The Cluster has appointed Mary Helene Hall as its Editor-in-Chief and Micah Johnston as its Managing Editor for the 2021-2022 school year.Mercer University’s faculty-led Media Board appoints The Cluster’s Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editor each year, as well as literary magazine The Dulcimer’s Editor-in-Chief. These students receive stipends from the university each semester to support their work.Hall, a rising junior majoring in journalism, has worked for The Cluster as a staff writer and served as its Managing Editor for the 2020-2021 year.Hall’s work has been honored by National Public Radio, Discord and more. She took home the most individual awards of any member of The Cluster’s staff at the 2021 Georgia College Press Association Better Newspaper Contest, where she won second place in the Best Photo – Editorial/Feature category, third place in the Best Photo – Sports category and third place in the Best News Article – Objective category.“I feel so thrilled and honored to be chosen as the next Editor-in-Chief of The Cluster. I’ve been involved with student journalism for so much of my life, and it is a privilege to lead a staff of a newspaper as great as The Cluster. Our previous editors have gone on to do such wonderful things, so I am excited to now be among them,” Hall said.This summer, Hall is a John M. Couric Media Fellow at AL.com, the largest news and information site in the state of Alabama.Johnston is a rising senior double-majoring in journalism and media studies. He worked for The Cluster as a staff writer and served as its 2020-2021 Sports Editor.Johnston has interned with Georgia Public Broadcasting and The Macon Telegraph, and he won third place in the Best Sports Article category at the 2021 GCPA Better Newspaper Contest. He will continue his work with The Telegraph this summer as a reporter.“I was so excited when I learned that I was the new Managing Editor of The Cluster,” Johnston said. “The Cluster has been a huge reason for my growth as a journalist while I've been at Mercer, so to be named a key member of next year's staff was an amazing feeling. I had a great time being Sports Editor last year and am really looking forward to helping The Cluster grow and working with a new team of editors and writers during the next year.”Hall is already planning for The Cluster’s future. She said she wants to grow the newspaper’s presence on campus and in the Mercer community.“I want students to know and trust their campus newspaper and feel like they can rely on us to get important news to them as quickly and accurately as possible,” Hall said.
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Law enforcement is investigating "a threatening email" sent to Mercer University Athletic Department staff, according to an email from Senior Assistant Vice President for Marketing Communications Rick Cameron sent Wednesday around 11:00 a.m. “At this time all athletic facilities are locked down while the threat is being investigated by law enforcement. Report any suspicious activity to Mercer Police. Updates will follow as more information becomes available,” Cameron's email said. Mercer Police can be reached at (478) 301-2911. The Cluster will update this page with additional information as it becomes available. UPDATE 4:14 P.M.: Law enforcement agencies involved in the investigation have concluded that there is not an ongoing threat to the Mercer community, and the lockdown of athletic facilities has ended, according to an email from Cameron sent around 3:40 p.m. "Athletic facilities on the Macon campus have been re-opened while law enforcement agencies continue to investigate the suspicious e-mail that was sent to Athletic Department staff earlier today. Law enforcement is at a point in their investigation that they do not believe there is a credible threat to Mercer students, faculty and staff," the email said.
Well over half -- 65% -- of Americans have their first sexual encounter by the age of 18, according to reproductive rights group Guttmacher Institute. But in a country where high school sexual education classes usually fail to include key issues such as consent, contraception, general sexual wellness and the spectrum of gender and sexuality, many of those young people’s sexual experiences are confusing, unhealthy or even dangerous. I asked Mercer students on social media what they wish they learned about sexual health earlier or what they still don’t know to clear up some of the confusion that our sex-ed classes may have left us with. Here are your questions, answered. What is lubricant? Should I use it? Lubricant can be made from oil, water or silicone. The different types come with different pros and cons, according to Healthline, but they’re all considered safe to use. (Just beware: while lube can and should be used with condoms, oil-based types increase the risk of ripping.) A major benefit of lube for people with vaginas is its ability to mitigate vaginal dryness. Vaginas are typically self-lubricating, but anything from stress to hormones to menstruation can cause dryness. Dryness can increase friction, cause pain and lead to vaginal tearing, which can increase risks for sexually transmitted infections. Applying lube to a penis or sex toy prior to penetration can make sex safer and more pleasurable for those experiencing dryness. But that’s far from its only use: in an Indiana University study in 2009, 70% of folks with vaginas reported that lube just made sex more pleasurable, whether they experienced dryness of not. Some types of lubricant that are formulated to prompt different sensations that can be exciting for both the receiving or giving partners, and lube may prolong the amount of time someone with a penis can engage in sex. So if you’re into any of that, lube away! While lube is fairly optional for P-in-V sex, health experts recommend it unequivocally for all anal sex. The anus does not self-lubricate, so penetration by a penis or sex toy can cause pain or even damage the sensitive tissues there. Definitely use plenty of lube for anal play. What is douching, and is it safe? Douching is the practice of “washing” out one’s vagina using a store-bought product. Typically, a douche comes in a bottle and is sprayed into the vagina. However, according to WebMD, there is no scientific evidence that douching provides any benefit, but there is plenty of data indicating that it’s unsafe. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists also warns against it. Douching increases your risk of contracting vaginal infections as well as pelvic inflammatory disease, which “is an infection of the uterus, fallopian tubes, and/or ovaries,” according to WedMD. Douching may increase your risk of contracting PID by 73%. It’s also been linked to difficulty conceiving, heightened risk of ectopic pregnancy and heightened risk of cervical cancer. Vaginas are self-cleaning, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health. They clean themselves by making mucus, which washes away blood, semen and discharge (more on discharge in a second), so douching is unnecessary as well as harmful. Remember, the vagina is the canal inside of the body; the vulva is outside of the body and should be cleaned with warm water and unscented soap. The vagina will take care of itself! Is vaginal discharge normal? In a word: yes. It’s super common and can be influenced by your menstrual cycle, your hormones and other factors. It’s different from arousal fluid, which the vagina can produce during sexual activity. Consistency, color and smell can vary, but as long as nothing seems different than