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Not interested yourself but know someone who might be? Let them know by clicking to tweet this message: [inlinetweet prefix="" tweeter="" suffix="""]Put a grin on Toby's face. Be the Bear. Apply to be @mercercluster's Digital Editor today.[/inlinetweet] Description of Responsibilities: As the number two in charge of The Cluster editorial team, the Digital Editor (previously known as the "online editor") is responsible for managing mercercluster.com and assisting in formatting and editing breaking news stories along with the Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editor. The Digital Editor is also responsible for updating The Cluster’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr accounts, employing an engaging and informative tone of voice that engages new audiences and bolsters existing ones. Desired Skills: A basic grasp of HTML, CSS, Wordpress development, Photoshop, social media and real-time reporting is preferred, but anyone with an interest in digital publishing and strong editorial judgment is encouraged to apply. Leadership skills and ability to delegate also a plus. No class year or previous Cluster experience is required – only a deadline-driven, digital native with a passion for creating unique digital brand and/or news experiences. Compensation: A senior-level biweekly stipend will be paid for this position. Deadline to Apply: Fri. Aug. 1, 2014, 11:59 p.m. [contact-form email@example.com' subject='APPLICATION: Cluster Digital Editor'][contact-field label='Name' type='name' required='1'/][contact-field label='Email' type='email' required='1'/][contact-field label='Tell us briefly (100 words or less) why you think you%26#039;d be a good fit for the job of Digital Editor?' type='textarea' required='1'/][contact-field label='Online portfolio (totally optional)' type='url'/][/contact-form]
Investigators still don't know what caused Mercer international student Zhang Tianliang* to be found dead in his apartment about a block away from campus Thursday, Mar, 31. Zhang, a 24-year-old graduate engineering student from Yinchuan City, China, was found lying unconscious in his bed around 4 p.m. by his roommates at 1252 Shamrock Lane, Bibb County Coroner Leon Jones said. There were no signs of foul play. An autopsy performed the following day on Zhang's body came back inconclusive. Toxicology and histology reports were sent to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for futher testing to determine the cause of death, but those results could take as long as two to three months to receive, Jones said. Zhang was last seen alive that Tuesday night, and he appeared to have been dead for at least a day, Jones said. No bodily injuries were visible, and he had no history of medical problems. Jones said he doesn't know what could have caused Zhang’s death and that it’s abornmal for autopsy reports to come back inconclusive. “When you’ve got a 24-year-old healthy kid dead like this, it looks suspicious to me. Every once in a while, I get a case where I break down and cry. This was one of them,” Jones said. Macon Police spokeswoman Jami Gaudet said police do not suspect foul play at this time, but an investigation into the incident will continue until the cause of death can be determined. Mercer’s chief of staff Larry Brumley said University administrators notified Zhang’s next of kin in China of his death late Thursday evening, then transported his body to a funeral home in Decatur specializing in Chinese burials over the weekend. Four of Zhang’s family members were granted temporary Visas by the U.S. Consulate to travel to Macon from China to view Zhang’s body mid-last week, including his parents, uncle and cousin. REMEMBERING ZHANG Zhang's family and about 65 students and faculty attended a campus-wide memorial service in Newton Chapel this past Monday in his honor. Junior Laurel McCormack, who spoke at the service, recalled first meeting Zhang when he came to Mercer last August. “I sat next to him at dinner that first night. He was always a very calm, funny and helpful guy. He’ll definitely be missed,” McCormack said. McCormack said Zhang's friends at Mercer called him John for short. Zhang's roommate Luis Flores said some of his fondest memories about John include his cooking skills and his dedication to family. "John's fried rice was the best. My mouth always watered when I smelled it coming from the kitchen. We also always had great conversations together, and he always told me his family was above all," Flores said. Eric Spears, director of international programs, said the University has been working to offer Zhang’s family members as much support as possible during their time of need. “Any time a student dies, it’s tragic, but this is especially tragic because of the cultural implications of the one-child rule in China. Their family has essentially lost a whole generation now,” Spears said. Junior Kelly Ferill, a close friend of Zhang’s and a member of Baptist Collegiate Ministries, said BCM has raised an estimated $300 to give to Zhang’s family to help cover funeral and transportation costs. “We wanted to show his family that he was loved here at Mercer,” Ferrill said. Zhang’s cousin Ivanka Tian was one of the family members in attendance at Monday's memorial service. Tian said she thought the service was a fitting tribute to Zhang’s life. “The service was very good,” Tian said. Tian said the family has made plans to have Zhang’s body cremated Friday at Lee's Funeral Home according to Chinese burial traditions. She added that the family would be staying in Georgia for the next two weeks to work out the details of transporting Zhang's remains back overseas. *Name amended from official police report to reflect traditional Chinese naming system of writing family name first.
