people who are fully capable of making the club
excel more at tournaments.”
Both Allison and Stephen said they feel like the team exceeded their expectations and are looking forward to their final tournament of the year in Knoxville, Tennessee.
“Though this tournament will not affect whether we travel to nationals, this will nonetheless be another chance to wage our skill against other teams. Even if we are not successful at this tournament, I am just hoping to have fun and make sure my last Tennis on Campus tournament is a fun one,” Allison said.
Although Allison is graduating soon, Stephen said she is looking forward to the next year.
“We are looking forward to the fun team bonding experience of this tournament again, and we hope to do even better than we did this year,” Stephen said.
Chinekwu Obidoa is speaking about her own topic, “Finding Your Passion” on Feb. 27th at 8 p.m. as part of Mercer’s Real Talk series.
Speaking in the Innovation Center, Obidoa will be the fifth person to speak in the Real Talk series, which is aimed at helping normalize student challenges by using faculty and their stories.
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Obidoa's talk will take place in the Mercer Innovation Center on February 27 at 8 p.m.
Hannah Vann, associate director of Research that Reaches Out, is one of the organizers of this series and helps select which professors to speak each session.
“We conduct focus groups of student leaders to decide over the summer to hear their ideas on who they think should speak,” Vann said.
Vann and her collaborating partner, Student Success Counselor Emily Halstead, said they first created a basis of students leaders. Then the group of students decided on who they wanted to hear. To make sure other students’ opinions get heard, they send out surveys after each Real Talk to ask if there is anyone else the attendants wish to hear.
“It's very thoughtful the way it’s planned out,” Vann said.
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Vann said that her and Halstead’s vision for Real Talk started from wanting to help students engage each other and facility members.
“Real Talk is about connection and hearing the experience and feeling someone else has had,” Halstead said. “The struggles, the triumphs, just that journey is something we can all relate to regardless of what your major is.”
Obidoa said that this Real Talk session focuses on passion, her own as well as other students’. She will also speak about her journey from Nigeria to the United States on her search for a higher education. She has a Bachelor's degree in geography, three Master’s degrees in public health, international studies, and geography, respectively. She also holds a doctorate in public health.
“People have to have a passion, a passion about life. We have to be watchful about the convenience of life,” Obidoa said.
Obidoa also said that her passion also revolves around research.
“Research has been what has made me, it is a part of my passion story,” Obidoa said. Vann mentioned how Obidoa’s story is a little different from previous Real Talk speakers.
“Hearing her story and the path she took and the lessons that she learned along the way provides some good insight into some strategies that our own students can use to help navigate some of the same challenges,” Vann said.
Vann said that students should take the opportunity to sit and listen to Obidoa because it is not often that we can talk to people, listen to their stories and take from it what we need to hear.
“Everybody’s story matters. There's always wisdom to be gleaned,” Vann said.
Obidoa has also spoken at Georgia Southwestern State University and she said she always makes a point to speak to her class at the beginning of every semester in order to encourage them.
“Everyone has been designed to fix a problem,” Obidoa said. “It’s about finding your cut.”
For her talk on the 27th, Obidoa said that passion is indispensable. She said that at the end of her talk, students will have learned what passion is, how to find their passion and what value it adds to their life.
Halstead said she wanted to remind students that Real Talk is not about being lectured.
“This (Real Talk) is not a lecture. This is a conversation,” Halstead said.
Obidoa said she is looking forward to her talk and that she is “pumped.” She gave her final words of advice to students.
“Come with an open mind. Come ready to engage your life.”
In light of the Founder’s Day speaker controversy, many are wondering how the speaker is actually chosen and who exactly is behind the scenes orchestrating this annual Mercer tradition.
So who is in charge of choosing the Founder’s Day speaker?
According to Student Government Association President Olivia Buckner and Vice President Oge Onuh in an email released to The Cluster, it is a collaboration between SGA and administration. Buckner and Onuh wrote that SGA is in charge of sponsoring Founder’s Day. From designing the shirts to coordinating a luncheon for the guest speaker, they play a significant role in the making Founder’s Day run smoothly.
How is the decision made for who gets to speak?
“Heritage Life Committee, [SGA] President, and [SGA] Vice President bring forward a list of potential speakers and bring it to President of the University. Upon request, President Underwood also proposes a list of potential speakers. From this combined list, we extend invitations,” Buckner and Onuh wrote in an email.
According to Buckner and Onuh, once the invitations have been sent to all of the potential speakers from the combined list, SGA eliminates those who are unable to come to the event, those who they are not able to get in contact with, and those who declined the offer.
“From the remaining names, President Underwood then sends out the final invitation,” Buckner and Onuh said in the email.
SGA is then notified of the guest speaker and they move on with the logistics of the event from there, Buckner and Onuh wrote.
The guest invited to come speak on Founder’s Day is not made by one ultimate decision.
“Rather than a single person deciding who gets invited, it is more of a group collaboration,” Buckner and Onuh said in their email.
Where do we go from here?
