The true importance of art lies in its power to bring people together and tell a story. From the stunning paintings hanging in museums to the street art in Atlanta, art has power. In recent times, there has been an increase in creativity and self-expression as art — including body modifications. While body modifications through tattoos and piercings have been around for centuries as they play important roles within countless cultures, the full beauty of this art form and access to it is now more widespread than ever. Tattoos and piercings offer a glimpse into the soul of a person, an outward projection of inner thoughts, deepest secrets or even simply what an individual thinks is cool. Tattoos and piercings can mean a multitude of things, but most importantly, they stand for self-expression and — for many — self-love. “I use tattoos and piercings as a way to express myself, especially the tattoos. Piercings are more of a vanity, but tattoos contribute an artistic aspect to my own body, which I think is really neat,” said Jackson Sundgren, a sophomore at Mercer University. Sundgren also described the importance of one of his tattoos as a reminder of his past. “My piercings are really just for fun, as I can switch them out with whatever vibe I’m feeling. One of my tattoos does have an underlying significance — I have a serotonin molecule on my bicep. It’s a reminder of some tough times I’ve been through but to always be happy, since it is the ‘happy’ neurotransmitter,” Sundgren said. Lauren Torres, a junior neuroscience major also shares the belief that tattoos specifically help us remember moments and important parts of one’s life. “My small cross on my wrist represents my religious beliefs, as my family is Catholic. My second tattoo on my right collarbone is my mother’s birthday in Roman numerals, since she’s my best friend and the person I admire most. My third tattoo on my right wrist is my little brother’s name in Arabic,” Torres said. Other students described how tattoos and piercings are just for fun, an expression of themselves and their unique perspectives without carrying a heavy emphasis on a specific time or definitive meaning. One such student is Alexus Goodrum, a sophomore and lover of tattoos as an art form. “I think seeing my parents get tattoos when I was younger influenced me some to get tattoos, as I always thought of it as a way to take beautiful pieces of art with me,” Goodrum said. “Honestly, they don’t have that much significance. The one with the most meaning is the butterfly on my arm that says ‘Soul Shine’ because no matter what, at the end of the day, I’m going to shine through and do what’s right for me.” Lauren Cheek, a senior, shares these thoughts, describing a snake on her forearm. It's the only tattoo she has gotten thus far. “Snakes make me happy,” Cheek said. “Every time I look at my tattoo, I smile now. Some people think that because tattoos are permanent, the decision of what to get needs to be a big production. For me, tattoos and piercings are just about what brings me joy.” Cheek and Torres both described how their favorite piercing is their industrial bar, a long bar piercing through the top of the ear. Both also have nose piercings that they love, Cheek with a septum piercing and Torres with a simple stud. “I think I ultimately decided to get my septum piercing because I was in a bad place last semester, and I wanted a change. I wanted to do something for myself, something that made me smile. It worked completely. As soon as it was done, I couldn’t stop thanking the guy who did the piercing. I felt like a brand new person,” Cheek said. Torres boasts a total of 14 piercings, 13 in her ears and her one nose stud — but she said more piercings aren’t out of the question. She’s thought about getting a daith piercing, which passes through the ear’s innermost cartilage fold, or tragus piercing, which sits near the entrance of the ear canal. “Those are both painful piercings, as they would be going through a thick piece of cartilage in my ear. Also, I already have so many piercings in my ear that I doubt it would be a big difference for me, so that’s another reason I haven’t gotten more — besides their cost,” Torres said with a laugh. While tattoos and piercings are important to many, Goodrum articulates how important it is to do research to find a good creator. She said she definitely wants to get more tattoos but also wants to stand up for herself within the creative process to get pieces that are perfectly “her.” “I don’t regret any of (my tattoos), but I do wish I would have spoken up and been more clear about what I wanted. For example, with the peach branch on my shoulder, I really don’t like how brown and realistic the colors are,” Goodrum said. All four students believe that tattoos are an art form. “People always say, ‘Your body is a temple,’ but temples are full of art,” Sundgren said. “I think they’re a fun way to express yourself and turn your own body into a work of art. Body modification makes me feel more confident and powerful. I see them as a unique aspect of my personality.” Torres describes how tattoos and piercings are a form of art in that they are an expression of one’s truest self. “Our bodies are like a living, breathing canvas that can be altered and changed with ink, color and metal,” Torres said. “Tattoos and piercings are ultimately an expression of one’s views, personality and outlooks on life. They are an expression of how I view myself because it’s not about someone else liking the fact of whether or not I have tattoos or piercings." Goodrum shares this feeling, describing how amazing it is to look back on the experience and realize how much she has grown. “The thing that makes me happiest about my tattoos is remembering the state of mind I was in when I got it and realizing how far I’ve come since then. My tattoos make me feel so badass and having them is definitely a big part of my personality. They make me, me,” Goodrum said. Cheek said her tattoo and piercings are such a large part of her life and story, making her both more comfortable in herself and also happier as it is something she can control. “There’s not a lot about our lives we get to choose or control, but this is something for me,” Cheek said. “My tattoo and piercings also remind me of certain times in my life. Sometimes it reminds me of happy times, and sometimes it reminds me of sad times. But even when it reminds me of sad times, it’s a reminder that I’ve moved past that." Cheek says it best when she said the joy she feels about being her authentic self is the most important part of body modifications. “Maybe it sounds silly, but I really think there’s something magical about doing something solely because it makes you happy and makes you love yourself more,” she said. “You can’t control all the terrible parts of life, but in the face of sadness, you can choose joy. That’s how I feel about getting piercings and tattoos. I’m choosing something that makes me happy.”
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I’m lonely. I said it, the thing we are so often scared to admit but that so many of us have felt. As I type these words, the feeling only magnifies as I realize that Valentine’s Day is here… again. Don’t get me wrong. I love love. I love the way it makes people feel and the bond it creates between individuals. I love the cute couples who hold hands as they walk through the Historic Quad and the look two lovers give each other across the room; their eyes holding onto each other even if their hands can’t. But, man, I hate Valentine’s Day! How long does one girl have to wait for a decent man to give her some Publix-brand flowers and a kiss on the cheek? The answer is: as long as it takes this one girl to love herself wholeheartedly. That’s what this Valentine’s Day is for me to do: practice self-love. I’m tired of being alone, but I’m even more tired of being so hard on myself. Only a few weeks into the semester, I already feel exhausted. I push myself hard, trying to reach huge dreams while keeping everything balanced. I am there for so many but don’t often give myself time to breathe and just live in the moment. It’s something I’m always working on. As Valentine’s Day approached, I was already feeling the same as I have every year since freshman year of high school. Feeling so alone despite being surrounded by a crowd of people in classes, extracurriculars and even walking to class is never a fun feeling. Having to be reminded that it is the season of love despite feeling so alone is even harder. My mom always tells me to remember this simple truth: everything happens for a reason and when it is supposed to happen. She was—once again—right as this year. Valentine’s Day is not something I dread, but something I look forward to as a way to spend time with myself and just relax. Coming from me, that is an absolutely amazing feat. Food is the universal love language. Because of this, one thing I know I want to do is try a new recipe. Since I’ll be on my own during this holiday, that simply means I have more food for myself. Cheers to even the smallest victories! Being able to create something new on my own is always exciting, so I know it will be a fun way to delve into a traditional Valentine’s event but with my own spin. One of the few things that I’ve started again since COVID-19 first led to quarantine was working on my art. Painting, sketching, drawing and writing poetry are a few of the things that have brought me the most joy during this time. For Valentine’s Day, I bought a canvas and some new paint brushes in order to create a real masterpiece… or maybe just a pretty flower. That’s fine, too! Art is a language in itself, so it only seems fair that I delve into that world as well. Being able to be creative and enjoy the feeling of seeing a finished work has brought me so much joy over quarantine. It’s something I want to continue to do for a long time to come, but I also think it is perfect for Valentine’s Day. The last thing I plan on doing to practice self-care is buying myself my own flowers. I’ve always loved the idea of receiving flowers or even giving flowers to show how you feel. While I’ve never received some myself, Valentine’s Day is the perfect excuse to change that. I may still be alone on Valentine’s Day, but this holiday doesn’t have to be one I look at with disdain. Instead, it can be one I look at with humor, fun and creativity as I plan to sweep myself off my own feet. I won’t lie and say it will be perfect, but for the first time, I don’t feel quite so alone. For the first time, when I think of Valentine’s Day, I don’t think of how lonely I will be. Instead, I think of how absolutely awful I am going to look dancing around my kitchen with a pint of ice cream in hand. I think we often forget that there are moments of good in everything. I chose to reframe this Valentine’s Day to be a moment of good instead of a moment of loneliness, choosing to look at the positives and see that I can spend time with myself, doing what I love with someone that deserves more love and care: me. In short, this Valentine’s Day, I’m my own Valentine. I think it’s time that I take the time for myself and show the same care to myself as I do for others. If you’re reading this, take it as your sign to be perfectly you and do what makes you happy this Valentine’s Day. With the stuffed elephant pillow on my bed to hug, a box of pasta begging to be made, a fresh canvas craving paint and the smell of flowers drifting through the air, I plan to make the most of my Valentine’s Day this year.
