Mercer University’s Macon campus received its first shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to a Monday night email from the Provost’s office. The university received the Pfizer vaccine, and appointments can be made by Mercer students and employees as well as members of the Macon community who are at least 16 years old. Appointments are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. Vaccinations will be administered in Penfield Hall Tuesday and Wednesday. “We encourage you to get vaccinated and continue to wear your mask, as provided in our policy, to protect yourself and others,” the email from the Provost’s office said. Mercer will likely continue to administer vaccines as they receive shipments. According to Medical Director for the Student Health Center Dr. Lynn Denny, Mercer has approval from the Georgia Department of Public Health to administer both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine. Mercer was approved by the Georgia Department of Public Health to distribute vaccinations Feb. 25, according to an email from President Bill Underwood sent out that day. The university remained in a state of uncertainty as to when it would offer the vaccine for over a month while awaiting its vaccine order. The Atlanta campus received its shipment of vaccines March 25, according to an email from the Provost. Before scheduling an appointment, be sure that you are able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Impacting factors include but are not limited to recently testing positive for COVID-19, allergies to any of the ingredients or having an autoimmune disorder. If you are unsure, check with your doctor before scheduling your appointment. 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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All residents of Georgia age 16 and over are eligible starting today to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, according to an announcement from Georgia Governor Brian Kemp.The announcement took place on Tuesday in Atlanta at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.The order comes after President Joe Biden ensured all Americans will be eligible for vaccination by May 1 at the latest. Georgia is the sixth state in the U.S. to allow all residents to be vaccinated, according to the New York Times.Currently, people over 18 are authorized to receive any vaccine. People between the ages of 16 and 18 can only receive the Pfizer vaccine. Where does Georgia stand?According to Amber Schmidtke, a former Mercer School of Medicine professor who releases a daily digest of COVID-19 updates and health information, about 75% of Georgians will need to be fully vaccinated in order to approach herd immunity. That’s almost the entire population of Georgia over 16 years old.“We could approach herd immunity if every adult in Georgia took the vaccine,” she said. “But that is unlikely at the moment considering issues of barriers to access and vaccine hesitancy. We will need a vaccine for kids in order to get to herd immunity in Georgia.”Schmidtke’s most recent daily digest on March 22 says that Georgia still places last in vaccine distribution. About 19% of the state’s total population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, and only 11% of the total population is fully vaccinated. When is Mercer going to start giving out the vaccine?Mercer was approved by the Georgia Department of Public Health to distribute vaccinations Feb. 25, according to an email from President Bill Underwood sent out that day.According to an email from the provost’s office, Mercer has yet to receive their order of vaccinations.“We hope our order arrives this week, and we will keep you informed on how to schedule vaccine appointments on the Macon and Atlanta campuses,” the email reads.The Atlanta campus received their shipment of vaccines Thursday, according to an email from the Provost. Appointments are made on a first-come, first-served basis, and vaccines will be administered in Sheffield Gym on the Atlanta campus.Vaccines are available at no cost, even if the patient does not have health insurance.Mercer has run mandatory surveillance testing throughout the spring semester, and positive cases have remained consistently low. According to the last COVID-19 testing update, out of 1,223 administered tests, there were just five positive results and only two of those were on the Macon campus.