Buckner and Onuh said that the process of choosing the Founder’s Day guest speaker has been a tradition. They wrote in their email that they are operating under the same structure and process that they have in the past. Yet, they said that they are more than willing to modify their process.
“Tradition does not mean change is something to shy away from. We are looking at potential avenues to make this process more inclusive,” said Buckner and Onuh in their email.
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, it can be very stressful trying to make the perfect reservation. There are so many options, and it can be overwhelming trying to narrow down which restaurants have the best reviews and the most reasonable prices. So to make your Valentine’s Day planning less stressful, here’s a list of the most romantic restaurants Macon has to offer, from least to most expensive.
Located on Cherry Street and boasting a lively indoor dining area and bustling outside patio, The Rookery is a great place to go if you’re looking for an inexpensive, charming Valentine’s date. Looking for more a private table? Ask the servers for a table upstairs or even in the booths to the side. The Rookery entrée plates are under $20, with a 4.6 rating on Google reviews.
Under the College Hill Lofts, The Brick offers a quiet venue for that perfect low-cost charming date night. With plates under $24 and a 4.4 rating, The Brick can make the perfect quick stop for great Valentine’s Day food. They specialize in pizza, wings, pasta and sandwiches.
Parish on Cherry Street
Want to add a little spice to your night? For under $20 and a rating of 4.3, Parish marries Cajun soul food with the perfect dinner venue. And to complete the perfect Valentine’s Day dinner, you can finish the night off right with chocolate beignets!
In the mood for some great Mexican food? La Parilla’s lively and friendly atmosphere makes it a great dining option for those who want to add a little fiesta to their Valentine’s Day night. With entrée dishes under $20 and an overall rating of 4.5, La Parilla will be sure to please both your wallet and your date.
Described by customers on Google reviews as “cozy and romantic,” Downtown Grill has the perfect food for a Valentine’s Day evening. Specializing in prime cut Black Angus steaks, fresh pasta dishes, fish fillets and decadent desserts, Downtown Grill will make your evening meal just a little more special. Entrée dishes are under $30, with an overall rating of 4.4.
Located off Ingleside Avenue, the Back Burner offers an array of fresh seafood as well as delicious tender steaks for under $30. Want to sit outside and enjoy the night? The Back Burner also offers great outdoor seating and a charming enclosed patio area. With an overall rating of 4.4, the Back Burner will not disappoint.
Tic Toc Room
The Tic Toc Room is an upscale premier steakhouse located downtown. With great respect for its music legends, Little Richard and James Brown, The Tic Toc Room offers fine dining for under $34. The stylish indoor décor will surely provide the perfect setting for your dinner. With a 4.2 rating, you and your date will be in for a treat.
If you’re looking for a gorgeous dining setting and exquisite food, Natalia’s has it all. With wonderful Italian food under $30, Natalia’s scenery will make the perfect Valentine’s date night. The soft, low lighting and beautifully furnished tables make Natalia’s stand out from other fine dining restaurants. With an overall rating of 4.6, Natalia’s Italian inspired back patio will certainly wow your date.
Although one of the priciest places in Macon with dishes under $33, Dovetail has the highest rating of 4.7. They serve Southern-inspired, locally crafted food in a low lit, quiet atmosphere. Dovetail is located downtown above The Rookery. Known as one of Macon’s most critically-acclaimed restaurants, Dovetail’s sophisticated dining experience will surely impress your date.
Marco Ristorante Italiano
Described as “the premium choice for true Italian fine dining” on their website, Marco’s elegant dining venue coupled with its authentic Italian food and fine wines makes it the perfect spot for a romantic Valentine’s Day date. With dishes under $40 and a rating of 4.2, Marco’s is the perfect addition to a lovely evening out with your significant other. To add the finishing touch, Marco’s serves all its delicious entrees on beautiful hand-painted dishes.
Recently, a dark shadow has been cast over Greek communities since the death of Maxwell Gruver at Louisiana State University. Gruver died in a fraternity house on Sept.14 following a night of hazing.
According to Louisiana-based newspaper “The Advocate, ” Gruver had been part of a fraternity hazing event for pledges known as “Bible Study” the night before. This two-hour event began with the pledges having hot sauce and mustard poured on them in the dark. They were then questioned about their fraternity history, with each wrong answer earning them multiple swigs of 190-proof Diesel liquor. Gruver’s blood alcohol level reached .496, which is more than 6 times the legal limit. This left him incapacitated and he then suffocated to death the next morning, faceup on the fraternity house’s couch, from his lungs filling up with his own vomit.
But this is not the only incident.
Piazza died Feb. 4, two days after finishing a new member event known as “The Gauntlet.” Fraternity members forced Piazza and other pledges to drink excessively. Piazza consumed 18 drinks in under 90 minutes. He then fell 15 feet down a flight of stairs, head first. After multiple more falls, he suffered from a fractured skull and lacerated spleen, which caused fatal abdominal bleeding.
Charles Terreni Jr.
He died March 18, 2015, in a University of South Carolina off-campus fraternity house from alcohol poisoning. Authorities suspect the amount of alcohol he ingested was not voluntary.