Art has the capability to speak when words aren’t enough. No one shows the truth of this statement greater than Tennille Davis Shuster, associate professor of graphic design at Mercer University. Shuster is the artist behind the newest display at the Plunkett Gallery of Hardman Hall, located on Mercer University’s Macon campus. Combining her love of graphic design with creative writing and reading, Shuster created a collection of memories and moments to both help us survive and remember the COVID-19 pandemic. Shuster created the book art project titled “5 Things” that is based on the podcast hosted and produced by Tara Anderson. Students in Shuster’s ART 310 Graphic Design II class were told to identify five things that tell the story of their quarantine experience via an artist’s book. The students were asked to consider questions like, “how do the objects we love define us?”, “what can we learn from the things we treasure?” and “how can we discover a life story through these objects?” By focusing on things that helped them during the pandemic, students were empowered to alter the way they viewed the pandemic, transitioning from a time of isolation and loneliness to one of simple joy for the everyday pleasures. With this emphasis on the simple things, we get a glimpse into Shuster’s passion for art as a whole. “Books, held in the hand, provide a personal interaction that many design formats simply cannot. They engage the senses. Hearing the crack of a spine as you open a book, revealing a beautifully marbled endpaper. Feeling the cotton paper on your fingertips. Even catching the scent of freshly printed ink as you turn the pages,” Shuster said. This emphasis on the simplistic beauty of her work is highlighted once the viewer looks closer at Shuster’s latest personal project, “What Lives On.” “What Lives On” is a pandemic journal project designed to aid in documenting personal narrative histories during COVID-19. These journals also house places to honor those who did not survive the pandemic and facilitate a correspondence between the pandemic survivors and future generations. The “What Lives On” project allows the individual to fill in the enclosed pages by responding to 20 prompts. Through the addition of photographs, recipe cards, personal memories, love letters or any other special mementos that helped an individual during the trying times of the pandemic, the book project is as much a way to remember the trying time as well as to heal from it. Those who fully immerse themselves in the art and write something recalling their time spent during the pandemic or during quarantine focus on the bright moments that made the pandemic bearable, while also remembering those who were lost. “I produce book art editions that are, at their core, graphic design objects, yet they are personal and precious, just as many books continue to be for so many readers,” Shuster said. These books are viewed as treasured objects, as books not only have a definitive historical significance but have also been instrumental in changing the world. “Books have shaped nations and spread religions. Books, held in the hand, provide a personal interaction that many design formats simply cannot,” Shuster said. The quarantine journals seen in “What Lives On” are the embodiment of human emotion, showing the thing we must all hold onto during this time: the memories, both good and bad. This idea that books can transcend time and space is also seen in Shuster’s work, “The Party’s Over,” created in 2017 amongst political turmoil and a divided nation. “I believe that book art provides the perfect artistic vehicle to communicate complex emotion in response to cultural events,” Shuster said. This emphasis on the power of art is only more poignant upon inspection of Shuster’s paper marbling in which Turkish Ebru, Japanese Suminagashi and Spanish Moire methods result in a series of colors and shapes reminiscent of geological structures formed under various stresses and pressures. “The new series is realized as a visual representation of the current state of tension caused by the global pandemic, political unrest and call for social justice. Each is a reminder of the unpredictable nature of external forces each individual must yield to,” Shuster said. This emphasis on the full immersion into the grief, tragedy, joy and love that the pandemic brought to the surface creates an exhibit that appeals to the plethora of human emotion without being forced or cliche. The elevation of the seemingly simple medium of paper to an exquisite and multifaceted work of art shows the tangible and real beauty of everyday objects, particularly against the background of the pandemic. From the bright colors of the geographic designs to the multitude of prints found on the individual quarantine journals, Shuster creates a display that is not only beautiful to look at but also captures the imagination with its bold swirls, textures and lines. Shuster has created nothing short of a masterpiece display, using the darkness of the pandemic to bring happy moments and even sad memories to light. By allowing the individual to submerge themselves in their emotions and feelings, Shuster does not shy away from the difficult moments. Instead, she faces them head-on, creating art that is striking and purposeful. It does no good to forget those that have passed or the melancholy moments we have faced in 2020 and now 2021. Instead, we must embrace them, remembering them as moments of growth where we worked towards glimmers of light despite the darkness around us. Reflection, resolutions and realizations have been key to surviving the pandemic. Shuster’s ability to combine the intricacy of paper with the bold and skillful world of graphic design allows her to create an exhibit that not only catches the reader’s attention but calls to the yearning book lover and hopeful soul in us all.
If this week has taught me anything, it’s that I enjoy cheese a bit too much. I eat it with every meal! Raised on meat and potatoes, I figured going vegan for a week meant I was in for a week of mass chaos, torture and hunger, but I was completely wrong. Instead, going vegan for a week opened my eyes to a range of dishes, snacks and funky flavors that I never would have experienced otherwise. It also led me to the realization that there really are so many foods that are vegan that we don’t even know about. My first adventure into the world of vegan foods was with sweet potato and red lentil curry. I have never in my life eaten a lentil, much less known what it was or seen one, so going to the grocery store was the first hurdle. Publix turns out to be the key place to find all things curry-related, so after putting the never-before-seen lentils in my cart as well as the red curry paste I had only previously seen on television, I headed to check out and realized this was truly the first time I had been shopping and didn’t buy some type of dairy product (usually ice cream because it’s a comfort food) or meat. Cooking red lentils is an interesting experience because they completely turn to mush. This was normal, however, as lentils are used to thicken and add protein to the curry. The meal included sweet potatoes, red lentils, red curry paste, coconut milk, ginger, garlic, onion, tomato and vegetable broth. The best part is that it was all made in one pot! I decided to serve mine with rice since I had some readily available. It truly was amazing! Another great part of this recipe is that it makes multiple servings, so I was able to have leftovers through my week-long vegan adventure. Another fantastic recipe was given to me by Sarah Moore, a junior Spanish and English major here at Mercer. Moore is also vice president of the Vegan Club. Moore sent me a recipe for chickpea cookie dough that uses chickpeas, peanut butter, maple syrup, vanilla extract and chocolate chips. These cookies truly rocked my world. They are not like chocolate chip cookies at all though, but they do taste amazing. One thing I’ve discovered from this experiment is that vegan food doesn’t always taste like non-vegan food, but it is actually delicious! Plant-based burgers, red beans and rice, sweet potato and red lentil curry and even vegan cookies are all great alternatives to foods that contain animal products, and are just genuinely great foods in their own right. Moore introduced me to some vegan snack choices as well. “My favorite vegan snacks are hummus and pretzels, apples and peanut butter and there are tons of other vegan snacks like Oreos,” Moore said. One of my biases towards veganism was the idea that there were so few options, but this actually isn’t true. There are numerous options. “When I first went vegan, I didn’t realize how easy it was to be vegan on Mercer’s campus. I love how they’ve added more vegan options every year,” Moore said. I will say that one downside to veganism is the realization that, even with all of these options, there are still so many times where individuals have to be immensely careful of what they eat. I learned this firsthand as I messed up on day four. Day four of my vegan journey was going well until I ate a brownie made with eggs, milk and butter. I truly felt like I had one job and had failed at that job! With that being said, the four days of my vegan journey went much better than I thought it would. I tried some amazing dishes, got to speak to a fellow student about her favorite vegan foods and found a new love for peanut butter. Overall, I think this was a fun experience. While I don’t think I could be vegan like Moore, I do know now how to live on a vegan diet—at least for four days.
At the start of COVID-19, the United States saw the introduction of face masks as a means to stop the spread of coronavirus. Masks have since become a new fashion item. Masks are now being used to represent organizations, trends and personal style. With the rise of mask-wearing, individuals everywhere also saw a change in makeup and beauty trends as graphic eyeliner replaced a bold lip. Here are some makeup tips and tricks for wearing makeup with our new everyday face accessories. Wash your masks I know this one may seem odd, but one of the best things you can do to help your makeup and skincare game is wash your mask frequently. While it is important to cleanse your face regularly, it is also important to wash your face covering as well. A clean mask can keep down the dirt, oil and debris that can cause breakouts, according to Northwestern Medicine. Fill in your brows Since eyes are the windows into the soul, it only makes sense that you should play up your eyes when possible. With COVID-19, however, the need for an emphasis on eyes only increases as the majority of your face is covered. Filling in your brows with a full, feathery look not only draws attention to your eyes but also helps shape your face. A quick run through your brows with a brow pencil, brow powder or even eyeshadow that matches your hair color is the perfect way to accentuate your eyes. Amp up your lashes Another makeup trend that has taken off recently is lash extensions. If that’s your thing, now is the perfect time to try them as they can open up your eyes and add dimension to your face. If you’re like me and want a cheaper alternative, mascara is always a good idea too. I already have long and full lashes, but the beauty of mascara is that there are so many different types for everyone. You’re sure to find the perfect one for your needs whether that be length, volume, curl or all three! Another option is false eyelashes that can be applied with lash glue. False lashes come in so many different styles that there are so many to choose from: natural to bold and daring. Try out graphic eyeliner With such a large emphasis on eyes, now is the perfect time to experiment with fun eyeliner looks as well! Graphic eyeliner became a trend in recent years, but the large expanse of colors has only increased with time. Brands such as Colourpop have a range of beautiful colors that are only $6 each, making it perfect for experimenting with fun, colorful looks. Whether you want to go with a basic black cat-eye effect or a bright under-eye liner for a pop, graphic eyeliner is a relatively new but fun trend to show off your creative side. Experiment with eyeshadow Now is also a great time to experiment with bold and colorful eyeshadow! Eyeshadow skills are something that only get better with practice as blending is such a large part of the process. With a few quality brushes, you can create countless eye looks that show off your personal style. I also recommend using some bold colors or looking into colors that accentuate your eye color. It can be a fun study break as well, plus, who doesn’t love to update their Instagram with cool looks? The key to wearing makeup with masks is to focus on eyes, moisturizer and good skincare. By focusing on those things, you can create a fun yet fresh look. Another important factor is to have fun with your makeup! Whether you’re more of a natural beauty or a bold babe, now is the perfect time to experiment and find the perfect look for you.
Botham Jean: while it is a name few know outright, his story is widely known due to the media coverage it received in 2018. Jean was murdered in 2018 by Amber Guyger, an ex-Dallas police officer who entered the wrong apartment Sept. 6, 2018. Guyger entered apartment 1478 at the South Side Flats apartment complex in Dallas, fatally shooting Botham Jean as she mistook his apartment for her own. According to Guyger, she believed she had interrupted an intruder in her own home and used lethal force to defend herself. However, she had wrongly entered Jean’s house. He was eating ice cream when Guyger fatally shot him in the chest. Moments after the shooting, Guyger realized she was in the wrong apartment. On Sept. 13, 2018, Jean’s funeral was held at Greenville Avenue Church of Christ in Dallas. Jean’s uncle, Ignatius Jean, who had traveled from St. Lucia for the funeral, told ABC News about the impact Jean made on the world through his ministry, his kindness and his love. “The sound of gunshots did not have the resonance to be heard on our small island, but their impact was of nuclear proportions,” Ignatius said. Tamara Barnard, a senior at Mercer University, witnessed this tragedy, not on the news, but in her own life: Jean was her cousin. [pullquote speaker="Tamara Barnard, senior" photo="" align="left" background="off" border="right" shadow="off"]It’s not enough to just not be racist; you have to be anti-racist. This includes calling out your friends and family and holding them accountable, even if it may feel uncomfortable. Educate yourself on issues and don’t always expect a person of color to have to educate you on issues regarding race ... Don’t be afraid to talk about race. It’s important to speak up.[/pullquote] “I think racism in this country has taken on a new complex form. With the various social media outlets we have now, racism is more visible. I don’t know if I would say it’s getting worse, but I know it’s not getting better. The issues of systemic racism are still very much prevalent,” Barnard said. Many people of color and their allies share this sentiment. “Racism isn’t getting worse; it’s just being filmed” has been a large part of the recent Black Lives Matter movement. The unfortunate need to record racial violence has seemed to become commonplace due to the current racial and political climate. A majority of Americans — 65%, including majorities across racial and ethnic groups — say it has become more common for people to express racist or racially insensitive views since President Donald Trump was elected in 2016. And 45% say it has become more acceptable, according to the Pew Research Center. Barnard said proper education is needed in order to make America a place of racial equality. “I think a good start would be teaching an accurate depiction of African American history in all school systems and not having a president that condones racism,” Barnard said. The study of genetics has found that there truly is no difference in race when looking at the scientific information gathered widely throughout the world. Instead, scientists argue that race is a social construct. “Today, the mainstream belief among scientists is that race is a social construct without biological meaning. And yet, you might still open a study on genetics in a major scientific journal and find categories like ‘white’ and ‘Black’ being used as biological variables,” according to Scientific America. The need to differentiate groups based on skin color is yet another example of how systemic racism has created a divide within the United States. “Black Americans continue to face unnecessary hardships at every level of society. From lack of access to educational opportunities, health care disparities, mass incarceration, the list goes on. African Americans are still facing consequences from Jim Crow laws and other structural racism sponsored by both the federal and state governments,” Barnard said. One way that Barnard and her family continue to create an impact despite these difficulties and discrepancies due to race is through the memory of Botham Jean. “After my cousin’s murder, my family created The Botham Jean Foundation, a non-profit organization to help keep his memory alive and continue on his work of helping others. While Botham was alive, he did a lot of mission work, especially in our home country, St. Lucia,” Barnard said. Barnard recently discussed her story at Mercer’s Black Lives Matter vigil. She described in detail what happened to her cousin and its impact on her family. She is also conducting a research project on racial bias and police violence. Barnard was able to use this research, conducted with the help of Natalie Bourdon, associate professor of women’s and gender studies and chair of the anthropology department, to give an oral presentation through the Council of Undergraduate Research in Washington, D.C. The Council on Undergraduate Research is committed to inclusivity and diversity in all of its activities, allowing discussions and participation from individuals and groups that have been traditionally underrepresented in undergraduate research. Barnard is also pursuing an applied social justice certificate where she hopes to use this research to better the community and raise awareness about racial bias and police violence. While this work and effort to create change and help others is important, Barnard said all people, but white people in particular, can help to bring about an end to racism and the tragic consequences it causes. “It’s not enough to just not be racist; you have to be anti-racist. This includes calling out your friends and family and holding them accountable, even if it may feel uncomfortable. Educate yourself on issues and don’t always expect a person of color to have to educate you on issues regarding race,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to talk about race. It’s important to speak up.”