“A critical component of the University’s comprehensive plan to detect and mitigate the spread of the coronavirus is randomized surveillance testing,” Underwood said in the Feb. 25 email. “I appreciate everyone’s cooperation with our surveillance testing. Your participation makes a difference in keeping our campuses and centers safe and healthy.”The Cluster will continue to post updates from the university as they become available. How do I schedule a vaccine?Mercer Medicine is not scheduling vaccines at the time.To schedule a vaccine appointment, visit the Georgia Department of Public Health website to view a list of locations currently offering vaccines. Among those locations are Navicent Health, Kroger, Walgreens and Sam’s Club.Drive-thru appointments can be made with Navicent Health. The process involves signing up for a specific time, driving to the location, having the vaccine administered and waiting for 15 minutes for an observation period. The patient then returns three to four weeks later to receive their second dose in the same fashion.Before scheduling an appointment, be sure that you are able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Impacting factors include but are not limited to recently testing positive for COVID-19, allergies to any of the ingredients or having an autoimmune disorder. If you are unsure, check with your doctor before scheduling your appointment.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’s Student Government Association will host a debate for student body presidential candidates. The debate will be held March 24 in the Connell Student Center at Bear Necessities at 7 p.m. A virtual option is also available via Zoom. Current SGA President Savannah Lackey said that a debate hasn’t been held in three years. “There was no debate my freshman year — there was only one candidate on the ticket — and then last year there was (the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic), and so we actually did not get to have a presidential debate between me and the other candidates I ran against,” Lackey said. The candidates for SGA president this year are current Vice President Ashton Bearden and Sophomore Class President Rylan Allen. Both candidates have been involved with SGA for two years. Their running mates are SGA Senator Caleb Mills and SGA Senator Natalie Yaeger, respectively. Yaeger is also the Lead Lifestyle & Opinion Writer for The Cluster. “We think it's really important for the student body to hear why people are running, what they’re passionate about and their stance on different things so that the students can make the best, informed decisions for themselves,” Lackey said. “Mercer is a great school, but there is always more to improve.” This is the first year that The Cluster will be involved with the debate, which in years past has been moderated by the SGA Election Marshal, who oversees candidates and their campaigns. Managing Editor Mary Helene Hall will deliver questions and talking points to the candidates. Lackey said that SGA has discussed involving The Cluster in the past, but it came to fruition this year in order to have impartial discourse among the candidates. “We think it’s important to have the most unbiased debate,” Lackey said. Students can submit their questions for candidates using a form distributed to students via Mercer email. In previous elections, about 40-60% of Mercer students participate in the student government elections, and Lackey is hoping the debate will improve participation. “People have been clearly active in making sure their opinion is heard,” Lackey said. “I would love it if students would come out and vote and also hear what their candidates have to say because I think it really matters to vote for someone who cares about the same things you care about.” Presidential elections will be held March 29 - 30. Students can vote through their MyMercer accounts. “I think that the students have a really hard choice ahead of them for who they vote for (...) because all the candidates are so wonderful,” Lackey said. “I honestly don’t think the scales are tipping one way or the other at this point. I think it’s pretty even, but that’s because the candidates are that good.”
[video credit="Hailey Christian" align="right"][/video]One of Mercer’s football buses caught fire outside of a Golden Corral in Columbia, South Carolina, Friday.The team was headed to Lexington, Virginia, for their game against the Virginia Military Institute.Joey Carpenter, a student at Mercer and a football team manager, said everyone was inside eating lunch when a customer ran in to tell them that the bus had caught fire.“A lot of the stuff inside either had smoke damage or was covered in glass,” Carpenter said. “We were originally told that nothing inside would be salvageable. Luckily, they let us go through it, and the majority of it was fine.”Carpenter said that the staff and team’s possessions that were damaged will be reimbursed. “Our boss went and bought us all new clothes and whatnot,” she said. “As for electronics and everything, that’ll be next week.”Mercer Sports Information Director Travis Rae told 13WMAZ that no coaches, staff or players were on the bus during the accident, and no one was hurt.The cause of the fire is still unknown. “All the online articles say they don’t know,” Carpenter said. “We’ve heard a billion different reasons, so I’m not sure which one is correct.”The team was still able to attend their Saturday game against VMI. The Bears lost 14-41.The Cluster will publish updates when more information becomes available.