[nggallery id=12] Roughly one in four students cast a ballot in Wednesday's SGA senatorial elections for the coming academic year, marking an official end to the spring campaign season. SGA election officer Jamel Pee said an estimated 575 students turned out to vote in Wednesday's campus-wide election. That's mostly on par with last year's turnout, Pee said. A crowd of about two dozen onlookers gathered to watch as SGA election officials unveiled a banner displaying the results of the election around 6:20 p.m. Voting closed at 5 p.m. Five of the nine candidates vying for Senator-at-Large won their bids to be elected. Sophomore Melissa Thompson led the way with 362 votes to carry the title of Leading Senator-at-Large. Junior Sarah Brown followed not far behind with 324 votes, while Jonathan Cauthen, Gil Arquisola and Sage Harris each garnered the third, fourth and fifth place spots respectively by a 272-271-249 margin. Eleven freshmen competed for the five open seats for sophomore senator. Dalton Turner narrowly edged out Nicholas Reynolds by a 155-154 margin to become the next sophomore class president. Mollie Davis, Austin Thompson and Ronnie Davis also won seats as sophomore senators, netting 139, 115 and 100 votes respectively. All but one of the six candidates running for junior senator positions was elected to serve. Rodrigo Visbal won the job of junior class president over second-place finisher Khoi Le by a margin of 115-110. The three other junior senators elected were Justin Robinson with 104 votes, Branden Ryan with 92 votes and A.J. Patel with 82 votes. In the race for senior senator as well, six candidates competed for a total of only five positions. Christina Vasquez narrowly beat out Kristen Blackwell to become the next senior class president in a 117-115 vote. Stephen Bradshaw, Matt Hickman and Matt Williams also won seats as senior senators by a 111-103-96 margin, respectively. Outgoing SGA president Trenton White said that while he's excited for the new slate of senators, he wishes more females had been elected. Only five of the 20 newly elected senators are females. "It's been a great turnout, but I'd like to see more women represented," White said. Despite the gender imbalance, however, newly re-elected senator Branden Ryan said he thinks the SGA slate represents a diversity of students from different backgrounds. "I think we've got a very strong group with a broad range of interests this year, and I'm excited to serve," Ryan said. For more on this developing story, read the next issue of The Cluster, or check back in at www.mercercluster.com for updates.
I've always thought Zuckerberg and company were all about the notion that more information sharing translates to a better society. But my saga with the social networking giant during the past 48 hours has made me question whether Facebook really is convicted is to the ideology of open dialogue. Let me explain to you my situation: I'm an online editor/social media coordinator for a traditionally small student-run newspaper here at Mercer University in Macon, Ga. We just revamped our web strategy a little more than a month ago, and we've obviously been using Twitter and Facebook integration as a way to market our online content. Social networking outreach just makes sense, and it's a good way to have our journalism reach a wider audience than it would normally in our print edition. As part of my job, I've been relying heavily on Facebook and Twitter to share breaking news stories on our website, mostly using The Cluster's Facebook page to post links to new stories for fans who have 'liked' the page. Yesterday morning, however, I was shocked to find that Facebook had locked me out of almost all of my account features, including posting personal status updates, making wall posts and sending personal messages. Whenever I try to share anything on Facebook –– even the simplest status update with no links, or a message to a friend –– I receive the following message, which I've posted a screenshot of below: No big deal, right? Well, not for most people, perhaps, but I depend upon Facebook every day to do my job and conduct my everyday life, and I've been locked out of the system for almost 48 hours now. I can't reply to messages sent to me by my professors and co-workers. I can't contact potential story sources using Facebook messages. And most of all, I can't administrate the Facebook page for our newspaper and do my job. I've been essentially thrown out of the social community for no explainable reason. Obviously, I've sent multiple support messages to Faebook during the past two days politely asking them to reinstate my account, since I've done nothing spammy or abusive (no mass messages or invites, no mass link posting, no account hijacking––basically nothing sketchy). So far, I've yet to receive a response back from Facebook. I've even tried calling their customer support line at (650) 543-4800 to resolve the issue with a real person, which only gave me a default automated response saying, "Telephone customer support is currently unavailable for Facebook users. Please