it usually has been for your body, you should be good to go, according to Clue. However, Clue says that changes in consistency, color, volume and smell may indicate yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis or trichomoniasis. Douching, hormonal birth control, irregular bleeding patterns, some medicines, hormonal changes, diabetes and other environmental factors can also contribute to the disruption of your vaginal PH and microbial makeup. If anything has changed in your sexual health or activity and you start to notice some changes in discharge, that’s a sign to talk to a healthcare provider, but discharge itself is normal and nothing to worry about. How often should I be tested for sexually-transmitted infections? The answer to this question varies depending on lots of factors: your age, your sex, your sexual orientation, the frequency with which you have sex and more. But the standard guidance from the Mayo Clinic is to get tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea annually if: you’re a heterosexual, cisgender woman under 25 who is sexually active you’re a heterosexual, cisgender woman over 25 who is having sex with a new partner or multiple partners you have a penis and have sex with other people who have penises you have HIV Guidance changes for other STIs. When it comes to HIV, syphilis and hepatitis, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests the following: HIV test at least once between the ages of 13-64, or yearly if you belong to a group with increased risk hepatitis tests if you haven't been vaccinated (but if you born after 1965, you very likely were) tests for all three if you have tested positive for another STI tests for all three if you have had more than one partner since your last test or used IV drugs tests for all three if you used intravenous drugs tests for all three if you have a penis and have sex with other people with penises tests for all three if you are planning to become pregnant or are pregnant You should also get tested if you’ve been subjected to non-consensual sexual activity. Tests for genital herpes and human papillomavirus (HPV) aren’t super reliable, Mayo Clinic says. If you have a vagina, you should get a Pap test every three years between the ages of 21-65, which can indicate the presence of HPV to a doctor. It’s important to get tested for STIs because you may have them without displaying symptoms, meaning you may spread them to partners without knowing, according to Men’s Health. But you shouldn’t feel ashamed if you end up testing positive, and you shouldn’t be afraid that you can’t have a “normal” love life and sex life. Just talk to your doctor and consult other resources they recommend for taking care of yourself and disclosing your status to a partner or partners, and it’ll be okay. What types of contraceptives are available, and how do I know if I should use one? Birth control, birth control -- there are plenty of types with plenty of effects and, yes, plenty of side effects. You may not want to use birth control for personal, religious or health reasons. You may not know which type you are comfortable with. That’s okay! There is no one-size-fits-all contraceptive, and you might want to try some trial and error to find one that works for you. You may ultimately decide that there isn’t one that you like, and that’s perfectly fine, too. You may prefer a natural method such as fertility tracking. Here’s a quick rundown of common medical birth control options: Condoms: Condoms are latex or plastic pouches that go over a penis or shared sex toy to prevent pregnancy and STIs by blocking contact with semen and vaginal fluids. They are inexpensive, ubiquitous and, when used properly, incredibly effective. They should be used every time a person has vaginal or anal sex with a new partner, especially if either partner’s STI status is positive or unknown. They can also be used during oral sex involving penises. People with uteruses who do not wish to become pregnant should also use them every time they have sex with someone who has a penis. You can also choose an internal condom, which can be placed inside the vagina or anus to create a barrier. They are just as effective as external condoms at preventing STIs and pregnancy, but slightly more likely to be used improperly, according to Planned Parenthood. For oral sex involving anuses or vaginas, dental dams -- a type of condom -- can be effective. Implant: If you have a uterus and vagina, you may opt for an implant. This matchstick-sized rod is inserted under the skin of your upper arm and can remain there for three years. It is considered one of the most effective types of birth control but cannot protect against STIs, so it is recommended that you also use a barrier method (i.e. condom) during partnered sex. IUD: An IUD, or intrauterine device, is a tiny T-shaped device inserted into a person’s uterus. There is a copper type and a type that releases hormones to prevent pregnancy. Like the implant, it is long-lasting (five to 12 years depending on the brand) but can be removed at any time. It does not prevent STIs. It can also be used as emergency contraception. Shots: People with uteruses can also get birth control shots to prevent pregnancy. Shots are required every three months. The shot is slightly less effective than the implant and IUD because it can be difficult to stick to the precise schedule. Shots cannot prevent STIs. Rings and patches: Rings and patches are equally effective at preventing pregnancy, slightly less so than the shot, and must also be maintained on a schedule. Rings are inserted into the vagina, where they release pregnancy-blocking hormones that are absorbed through the vaginal lining. Patches are worn externally, where they release pregnancy-blocking hormones that are absorbed through the skin. Neither can prevent STIs. Pills: Pills are the most common birth control method. Taken daily, they release hormones into the body that prevent pregnancy. They do not prevent STIs and are considered just as effective as rings and patches at preventing pregnancy. This is far from an exhaustive list of contraception options, but they are the most common and generally the most accessible choices. All are associated with some side effects, but the exact effects and their severity varies hugely by type, brand and your individual body. Be sure to talk to a doctor about side effects, natural methods or less common birth control options if you’re interested in contraceptives. What do LGBTQIA+ partners need to know? This question was one of the most common ones that I received. It makes sense: sex ed is lacking for all genders and sexualities in schools, but LGBTQIA+ sex ed is nearly non-existent. The truth is that this question isn’t something I can answer as asked. LGBTQIA+ sexual education is extremely broad because the spectrum of queerness itself is so wide; sexual health looks totally different for people in the community according to their sex assigned at birth, their gender expression, their sexual orientation, their personal preferences, their medical history and more. This article offers a wonderfully thorough jumping-off point for people on the queer spectrum, and the CDC maintains a list of resources for all bodies and identities. Queer folks may need to be tested for STIs more frequently, may face barriers to accessing sexual health care, may not be informed on how gender-affirming treatments affect their reproductive systems or may be uncertain whether to use contraceptives for certain sexual acts, so be sure to find the information that’s most relevant to you.