Rachel Cargle, a public academic, writer and lecturer, will be delivering a talk on the way race impacts everyday life as the first program of Mercer’s Women’s History Month celebration. The keynote address, “For Your Consideration,” will be hosted by several programs in the community, including the department of Women’s and Gender Studies (WGS), Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives and Wesleyan College. Cargle’s website describes this talk as “eye-opening” as it discusses the intersectionality of race in people’s everyday lives in the U.S. “By both teaching often untaught history as well as fleshing out the modern manifestations of what we often think of as ‘left in the past,’ this lecture will ignite critical conversation among audiences,” the website reads. Chair of the Women’s and Gender Studies program Virginia Young said a student on the WGS executive committee, Cam Wade, suggested Cargle as the speaker for the program. “After researching Cargle and looking into some of her social media posts, I was drawn to her anti-racism work, especially how she has called out injustices in the realm of white feminism,” Young said to The Cluster in an email. According to Cargle, “white feminism” is a version of feminism that focuses exclusively on the experiences of white women, ignoring other, more marginalized identities that intersect with womanhood. Intersectionality, conversely, calls for acknowledging that people can be marginalized on more than one level — for example, not just on the basis of gender but also the basis of race. Ansley Booker, Mercer’s director of diversity and inclusion initiatives, said that she believes this event will be a great opportunity for everyone, not just women, to celebrate the month. “We're celebrating so much,” Booker said. “We're encouraging study, observance and celebration of the vital role of women in American history.” Booker said she expects Cargle’s lecture to have a high turnout, not just because of Cargle’s address, but also due to the format of the event. “We've seen greater turnout with our speakers — they're on a higher caliber — when we offer the Zoom format,” she said. “Then we can share it with the community and the students as well.” The celebration will take place March 2 at 7 p.m., and attendees must register to receive the Zoom link. Cargle’s address is not the only event taking place this month in honor of Women’s History Month. Several organizations have events in store, Booker said. QuadWorks is hosting an International Women’s Day event March 8 from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. in the Connell Student Center. Among the planned events, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives is partnering with Macon Periods Easier, a volunteer group that focuses on period poverty in the Macon-Bibb County area, by asking members of the Mercer community to donate period products. Student organizations will compete in a challenge lasting the entire month to donate the most period products. The Mercer community will be hosting several other events in celebration of Women’s History Month.
Mercer Medicine will begin distributing COVID-19 vaccines in Macon, likely in the next few weeks, according to a campus-wide email from university President Bill Underwood Thursday. The Georgia Department of Public Health approved the university to distribute the vaccine once sufficient doses are available. “Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic has been a marathon for all of us, and we are not at the finish line yet, although it appears to be in sight,” Underwood said in the email. Mercer was approved for both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, Medical Director for the Student Health Center Dr. Lynn Denny told The Cluster in an email. “We are grateful to have been approved as a vaccine site, but the lack of vaccine availability has been frustrating,” Denny said. Students will be notified with details on how to schedule their vaccinations once distribution has begun. The Cluster will publish updates when more information becomes available.
In January 2020, Mercer Law School graduate L. Lin Wood spoke to a group of law students as a “Legal Legend.” One year later, he was banned from Twitter after spreading several baseless conspiracy theories and inciting violence. Wood, who received both his bachelor’s and law degrees from Mercer, is a conservative lawyer and ally of former President Donald Trump. He has garnered a large social media following, particularly over the last year. Mercer’s Walter F. George School of Law named a courtroom after him when he pledged $1 million over a 10-year period in 2016. Now, some students and faculty are advocating for his name to be removed due to his controversial internet presence. Wood’s posts have included calling for the execution of former Vice President Mike Pence — although Wood later said this was “rhetorical hyperbole” — and claiming without evidence that an Apple software update would “shut off the emergency broadcast system” to prevent Trump from communicating with the American people. He also believes that the election results confirming Joe Biden as president are false and that Trump rightfully won the election. No evidence has been provided to support those claims. Following his ban on Twitter as a result of promoting violence and then evading his suspension by posting on a different account, he posted frequently on the social media platform and far-right haven Parler during its final days. “Trust Trump. But in the final analysis, you must trust the Lord. When some see chaos, you will see a plan,” Wood said in a Jan. 10 post on Parler. “Trump was re-elected