Coffey died Nov. 3 at Florida State University after a fraternity pledge house party. This case is still currently under investigation.
All of these incidents occurred within the past two years.
Whether college campuses across the U.S. want to admit it or not, Greek life has a hazing problem and the consequence has often been death. According to a study by Professor Hank Nuwer, since 1838, more than 200 university students have died from hazing-related accidents, 40 of those occurring in the last decade.
So, what should we do?
Many think the only solution is to shut down Greek life altogether. According to CNN, this is exactly what Florida State University has done. FSU has made the decision to indefinitely suspend all fraternity and sorority events.
While that might stop hazing on campus, it will not stop Greeks from continuing their practices independently. Many Greek organizations started in secret and would have no problem continuing their operations off-campus.
This would not stop hazing, but effectively make it much worse. There would be no one watching, no one preventing it. Even with the small amount of regulation currently put on the Greek community, the fear of being disbanded as an individual organization keeps most fraternities in check, though clearly not all.
Instead, universities should consider other methods of regulation like what we have at Mercer University.
Mercer has a zero-tolerance policy for hazing. As a future member, I have pledged to a sorority on campus and have not experienced any hazing nor have I heard anything from fellow Greeks about being hazed.
A zero-tolerance policy means that if Mercer hears of any possible hazing, they take immediate action. According to an article in The Macon Telegraph in 2010, Alpha Phi Alpha at Mercer had been banned for 3 academic years because of hazing allegations. No one died, no one had proof, but it was still unacceptable to Mercer.
The only way to end hazing is to seriously address the issue.
Instead of only recognizing the problem once someone has already lost their life, college campuses need to take preventative measures. Verbal warnings are not enough. Pretending hazing doesn’t exist is not enough. Hazing is taking lives and it needs to stop now.
With Christmas, winter break and presents just around the corner, it can be easy to forget about helping others this season. Even though grades, personal well-being and relationships are crucial components of college life, helping and growing our community is also something we should keep in mind. There are many things you can do at home to help your community, even here in Macon.
Here are just a few things you can do during this holiday season to get in the spirit of giving:
Volunteer and Donate Locally
Visit your local soup kitchen or volunteer at a local non-profit! Toys for Tots, The Ronald McDonald House and Goodwill are some great non-profits that you can volunteer at or even donate to.
Find Ways to Bring Your Community Together
Host a bake sale or car wash and then donate the profits to a charity you’re passionate about! You can even get some friends together and spend an hour or two cleaning up trash around your neighborhood. This can be a great way to see friends while giving back. You’re also helping the environment!
Share Your Skills!
Teach a class on a skill you have. Knitting, sewing and cooking are all helpful things to teach your community.
Tragedies still happen over the holidays and giving blood is just one way to help those in your community who are going through a crisis. While you might feel a little prick, you could be saving a life this Christmas season!
Share Your Pet
That might sound strange, but taking your family pet and visiting a hospital or nursing home this season is a sure way to put smiles on faces and make you feel good too!
Be a Big Brother or Big Sister
Join the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization and become a mentor! You get to impact the lives of younger children by taking them to the park or museum or by just being there. There’s no better way to give back than by directly influencing someone’s life for the better. For more information about how to be a Big Brother or Big Sister, make sure to check out http://bbbsheartga.org/
Deliver a Meal on Wheels
Contribute an hour and half once a week to deliver food to senior citizens! Driving for Meals on Wheels of Middle Georgia is a great way to serve the elderly community. To find out more and to volunteer, visit http://mealsonwheelsmidga.com/volunteer/
Join the Macon Volunteer Clinic
Help the Macon Volunteer Clinic by cleaning, managing, translating, or bookkeeping! You can sign up at http://maconvolunteerclinic.org/volunteers/volunteer-form/
Fulfill a Child’s Wish List
Make a child’s holiday wish list come true by making goodie baskets or bags for orphans at The Methodist Home located on 304 Pierce Ave.
Donate Something to Layaway Santa or Kids Yule Love
Layaway Santa will use your funds to pay off holiday layaway accounts at local retailers, while Kids Yule Love provides Christmas presents with a message of hope to the less fortunate children in the Middle Georgia. Visit Kids Yule Love’s website to learn about how to be a sponsor or to see drop points. http://www.kidsyulelove.com/. You can also donate to Layaway Santa at http://thelayawaysantas.com/
Bake or Buy Sweets for The Elderly
Make sure to visit Eastview Nursing Home on 3020 Jeffersonville Rd. with delicious holiday treats! You could even share recipes!
Show Your Spirit!
Invite friends to attend the Main Street Macon Christmas Parade and The Nutcracker of Middle Georgia. These are fun ways to get the community together and in the holiday mood.
This list mentions just a few things you can do to give back to your community here in Macon and even in your hometown. While we may take for granted the communities we live in, it’s important to remember that for most of us, Macon is our temporary home. This city has opened its hearts to us for the short time we are here, so why don’t we do a little something to say ‘Thank You’ this holiday season. Even the smallest donation or act of kindness can change your community’s holiday season!