Lidya Dereje is a junior double-majoring in Global Development and Media Studies and minoring in Art. She has done writing, graphic design, and photography with The Cluster. She is currently in the works of becoming published in The Dulcimer and expanding her skills in the visual arts.
Members of The Cluster staff won departmental and university awards at Mercer University’s annual Honors Convocation Friday, including two journalism honors. News Editor Nadia Pressley was named the Outstanding Senior in Journalism, and Sports Editor Micah Johnston was named the Outstanding Junior in Journalism. Pressley, who double-majors in journalism and global development studies, previously worked for The Cluster as a staff writer, Arts & Entertainment Editor and Lifestyle & Opinion Editor. She has interned with The Telegraph, Georgia Public Broadcasting, Mercer University Marketing Communications, United Way of Greater Atlanta and R3. Pressley is also involved with the National Association of Black Journalists, Leadership Mercer and Mercer Admissions. “I really appreciate receiving this award. The CCJ (Center for Collaborative Journalism) has been a big part of my life since I came to Mercer for camp in high school, so this award kind of represents my growth as a writer, a journalist,” Pressley said. “I’m very grateful.” Johnston, a journalism and media studies double-major, worked for The Cluster as a staff writer before becoming its Sports Editor. He has interned with Georgia Public Broadcasting and The Telegraph, and he is a member of the Percussion Ensemble and Wind Ensemble on campus. ‘I'm really honored to be named the Outstanding Junior for the journalism program,” Johnston said. “I remember falling in love with journalism when I was put into a class as a freshman, so it's really amazing to see how much I have grown as a student and journalist. I wouldn't be the person I am right now without the CCJ staff and all of (the) awesome students there.” Other members of The Cluster’s staff took home awards as well. Arts & Culture Editor Ivy Marie Clarke was named the Outstanding Creative Writing Student in Poetry and won a Writing Center Preceptor Scholar Award. Mandi DeLong, Campus Life Correspondent, won the Mary Wilder Scholarship Award in Literary Studies and a Writing Center Preceptor Scholar Award. Sarah Moore, a staff writer, was named the Outstanding Senior Student in Literary Studies. They also won the Cervantes Award for Outstanding Achievement in Spanish and the Outstanding Great Books Senior Award. Emily Rose Thorne, Editor in Chief, won a Writing Center Preceptor Scholar Award.
This is an opinion article. Any views expressed belong solely to the author and are not representative of The Cluster. From Susan B. Anthony to Hillary Clinton, most so-called heroes of Women’s History Month made great leaps for women in America. But they have something else in common, too: they’re white, cisgender, heterosexual women whose work primarily benefited other white, cisgender, heterosexual women. There may be a place for them in our celebrations of women’s contributions to society and culture, but they shouldn't be the only ones whose names we remember and whose likenesses we commodify every March. Yes, they’re women who stood up for women’s rights — but those were largely the rights of women who were not marginalized on other bases, privileged women who inhabited bodies that are considered palatable and worthy of respect. These were white, educated, able-bodied women with traditional white families who advocated for other women who looked and lived the way they did. While womanhood and greatness are not measured by the amount of oppression a person has faced, it’s important that we also honor the women and feminine-presenting people who are marginalized by factors other than cisgender womanhood. We must celebrate transgender and non-binary women and femmes, queer women and femmes, disabled women and femmes and women and femmes of color, because their history is women’s history, too. Where are the inspirational posters, children’s books and Instagram stories celebrating women who live their lives beyond the margins? They have contributed just as much to our lives as the women we are asked to elevate every year, and yet they are erased from our collective consciousness. Where is the remembrance of Sylvia Rivera, the Hispanic trans woman who fought for drag queens, homeless youth, trans people and queer people in the criminal justice system at the height of the gay liberation movement in New York City? Or Marsha P. Johnston, the Black trans woman who, along with Rivera and others, led the Stonewall riots of 1969 — the major catalyst for modern LGBTQIA+ legal rights? Why doesn’t Women’s History Month commemorate Lani Ka’ahumanu, who pioneered the movement for bisexual visibility and acceptance? Or Edie Windsor, the lead plaintiff in the 2013 Supreme Court case that was the precursor to overturning the Defense of Marriage Act and legalizing marriage equality? Or Aimee Stephens, the funeral worker who was fired after coming out as a trans woman and took her case to the Supreme Court, where the judges ruled in 2020 that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 includes LGBTQIA+ folks? Where is the recognition for Laverne Cox, the Black trans actress and activist who broke barriers for trans people in Hollywood and continues to advocate for the rights of all gender-diverse folks? These women did not fight for women’s liberation in ways that satisfied those in power. They did not ask nicely or settle for incremental shifts in performative politics. They centered women who do not have the privileges of identifying with the gender they were assigned at birth or meeting the expectation of heterosexuality. They demanded sweeping change and fought for the liberation of marginalized people. The experience of womanhood is not exclusive to people who were assigned female at birth. The rights of women are not, should not and cannot be considered fully realized when they only extend to white, cisgender, heterosexual women who align with predominant social scripts. And Women’s History Month should not come as a comfortable reminder of nice ladies whose work made your life easier but as a challenge to engage with what’s left to accomplish. This Women’s History Month, decenter the dominant narrative of womanhood that is most often presented to us. Consider the work, art and legacies of queer, Black, Indigenous, disabled, Muslim, immigrant, trans and non-binary women, of sex workers, activists and unhoused women, of women who do not speak your language and do not come from your country. And do not let yourself be fooled into only honoring women who embody popular notions of “productivity” or women who have achieved fame; Women’s History Month is not just about celebrating women who have provided a service or made a sacrifice but about honoring all women who live among you and who lived before you. Women do not have to give you something to deserve your respect. Reflect on women’s lives — and think, too, about why some women are not presented as worthy of remembrance.