When thinking of the best takeout Macon has to offer, there are a few standout places that attract the most attention. Whether you’re in the mood for good Southern comfort food, ethnic cuisine or a fusion of flavors, this list can help inspire you to rock your pj’s and drive to the nearest restaurant. Buckle up, buttercup. It’s time to find the perfect takeout restaurant for you. The Bear’s Den The Bear’s Den is a Southern comfort food classic sure to please anyone looking for the perfect fried chicken. With low prices, friendly staff, a quick takeout line and all the comforts of home cookin’, The Bear’s Den is a Macon and Southern staple. The one downside is that the takeout is only available until 6 p.m., but it’s perfect for lunch or an early dinner. Southern soul food served with Southern hospitality is the perfect description of this restaurant. Chico and Chang A fusion of Mexican and Korean, Chico and Chang offers some of the most interesting flavors at great prices! Whether you want spicy chicken tacos, a vegetable burrito or boba tea, Chico and Chang is the place to go. And for anyone looking for a vegetarian or vegan option, I’ve heard their fried tofu is legendary. Macon Pizza Company I’m a sucker for a basic pepperoni pizza, but the Macon Pizza Company offers a wide range of selections from salads to calzones to a buffalo chicken pizza. A small, family-owned shop, Macon Pizza Company makes all of their own dough daily and uses fresh mozzarella in every dish. There is also the option of a gluten-free crust for anyone with a gluten allergy or looking to try something new. With a full menu of pizzas to choose from and even a “create-your-own” option, Macon Pizza Company is sure to have the perfect slice for everyone. Tommy’s Fresh burgers, spicy pimento cheese and the perfect BLT are only a few of the lunch options at this Macon restaurant. Known for their breakfast, Tommy’s is open 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day. Their breakfast consists of big biscuits with gravy, an original breakfast casserole, stuffed French toast and even breakfast sandwiches that can be on a biscuit or a glazed donut. Perhaps what Tommy’s is most famous for, however, are their donuts and donut holes, particularly the maple bacon donut. With a mix of savory and sweet, Tommy’s has a little bit of everything. A true hole in one! (Donut lie. That was funny.) Macon Water Ice This list would not be complete without naming the best food on this planet: ice cream — though Macon Water Ice isn’t your normal ice cream. Macon Water Ice is known for their fancy fusion of ice cream and a snowcone to make — you guessed it — water ice. With numerous flavors including strawberry lemonade, mango, pina colada and even bubble gum, Macon Water Ice has a flavor for everyone. Located at the Recess Bar and Lounge, the times of operation vary tremendously depending on the day because it is a self-run shop that thrives off of interaction on social media. Follow them on Instagram to see the flavors being made, the special lemonades and the hours of operation. All products are fat-free, cholesterol-free, dairy-free and gluten-free, making them perfect for those who have specific allergies but still want to enjoy some delicious frozen treats.
Burnout. We've all been there. Students are well accustomed to the “rise and grind” culture of college, but the need for some individuals to reach perfection or continue working through sustained stress in today’s world has created an even bigger emphasis on a term we hear so frequently. The term “burnout” has a clinical definition and can affect the overall mental health of an individual, according to Corey Wetzel, assistant director of Counseling and Psychological Services. With ten years of counseling experience, Wetzel said she has seen how burnout affects both mental and physical health. “Burnout, professionally, is defined as exhaustion or lack of motivation after prolonged periods of stress,” she said. “Personally, I think it doesn’t get enough attention. It is a word we tend to throw around in society, however, it can be serious. Burnout is usually our mind and body’s way of signaling that something is no longer working for us.” Tiffany George, a senior global health studies and global development studies double major, said burnout has a particular feeling for her. “Burnout feels like the act of blowing out a flame, the physical act of letting out a big breath and saying, ‘Enough. I can’t take it anymore. I’m done,’” George said. Senior neuroscience major Melody Hayman said burnout adds more stress to her everyday life. “My classes and responsibilities place so much stress on me,” she said. “Normally, I would have no issue handling it all and would flourish with a stressful and busy semester, however, with the added stress of a rushed semester, no breaks and the anxiety of a pandemic, it is almost too much to handle.” This feeling is not new; College students everywhere are feeling this increase in burnout and fatigue. Only 1.6% of undergraduates reported that they felt no stress in the last 12 months, according to the National College Health Assessment. “I think burnout is seen significantly in all college settings, not just Mercer. The pressure and expectations can become overwhelming for some college students, and oftentimes, we aren’t taught to recognize the signs and symptoms until much later in life,” Wetzel said. Other contributing factors to burnout include COVID-19 and the current political climate. The racism seen in America has also created trauma for many students, particularly Black students and students of color. Nationally representative polls and surveys have indicated that 88% of Black Americans believe they experience racism in the U.S. while 78% see racism as being widespread, according to anxiety.org. “The comorbidity of racism and coronavirus is stressful. It’s scary. It’s exhausting. It’s made me not want to do work because of the influx of headlines and hashtags. At the same time, I’m glad I have school work to ‘distract’ me from the horrors of the real world,” George said. “Why turn on the news anymore when I have a paper to write about poverty in Madagascar? It’s still a horrible thing, but it’s in a different context. All of this makes it difficult to focus on school because you begin to realize that there are more important things than just Mercer.” Hayman said the news and social media have created a negative space that contributes to the stress students are already feeling. “I think the political climate, the racism and COVID-19 are just emotionally draining. All this bloodshed and pain inflicted on people who are just trying to live and deserve rights has caused me so much sadness. I’m constantly thinking, ‘Am I doing too little? Should I find time to go to rallies, start a fundraiser, get involved more?’ Whenever I try to do any of those, though, the burnout gets worse, and I end up just focusing on myself to get through the day,” Hayman said. Wetzel said this is common; individuals often feel apathy or try to compartmentalize their emotions in an effort not to feel the burnout. “Don’t mistake overworking for good work. Self-care is just as important as your other responsibilities. Think about it like pacing for a long race. Burnout is temporary. Sometimes taking a break or finding other ways to rejuvenate can help us feel motivated again,” Wetzel said. George said she combats burnout by relying on friends, taking breaks and focusing on her future. “I’ve noticed that, for me, motivation follows action. So the more I do with my heart, not just for the grade or resume, the more I want to do because I’m taking my time, enjoying what I’m learning, setting goals for the future and visualizing how I’m going to use this information in the future,” George said. Hayman also said remembering her goals helps her get through difficult times. “When I am in my worst days, I try to remember what I am fighting for and do something I can control. Having one small win changes the scoreboard back in my favor, and I am able to start to dig myself out of the hole of exhaustion,” Hayman said. George said she is optimistic for the future. “2020 has exposed the inequalities in our healthcare and justice systems like crazy, so when I’m reading for my GDS and GHS classes, I’m now reading with relevancy and urgency,” George said. Hayman said while 2020 has been a very difficult year, she focuses on the “small wins.” “I think we are all doing the best we can in this upside-down world,” she said. “We must remember that every small win is still a win and we have to take time to celebrate them.”
Theatre Macon, located in downtown Macon, is set to showcase “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” as a virtual performance Sept. 17-20. Following the story of Monty Navarro, who finds himself eighth in line for an earldom in the D’Ysquith family, this Tony-winning Broadway musical involves amazing music, lots of laughs and one amazing actor who plays each one of the doomed heirs who die in Monty’s push for the earldom. In this farce, humorous musical, Monty plans to kill all those in line before him to become the ninth Earl of Highhurst, but royalty isn’t the only thing he has on his mind. Two lovely ladies also vie for his attention, creating numerous funny scenes as the dynamic cast has to work together to bring the story to life, all through a screen. This show was chosen specifically for its small cast size and the humor it creates even with a reduced cast. “The cast is only 11 people for the whole show, so we can actually keep everybody separated on the stage. We also wanted to pick something small but still engaging enough that you could watch it through a screen and not be bored,” said Chas Pridgen, director of photography for the production. Pridgen is also a recent graduate of Mercer University, graduating in 2020 with degrees in theatre and journalism. “A lot of the live theatre experience is sitting next to a stranger, laughing together and bonding for two and a half hours,” Pridgen said. “When you go home, you leave with a very positive experience from the stage and the camaraderie. While we can’t have that, we still wanted to find something where we could build a relationship between the actors and the audience even through a camera and a screen.” This need for the camera and a virtual show are not the only changes the theatre has had to make due to COVID-19. The actors have had to perform the show as well in completely unique ways. “This is a love triangle show. The bond between the characters has to be seen. We were able to go in and change the blocking to limit contact almost completely though. I think there’s only one time the entire show where someone touches someone else,” Pridgen said. This is virtually unheard of, as theatre thrives not only on connection among the cast but also between the cast and the audience. In this case, the cast is not in contact at all while the audience is viewing the production through the screen. “We were actually able to change all of that,” Pridgen said. “We have dots on the floor now that are all three feet apart, so as much as we could, we made sure that all of the actors had a dot between them in order to keep their six feet social distancing.” Pridgen also discussed how they were able to keep all rehearsals separated by dividing the ensemble up from the main cast. “The ensemble would be in one room doing music while the main cast would be doing blocking. The next day, they would switch. This kept the numbers in the room down and allowed people to have as much space as possible. Also, we don’t have an audience as normal theatre productions would,” Pridgen said. This important give and take is one of the aspects of theatre that the cast truly wanted to capture, despite the acting not occurring in person. The individuals who were allowed to watch filming had to be masked and socially distant, following all Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines while filming was occurring. “It was the first time in a long time that I can remember us having a break due to COVID-19. Theatre is always busy. There’s always something going on, especially in Theatre Macon, but in the beginning, it was nice to have a break,” Pridgen said. “Now that we’re this far into it, we’re all ready to start producing art again. It’s such an innate part of all of us.” This love of art is what led Pridgen to accept his role in the production as Director of Photography. Pridgen is in charge of camera operation for the entire show, wearing a mobile filming unit strapped to his body in order to get the close shots of the actors. This mobile filming unit is made of a vest and metal framing in order to hold up the industry standard recording camera used to film the entire show. Two other cameramen are also filming the long shots; however, they are immobile. Pridgen’s position allows for the close-up shots of the actors’ reactions that make the theatre experience more realistic for the audience, even behind the screen. This is Pridgen’s first time doing camera work in this setting. He credits his Mercer journalism classes with giving him the confidence to pick up the camera. “Filming for this has a lot of the same skills I learned in school because of my journalism major: videoing, video editing, microphones. It’s all the same thing regardless of where you’re at. I just took those skills and recontextualized them,” Pridgen said. The show is set to be broadcasted live Sept. 17-20. Tickets are sold on the Theatre Macon website. Pridgen expects the online format to bring people together as well. “We actually have a cast member from England, so while we are all watching it here in little Macon, Ga., there will be people from England watching it at the same time, half a world away. With it being live and online, we can reach a much broader audience while still doing things we’ve never done before,” Pridgen said. Another first for this year was the audition process as all the auditions were done online this year with an uploaded video via Google form. “We gave very specific instructions to the people who auditioned. We told them, ‘Say this, this, and this and tell us what parts you’re auditioning for.’ We also had a breakdown of what notes the characters had to be able to sing. You had to pull up a computer piano or use a real piano if you had one, hit the note and then sing the note in the video to prove you had the correct vocal range of the part you wanted,” Pridgen said. The first time the cast met was actually the first time they came together for rehearsals, a first for the theatre but also a first for many of the actors as well. “This is a first experience for all of us. We usually don’t have to film anything here at Theatre Macon because it isn’t a film studio, so we are all learning as we go and everyone has been very nice about learning curves and working together,” Pridgen said. A quarter of the show was filmed for four consecutive days before the entire film was edited together by Pridgen and Richard Fraizer, the artistic director of Theatre Macon. The musical was done through a week-long filming process and then had to be uploaded to the site to run-test for proper streaming in order for the film to be open to the viewers for opening day. Theatres, choruses, bands and other forms of entertainment around the world are moving to virtual formats. Some plays by famous playwrights, such as “She Kills Monsters” by Qui Nguye have even been rewritten in order to fit the new online format of the arts. “Everybody in every facet of the industry has just had to take a step back and figure out what we can do to move forward because we, as theatre people, have never experienced this before, just as everyone else hasn’t,” Pridgen said. With the ever-evolving fabric of the arts and the new need to understand different technology to make these art facets readily available, it is important to realize how much work, effort and passion goes into creating the media we consume everyday, be it theatre, art, poetry or prose.