submit a support request online and we'll get back to you as soon as possible." The real issue at hand After going nuts for the past 48 hours at being locked out of my account, I did some research on Facebook's support center on potential reasons for why my account may have blocked. That's when I was startled to find the following disclaimer on the company's policy on disabling account features: Blocked: You are unable to use a specific feature, but you can still access your account. Facebook has policies to stop behavior that other users may find annoying or abusive. A block is set when Facebook systems determine that the user was adding friends or using a feature repeatedly in a short period of time after being warned to slow down. If your account is blocked, you will still be able to log on to Facebook, but you will not able to add friends or use a feature temporarily. I have been blocked from using a feature. Facebook has policies to stop behavior that other users may find annoying or abusive. Even if you did not have this intention, Facebook systems have determined that you were repeatedly using the same feature in a short period of time. Since you did not adhere to previous warnings, a temporary block was set on your account. Here's what you should keep in mind about your block: This temporary block will last anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Attempting to use this feature while you are blocked can extend the block. We cannot lift this block for any reason, so please be patient and refrain from using this feature for a few days while waiting for this block to be removed. Once you are allowed to use this feature again, you must significantly slow down or stop this behavior. Further misuse of site features may result in more blocks or your account being permanently disabled. Unfortunately, Facebook cannot provide any specifics on the rate limits that are enforced. The threshold at which you are warned is not a specific number, but rather determined by different factors, such as speed, time, and quantity. The policy is fair enough, but I haven't received a single warning that I've been abusing Facebook's features, and I would challenge Facebook to prove otherwise. To say that I haven't "adhered to previous warmings" is a flat out lie. They haven't said a word to me about spam activity, and I haven't done anything abusive in the first place. For that matter, I haven't friended any more than five people in the last month. The policy says I should "refrain" from using Facebook for a few days to wait for my account features to be reinstated. Unfortunately that's just not really possible given my reliance upon the site for work. Are they saying there's a limit on how much I can share, or am I completely overreacting? Meanwhile, I've been Tweeting my complaints to @Facebook with the #facebook hashtag. Hopefully, someone will get back with me soon before I go crazy for not being able to use my account. I feel like I've been temporarily jailed for an offense I didn't commit without even being given due process. UPDATE 3/12, 10:55 p.m. EST: Now I've completely lost power to click any eternal links from Facebook, even those posted by other friends on my news feed. When I do click any eternal links, I get the following message, which is obviously an error because not every link could have possibly been marked as abusive, and my other FB friends can access them with no problem: So, really, what gives? This is seriously screwing up my day-to-day routine. Carl V. Lewis is the online editor for MercerCluster.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at twitter.com/carlvlewis. Click here to see his bio.
A Mercer exchange student from China was found dead Thursday afternoon in his apartment less than a block away from campus. Tianliang Zhang, a 24-year-old graduate engineering student, was found lying unconscious in his bedroom around 4 p.m. by his roommates at 1252 Shamrock Street, Bibb County Coroner Leon Jones said. Zhang was last seen alive Tuesday night, and Jones said he appeared to have been dead for at least a day. "When you've got a 24-year-old healthy kid dead like this, it looks suspicious to me. Every once in a while, I get a case where I break down and cry. This was one of them," Jones said. An autopsy performed Friday morning was inconclusive. The cause of death remains undetermined pending toxicology and histology reports from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which Jones said can take anywhere two to three months to complete. Macon Police spokeswoman Jami Gaudet said police do not suspect foul play at this time, but an investigation into the incident will continue until the cause of death can be determined. Mercer's chief of staff Larry Brumley said University administrators notified Zhang's next of kin in China of his death late Thursday evening. Arrangements are in the works to transport Zhang's body to China after autopsy procedures have been conducted, Brumley said. For more on this developing story, check back in at www.mercercluster.com and read the next issue of The Cluster.