This is an opinion article. Any views expressed belong solely to the author and are not representative of The Cluster. On March 3, as Women’s History Month began, the Higher Education Committee of the Georgia State Senate passed a bill — SB 266 — that would bar transgender girls and women at public schools from playing sports on teams that match their gender identities. The bill, deceptively nicknamed the “Save Girls’ Sports Act,” now heads to the full state Senate for a vote. If passed, SB 266 will “affect Georgia’s public schools and private schools where teams compete against public schools, as well as colleges in the University System of Georgia,” according to Georgia Public Broadcasting. With that nickname and the rhetoric they’ve used, state lawmakers are pretending that denying trans girls equal access to sports is somehow a feminist attempt at “protecting” women and womanhood. Nothing could be further from the truth. “More than 6.8 million high school students live in 16 states that already have fully-inclusive transgender sports policies,” said Shannon Clawson of Georgia Equality, the state’s largest LGBTQIA+ advocacy group. “Millions of students are already able to play alongside transgender students, some since 2008, and girls’ sports participation has not suffered as a result.” Clawson’s right: the available data points to the fact that trans girls are girls, and are not a threat to sports. According to the New York Times, “scientists have long said there is no single biological factor that determines sex, and the sex assigned at birth is not considered the sole determinant of gender.” While proponents of SB 266 argue that trans girls have biological advantages over cisgender girls that would make their participation on girls’ teams unfair, “transgender girls who medically transition at an early age do not go through male puberty;, and therefore their participation in athletics as girls does not raise the same equity concerns that arise when transgender women transition after puberty,” according to Ohio Equality. The group released the statement after a bill similar to Georgia’s SB 266 was proposed in Ohio in 2020. The Women’s Sports Foundation, a U.S. group advocating for the rights of women and girls in sports, affirms that trans girls are placed “in the same general range of strength and performance exhibited by (cisgender) females who are competing.” Even when women transition after puberty, experts and advocates agree their participation doesn’t undermine women’s sports. The National Collegiate Athletic Association, which formally opposed bills similar to SB 266 in other states around the country this year, allows trans women who have been on testosterone-suppressing medication for one year to play on women’s teams. The Olympics also allows trans women to participate after they have reduced their testosterone levels to a certain mark. Why should high school sports be more exclusive than the Olympics? For those who worry that cis boys would claim to be trans in order to play for a girls’ team and secure some kind of additional advantage in athletics, I question whether you can think of any boy who might do that. In over 40 years of collecting data on this issue, never once has a cis person been found trying to play for a team that does not align with their gender in order to gain an advantage, according to Ohio Equality. “The decision to transition from one gender to the other — to align one’s external gender presentation with one’s internal sense of gender identity — is a deeply significant and difficult choice that is made only after careful consideration and for the most compelling of reasons,” the organization said in a statement. “Gender identity is a core aspect of a person’s identity, and it is just as deep-seated, authentic and real for a transgender person as for others.” SB 266 is nothing more than a lack of willingness to acknowledge the fact that trans girls are girls. If you still think your representatives who support SB 266 care about girls’ athletics, ask yourself: where was this supposed concern before it involved allowing trans girls equal access? In U.S. public schools, “girls receive far fewer opportunities to play sports than boys do, as well as inferior treatment in areas such as equipment, facilities, coaching and publicity,” according to the National Women’s Law Center. In fact, a NWLC report found that high schools provide 1.2 million fewer chances for girls to play sports than boys. That’s despite the Title IX requirement that institutions receiving federal funds offer equal opportunities for women and men in sports. Can you guess the worst-ranking state for gender inequity in high school sports? Surprise! It’s Georgia. Now tell me again how Georgia state senators are interested in “saving” girls’ sports. I wish they were truly dedicated to supporting girls’ athletics: data show that sports are empowering for girls on multiple levels, and that’s a cause worth fighting for. According to the NWLC, playing on a girls’ sports team is correlated with better grades, a diminished chance of dropping out of high school and a higher rate of college acceptance and graduation. Women who played sports in high school also report higher salaries, are more likely to have a leadership role at work and are more likely to work in traditionally male-dominated fields. They’re healthier, both physically and mentally, and report a higher quality of life. Banning trans girls from participating in an empowering activity that cis girls may access with no questions asked is nothing more than thinly-veiled transphobia. Georgia girls’ sports do need to be saved — but SB 266 won’t do it.