in a landslide victory. He will serve 4 more years. But he has a sworn duty to clean up the mess created over years by third party bad actors, Communists & traitors. He will.” But Wood has not always been this incendiary, according to Mercer Law School Dean Cathy Cox. At the beginning of Trump’s presidential term (more specifically, at the time of Wood’s donation to the law school), she said Wood still supported Trump, but not in the same way he does today. After the law school received pressure from students to address Wood’s controversies, Cox hosted a Zoom call Jan. 22 to explain the situation. Unbeknownst to the participants of the call, however, Wood was listening in. The dean spent several minutes discussing her history with Wood and thoughts regarding his behavior. She mentioned that they have had a friendly relationship for many years despite their differing political beliefs. After Cox, a Democrat, was elected Georgia Secretary of State, she said Wood congratulated her on the new position. He has even represented her in a case. “I have observed noticeable changes in his conduct and behavior over the last year that concern me for his wellness. What I have observed is not what I believe to be characteristic of him,” Cox said in the call. “Since the summer, his Twitter account just went from the super-charged Trump supporter to the angry Trump supporter to the insane to the violent. I have never seen things like that come out of him before.” Cox also said that Wood had a strained relationship with his family during her explanation. After hearing this claim, he responded to her in the call. “I challenge you because you are not telling the truth,” he said. “You have slandered me in this meeting. I’m ashamed that you would do that behind my back in front of people who are my colleagues. I think you and Mercer University needs to stop and think twice about what you are doing because I think you are jeopardizing the integrity of your school and the integrity of our profession." In the wake of the “heated” call, Wood took to Telegram, a social media platform that many former members of Parler now use, to rebuke the school and the law students who were on the Zoom call. “These kids do not respect America and freedom,” Wood wrote. “They do not respect their elders. They have been brainwashed to accept the media propaganda. They do not think for themselves. They do not do their own research. If they had, they would know that the election was a fraud. They would know that freedom is vastly superior in every way to tyranny.” Katherine Twomey, a first-year law student, attended the call to gain more information about Wood and his relationship with Mercer. She told The Cluster that she is uncomfortable with his statements on social media and the way he presented himself online. “We're already being trained to a high standard of professionalism, and I think what concerns me the most about Mr. Wood’s speech on the call is how he kept defending some of his more incendiary social media posts as ‘rhetorical hyperbole,’” Twomey said. “And that just didn't exactly sit right with me.” Twomey said that she felt that Wood’s characterization of Mercer Law students in his Telegram post was unfair. “I think we're getting a great education,” she said. “People that I've been around and interacted with are very inquisitive. I don't think that questioning the actions of a colleague, even to his words, if that sounds like disrespecting your elders or what have you, is necessarily negative. I mean, I think we're being trained to be inquisitive professionals. And I think that that's what happened on the call.” Since Wood’s Telegram post about the Zoom call, his supporters have flocked to Mercer’s social media posts — all of which have been unrelated to Wood — in droves to defend him against the potential removal of his courtroom dedication. “I stand with Lin Wood. I have seen the evidence that others have provided regarded (sic) the election,” one comment reads on a post about the debate team. “I've seen numerous facts and know from a Christian standpoint we are under attack.” Cox said in the Zoom call that there are currently discussions underway about revoking Wood’s courtroom dedication, but that the decision will ultimately be in the hands of Mercer President Bill Underwood and the board of trustees. The university, however, has made no move in support of or against the law school alumnus, and it is not currently clear what Lin Wood’s legacy at Mercer will be. “We have heard from people expressing a range of opinions on Lin Wood’s donor recognition at the law school, but no action has been taken relative to that recognition,” the university said in a statement to The Cluster. “We have nothing further to say about the matter at this time.” Wood has expressed frustration towards his alma mater and told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he hasn’t ruled out suing Mercer. “Maybe Cathy Cox will have another Zoom meeting and fall on her sword and admit what she did was wrong and talk about what a great career I have had, including through the year 2020 and into 2021,” Wood told the newspaper. “So there are a lot of ways to resolve it, but I can’t resolve it until they tell me what they want to do.” Regardless of the outcome, Mercer Law students have been left to consider their school’s alumnus and how he has used his platform as a Mercer Law graduate. “Words matter, and the way we use words matters,” Twomey said. “I think it's our responsibility as professionals and in our personal lives to make sure that the way that we're using our words and the audiences to which we're directing them — those words are intentional.”