[box border="full"]Mercer’s admissions office has been giving out scholarships to members of the school’s wrestling club for the past four years from a discretionary pool of funds traditionally set aside for merit and need-based financial aid, a Cluster investigation has revealed.[/box] Admissions director Brian Dalton confirmed that incoming wrestlers receive a renewable “additional funding package” from the University each year, despite the fact that wrestling is not an officially recognized varsity NCAA team and is therefore ineligible to receive sports scholarships from the athletics department. Dalton refused to release the total amount of scholarship money allocated to members of the wrestling club each year, but said it was a marginal investment given its usefulness as a recruitment tool. “We’re not talking about a whole lot of money — a drop in the bucket, really — and wrestling has been a very popular and successful competitive club sport that has helped us enroll a diversity of students who might not attend Mercer otherwise . . . it’s been a plus for everyone,” Dalton said. Under University policy, wrestling is one of six so-called “competitive” club sports funded by Mercer’s Board of Appropriations and overseen by the Office of Recreational Sports and Wellness. Other competitive club sports include equestrian, cycling, table tennis and ultimate Frisbee. Wrestling is the only club sport to receive scholarships, Dalton said. Wrestling coach Kevin Andres, who serves as the director of the Office of Recreational Sports and Wellness, would not comment specifically on why the wrestling program receives university-based scholarships except by pointing to the club’s winning track record and popularity. “We’ve just had a very successful program with a seven-year history, and we’ve brought a lot of good publicity to the university,” Andres said. Equestrian coach Carole Burrowbridge, who works in the Office of Disability Services, said Andres told her that the initial logic behind the wrestling club receiving university-based scholarships was to balance Mercer’s gender ratio by attracting more male students. “My understanding from the coach is that it was a gender-dictated decision, since wrestling is typically a male sport. I’ve also felt it has been very hush-hush, and that not everyone in the university has been informed about it in the various departments,” Burrowbridge said. Athletics director Jim Cole said he was not aware that the wrestling club received scholarships from the university. “I haven’t been told anything about wrestling scholarships. I only deal with NCAA Division 1 athletics, though, and wrestling isn’t one of our sports,” Cole said. Dalton said gender may have played a role in the university’s initial decision to provide scholarships to the wrestling team, but that he couldn’t say for certain since the policy was put in place before he came to Mercer in 2008. The decision to renew scholarship policies is made by the Office of University Admissions each year.
Junior Kyle Shook chalked out his thoughts about abortion twice in the last two weeks — once on the sidewalk and once in a Willingham classroom. The first time came two Thursdays ago after Shook and a group of friends noticed a flurry of pro-life messages etched in sidewalk chalk across campus, then responded hours later with a counter-chalking demonstration from a pro-choice viewpoint. The second time came last Thursday when Shook and a group of 23 other Mercer students formally gathered together over bean dip and brownies to discuss their interest in forming a new pro-choice student organization on campus called the Mercer Alliance for Reproductive Freedom, or MARF. The chalking and formation of MARF during the last two weeks reflect a growing point of controversy on Mercer’s campus regarding the issue of abortion and reproductive rights, with each side making its voice heard loudly. THE CHALKING Mercer Students for Life, a secular pro-life student organization, set in motion a chalking war over abortion on Thursday, March 18, when its members took to the sidewalks to draw 3,500 hearts representing the number of abortions it says take place each day across the nation. Junior Megan Hamrick, president of Mercer Students for Life, said her organization was responsible for drawing the initial hearts along with messages such as “A person is a person no matter how small” and “Women need love not abortion.” [pullquote] “I encourage open dialogue and a diversity of opinions, and have no problem with the chalking in and of itself. But when things begin to become offensive and appear discriminatory as they did in this situation, that’s when we need to be careful." -Carrie Ingoldsby, Office of Campus Life [/pullquote] But the chalking quickly devolved into more inflammatory messages from unaffiliated students on both sides of the debate, igniting a firestorm of controversy across campus. In one instance, pro-choice students drew a picture of a crossed-out coat-hanger with a caption reading “Mercerians against wire hangers,” accompanied by a declaration that “College parties = unwanted babies.” Pro-life chalkers fired back at the sketch with comments such as "A human life is nothing to party with" and "Save a life. Save yourself for when you're ready." Carrie Ingoldsby with the Office of Campus Life was alerted to the potentially offensive chalkings Thursday afternoon, then poured water on the markings after deciding that they violated Mercer’s community of respect. Ingoldsby said the decision to wash away the offensive