If you had an internship offer revoked last summer as COVID-19 swept the world, you’re not alone: a National Association of Colleges and Employers survey in May 2020 found that 22% of employers rescinded internship offers due to the pandemic. Nearly a year later, the United States economy still hasn’t bounced back from its slump. College students and graduating seniors may be concerned about the prospects of landing the perfect internship in their field amid the woes of job-seeking during a pandemic, but according to Mercer’s Center for Career and Professional Development, there is still hope. Here are some tips to earn the internship you want most—even as COVID-19 rages on. Reach out to your personal network At least 60% of all jobs are found through networking, according to CCPD. That means that while it may be tempting to hit Indeed or another job board to find your summer internship, you’re more likely to secure a position by speaking to the people you know about openings. Try asking professors or advisors that you have a relationship with about opportunities they may be able to share with you. If a professor is working on research that relates to your goals, reach out to them. There’s no harm in sending a polite, professional email to see whether they would consider taking you on as a research assistant. You can also ask an academic advisor if they know of any companies hiring interns in your area of study this summer. If you’re involved in any professional or student organizations, you can network with current or former members. Reach out to someone who graduated within the last few years and ask if their current company is hiring interns. If your organization has a national presence, check out its website for any resources that may be posted for members. Use social media wisely If networking with the people you currently know isn’t helping you land the perfect position, social media may still come to the rescue. First, make sure your personal accounts are professional, public and free of any content that might raise employers’ eyebrows. It’s also a good idea to start working on a personal brand to help you stand out. Once your accounts are good to go, use the #OpenToWork function on LinkedIn and follow the #Hiring2021 hashtag on Twitter. Opportunities will be more likely to pop up in your feed, and recruiters will be directed towards your profile when they’re looking to fill positions. You can even opt into email alerts on LinkedIn tailored to keywords you choose. In the case that you want to intern for an engineering company, you can set your keywords to “engineering intern,” select states or regions you want to work in and receive notifications every time an employer posts a job that fits the description. Use Mercer’s resources Mercer offers plenty of resources to students and alumni who need a little help securing their next position. The Office of Fellowships and Scholarships maintains a list of national and international opportunities and supports students through the application process. Along with merit scholarships, the office also helps students land research, teaching and other fellowships that are often paid opportunities. Of course, CCPD is also a great resource on campus. Not only can CCPD help you find positions you’d like to apply for, they’ll also help you prepare to submit the best application possible, from offering feedback on resumes and cover letters to practicing interviews. CCPD provides access to Handshake, a job-posting platform specifically for college students and graduates, as well. Finally, some departments offer programs that can help students access internships. For example, journalism students can apply for the Couric Fellowship, which places them in paid positions at The Telegraph, Georgia Public Broadcasting, WMAZ13 or other approved news outlets. Be willing to adapt We’re a year into the pandemic, but this summer will still be unusual in many ways. Many employers across the country are still operating remotely, so you may be hired to a virtual position. It might not be ideal, but don’t forget that you can still learn a lot through remote work! Note that due to financial struggles, some companies might ask you to adapt by taking an unpaid internship instead of one that will properly compensate you. However, don’t feel as though you have to settle for a volunteer position just to boost your resume. Interns contribute valuable work to a company and deserve to be paid for their work, and going a whole summer without making money may not be an option for you. A paid job that isn’t explicitly related to your desired career might be a better choice this summer, and that’s okay.