Blue Skyy Designs is a creative business created by journalism major and graphic design minor Jacqueline Lamothe, who is a sophomore at Mercer University. Lamothe creates art from the heart, focusing on creations that “highlight relentless hope, help showcase who you are, show the love of Christ, shine your light through your inward qualities and quirks and learning not to sweat the small stuff.” With heartfelt messages and inspirational quotes, Lamothe has created a platform for herself that has led to the creation of her own Redbubble shop and Instagram page. Lamothe stated that the process for Blue Skyy Designs was very gradual. “My love for drawing started at a young age and, specifically during quarantine, I found myself drawing profusely to pass the time. I also had a free Adobe Suite subscription during the summer for a graphic design class that I was taking in the fall. I wanted to acquaint myself with the software, and instantly, I was hooked,” Lamothe said. Lamothe began her journey in design by posting on her Instagram page. She credits those around her and God for leading her to create a shop. “Through many people around me, the Lord gave me the idea of making a Redbubble shop to distribute the designs I created. I believe that God allowed me to see that as an opportunity to start something to uplift those around me and spread joy in the season of distress and chaos that is the year 2020,” Lamothe said. Blue Skyy Designs got its name from a special meaning, Lamothe added, as she wanted her name to “reflect the inspiration of the Divine nature of the designs while highlighting the sporadic essence of the designs being created ‘out of the blue.’” She then added the extra “y” to distinguish herself among the many Redbubble stores on the site. While the name for her store is inspired by nature, Lamothe says that her art itself is inspired by many things. “The inspiration I receive from my art could be from a wide array of things such as a song lyric, a Bible verse or a random thought. I try to communicate that inspiration through the medium of art. I love it because the message can be conveyed without a single word being spoken,” said Lamothe. This process means even more when Lamothe sees the impact it has on others, as she truly creates work to help others and inspire them. “I definitely have seen positive feedback from others about my work, and I’m grateful for every last one of them,” Lamothe said. “One of the things I appreciate is when people take time to repost my art of their Instagram story. It may not be something they think much about, but it conveys to me that a particular message resonated with somebody so much that they had to share it with other people. I absolutely love that.” With her own Redbubble shop, Lamothe is also able to make a small income from her work while bringing joy to others through her designs. “When people send me pictures of the stickers that they purchased from my shop, it warms my heart with genuine joy,” Lamothe said. At this time, Lamothe is very happy with her Redbubble shop. However, she hopes to continue to grow with her designs and creations in order to create a shop independent of Redbubble one day. She also wants to be able to sell more than her stickers, branching out into prints, stationery and even apparel. Her current work aligns closely with her graphic design class, as Lamothe says she loves the influence her creative work has on her educational pursuits and how her educational goals make her creative work better. When asked what her favorite work is, Lamothe stated that she simply couldn’t choose. “I don’t think I have a favorite design because all of them are my favorites. I believe that if I have the urge to draw it then it automatically means I will put my all into it,” Lamothe said. Lamothe showcases tremendous pride and dedication to her work as she is able to create pieces that deal with pop culture, modern issues within the media and pieces that are made solely to make others happy. The joy that customers and friends get from her Instagram and Redbubble is widely apparent as her art connects people from across Mercer and beyond. “One thing that I’m continually proud of about my work is witnessing the inspiration process manifested when the art is complete,” Lamothe said. Most of the time, when I think of an idea to create, I can see exactly what the end product will look like when it’s completed. Seeing the process being brought to life is amazing.”
Content warning: This story mentions suicide and mental health challenges throughout. Close to 800,000 people die due to suicide every year, equalling one person every 40 seconds, according to World Health Organization. For every one individual that did die by suicide, WHO found that there were approximately 25 individuals who contemplated or attempted suicide at the same time. Suicide affects many people, whether it be directly or indirectly. Some may have struggled with suicidal ideation themselves. Still others may have family members, friends or even acquaintances that have attempted or died by suicide. If these statistics have you wondering how you can help, one way is to recognize and raise awareness for World Suicide Prevention Month during the month of September. World Suicide Prevention Day is Sept. 10 and was created by the International Association for Suicide Prevention in order to provide an opportunity for people across the globe to raise awareness of suicide and how it impacts so many. AWARE, which stands for Advocating Wellness and Responsibility Everyday, is a group of Mercer students who advocate for mental health and wellness needs in the community. They work to promote wellness in students both mentally and physically by educating peers on healthy habits such as coping skills, stress and time management skills, organizational skills and skills for identifying anxiety, depression and other mental health challenges. Gabrielle Tibbetts, a junior psychology major, is a peer educator who works closely with AWARE. “We aim to destigmatize mental illness and the process of counseling as well as teach students about the resources Mercer has if they are in need of counseling or psychological support. By creating a community of openness and acceptance around mental health issues, we can have more conversations about how to better support those struggling,” Tibbetts said. The organization is working to raise awareness of World Suicide Prevention Month and the impact it can have on the Mercer student body. AWARE will be working with the Sexual Assault, Hazing, and Alcohol Prevention Education group and Counseling and Psychological Services to create a suicide awareness campaign, hosting multiple events throughout the month of September. There will be a special week of events and information to highlight National Suicide Awareness Week Sept. 6-12. AWARE is also dedicated to creating a safe space for individuals to talk about issues that disproportionately affect college students, such as suicide. They also offer advice on mental health and refer people to the CAPS office. “AWARE has hosted a few talks on suicide in the past, but we hope that working closely with CAPS and SHAPE this year will foster a more permanently safe environment for these hard conversations, not just during the month of September,” Tibbetts said. Events will be posted on the AWARE Instagram page, and teal and green ribbons will be available to support suicide awareness. Tibbetts said AWARE hopes World Suicide Prevention Day and Suicide Prevention Month will lead to open and honest conversations among students, faculty and staff who may be struggling. “I hope that AWARE can have a long-lasting impact in fostering Mercer’s community of respect and encourage all students to seek help now or in the future as adults,” she said.
I’ll be the first to admit that I felt like my life hit the emergency brake when COVID-19 happened. I missed my first trip abroad through the Gilman program, multiple research opportunities, volunteering, shadowing at a hospital and two jobs that I had lined up. Having to watch them disappear slowly in just a matter of weeks was not good for me. In fact, I dived into a deep funk that I just couldn’t seem to shake. That “funk” ended up being depression. Mix that with the anxiety and panic I am feeling about what life could look like after the pandemic and everything changing around me, and you can imagine how my mental health is doing. Mental health struggles in the time of COVID-19 are something that is hard to explain, but it’s something many, if not all of us, have felt. The desperation for a return to normalcy, the feeling of being exhausted even when we’ve done nothing and the isolation from so many people takes a toll. The key part of this mental health conversation, however, is the realization that none of us, including myself, are alone in this, even if it feels that way sometimes. The truth is that we’re all human. We all struggle at times. Realizing that you need a change, whether that change is big or small, is a huge step in the right direction. For me, one change that made a difference was forcing myself to get up and get dressed, even if it felt like there was no point. Having a sense of normalcy among the turmoil made me feel more like myself despite the world being a complete conundrum around me. It didn’t “fix” all of my mental health struggles, but it did help me become more motivated. Sometimes, the biggest thing we do in a day is getting out of bed, and that truly is okay. It took this pandemic for me to realize that. I will be the first to admit that I often push myself to the limits. Staying busy means less overthinking which means less anxiety. To me, it makes sense. To others, it reveals that I don’t know how to relax. The others might be right. COVID-19 forced me to stop; forced me to take a break despite how busy I like to be. When I was finally able to start working again in early June, I jumped at the chance because I missed doing something. I missed having a goal, an urge to complete a task. I missed being me. Between forcing myself to get up and get dressed and actively being able to complete goals and work hard again, I was able to find motivation that I was beginning to wonder if I had lost altogether. Another effect of this quarantine for me has been loneliness. I think when people hear loneliness, they automatically assume romantic relationships, but for me, it is so much more than that. Loneliness is caused by wanting to be understood. Whether that manifests itself in a relationship, a friendship or a mentorship depends on the person. I’ve always considered loneliness to be brought on by the need for connection and understanding. COVID-19 caused me to realize that I am still searching for those facets in my everyday life, yet it also helped me realize I need to hold on to those who do make me feel understood. With the school year starting again, I am apprehensive about what the future could hold. Seeing stories on the news, reading research and statistics about the pandemic and trying to formulate an overall understanding of something so far beyond my control has led to an increase in my anxiety but also an increase in my hope that maybe the end will come sometime. I will be the first to say that I don’t know what to expect this year. If we all follow CDC guidelines, it may be one of the best semesters I ever have. On the other hand, it may be the absolute worst. When it comes to my mental health, I know I need to take some time to focus on me. The exhaustion I sometimes feel isn’t so much physical exhaustion, but emotional exhaustion from my own mind creating intrusive thoughts. In truth, perhaps having a pandemic to focus on will help me realize what and also who I truly want in my life. While I’m bitter my summer was taken—upset that I missed so many opportunities and admittedly anxious about the future as I feel overwhelmingly behind due to it all—I also have this slight feeling of peace, almost as if this has led me to create an image of who I want to be. It’s hard to say I’m grateful for a pandemic, but in a way, I am. While my mental health has been absolutely demolished due to COVID-19, I can only go up from here. In truth, there is a little hope in that, and to me, hope is a beautiful thing. While I wasn’t in a good place at first, I’m slowly but surely working back towards being myself, leaving depression and anxiety behind me. I’m still not in the best place mentally, but it is better than when this pandemic started. That in itself is a win. For the first time since March, I don’t feel so alone. Being able to put my feelings into words has led me to the realization that I am imperfectly me. I don’t feel so ashamed. Instead, I feel like this makes me human. Apparently, I just needed a catastrophe to help me realize it.