chalking was not intended as a form of censorship, but rather as way to ensure that offensive messages aren’t encouraged on campus. “I encourage open dialogue and a diversity of opinions, and have no problem with the chalking in and of itself. But when things begin to become offensive and appear discriminatory as they did in this situation, that’s when we need to be careful,” Ingoldsby said. Ingoldsby added that she does not believe Mercer Students for Life officially took part in the offensive chalkings after having looked into the incident. Shook said he and his fellow pro-choice counter-chalkers also had nothing to do with the offensive comments, as they only wrote rational responses to what they felt were misleading pro-life arguments. “I personally don’t regret counter-chalking, since I was merely responding to inaccurate information about abortion, feminism and Planned Parenthood that the other side had presented. It was already out there, so I felt like I had a duty to respond,” Shook said. Shook called the wire hanger comment an “outdated slogan” for the pro-choice movement that should not be used. Hamrick added that Mercer Students for Life will continue to chalk hearts for the next 24 days as part of the group’s 35-day campaign to raise awareness about pro-life options. THE DEEPER ISSUES Beyond the chalking incident lie deeper divisions between the two camps about whether contraceptives and abortions should be available to Mercer students, as well as the types of educational resources that should be offered by the university. Suzanne Stroup, a sophomore journalism and theatre major who attended the MARF interest meeting last Thursday, said she got involved with the new group because she felt like women’s issues and the pro-choice viewpoint wasn’t being adequately represented on campus. “I feel like, on our campus, the pro-choice voice is missing. The other side has spoken up loudly, but we haven’t gotten our voice out there,” Stroup said. But Hamrick from the Mercer Students for Life said she thinks the problem is exactly the opposite, and that the pro-life argument has been misunderstood. “I feel like most of campus is pro-choice, and that the ones who are pro-life are apathetic about the issue,” Hamrick said. The major point of contention between the two groups concerns the availability of contraceptives, especially emergency ones such as “Plan B.” Hamrick said Mercer Students for Life takes no official stance on contraceptives, but that she believes oral contraceptives can often act as a front for abortion. “Anyone looking to be sexually active on campus should rely mainly on condoms and spermicide. If you’d just have safe sex, you’d be okay,” Hamrick said. Senior Mary-Kathryn Wiley said she disagrees with the notion that safe sex alone can protect women from having unplanned pregnancies. “It concerns me that we don’t have more resources for women’s health at Mercer and in Macon. It’s almost impossible to get emergency contraceptives in this town. It’s a basic health issue that’s being neglected,” Wiley said. Wiley said she’s also concerned that Mercer’s student insurance policy doesn’t cover abortion. “I know some students are morally opposed to abortion, but there should at least be some sort of opt-in policy for students to have abortion coverage under Mercer’s policies,” Wiley said. Hamrick said she’s not necessarily opposed to an opt-in policy for abortion coverage, which would allow students who are interested in having abortion added to their default plans to do so out-of-pocket while still retaining the school's discounted group rate. A spokeswoman for Pearce and Pearce, the third-party company that handles student insurance coverage, said the company could add abortion coverage to Mercer’s default plan if the university wanted it and that it could offer an opt-in policy beginning as soon next year. Dean of students Doug Pearson said he’s open to making changes to the university’s insurance policies regarding abortion coverage as long as doing so doesn’t unnecessarily complicate the plan or drive up costs for everyone. “If students feel there’s something lacking from the policy, we’d certainly entertain it, but our overriding goal is to keep the price low for all students,” Pearson said. But for both groups, the crux of the issue comes in providing better access to educational resources and promoting an open dialogue concerning reproductive options. "We're not out to compete against Mercer Students for Life," Shook said. "We need to work together with them and hopefully even sponsor a forum to discuss the issue in a mature, intelligent manner instead of just in chalk."
Juniors Jordan Locke and Ike Ekeke were elected last Wednesday to serve as the new SGA president and vice president for the coming year. Election officials said 734 votes were cast. Locke and Ekeke won 477 of these, earning them 65 percent of the vote. Locke’s supporters cheered on as the banner displaying the results was unveiled around 6 p.m. in Connell Student Center. Locke and Ekeke ran on the campaign slogan “A Better Mercer,” and their platform focused on progressive feasibility. Their other goals include: revamping the Bear Bikes program, continuing green initiatives, improving the implementation of student organizations, dealing with safety and parking issues on campus and working on SGA transparency. “I’m very excited and honored to be able to serve the student body in this capacity in the upcoming year,” Locke said. Locke has served on the Public Relations and Elections Committee, has