Rachel Cargle is not interested in “spoonfeeding” racial justice to her audiences. Instead, she engages in conversation with them and challenges them to think critically about the systems they participate in — systems, she said, that uphold white supremacy. That’s the framework through which Cargle, a public academic, activist and writer from Akron, Ohio, delivered Mercer University’s Women’s History Month address Tuesday. Her talk, called “For Your Consideration,” drew on her work providing discourse and resources for examining the intersection of race and womanhood. “I love this particular presentation because it’s less about the academics and more about the emotional intelligence, and more about the deeper considerations for how we show up in the world,” Cargle said. More than 270 people attended Cargle’s talk, which was held via Zoom. Cargle asked audience members to reflect on ways that the United States established its culture of white supremacy and continues to maintain it. She encouraged attendees to consider their privilege in society, whether based on race, color, gender identity, economic status or ability. She also challenged white people to consider how they perpetuate systems of oppression; for example, by refusing to talk to other white people about racial justice because the conversation may feel uncomfortable. “Whiteness is the reason why Black people aren’t being cared for. Whiteness is the reason why Black people aren’t being centered,” she said. “The discomfort is nothing compared to the injustices that people are facing… Actual lives are on the line.” Cargle also detailed the racist legacy of significant institutions — such as medicine, law, journalism and education — as well as the feminist movement. “The critical interrogation I suggest everyone ask of themselves is, ‘what type of woman fits into my feminism?’” she asked. “When you think of feminism, when you think of who you’re fighting for, what does that look like? Does that look like you? Does it look like whiteness?” She discussed the origins of the American feminist movement, led by white suffragists Susan B. Anthony, Carrie Chapman Catt and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She told listeners that Catt, when advocating for women’s right to vote, said that “white supremacy will be strengthened, not weakened, by women’s suffrage.” And in their newsletter, Anthony and Stanton wrote, “if intelligence, justice and morality are to have precedence in the government, let the question of the woman be brought up first and that of the negro last.” The racist history of excluding Black women from white feminists’ understanding of womanhood persists in the movement today, Cargle said. As an example, she described her experience at the National Women’s March in 2017, a majority-white event protesting the inauguration of former President Donald Trump. Cargle worked as a nanny at the time, and while her employer gave her time off for the march, she said many of the other nannies she knew — most of them women of color — were not given time off to attend the march because their white women employers wanted to go instead. Most of the white women at the march, she said, were protesting what they saw as a threat to women’s rights, but had never protested the violations of the rights of women of color. “It made me think: where were they when Indigenous women were fighting for their water? Where were they when Black mothers were in the streets fighting for their children not to be shot by police on sight?” Cargle said. “Where were all of these women when women’s issues were happening to women who did not look like white women?” Shifting the conversation specifically to the Mercer community, Cargle asked Mercer students who are not Black women to share how they would feel if they woke up as Black women on campus the next day. When most of the responses indicated fear or nervousness, she told them to consider how they contributed to a campus community that made Black women feel that way. “You know what’s happening. You know that a Black person would naturally feel fearful to walk out of their room, to walk out onto their campus. So what does that tell you about you? What does it tell you about you if you are calling out a truth, yet haven’t acted on it?” she said. Cargle’s lecture was hosted by Mercer’s departments of women’s and gender studies, Africana studies, biology, integrative studies, international and global studies, political science, psychology and sociology as well as QuadWorks, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives and Wesleyan College. In addition to her work as a writer and speaker, Cargle is the founder of the Loveland Foundation, a nonprofit organization providing free therapy to Black women and girls, and The Great Unlearn, an online community focused on telling the complete story of race in America by elevating the work of Black academics. She recently opened Elizabeth’s Bookshop and Writing Centre, an online independent bookstore celebrating the work of writers from marginalized backgrounds. Her own book, “I Don’t Want Your Love and Light,” is set to publish in 2021. Cargle can also be found on Instagram.
Four weeks into the spring semester, Mercer University continues to report relatively low rates of COVID-19 on its Macon, Atlanta and Savannah campuses. In a weekly report released Friday, the university announced that it had conducted or received results from 1,298 tests over the previous seven days. Of those 1,298 tests, just 31 came back positive, indicating a positivity rate of 2.39%. The week prior — between Jan. 22-28 — the university reported a similar positivity rate of 2.65%. Mercer conducted or received results from 1,434 tests during that time, and 38 came back positive. Positivity rate measures the percentage of individuals who were tested and received a positive result. According to public health experts from Harvard University, a positivity rate between 3-12% indicates adequate testing of a population, while a positivity rate under 3% is considered a goal in curbing the spread of disease. According to the New York Times, Mercer has reported a total of 402 positive cases over the course of the pandemic. It is one of more than 680 colleges and universities in the United States that has reported at least 100 cases since March 2020. These numbers seem high — however, Mercer is one of just a handful of universities nationally that conduct COVID-19 tests on-site, and the school has recently made surveillance testing mandatory. On-campus tests and surveillance testing initiatives both increase the number of tests conducted and, therefore, the number of asymptomatic cases detected and reported. What is more important than the number of cases is the rate of positivity. Because Mercer’s positivity rate falls below the 3% threshold that indicates the curb of disease transmission, the overall spread of COVID-19 remains low on its campuses. The spread that does occur at Mercer appears most concentrated in Macon, according to Mercer’s weekly reports. Between Jan. 29 and Feb. 4, 13 students and three faculty or staff members on the Macon campus tested positive for COVID-19. The week before, 22 Macon students and six faculty or staff members tested positive. The Savannah campus has reported the lowest rates of COVID-19 since Mercer began releasing data in the fall semester. Between Jan. 29 and Feb. 4, no one on the Savannah campus is reported to have tested positive for the disease. Just one student tested positive the week before. In Atlanta, 11 students and four faculty or staff members tested positive within the last seven days, according to Friday’s report. Those numbers rose slightly compared to the week before, during which time seven students and two faculty or staff contracted the coronavirus. Mercer has reported only one hospitalization due to COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic. One student was hospitalized over winter break prior to the start of the spring term. It is unclear which campus the student attended. Members of the Mercer community are directed to call Mercer Medicine at (478) 301-4111 or the Student Health Center 24/7 hotline at (478) 301-7425 if they begin displaying symptoms. Students who are enrolled in a course in which a student or instructor has tested positive will receive an email notifying them of their risk.