ABLE Mercer had their first official meeting on Feb. 12 where they discussed future plans, goals and wishes for the club. Co-Presidents Ashley Pettway, a junior psychology major, and Sarah Carter, a sophomore pre-nursing student, led the informational meeting. One of the primary goals for the club is to get more involved with the disabled community in and around Mercer. “We got in touch with … some churches around the area, although we are not a religiously affiliated organization at all. Disability is often found within the church community, so we are planning to do outreach to some churches to reach that community,” Carter said. ABLE Mercer said they plan to make church outreach one of their long-term community projects. “With this idea of Mercer being a place where everyone majors in making a change, we want to try to do good for disabled people on Mercer’s campus and in the local Macon community,” Pettway said. The organization also hopes to get involved with the Access and Accommodations office on campus in order to discuss some issues students have been facing on campus. “We want to discuss some of the problems students have been facing and ableism on campus. We’re talking about some of the website issues, and Katie Johnson (Director and ADA/504 Coordinator for Access and Accommodations) told us that they are currently working on a sensitivities training course on Canvas for professors. We’re also going to try to get involved with Mercer’s Freshman Orientation to help bring in more disabled students. We want them to know that there is a community here on campus that cares about them,” Pettway said. Both Pettway and Carter said there is a need for more elevators on campus, especially in Willingham. Pettway said that on a basic infrastructure level, there are little things that tend to be missed. “We were actually told by Johna Wright, who was in charge when ABLE Mercer was a mentor/mentee program that, because she had seeing issues, some of the Braille on some of the signs is incorrect. It’s just little stuff like that that few people realize. It’s just really little things that people miss, probably because there are no disabled people on the board who check over these things,” Pettway said. Carter and Pettway also said that the drainage on campus causes serious mobility issues for disabled students, keeping them from being able to go where they need to at times. Because the club is based on disability advocacy, one of the requirements for being president is to have a disability, Carter said. “Disability advocacy programs often don’t have people with a disability in leadership positions,” Pettway said. “A good example is Autism Speaks that usually focuses around parents with autistic children instead of the actual autistic children. This is very problematic because it creates ableist rhetoric or this sense of looking down on people. It’s so important that we have disabled people in these leadership positions so that they can support their own advocacy.” ABLE Mercer is a newer club that started this January, as it originally was a mentor/mentee program used to help increase graduation rates for disabled students. While relatively new, both co-presidents outlined some major changes that they believe ABLE Mercer can help make in the coming years. “I think another important thing is just to bring awareness that disabled people exist on campus because the thing about most of the disabled people on this campus is that they are not physically disabled. There are invisible disabilities that you just can’t see. When people can’t see a disability, they tend not to think about it or even tend not to think about disabled people in general,” Pettway said. Carter also said that some changes in the Access and Accommodations office would help both Mercer students and faculty alike. “There are only two people that work in the Access and Accommodations office along with the student workers, so most people don’t understand how many (students with disabilities) there are on campus. People don’t understand how overworked they are. It would be great to have more funding for that too,” Carter said. “It would also be nice to spread more awareness of what all the Access and Accommodations office can help with.” Carter and Pettway both said they are happy with how things are going for the new club so far. “I’ve never been in this position before, where I’m the one making all the decisions or planning everything. While it is a lot of work, when things finally do come through, it’s just really satisfying,” Pettway said.
Jordan Dominy, a 2004 Mercer graduate with a major in English, has published a new book titled “Southern Literature, Cold War Culture, and the Making of Modern America.” After graduating from Mercer summa cum laude, Dominy went on to earn a Master of Arts studying English from Florida State University and a doctorate in English from the University of Florida in 2011. Dominy serves as an associate professor of English in the Department of English, Languages and Cultures at Savannah State University, where he teaches everything from first-year writing to upper-division courses for English majors. “I teach courses mostly in composition, American literature, popular culture and cultural studies and literary theory and criticism,” Dominy said in an email to The Cluster. It was this love for cultural studies that led to the idea of his new book. “My book examines the role that Southern literature, and to a degree the study of Southern literature in universities, played in Cold War culture in the United States in the 20th century,” Dominy said. “This was important for the time because the United States was actively expanding its political system and interests to counter global interventions from the communists in the USSR.” Dominy focuses on the writings of Southern authors such as William Faulkner, Eudora Welty and Walker Percy. In his book, Dominy argues that these works written by Southern authors allowed scholars of the era to discount serious political as well as social problems, particularly racism, that were prevalent during this time. By doing this, these scholars were able to say that the issues found within the United States at this time were not flaws within the U.S. political system. Instead, they were only ideas used within the novels to showcase morality and specific ideas of the authors. This idea is what led to Dominy’s primary argument in “Southern Literature, Cold War Culture, and the Making of Modern America,” he said. “I argue that this ultimately leads to a cultural schism that we see in our popular culture and politics today, not just as South vs. the rest of the U.S., but urban vs. rural, left vs. right, white vs. people of color and so on. South isn’t a geographic identity so much as it’s an ideological one these days, and in the book’s Epilogue, I jump ahead to recent popular texts to show that,” Dominy said. Dominy said that this book actually was very different than what he first thought he would write. “The idea for the book came on gradually, and it was written in phases,” he said. “A little of what I wanted to do in this book is to bring some attention to figures who need more attention, especially Lillian Smith. But another thing I wanted to do with this book is how the U.S. South had such an outsized impact in America and continues to do so today in ways that aren’t readily clear and aren’t always positive.” With this idea of Southern ideals not necessarily being positive, Dominy said that his book tries to explore what it is to be Southern. “I think the important take-away from my book is that we should be more critical of the label or identity of ‘Southern.’ For a long time in the context of Southern literature, it meant works by white Southerners that present their idealized visions of the region, and my book shows how that was convenient to the United States’ political ambitions during the Cold War. I hope my book is contributing to a more pluralistic and diverse vision of the region developing among scholars and professors who write and teach about the South,” Dominy said. David Davis, associate director of the Spencer B. King, Jr. Center for Southern Studies at Mercer University, said that this ideological South that Dominy wrote about took on new meanings during the Cold War era. “One of the most important aspects of Dominy’s book is the topic. During the Cold War, Southern culture, which had been marginalized, was appropriated as national culture. Southern music, Southern literature, Southern food and other regional products were presented as authentically American products as a way of demonstrating that the United States had an indigenous culture. This is significant because it changed the conversation about American culture from the melting pot imagine of multiple immigrant cultures to the notion of a specifically American identity,” Davis said. These ideas of American identity are often seen today as people choose what media to consume. “This book shows the material consequences of the cultural and textual artifacts in our lives that we take for granted. The popular culture, media and texts that surround us or that we choose to surround ourselves with shapes the realities we perceive. We should all be more aware of that,” Dominy said. With this knowledge of how our realities are shaped by different media, Dominy said he is already working on a new book that will examine how contemporary literature and popular culture about the American South can blend fiction and fact to show authenticity. “I want to question why we privilege authenticity? Who can claim it, and why? How does one claim it? I think that the blending of fact, fiction, realism and surrealism is a big part of it,” Dominy said. Dominy said he plans to discuss figures such as Randall Kenan, Jon Berendy, Monique Truong, Donald Glover and Lil Nas X. He said that his time at Mercer was instrumental in getting him to where he is now. “I would definitely say that being at Mercer made me love college so much that I didn’t want to leave! There were so many positive influences at Mercer when I was there, but Gordon Johnston in the English department did the most in helping me find my way to being a professor. It was his joy at being in the classroom, how clearly the poem or story we were reading moved him. He pushed me harder than any other professor did. I’m grateful to count him as a friend and mentor to this day,” Dominy said. With his new book, Dominy said he hopes to add to this love of literature, and although he does have a specific audience in mind, there are many people who will find this book interesting, Davis said. “People interested in Southern culture and twentieth-century politics will find this book illuminating. The book helps to explain why the South is so influential in national politics and consumer culture and why Southern literature matters,” Davis said. Dominy also said that the book can be enjoyed by many. “The readers I have in mind are scholars, professors and students of American and U.S. Southern literature and culture,” he said. “I think any reader with an avid interest in American culture, history and politics would be interested in this book.” Dominy left one piece of advice to Mercer students. “Be open to new experiences. When I first arrived at Mercer, I was not open to new experiences or different ways of thinking. Mercer helped me to eventually be comfortable with those things, but I think to this day about how much more complete my Mercer education would be if I had not been so hesitant at first, especially during my freshman year,” Dominy said.
After celebrating its grand opening in December 2019, Mercer Music at Capricorn is set to be an instrumental resource for future musicians and bands. Andrew Eck, a Mercer graduate and lover of music, will be running the Music Incubator at Capricorn where students can rent out rehearsal space. Found on Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and only a short drive from Mercer’s Macon campus, this facility offers many different accommodations for students and Macon citizens alike. “The incubator is here to cultivate and develop musicians,” Eck said. With 12 different rehearsal rooms to rent and 24/7 Bear Card access, Eck said the rehearsal space will be a vital resource for students. The rooms vary in size; some fit a single drum set while others can fit entire bands. Two of the rooms can be rented on a daily basis, but most will be rented monthly. “These rooms are for bands that need to practice, people that want to have more professional space. It’s for students, which is great since students can’t really just put a drum set in their dorm room,” he said. This room arrangement was inspired by an interim version of Mercer Music at Capricorn known as the 5/4 Music Space. John Harrison, an entrepreneur in downtown Macon, is but one individual who is already using the new Mercer Music at Capricorn facilities. “I was able to set my drum set up here starting in February, and I have really enjoyed it so far. I’m currently practicing my drumming here and working with other musicians. We’re working on a list of songs right now, practicing music together and even looking for new musicians, especially horn players or jazz musicians,” Harrison said. Harrison says that the safety of the facilities is what first drew him to the Mercer Music at Capricorn building. “We have great facilities here that allow me to play my drums 24/7. If I want to, I can come up here in the middle of the night. Everything is secured behind, like, three locked doors, and it allows me to meet new musicians as well,” he said. Harrison started using the facilities in February for the first time and enjoys the community-focused environment. “Another great thing about this place is that you can network with other musicians. Just yesterday, I ran into a guy here who also plays, so we were able to talk for a while. It’s always nice to be able to talk with like-minded people,” he said. Many of the rooms are designed for collaboration. “The rooms are mostly soundproof, but not completely. While places like the McDuffie Center for the Strings have completely soundproof rooms, we found that bands really didn’t want that. They’re solid doors and solid walls, but you can still hear what’s going on,” Eck said. One special room also used to house all of the original records that were created in the facility. Many famous artists, such as The Allman Brothers, the Marshall Tucker Band and other iconic Southern rock bands recorded and sang songs through the Capricorn Record label. One group currently renting space is made up of lawyers, a banker and a general contractor. “They’re more amateur. I mean, they’re not trying to become musicians full out. But that’s the beauty of it. There are people at different levels and who are great musicians, but they can use the place to practice. Sometimes it’s great to have people like that that are low key,” Eck said. Along with the rehearsal rooms, Mercer Music at Capricorn also has a bar and a museum, both open to the public. There is also a studio in the building as well. “The cool thing is that you have people coming in to celebrate music here, to see what all the fuss is about and where some amazing people have recorded. You have people in the rehearsal rooms practicing, and you also have people who can come in and record, whether they’re local or out of town,” Eck said. The new, larger studio allows large string bands to record. While the new studio was created specifically under the direction of Mercer Music at Capricorn, there is also an original, preserved area where The Allman Brothers recorded. “This studio is the crown jewel of the entire complex,” Eck said. “Everything is somewhat connected to this area where people can actually record their own music where The Allman Brothers once recorded. No renovations were done in it, but the recording gear is updated. This room will attract national talent to record here, but will also give the local talent the ability to record here. That’s really what we’re trying to do. We want to give everybody a leg up depending on what they’re doing.”