chaired the Macon Connections Committee and has chaired the Heritage Life Committee twice. Both he and Ekeke have served on the special committee for Bear Bikes. Ekeke has served on the Student Life and Organization Affairs Committee, Contract Services Committee and on the special committee for Absence Legislation Reform. Ekeke said thinking about all the students he could help in his new position motivated him to accept Locke’s request for him to be vice president. He also felt that he and Locke had similar ideas on campus issues and admired the work Locke had done on the Heritage Life Committee. “I was excited that I would be getting to work with him and help out the student body,” Ekeke said. Locke also based his decision to run on a desire to improve the student experience at Mercer. “I eventually made the decision to run because I’m very passionate about the university and making it a better place to go to school,” he said. Locke said he is personally passionate about seeing the Bear Bike program thrive, but he feels another issue is of utmost importance to the student body. “I think that the issue I see as most applicable and beneficial to the student body is improving the number of cameras and lights in some of our under-covered outdoor lots.” When asked what issue on his platform was most important to him personally, Ekeke said he would have a tough time deciding between SGA transparency and safety on campus. “I feel safe [on campus], and I feel like we should take steps to make sure all students feel the same,” he said. As for transparency, Ekeke hopes to utilize technology to communicate more effectively with students. One proposal on the table is to place a kiosk in the lobby of Connell Student Center to give students an opportunity to voice their opinion on current issues. “When it comes to new technology, we always want to try it out,” Ekeke said. Both juniors are excited about the results of the election and confident that they are up for the challenge. “I, undoubtedly, am someone who pours their soul into their work. As SGA President, I will not hold myself to any other standard,” Locke said. “I believe that, between Ike and I, we cover a vast section of the student body and the comprehensive Mercer experience.” “My legs got kind of weak when the banner was dropped,” Ekeke joked. “I’m very appreciative of the support from the student body, and I’m going to do everything I can to represent students as well as I can.” SGA President Trent White expressed his enthusiasm for the year to come. “I was very pleased with the platform they ran on, and I’m very excited to see what’s to come,” White said.
[nggallery id=6] Juniors Jordan Locke and Ike Ekeke were elected by a healthy margin Wednesday to serve as the new SGA president and vice-president for the coming year. Locke and Ekeke's ticket claimed 65 percent of the vote, while competitors Stephen Bradshaw and Melissa Thompson nabbed the remaining 35 percent. Election officials said 734 votes were cast. Locke and Ekeke won 477 of those votes. Locke's supporters cheered on as the banner displaying the results was unveiled around 6 p.m. in Connell Student Center. Locke and Ekeke ran on the campaign slogan “A Better Mercer,” and their platform focused on progressive feasibility. Their other goals include revamping the Bear Bikes program, continuing green initiatives, improving the implementation of student organizations, dealing with safety and parking issues on campus and working on SGA transparency. “I’m very excited and honored to be able to serve the student body in this capacity in the upcoming year,” said Locke. Locke and Ekeke have served on five of the eight standing committees during their tenure with SGA as well as serving on two special committees. Locke has served on the Public Relations and Elections Committee, chaired the Macon Connections Committee and chaired the Heritage Life Committee twice. Both Locke and Ekeke have served on the special committee for Bear Bikes. Ekeke has served on the Student Life and Organization Affairs Committee, Contract Services Committee and on the special committee for Absence Legislation Reform. “My legs got kind of weak when the banner was dropped,” Ekeke joked. “I’m very appreciative of the support from the student body, and I’m going to do everything I can to represent students as well as I can.” SGA President Trent White expressed his enthusiasm for the year to come. “I was very pleased with the platform they ran on, and I’m very excited to see what’s to come,” White said. For more on this developing story, read the next issue of The Cluster, or check back in at www.mercercercluster.com for updates.
In the last minute run-up to what has been a spirited week-long campaign, candidates competing for the position of Mercer's next student body president and vice-president will go head-to-head tonight in a debate beginning at 8 p.m. in the Bear Rock Cafe at the University Center. Juniors Stephen Bradshaw and Jordan Locke, who are both vying for the spot of SGA president in tomorrow's election, will take center stage for the night with their respective running-mates, Melissa Thompson and Ike Ekeke. Current SGA president Trenton White and vice-president Shannon Giddens will moderate the debate, and Cluster co-editor-in-chief Liz Bibb will field questions to the candidates. The Cluster will provide minute-by-minute updates of the debate here. [liveblog] For more on Tuesday's debate, including an overview of each side's main messages, check back in at www.mercercluster.com in the coming hours.