Savannah Duringer is a third-year undergraduate student at Mercer majoring in graphic design and minoring in marketing communications and fine arts. Her passion lies in anything and everything creative. She is skilled in illustration, print and layout design. She is an award-winning artist and designer with works published in The Dulcimer. She currently works at the McEachern Art Center and as a freelance designer.
Zaira Khan is a senior majoring in public health. She is currently involved in undergraduate research and the Mercer University COVID Taskforce. In her free time, she enjoys reading and drinking green tea. After graduating, she hopes to work towards more equity in the healthcare industry.
Major video game publisher Ubisoft ended 2020 with three games that challenge the gaming industry’s dominant narratives surrounding gender and sexuality, which was a refreshing—though imperfect—reminder of the industry’s progress. Video games historically emphasize the gender binary and exclude LGBTQIA+ relationships, but they underwent a major shift throughout 2020, with major titles writing queerness into storylines and giving players more freedom than ever to design characters that reflect the true spectrum of gender identity and expression. “Watchdogs: Legion,” “Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla” and “Immortals Fenyx Rising'' were no exception. Full disclosure: The Cluster received free copies of these games from Ubisoft to review. Watch Dogs: Legion “Watch Dogs” is an engaging, albeit slightly unpolished, action game with the essence of a stealth game. It tackles timely themes with some depth and attempts to immerse the player in a world of subterfuge and political revolution. The story centers on political issues such as the rise of fascism and the impact of disinformation on a society beleaguered by social injustice and government oppression. Set in near-future London, the game puts the player in the heart of the resistance movement, allowing players to curate their own team by choosing non-playable characters based on their unique backgrounds and skills. The game suffers somewhat from its “Grand Theft Auto”-style gameplay, which is so chaotic that it undermines the heavy themes of the otherwise immersive story. The driving and enemy detection mechanics are among the aspects of the game that take away from the seriousness of the overarching themes. The non-playable characters also contribute to the sense of “Watch Dogs” as disjointed. Many of the NPCs that a player can select for their team or otherwise interact with are described as queer when the player chooses to learn more about them, which is a good starting place for greater inclusion. However, that queerness seems added to backstories like a decoration to a room; it doesn’t seem to affect anything about the characters’ motivations or experiences. This depiction of LGBTQIA+ identity presents a complex issue. On one hand, it’s uplifting to see queer characters who are allowed to be more than their queerness during a time when media tend to either neglect LGBTQIA+ folks or reduce them to nothing more than their identities. But “Watch Dogs'' goes a little too far in that direction, erasing the way that queerness impacts LGBTQIA+ people’s lives. The game takes place during a fascist takeover fraught with social injustice, but there’s no explanation whatsoever of what it might be like to inhabit a queer body within that political landscape. Sure, it could be argued that realism isn’t necessarily the point of “Watch Dogs,” but when other timely topics like the rise of fascism and proliferation of disinformation are handled in-depth, it’s disappointing to see a watered-down version of queerness just thrown in for some spice. That lack of depth is not just a problem when it comes to LGBTQIA+ characters, either; all of the backstory elements feel like an afterthought. The NPCs don’t feel terribly unique even though they are described as such. It’s another one of the elements that precludes the immersibility that the game teases. Still, “Watch Dogs: Legion” is a fun, replayable game that’s fast-paced and runs well. Fans of the action genre will appreciate this title. Rating: 7/10 Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla “Assassin’s Creed” is probably one of the most stereotypical role-playing game series most people can think of: it’s fast-paced, violent and cathartic. However, the franchise has actually stood out for its meaningful queer representation, most notably with the inclusion of a canonically trans character in "Assassin's Creed Syndicate." “Valhalla” includes queer themes, too: the player character, Eivor, can be played as a man, a woman or a person who sometimes presents as male and sometimes as female. Even better, the genderfluid option is the canon, recommended way to play. Eivor’s genderfluidity is a simple, effective measure at including gender diversity in the industry, and it works. Gender and sexuality don’t play a major role in the game no matter which version of Eivor the player chooses to control. Regardless of gender, Eivor is a Viking warrior traveling from their Nordic homeland to build a new community in England after their father lost the family’s land. That journey takes place in a visually-impressive, massive open world that feels alive—although the Nordic setting may have a visual edge over the British setting—with side quests along the way. Unlike “Watch Dogs,” “Valhalla” doesn’t emphasize stealth gameplay, focusing instead on classic RPG-style combat. “Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla” is an immersive, lengthy game with plenty to do. It’s a great addition to the franchise and to the modern action-RPG lineup that stands out with impressive graphics and enjoyable gameplay. Rating: 9/10 Immortals Fenyx Rising In this light-hearted, open-world RPG inspired by Greek mythology, players create and play as their own version of Greek soldier Fenyx. At the start of the game, Fenyx finds herself shipwrecked on the Golden Isle. There, she becomes entrenched in the world of the gods whose stories she has spun for years, taking on a quest to imprison Typhon, a Titan who has transfigured the gods into animals. The environment is light and fun, and although Ubisoft casts Fenyx as a woman, the game allows players to create their own version of Fenyx with a character creation tool that is simple yet (mostly) inclusive. Players choose a body type rather than a gender and aren’t locked out of customization options based on what they pick. A player can choose the