Mercer faculty discuss Valentine’s Day: An article for hopeless romantics, adventurers and Hallmark movie fanatics
I love love. I love the way love makes people feel: the goofy smiles, the forehead kisses, sharing umbrellas and holding hands in the rain. Seeing the joy of people who are in love makes me happy. I think there are so many types of love, but as Valentine’s Day approaches, I have decided to focus on romantic relationships. Whether you’re a proponent of true love, a skeptic or totally against love at the moment, these stories will melt your heart (at least, they melted mine). I believe love is one of those things that unites people forever. I’m the biggest hopeless romantic in the entire world. I wish that was an exaggeration, but honestly, I’m starting to wonder. With this said, however, the most romantic thing about my life is having the streak plate of Staphylococcus aureus that I use in lab show good results. This may sound like a slight exaggeration, but I’m here to tell you ... the romance department is lacking. What isn’t lacking, however, is the friendships I have cultivated with so many professors, students, and staff here at Mercer. While I don’t have love of my own, these amazing people do. Here are some of their stories. Dr. Jonathan Glance and Mrs. Cindy Glance Dr. Jonathan Glance, Professor of English and Chair of the English Department at Mercer University, met his wife Cindy at Davidson College in Fall of 1980. Cindy Glance works as an Institutional Research Analyst here at Mercer as well, so while the couple met in college, they also get to work in the college setting together. Whether you are a true believer of love at first sight or a cynical skeptic, Jonathan and Cindy are a true example of this “love at first sight” phenomena. “My wife and I met in an English class at Davidson College and have been a couple since our first “date.” We were both at a campus party on March 13, 1981. I asked her if she wanted to dance, and we’ve been together ever since!” Mr. Glance said. The couple married on May 31, 1986. “We still celebrate both of those anniversaries,” he said, referring to the day he met his wife and the day he married the love of his life. When asked about his Valentine’s Day plans, Glance said that he and his wife always went to their favorite restaurant called Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill when Jonathan was completing his grad school. After having two children, however, the couple celebrates in a different way. “Now we tend to celebrate with Valentine’s cards, a nice bottle of wine, and dinner at home,” Glance said. He also added that he and his wife are both very good cooks! After reading Mr. Glance’s responses to these questions about Valentine’s Day, I can tell wholeheartedly the love he has for his wife and his children. He seems to be a hopeless romantic himself! While he said their Valentine’s are now a little boring, I think they’re adorable. While this love story pulls on the heart strings, the story between Dr. Matt Harper and his wife Dr. Elizabeth Harper is equally as beautiful but takes a very different form. Dr. Matt Harper and Dr. Elizabeth Harper Dr. Matt Harper, Associate Professor of History and Africana Studies, is married to Dr. Elizabeth Harper, Associate Professor of English, who both work at Mercer University. When asked what he and his wife do on Valentine’s Day, Matt Harper responded by linking the day back to its dark roots and a history few people know about. “On Valentine’s Day, my wife and I like to remind each other that St. Valentine, a third-century martyr, endured a gruesome death for his religious convictions,” he said. [pullquote speaker="Dr. Matt Harper" photo="" align="left" background="off" border="none" shadow="on"]On Valentine’s Day, my wife and I like to remind each other that St. Valentine, a third-century martyr, endured a gruesome death for his religious convictions.[/pullquote] Both professors often discuss religion, with Matthew Harper focusing on 19th century black religion within his research as well as writing a book published in 2016 titled “The End of Days: African American Religion and Politics in the Age of Emancipation.” Elizabeth Harper also focuses on religion within her book manuscript, “Gifts and Economic Exchange in Late Medieval Religious Writing.” Matt Harper said that the reason they remember the dark history of the date is because of the significance it holds for true love itself. “It reminds us that true love is not necessarily about romance, as our culture assumes, but about self-sacrifice for God and others. That’s the kind of love we want in our marriage, but it’s not reserved for romantic couples,” he said. The Harpers have just welcomed a new child into their home this semester with Elizabeth Harper being off on maternity leave. A growing family means more to love, and the Harpers seem to have a tremendous love for each other. Rodger Seney and Dr. Caryn Seney This story is arguably one of the most poignant, romantic, mind-blowing stories I have ever heard in my life. As a hopeless romantic, that is truly saying something. Buckle up, ladies and gentlemen and grab the tissues. You’re in for a wild but beautiful ride. Dr. Caryn Seney is a Professor of Chemistry and the Assistant Chair of the Chemistry Department here at Mercer. She also happens to be one of the kindest people I have ever met in my entire life. She has one of the kindest hearts, sweetest families and most loving souls I have ever met. Her story is a sad yet joyful one. Rodger and Caryn have been married for 21 years in March, yet their story didn’t start off perfect or with love at first sight. “The first time I met my husband, he was at JM Mining Company here in Macon. He was at the analytical lab when I took a class down there to learn about the instruments. He was showing us pictures, but we only talked for a few minutes. That was eight months before I took a group of students down to New Orleans for a research conference. Rod’s boss was there too and invited us to dinner as a recruitment tool because he needed co-op students anyway,” Seney said. While eight months had passed, however, Mr. Seney had not forgotten Dr. Seney in all that time. “So I saw Rod again in downtown New Orleans at dinner with my students and his boss. The guys were teasing him about some girl he used to date, but I didn’t get the connection there. I mean, he came off really arrogant, so I didn’t want to have anything to do with him,” Seney said with a laugh. [pullquote speaker="Dr. Caryn Seney" photo="" align="left" background="off" border="none" shadow="on"]I looked at him and thought ‘This man just dealt with 45 minutes of a screaming baby, so I have to say yes right?’ Then I looked at him and said, ‘Are you sure?’ He called and asked to go to a movie, but I said I didn’t want to go to a movie. If we go, I want to be able to talk, so dinner or coffee or something.[/pullquote] One of Seney’s students, however, turned 21 while on their trip to New Orleans and told her they were going to go out for the night. Dr. Seney, being Dr. Seney, allowed them to go but followed them closely to make sure they were safe while traveling throughout downtown New Orleans. “We did not plan this. Not at all. But my group and Rod’s group somehow ended up at the same piano bar. I’m sitting there, waiting on my students to finish when Rod’s group walked in too. There’s honestly not a lot of sober people on Bourbon Street in downtown New Orleans at night, but of course I’m sober because I’m with students. Rod was too,” Seney said. She then recounted how completely unprepared for bar hopping both she and Rod were as they were both wearing Birkenstocks at this piano bar. “I was sitting there, and I thought, ‘Well, you know I don’t have anybody else to talk to,’ so I walked up to him and said ‘Hey, I like your Galilean Gliders.’ I remember him just looking at me really funny, and I was thinking, ‘Oh gosh. He thinks I’m picking him up,’ so then I said, ‘you know...your Jesus creepers!'” After laughing about Dr. Seney initiating conversation based on shoe preference, the two had a great conversation before leaving and returning home, but not before Rod asked for Dr. Seney’s number. She responded by giving him her work number and work address. While an odd way to give out one’s number, Seney had a specific reason for choosing to give out her work number. “My dad, at the time, had contracted lung cancer from being a smoker all his life. In February of that year, it metastasized to his brain, and he had five brain tumors and was told he only had three days to live. In March, he was actually still living which is when the conference was. I didn’t date a whole lot, and when I did, I didn’t want them to think they needed to take care of me or feel sorry for me since I was ten hours away from my dad and my family. When I met Rod, he was so kind, so generous, and I didn’t want him to feel like he needed to take care of me through all of this. I didn’t want that feeling to start a relationship,” Seney said. During all of this, including a gamma knife experimental radiation treatment for her dad’s brain tumors, Rod and Caryn emailed each other continuously. While all of her siblings married their high school sweethearts and started their families, Seney was still single and alone in Georgia while her entire family was in Kentucky with her dad. Because of this, her sister came to visit her. “While I was outside working in the garden, my phone rang, and my sister picked up the phone. She comes out to tell me that, ‘Some nice guy called! I told him we would go to church with him on Sunday,” Seney said. That nice guy that had called was, of course, Rod, Caryn’s future husband. He had gotten her number from a colleague because she had not given him her personal number. While she had been pushing him far away, Rod was trying to draw them closer. It was ultimately Seney’s sister that brought them together again. “We had emailed for months back and forth getting to know each other. The only thing we had was a couple of conversations between the two of us and these emails. That’s all we had from March ... to September when my sister came,” Seney said. After going to church, dealing with a sick baby screaming for 45 minutes in the car while trying to get a prescription and driving back to the church, Rod asked Dr. Seney on a formal date. “I looked at him and thought ‘This man just dealt with 45 minutes of a screaming baby, so I have to say yes right?’ Then I looked at him and said, ‘Are you sure?’ He called and asked to go to a movie, but I said I didn’t want to go to a movie. If we go, I want to be able to talk, so dinner or coffee or something,” Seney said. The couple talked so long that the restaurant asked them for the booth to allow others to eat. The next date was “The Horse Test,” as Dr. Seney calls it. “I had a really intuitive horse who was named Dreamer. I asked Rod to come out one day, so he came out. Dreamer loved him. Just kept nuzzling him. Walking to him. He passed the test, or that test anyway!” Seney said with a laugh. [pullquote speaker="Dr. Caryn Seney" photo="" align="center" background="off" border="all" shadow="on"]I knew I was going to marry him. I just knew that he was the one. I said, to see if he felt the same way because he knew my dad was sick, ‘I think you should meet my dad. You would love him.’ He said, ‘You’re right. I should meet your dad.’ We both knew what that meant, even only three dates in.[/pullquote] On the third date, Rod took Caryn around places in Macon to see landmarks. Seney knew that she was going to marry Rod already on that third date. “I knew I was going to marry him. I just knew that he was the one. I said, to see if he felt the same way because he knew my dad was sick, ‘I think you should meet my dad. You would love him.’ He said, ‘You’re right. I should meet your dad.’ We both knew what that meant, even only three dates in,” Seney said. The couple later went to Kentucky where her family lived. Her father, Okey Homer Sanford, was a major golf fan, going to the golf course after his experimental gamma knife radiation despite his illness. “I’m so glad we were able to make that trip. My family needed some reconciliation. I am just so glad God allowed us to do that. This was just a time of great healing for my family. My dad was also just so worried about me even though I’d taken care of myself since I was little. He wanted me to be married, safe,” Seney said. When the couple arrived in Kentucky, Sanford asked Rod to go hit golf balls with him. After eating dinner with her entire family, Seney recounts the story of that night with complete clarity. “I can see my dad walking over the hill with Rod, and he has his arm as Rod is helping him walk since it’s such a far walk. My dad has his hand on Rod’s shoulder. And the whole time, the sun is coming down. When they reach the parking lot, my dad’s closest and dearest friend comes out and walks up. My dad looks at him and says, ‘Hey, Larry! This is perfect timing. I want you to meet my soon-to-be son-in-law,” Seney said. Rod had asked for Caryn’s hand in marriage while they were out golfing. “He told my dad ‘I know I haven’t known your daughter very long, but we’ve been talking over email. I feel as though I know her on a deeper level. I just know I’m supposed to marry her. I promise I will take good care of her,” Seney said. When Seney and Rod got up to leave Monday morning, Caryn’s dad was in the stairwell crying. “When I left...I knew that was the last time I was going to see my dad,” Seney said. Three weeks later, Seney got a call from her mother telling her to come home. As they drove back to Kentucky, Seney got this feeling. “I remember looking over at Rod and saying, ‘He just passed away’ and then the phone rang. I knew it. I knew that when I left Kentucky, that was the last time I was supposed to see him. And then a few months later, we got married,” Seney said. Seney said that all of this build-up was all part of God’s plan. “I believe that God kept my dad alive for many reasons, but one of them was for that. For reconciliation. For hope. For restoration. For my Rod to be able to meet him. It was a sweet moment. Really bittersweet,” Seney said. Because the Seneys had only talked via email for the first 6 months and then only went on 3 dates before getting engaged, the couple had not even kissed before Rodger asked Caryn to marry him. The Seneys have been married 20 years. “When you get to know Rod...he’s just a gentle human being. He’s kind and gentle. He’s not perfect. I don’t want to paint that picture. I think he is somebody that people don’t appreciate necessarily, but he’s just a very calming person. He’s quirky just like the rest of the Seney family,” Seney said with a smile. Whether it is love at first sight like the Glances, remembering what love truly is like the Harpers or allowing love to bloom in the saddest circumstances like the Seneys, love is a beautiful thing. The gentle kisses, the entwined hands, and the goofy grins aren’t for everyone, but being grateful for the people around you is something everyone can enjoy. Thank your professor that has impacted your life here at Mercer. Call your mom and tell her you love her. Treat your roomies to an ice cream sundae. If you’re feeling really adventurous, maybe even ask your crush to go share some fries with you at Chick-fil-A. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll be writing a story about how you two fell in love. Most importantly though, learn to love yourself. If that’s one thing I’ve learned from this article, it’s that love blooms where, when and between the right people at the right time. Your love story is coming, but you have to learn to love yourself first. Let these love stories inspire you. There is love out there for everyone (that wants it). You just have to be you no matter what in order to receive it. (Oh, and maybe buy some Birkenstocks…) Happy Valentine’s Day!
Garland Crawford, Macon Undergraduate Honors Program coordinator and associate professor of chemistry, has helped lead the creation of a new Honors Program that can allow students to join the Honors Programs after enrollment at Mercer. They wanted to design a “new program that matches the current Mercer student,” Crawford said. Crawford said that one of the issues with the university’s previous program was when and how students were chosen, with the previous program only allowing students to be selected right out of high school. One of the issues with this, however, is that students are often left out if they decide to come to Mercer late or transfer. “If Mercer is supposed to be this life-changing experience and great time of development, we want to allow more students to enter the program as well,” he said. To solve that problem, Crawford said the Honors Program will be reinvented to fit incoming transfer students, and students who were not able to come to Mercer when Honors applications for freshmen year were open. “We want to allow those students that maybe didn’t know, maybe were okay students, good students in high school, but just didn’t find their passion. Those students then show up at Mercer, find their passion, particularly in places like non-profits or service-related areas. They found their thing, and they’re excelling at Mercer. Now we have a way to bring them into being an Honors Graduate,” Crawford said. Freshmen will still be allowed to apply for the Honors College, and the Office of Fellowships and Scholarships will still be involved with the program. “Dr. Davis and Dr. Kunzelman at the Office of Fellowships and Scholarships have done a great job helping our Honors students, but they also help all students. We just bring them early into the freshman seminar,” Crawford said. The biggest logistical differences will be the timeframe of program beginnings, as well as changes to the program that may be made. “We want to really allow students to come here and get some room to develop and find their passion and figure out if they would like to apply for this distinction,” he said. While the new additions to the program are important, Crawford said that the program is also looking into removing some things that were part of the older Honors Program. Other changes to the program are also being discussed such as a change in priority registration. “We have all actually discussed removing the priority registration that is allowed for the Honors Program. That was a perk that a lot of people liked, but because of the particular courses, it ended up really creating a lot more problems in a lot of ways than actually benefiting the students,” Crawford said. The wide-ranging college structure of Mercer also allows a lot of different programs to be restructured, with Mercer having 12 independent colleges within the university. Crawford said that the university had to decide if they wanted one large program that was more one-size-fits-all, or to allow each college to develop their own programs. “They can begin to tailor experiences and also select their top students. We don’t want students from different colleges to have to compete for a spot when each college has its own different set of skills and different profile for the Honors students.” The Honors College for the Engineering students is set to remain as it stands, while the College of Health Professions and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences have created their own new programs. The Stetson School of Business is also developing a program along with an Honors Program for the College of Education. The only college that does not have an Honors Program track is the music school. Crawford said that research and undergraduate scholarship will play a large role in most of the Honors Programs, with different colleges choosing how to emphasize those ideas. “The College of Liberal Arts, for example, is a little bigger. We will have two classes for that program. One is a junior, and one is a senior class. The junior course is designed as an intense developmental seminar, providing a place and some space to begin to work and go after some of those high national and international opportunities,” Crawford said. The senior class is set to teach Honors Program participants as well, as it is described as a Research Colloquium. “As part of Honors, the students have to complete a research project either from their own design or stemmed from a class. It can be built on a lab a student is in, but it will be something distinct from departmental honors. The ultimate goal for that class is to have students work on and discuss their research,” Crawford said. The College of Health Professions and the CLA have already completed their new Honors Program, and the CLA program is set to begin this month. The Stetson School of Business, however, may take longer as a change in faculty occurred during the time the new Honors Program was developing. “The only program that lagged a little bit was Education,” Crawford said. “That was because of a new dean coming in. We wanted to be sure the new dean was going to be okay with the changes and coming onboard, but the Honors Program of Education is in the curriculum approval process now.” The Honors Program for Education will start accepting applications by the end of the spring semester. Students will know going into junior year what all of the programs will require. Through the addition of the new Honors Program, Crawford said he believes that positive changes are coming for Mercer students. “The one thing I continue to remind students and faculty is that we want things that are beneficial to the students, beneficial to the school, and really help us to identify those top students who have continued to do well in high school maybe but have also done well at Mercer,” Crawford said.
At the start of a new decade, Mercer University President William Underwood reflected on his time at Mercer and what's in store for the 2020s. Underwood has been a part of Mercer’s history for 14 years. He took his position at Mercer following his position as Baylor University Interim President and the Leon Jaworski Chair at the Baylor School of Law. He was also designated as a Master Teacher at Baylor, and in 2008, he received the W.R. White Distinguished Service Award from the Baylor Alumni Association. “What I love about Mercer is the fantastic students, the interesting students that do so much with their Mercer degree,” he said. One student Underwood highlighted was Zechariah “Zac” Rice, a 2018 Mercer graduate. Rice was an offensive lineman on the Mercer football team, and the first football player to win the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship. Beyond campus, he said that Mercer students’ activities across the globe impress him. “The Mercer on Mission program was started my second year here. I think the impact students have around the world is great since my time that I’ve been here,” Underwood said. Underwood said that Mercer on Mission in Vietnam has helped 13,000 amputee victims get prosthetics fitted. He also said that the institution and establishment of Mercer as a Phi Beta Kappa school, along with the level of research Mercer students conduct, are other significant changes he’s seen. “Mercer was admitted into the Georgia Research Alliance along with schools such as Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia. This alliance allows Mercer to share pieces of equipment with these universities, such as a million-dollar microscope that can be used in research anywhere at Mercer,” Underwood said. The last major change that Underwood discussed was the recognition and reclassification of Mercer as a top-tier university. In 2016, Mercer was reclassified from a regional master’s university to a national doctoral research university, allowing Mercer to be moved under the national universities classification. In 2018, Mercer was ranked number 35 in best value schools in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report’s annual “America’s Best Colleges” issue. Underwood said there are still changes that he hopes are made, the first being a change to the campus itself. “Next fall, when everyone returns to campus, the computer science building will be gone. We are planning to take it down this summer in order to put a garden space there,” Underwood said. The computer science department is now located in the new Willet Science Center with an entire floor being used solely for the department. When he looks back at his time at Mercer, Underwood said that the first memory that came to mind was Mercer’s famed defeat of Duke University during the first round of the NCAA tournament back in 2014. But he also said he remembers visiting the Mekong Delta in Vietnam with Mercer students. “A team of Mercer students and I went to an area of the Mekong Delta to fit amputees with prosthetics. A woman had lost both of her legs and the prosthetic was very hard to fit because of how they had amputated her legs. The students allowed me to work hands-on with them, so we moved slowly, mostly because I didn’t know what all I was doing,” Underwood said, laughing. “At the end of the day, though, this woman was able to walk through the clinic on her new legs. She couldn’t wait because she told us she was getting married. She wanted to dance at her wedding.” Making more of these fond memories at Mercer and having students change the world is Underwood’s main goal looking into the new decade, he said. “I want Mercer to keep doing more of what it is doing,” he said. “I want us to continue to do what we’re doing but even better. We have come so far in the level of student achievement that I hope to continue that. Mercer is Mercer because of its students. I can’t wait to see what all they accomplish.”