Campaigning for SGA president and vice-president officially began Wednesday evening with two tickets qualifying to appear on the ballot for next week's campus-wide election. Juniors Stephen Bradshaw and Jordan Locke will vie against each other for the title of student body president. Sophomore Melissa Thompson will serve as Bradshaw's running-mate, and junior Ike Ekeke will run alongside Locke. All four candidates currently hold elected positions on SGA. Bradshaw and Locke released similar campaign platforms this week detailing what they call "feasible ways" to make Mercer a more sustainable campus and to increase SGA's transparency with the student body. Locke called his ticket a "progressive approach to making Mercer a better place than it already is." He said his and Ekeke's first priorities will include expanding Mercer's recycling initiative and reinstating the Bear Bike program that allows students to borrow bikes at a free or reduced rate. "Together, Sen. Ekeke and I have done pretty much everything as far as SGA goes, and we've been involved in a wide range of other leadership activities at Mercer. We love Mercer, and want to see it continue to move forward as an institution," Locke said. Bradshaw said what he thinks sets his ticket apart are the personality and experience he and Thompson can bring to the table, as well as the way they mesh together as candidates. "We've both been involved in campus ministries, and I'm not Greek and Melissa is, so we reflect a good mix and will also get along well. It wasn't a political decision to run together," Bradshaw said. "I also don't think we've had a non-Greek student body president in the past few years." The four candidates will go head-to-head in a debate Tuesday at 8 p.m. in the Bear Rock Cafe at the University Center. Students can cast their vote Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. either in the Connell Student Center or online using SGA's electronic voting system. For more information about the two candidates, or to read their campaign platforms, visit their Facebook pages here and here. WEIGH IN ON THIS STORY: [poll id="5"]
SGA president Trenton White recently announced a new campus-wide recycling initiative that will be in full swing by fall 2011 and could come into effect as early as May. Under the new plan, recycling bins for aluminum, paper and plastic products will be positioned across campus within easy reach of students, White said. The bins will be black in color and feature the Mercer logo as a way for them to fit in with the aesthetic feel of campus as a whole. The units cost several thousand dollars each, but are made to last and will not need to be replaced for at least 10 years, White said. Five bins will be located by the dormitory dumpsters. To prevent contamination –– a problem that has been common in past on-campus recycling efforts –– the units will feature different slots appropriately sized for different recyclables. The bins are designed for outdoor use and can withstand a variety of weather conditions. The plan will also include a public education component meant to increase student awareness about the importance of recycling in their everyday lives, White said. Both SGA and Physical Plant have amended their budgets to support the program. Student interest has made the program a reality. White said he hopes the new recycling plan will help position Mercer as a leading regional institution in the area of environmental sustainability. More high school students are looking at green efforts when applying to colleges, and White said he thinks having a program like this will encourage more students to apply to Mercer. “We want this university to be on the forefront of recycling efforts. Compared to other schools, we haven’t always had the most comprehensive recycling strategies. But we’ve worked with what we had, and now we’re finally moving in the right direction,” White said. White said that what sets the new initiative apart from other previously short-lived recycling programs on campus is that the new initiative includes broad-based support from the university administration, which will help make it more viable long-term by allowing existing university departments and infrastructure to help out in the process. “Virtually everyone from the president to the dean, down to anyone in the administration, is in support of this plan. Many students have been passionate about this issue and led strong efforts in the past, but now we finally have everyone on board,” White said. Katie Martin is the president of the Students for Environmental Action, the organization that has been tasked by SGA this academic year with helping to draft the new initiative. Martin said she’s excited about the prospects of the new recycling plan as a way to make Mercer a more environmentally friendly campus. “We’re creating a lot of trash on campus, so it will be better in the long run for it to go to other facilities to be recycled,” Martin said. SGA brought the plan directly to President Underwood, who agreed to move it forward and figure out the best way to bring recycling to students. A problem that has been faced in the past was trying to find a company to buy the recyclables, especially in the recent struggling economy. National, Mercer's on-campus facility maintenance company, will collect the recyclables and take them to Physical Plant, which has large, separate trash bins for the products. Macon Iron will then come pick up the bins and take their contents to be recycled. Macon Iron does charge a fee, but Mercer will earn some money back from the recyclables. “Thinking long term, you pay to have your garbage taken to the landfill, so even if we’re not making money from recyclables, if we’re not paying more than the tipping fee for the landfill we’re still coming out ahead,” said Dr. Heather Bowman-Cutway, the SEA advisor and Mercer biology professor who will be overseeing the initiative. The program will begin next fall, but Cutway said that as soon as the bins are in place. there is no reason to delay the process. Physical Plant is ready to begin and National understands its duty in the program. Because recycling will not be a mandatory program, students will be required to provide their own dorm room recycling bins––for example, a cardboard box––and then take it outside to the bins to be organized. While the most immediate push is to place the units as soon as possible, Cutway said that another goal is to place recycling bins inside campus buildings. “The other place we want recycling offered is in academic buildings, particularly those which already have a vending machine area. That’s just a natural location to have recycling,” Bowman-Cutway said. While the program will focus mainly on plastic, aluminum and paper, some days will be dedicated to recycling different materials. Last year, cardboard was recycled on Move-In Day and one huge dumpster was entirely filled with cardboard. Faculty and staff have been working together and with the students to make the program work. Russell Vullo of Physical Plant has helped out in the process, Cutway said. “It’s been a long time coming,” Cutway said. “I’m glad we’re finally getting up and running because it’s the right thing to do. Cluster staff writer Carl V. Lewis contributed to this report.