The Georgia Gamma chapter of Phi Delta Theta at Mercer University has been suspended from campus due to alcohol-related Student Code of Conduct violations from the fall 2020 semester, according to Carrie Ingoldsby, advisor of Mercer’s Interfraternity Council.The chapter violated two standards in the code: the distribution of alcohol to students under the age of 21 and the consumption or possession of alcohol by students under the age of 21.“We take the health and safety of all students very seriously,” Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs Samantha Murfree said. “Any actions taken are done based on credible information obtained through our investigation process. We have a duty of care to our students and an obligation to hold accountable any group or student who compromises the health and safety of our students.”According to the Mercer University Student Handbook, “student organizational recognition is not a right, and can be evaluated and rescinded by the University at any time for any reason.”Ingoldsby said that Phi Delta Theta’s suspension will be similar to other suspensions that have been doled out to Mercer sororities and fraternities in the past.“The chapter is no longer able to live in the on campus house for the spring semester, and may not hold events or meetings other than what we have specifically outlined in their sanction letter,” Ingoldsby said. “All organizations are subject to the process spelled out in the Code of Conduct.”In order for Phi Delta Theta to return to campus next semester, certain sanctions must be met, Murfree said. In addition to completing those sanctions, the fraternity must submit a request to Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Doug Pearson to be approved for return.“Once sanctions are complete, our goal is for this organization to return to campus and contribute to student engagement in a positive, safe and healthy way,” Murfree said.At this time, Phi Delta Theta is the only Greek-letter organization that is currently suspended from campus. UPDATE: This article was updated Jan. 15 to correct a spelling error in Samantha Murfree's name.
Being a queer student is certainly not easy for everyone, especially at a university in a state where gay marriage was not recognized until the U.S. Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015. A little over 15 years ago, a referendum of 76% of Georgia voters approved keeping gay marriage illegal.Although the state and Mercer communities have greatly adjusted to be more accepting of the LGBTQIA+ community over the last few decades, the threat of non-acceptance or harassment still looms over queer students.Being away from family during college can be a period to allow growth and exploration for LGBTQIA+ students, but these students may still be in search of a support system due to the lack of parental figures at school. That’s where university faculty comes in.English professor Thomas Bullington is gay, and he said when he arrived at Mercer in the spring of 2017, he was not sure how accepting the university’s community was.“Mercer never really felt as though its doors were closed to people like me,” he said. “But at the same time, it was also difficult to figure out where those doors were open or where I was welcome.”Even so, he said that he felt that it was important for his students to know his identity, especially because he felt like he did not have the support he wished he had in college.“When I went to the College of Charleston as an undergrad over in South Carolina, there was practically no queer presence,” he said. “There was no kind of mentorship that I could really gravitate towards.”In an effort to be the mentor he wished he had when he was in college, he keeps his door open to students, LGBTQIA+ or not, when they are in need of help or a listening ear.Bullington noted that, although Mercer may be welcoming now, he knows the campus’s history with LGBTQIA+ students and faculty has been contentious at times, and the university and its community still has a long way to go.“(Some people are) all too happy to wave some rainbow flags and be done with it,” he said. “But when it comes to those actual things that involve actually changing behavior or actually changing what's going on on campus, there seems to be a lot of inertia.”Abigail Dowling, a bisexual history professor at Mercer, said she strives be the “cool aunt,” meaning that she tries to be a non-judgmental listening ear and provide resources to her students in need of some guidance.She has helped students who have little to no familial support, lost their friend group or church community or just want someone to talk to.“I absolutely view it as my directive to be that mentor or to be that resource,” Dowling said.In the classroom, Dowling also makes sure to leave literary and historical discussions open to queer themes. Although a common assumption is that queer people have always been rejected by their cultures, Dowling is skeptical of this claim.“I don’t think people felt uniformly like being gay was bad in the past,” Dowling said. “I would say that’s actually an ahistorical perspective.”Dowling isn’t alone in bringing LGBTQIA+ matters into the classroom.Bullington integrates his identity and queer themes in his lessons. He asks students for their pronouns and does his best to respect their identities, makes his identity known to his students and does not shy away from teaching about LGBTQIA+ topics.“My general rule whenever I come across a queer moment in the texts that I'm teaching is that if it looks gay, that's probably because it is. And I just try to normalize that and show that queer-identifying people are not anything new. We've always been around, even if the language hasn't been there,” Bullington said.Unlike in the humanities, it can be more difficult for STEM professors to indicate their queer identities to their students. Margaret Symington is a math professor who is also gay, and she is married to psychology professor Tanya Sharon. Symington said that neither her sexual orientation nor her partner have ever come up in her classes.“I choose not to say anything, basically, because the class is about (the students), not about me,” she said.Since she does not have a chance to bring it up in her classroom, her advice to queer students is to reach out if they ever need help.“I think we stumble onto mentors and support systems, always,” Symington said.Each of these professors said they have completed Common Ground’s “Rainbow Connection” training. Common Ground is an LGBTQIA+ and ally organization that aims to educate the campus on matters of sexuality, gender, intersectionality and activism. Their program Rainbow Connection is a course that Mercer faculty can enroll in that teaches “issues faced by LGBTQ+ students at Mercer and how to be an ally to Mercer’s LGBTQ+ community,” according to the group’s website.Bullington uses his experiences and training to make sure students in his classes feel supported, and he makes sure his students who come out to friends and family know that they do not need to appease anyone when it comes to their identities.“There’s no need to forgive people who aren't sorry,” he said. “Forgive people when you're ready, perhaps.”Dowling said it is her personal goal to make sure students in her classes feel seen and heard.“I do see that the students are like, ‘queer students on campus are kind of ignored,’” she said. “I just want them to know I see that, and I want to make sure that they don't feel ignored in my spaces.”