Dajee’ Lyles, a senior international business major, was hired this semester by the Cultural and Educational Programs Abroad Foundation to share information about the foundation’s programs around campus. CEPA offers summer and semester programs at specific European study centers in Strasbourg, France, and Heidelberg, Germany. “With my new position, I am responsible for spreading the word about CEPA foundation’s program, telling my experience, and getting people to see that the European study center is the best place to study abroad,” Lyles said. Lyles’ international business major requires study abroad as a graduation requirement. While trying to find a place to apply, Lyles said she had trouble with the deadlines. Because she wanted to go during the summer, she enlisted the help of August Armbrister, a study abroad coordinator for the Office of International Programs on Mercer’s campus. “August just told me a few of the options that I had, and CEPA honestly was a pretty cheap choice out of all of the European trips. I wanted to stay a pretty good amount of time, not just two weeks, so that’s how I chose CEPA. It wasn’t necessarily that I selected it out of the group. I think it just kind of found me,” Lyles said. Lyles studied mostly in Heidelberg, Germany, while abroad for her major, but excursions with the program went to places such as Strasbourg, France. “I’m actually involved with both programs in Heidelberg and Strasbourg,” Lyles said. “They have European study centers in both. My role is as an ambassador. They choose recent alumni that have shown or expressed interest in being passionate about the program." Lyles said she received the opportunity to partner with CEPA through one of Mercer’s annual programs, the study abroad fair. “I ran into the representative at the study abroad fair because I was there to do a table. She saw that I really cared about the program, so she contacted the people in Germany. They then contacted me and said they wanted to offer me the position,” Lyles said. Everything Lyles does in relation to her CEPA partnership can be completed here in the United States. “Basically, they just sent me a list of things to do, and I can do them any type of way I want to do it. The best part of working with CEPA is that they are so flexible and open. When I was given this position, I was able to set up my own calendar as well as create my own events. This position was really created for alumni of the European study center to spread their experiences and passion for travel and learning abroad,” Lyles said. [pullquote speaker="Dajee' Lyles, senior international business major working with CEPA" photo="" align="left" background="on" border="all" shadow="on"]Studying abroad with CEPA made me more confident, more self-aware, and more motivated to be a global citizen. It made me want to share that with people on this campus because, people that I know at least, think that studying abroad is a little far-fetched and not an opportunity that is on the table for them right now. I think that me just being a regular student can help people see a model of people like them who study abroad.[/pullquote] Some of the events Lyles is asked to host are informative events about the CEPA Foundation such as presentations, Q&A sessions and sessions about each specific program they offer. She is also required to know about the CEPA foundation as a whole, its programs and the study abroad experience. “I’m involved in the Global Leadership Program,” Lyles said. “Other people are more involved in the Marketing Program or Physical Therapy Program. There are all other types of fields as well. I do get paid for the position, so that’s exciting too. It’s like having a real job, a real global experience which is cool.” Lyles received the Emerging Global Leader scholarship for her time spent at CEPA. Along with the scholarship, she was also able to go on trips and take training classes that have led to specific certifications. “During the program, we went on excursions to other cities touring museums, historical sites and businesses. We even spent a day at the European Parliament. They offered us certification courses also like a Corporate Leadership Training that I took. I became certified by a world-famous corporate coach,” Lyles said. Lyles also said that, while the trip was a great experience, there are several difficulties involved in any study abroad opportunity. “There was definitely a language barrier and cultural barrier. It took a little time getting through even the application process because of simple time differences and the business cultural differences. When I arrived, maybe the first few days, the language barrier was something that frustrated me, but after warming up to my classmates and getting familiar with the area I was staying, I realized that language was not as huge an issue as it seems and there are other ways to communicate or figure out what I need to do,” Lyles said. Lyles said that there were certain things that took longer getting used to, however. “I had to walk everywhere. Most people use trains, not cars. Drinks weren’t free, not even water! You have to pay to use the bathroom everywhere. There were no public bathrooms even in restaurants you ate at sometimes. And, of course, there were the normal stares of people not being used to seeing black people,” Lyles said. It was these experiences and the knowledge she had from others that made Lyles want to take her leadership position with CEPA. “Studying abroad with CEPA made me more confident, more self-aware, and more motivated to be a global citizen. It made me want to share that with people on this campus because, people that I know at least, think that studying abroad is a little far-fetched and not an opportunity that is on the table for them right now. I think that me just being a regular student can help people see a model of people like them who study abroad,” Lyles said. Lyles spent a month and a half in Europe over the summer before being offered the position. She says she hopes to continue to work with CEPA in the future, maybe before going on to earn a master’s degree. “This opportunity has meant the absolute world to me … The Global Leadership Program specifically allowed me to step into this person that I knew I wanted to be but wasn’t sure if I was ready or had the tools to do it,” Lyles said. “I made amazing friends that I will never forget, and I know that if I’m ever in Heidelberg or Strasbourg again, I will definitely have a home.”
The Binary Bears is a computer programming team at Mercer that competes with other colleges to solve complicated programming and coding problems in a timed setting. The Binary Bears had their first competition at the Small College Contest held at Auburn University on Oct. 26 where they placed second overall after Bob Jones University. The team had their second competition of the semester on Nov. 10. This competition was the Association for Computing Machinery’s Collegiate Programming Contest, where schools and universities of all sizes are allowed to participate. “The ACM program is open to some really big schools, including those with graduate programs. It’s a really wide range,” Avery Zebell, assistant coach to the Binary Bears, said. Each competition has its own rules with different specifications for the number of students allowed to participate in each team. Mercer’s Binary Bears divides the participants up into an A-Team and a B-Team for each competition. “In the Small College Competition, four people are allowed to be on a team, while the ACM and the Mercer spring contest will only be three people,” Zebell said. The spring contest will occur at Mercer University. While Zebell and the team said they are excited for competing here, Zebell said that this leaves little time for practices between now and then. [pullquote speaker="Michal Pacholczyk, junior member of the Binary Bears" photo="" align="left" background="on" border="all" shadow="on"]I’ve learned a lot about optimizing my work ethic while writing code. I also learned a lot about working on a team while writing code. Although most of the time we do these programming sessions and we swap out who is on the computer to write, there’s a lot of back and forth, a lot of ‘Well, how would you do this differently?’ especially with writing code on paper before it goes on the screen.[/pullquote] The Binary Bears practice every Thursday from 7-9 p.m. in Willet Science Center. Michal Pacholczyk, a junior computer science major and a team member of the Binary Bears, said he believes that this practice is paying off. “At the Small College Competition, the A-Team placed third and the B-Team for Mercer placed second. Both teams solved eight out of the nine problems that day. The first place winning team, got all nine problems solved. Both Mercer teams, unfortunately, were only one little code change away from getting the last problem and gaining the top spot,” Pacholczyk said. Other competing colleges at this event were Roanoke College, Georgia College and State University and the overall winners of the competition, Bob Jones University. “The Binary Bears is all about working with your team and working with your friends to put in effort to solve problems in unique ways and find clever solutions. You have to think about a lot of different elements that go into these, usually, mathematical problems or word problems. It’s really a lot of creative problem solving,” Pacholczyk said. With this creative problem solving and need for clever solutions, Pacholczyk said he has learned many lessons from being part of the Binary Bears. “I’ve learned a lot about optimizing my work ethic while writing code. I also learned a lot about working on a team while writing code. Although most of the time we do these programming sessions and we swap out who is on the computer to write, there’s a lot of back and forth, a lot of ‘Well, how would you do this differently?’ especially with writing code on paper before it goes on the screen,” Pacholczyk said. When it comes to competitions, there are strict rules based on who gets to use the computer and when. “When we’re at competitions, you’re only allowed to use one computer,” Zebell said. “The rest of the team members have to code on paper. It’s a pretty important aspect of the contest. Because they only have access to one machine at a time, one person will do the code and test it as they go while the others get to think about the problem more carefully so when they get on it (the computer), they’ll be able to put in good code.” For each competition, the groups are given a packet of questions that the team is allowed to look through. The Binary Bears’ strategy is to look for the questions that are easiest to solve first as a group to get them done quickly. The team then moves on to the harder questions. “We try to choose one or two problems that we can immediately start and get done in, like, five minutes. Then we go to the harder problems, like maybe doing an integral solver on the computer. You really have to think about that,” Pacholczyk said. At the Small College Competition, the Binary Bears were given three hours for nine problems, while the ACM competition that took place this fall and the Mercer competition occuring in the spring allow teams five hours for 11 or 12 problems. [pullquote speaker="Michal Pacholczyk" photo="" align="right" background="on" border="all" shadow="on"]You really learn to work with teams and be able to listen to other people’s input. It teaches you to keep a cool head when you’re trying to do something in a short amount of time because you can’t get frustrated at having wrong outputs or you won’t be able to finish on time. It also helps when dealing with criticism.[/pullquote] “The five-hour ones are always pretty funny because you can solve like five problems in the first hour and then you won’t do anything for another two hours cause you can’t get something to work,” Pacholczyk said. Looking to the future of Binary Bears, Pacholczyk and Zebell said they want to continue to advance and improve for future competitions. “I think the ongoing goal is to beat Bob Jones at the Small College Competition,” Zebell said. “They’ve won for the past three years, and we placed second right behind them. They always seem to win in the last 15 minutes.” Pacholczyk said he wants to make sure team member growth continues. “We really want to get more people on the team. We need people to know the same programming languages that we use and then we can allot our time better. Once I graduate, I won’t be able to compete, so it’s important to always get new people,” Pacholczyk said. At the beginning of the semester, approximately 20 people regularly attended practices, but this number dwindled down as the semester progressed. The amount of people on the teams also depends on the competitions as different numbers are needed for different teams. At a practice on Nov. 7, 12 members were in attendance since only the AMC competitors came to that practice. For the AMC competition, the Binary Bears sent four teams of three people each to compete for Mercer, although the number of students sent varies for every competition. “AMC is the larger, more prestigious contest, so we try to send more folks,” Zebell said. Zebell and Pacholczyk said that anybody can join the Binary Bears programming team. “We’re looking for more people, but determining who goes to competitions is based on who shows up to the most practices, who’s doing well at solving the problems and also who is trying to improve,” Zebell said. “Some of the newer folks who haven’t programmed much are so excited, and they’ll even practice more on their own time. We can really see their improvement, so they’ll usually end up going to competitions.” [pullquote speaker="Andy Digh, faculty advisor for the Binary Bears" photo="" align="left" background="on" border="all" shadow="on"]It has been quite an exciting fall season for us! The breadth of majors on the teams is truly amazing.[/pullquote] Any class is allowed to join the Binary Bears, though the club has no freshmen at this time. Pacholczyk said he believes that the Binary Bears can teach students a lot in preparation for graduation. “It’s always nice to have something like this on your resume, of course,” Pacholczyk said. “You really learn to work with teams and be able to listen to other people’s input. It teaches you to keep a cool head when you’re trying to do something in a short amount of time because you can’t get frustrated at having wrong outputs or you won’t be able to finish on time. It also helps when dealing with criticism. It’s very hard to ask input from your peers sometimes because you think you’ve wrote the perfect thing, but it may be the worst thing they’ve ever seen. It really helps with learning from that criticism.” The Binary Bears final competition of this semester took place on Nov. 10. Andy Digh, associate professor of computer science and faculty advisor for the Binary Bears, sent an update to The Cluster after the competition concluded in Kennesaw State. The Binary Bears returned to Mercer with three first-place medals. “It was our highest showing in the event since 2007. We sent four teams of three and placed first, fourth, sixth and twenty-eighth out of 86 teams in the Southeast. We were ahead of competition from Wofford, College of Charleston, University of Georgia, Auburn University and the University of Alabama,” Digh said. “It has been quite an exciting fall season for us! The breadth of majors on the teams is truly amazing,” Digh said. “Will Holmes, an English major with two computer programming courses under his belt, told me last night how thankful he was to attend and how much he truly enjoyed competing.” The Binary Bears will continue to practice through problems in an effort to retain their winning streak next semester. The next competition is scheduled to be held at Mercer Feb. 29, 2020.