Police have found no evidence for the alleged assault of a student on campus that prompted a University-wide safety alert to be sent out in December. An investigation and video analysis into the event has concluded that the male student who claimed he was hit in the face and robbed by a man in front of Mary Erin Porter hall on Dec. 9 was not speaking accurately to Mercer Police when he made his allegations. [pullquote]“We trust students above all else, and we want them to trust us. If you came in and told us you got robbed, we’re going to go with it until we find otherwise.” -Gary Collins, Chief of Mercer Police[/pullquote] Officer Mike Kondorf with the Mercer Police Department said video surveillance tapes show no record of the incident taking place, and none of the witnesses on the scene at the time recalled seeing any disturbances. The student initially claimed he chased the perpetrator down Montpelier Avenue past Mercer Village around 3:45 p.m., then later changed his story to say he ran through the quad, Kondorf said. The student also offered conflicting accounts as to whether his wallet was forcibly stolen from his pocket or picked up off the ground, as well as whether he was hit in the face or shoved. No visible injuries were sustained, Kondorf said. “Given the time of day that the incident supposedly occurred, the conflicting stories from the victim, the lack of video evidence and the fact that no witnesses on the scene saw anything happening, we’re led to believe that the incident likely did not happen,” Kondorf said. Kondorf said the student’s father contacted Mercer Police shortly after the incident, and that the student did not return to campus after the winter break. Mercer Police Chief Gary Collins said that while the student may have been confused or dishonest about what actually happened, police were correct in sending out a safety alert via e-mail and text messaging based upon the information they had at the time. “We trust students above all else, and we want them to trust us. If you came in and told us you got robbed, we’re going to go with it until we find otherwise,” Collins said. “We can always correct the alerts later, but it’s better to send them out and be wrong than to not send them out at all and risk other students being in danger.” The safety alert is one of two such alerts that have been sent out by Mercer Police this academic year. The other alert was sent out in January after a student was allegedly robbed at gunpoint off Mercer University Drive near the Hilton Garden Inn. Please notify Mercer Police at 301-HELP (4357) whenever you see any people acting suspicious- ly on campus.
Two years ago, Hiromi Onabe was strolling across Mercer’s quad between classes, eating dinner at the Fresh Food Company and studying communications textbooks in her on-campus Garden residence hall. But ever since last Friday, the 24-year-old customer sales trainer has been confined to her downtown Tokyo apartment, pressed to find fresh groceries and unable to make her daily commute to work. Onabe is a former Mercer student and Japanese native who moved back home following graduation in 2009 to accept a job at Bloomberg Financial. She’s also one of the millions of Japanese residents grappling with the ongoing devastation set in motion by the record-breaking earthquake and tsunami that rocked the country’s eastern coast near the city of Sendai last week. Fortunately for Onabe, Tokyo is nearly 300 miles away from the quake’s major epicenter, shielding the city from the more intense flooding, destruction and soaring death tolls plaguing the country’s northern region throughout the course of the past week. Yet despite being almost halfway across the country from the worst of the damage, Onabe said she could still feel the initial quake Friday afternoon from sitting in her desk on the 20th floor of her downtown office building. “The first shake shocked me, and the building was rocking in a really crazy way. I immediately started searching on Google to find out what had happened,” Onabe said. Onabe said life in Tokyo has been strained since the crisis unfolded, with overcrowded metro trains, understocked supermarket shelves and rolling blackouts making daily business next to impossible. “Things are still pretty messy here, and we’ve been told not to leave our homes. In a sense, it’s mass confusion, but I’m still surprised to see people reacting consciously,” Onabe said. Onabe said she’s hopeful her country can recover from what will likely be remembered as the worst natural disaster in its history. In the meantime, however, Onabe said she’ll be busy making plans to fly back to visit Mercer later on this year. “I miss Mercer and Macon and all the friends I made there. I really hope to come back soon after everything gets back to normal here,” Onabe said.