feminine body type, for example, and still apply facial hair. The game also offers a variety of skin tones and hairstyles that reflect a range of races and ethnicities, as well as fun colors like blue. However, there aren’t options for androgynous body types, and while the player can choose a deep or high voice regardless of the body type they select, the deeper voice assigns Fenyx he/him pronouns and the higher voice assigns she/her pronouns. There’s no option to use gender-neutral pronouns or to choose an ambiguous voice. In terms of gameplay, “Immortals Fenyx Rising” offers a challenging yet casual experience with immersive imagery and a humorous vibe. The art is beautiful, the landscape vast and the puzzles just frustrating enough to be interesting but not so complicated that they’re rage-worthy. The real drawbacks involve limits that Ubisoft places on the open-world concept. The game strongly encourages players to make certain choices and complete the story in a certain order by capping Fenyx’s abilities or knowledge to prevent her from accessing areas she shouldn’t yet. That’s obviously a common practice in games, but it does raise questions about the categorization of “Immortals” as “open-world.” It’s also easy to find exactly where Fenyx is meant to go, which precludes the sense of exploration expected in an open-world game. For those who find true open-world games overwhelming, though, this could be a blessing in disguise. As the game progresses, however, any limits on Fenyx’s ability disappear completely, which actually becomes another flaw. Fenyx becomes extremely powerful to the point where combat, while inordinately difficult in earlier stages, becomes too easy. While unbalanced, “Immortals Fenyx Rising” offers casual gameplay with a sense of humor and clever references to Greek mythos. It’s a great way to kill time, but it’s probably not at the top of anyone’s “Best of 2020” list. Rating: 6/10 Ian Henshaw contributed reporting.
Mercer University recorded the first COVID-19 hospitalization among the Mercer community in its weekly case numbers update Friday. One student was hospitalized over winter break prior to the start of the spring term. It is not clear whether the student was enrolled on the Macon, Atlanta or Savannah campus. The hospitalization report was a part of Mercer’s weekly testing and case rate update. In the update, the university reported that 1233 tests took place between Jan. 15-21. Of those tests, 61 came back positive. Over half of the COVID-19 cases are students on the Macon campus, with 36 Macon students testing positive for the virus. There were also three faculty and staff cases in Macon. In Atlanta, 19 students and two faculty and staff tested positive. Only one student on the Savannah campus tested positive. The 61 cases of COVID-19 out of 1233 tests indicate a positivity rate of 4.9%. Positivity rate measures the percentage of individuals who were tested and received a positive result. According to public health experts from Harvard University, a positivity rate between 3-12% indicates adequate testing of a population, while a positivity rate under 3% is considered a goal in curbing the spread of disease. Mercer resumed surveillance testing Jan. 18, a measure aimed at testing enough of the population to ensure asymptomatic cases are caught. Members of the Mercer community are directed to call Mercer Medicine at (478) 301-4111 or the Student Health Center 24/7 hotline at (478) 301-7425 if they begin displaying symptoms. Students who are enrolled in a course in which a student or instructor has tested positive will receive an email notifying them of their risk.
Mercer University began its weekly publication of COVID-19 testing results for the spring semester Friday. The university announced that between Dec. 30 and Jan. 14, a total of 4,251 students, faculty and staff were tested for the novel coronavirus across Mercer’s campuses. Of those, 232 people tested positive for COVID-19. The bulk of the 232 cases came from Mercer’s Macon campus, where 156 students and 18 faculty and staff tested positive for COVID-19. On the Atlanta campus, 48 students and nine faculty and staff tested positive. Only one student on the Savannah campus tested positive. The university required all Macon traditional undergraduates, College of Pharmacy and College of Health Professions students, Atlanta students in university housing and others who indicated that they had exposure to or symptoms of COVID-19 to be tested prior to the start of classes Jan. 7. “The University is not aware of any students, faculty or staff screened and tested during this process who (have) required hospitalization,” according to Friday’s update. The case numbers indicate a positivity rate of 5.5%. Positivity rate measures the percentage of individuals who were tested and received a positive result. According to public health experts from Harvard University, a positivity rate between 3-12% indicates adequate testing of a population, while a positivity rate under 3% is considered a goal in curbing the spread of disease. Mandatory surveillance testing of students, faculty and staff will begin the week of Jan. 18. Members of the Mercer community are directed to call Mercer Medicine at (478) 301-4111 or the Student Health Center 24/7 hotline at (478) 301-7425 if they begin displaying symptoms. Students who are enrolled in a course in which a student or instructor has tested positive will receive an email notifying them of their risk.
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A Mercer University freshman passed away in her dorm room Jan. 7, according to an email from President Bill Underwood sent to students just after 5:00 p.m. “Earlier this afternoon Anna Espy, a promising and cherished Mercer freshman from Rome, Georgia, passed away in her dorm room after suffering what appeared to be an immediate allergic reaction to the food she was eating, although cause of death has not yet been determined,” Underwood said. Underwood said that counseling services have been made available to students in Espy’s residence hall and to those who were close to her. “The death of any member of the Mercer community is painful,” Underwood said. “But the passing of a life with so much promise for the future is particularly difficult to face. Please keep Anna’s family in your thoughts and prayers in the days and weeks ahead.” Students in need of support can contact Mercer’s Counseling and Psychological Services at (478) 301-2862 to request an appointment. The Cluster will publish updates as they become available.