When entering Penfield Hall on a Monday night, there are club participants standing several feet apart, hands and feet in position, while dancing with their partners. Although traditional ballroom dance requires the partners to touch, that won’t be happening here. This is the home of the Mercer Ballroom Dance Club, and proceedings look much different this year than they have in the past due to the coronavirus. Last March, when Mercer began announcing COVID-19 safety measures, including moving classes to a virtual format, the club was forced to end their meetings for the remainder of the semester. This fall, they immediately jumped back in.The club began the year with Zoom meetings. “We've been setting all of our meetings up on Zoom,” club president Bethany Newton said. “So we really thought it was important to keep the social aspect of Mercer Ballroom Club in Mercer Ballroom Dance Club. Because to us, mingling with new people was always one of the most important parts.”Meetings were structured to allow for one-on-one socialization so members could still make new friends, Newton said. In the first 20 minutes of each meeting, participants were sent into breakout rooms to introduce themselves to each other. Then, they are brought back into the main room to begin learning their dance moves.Although the club leadership was doing their best to accommodate safety protocols with COVID-19 in mind, Newton admitted it was complicated to carry this out.“It's especially difficult on Zoom because it's hard to see both someone's hands and their feet at the same time on zoom,” Newton said. “It's important to see both hands and feet for ballroom activities.”After a few weeks of meetings, the club cautiously redirected to an in-person format in late September. The shift followed discussions concerning safety protocols between club leadership and multiple university officials. “We are very grateful for the Mercer administration because we've gone and talked to a bunch of different advisors and supervisors to come up with a safety plan that would allow us to meet in person, as long as we're not doing touch dance activities,” Newton said. The safety protocols include wearing masks, providing hand sanitizer, putting tape on the floor so each participant knows where to stand and appointing a safety officer, who is a liaison between the club and campus life, administration and the sports club administration.Mercer also hosts a competitive ballroom dance team, but Newton says for the foreseeable future competitions are canceled. The team typically travels to Georgia Tech for the Helluva Dance Comp, but it is not clear if the competition will proceed yet.Nevertheless, the team is still practicing in the event that they’re able to compete.“If things happen, and we can compete, we want to be ready and prepared if it's possible,” Newton said.At the end of the day, Newton says safety is the most important consideration, and the goals of both the club and team are to have fun and learn to dance. “The purpose of the ballroom club is for fun and for teaching everyone who's willing to come,” she said. “Mercer students, staff and faculty are invited to learn beginners dance steps in anything from waltz to tango to cha-cha to Charleston.”The Mercer Ballroom Dance Club meets weekly each Monday at 8 p.m. in Penfield Hall.
Fourteen people on Mercer’s Macon and Atlanta campuses tested positive for COVID-19 this week, according to the university’s weekly testing summary released Friday. The majority of those people are students on the Atlanta campus, where eight students and one faculty or staff member tested positive. Five students on the Macon campus also tested positive. The 14 positive cases came from a total of 571 tests that were conducted across all campuses, indicating at 2.45% positivity rate. Positivity rates indicate what percentage of the population that was tested received a positive result. Overall, the number of positive cases decreased slightly—by .388 times—while testing also decreased by .939 compared to the previous week.This is the first weekly testing report from the university where the majority of cases were on the Atlanta campus. This report comes following the third week since surveillance testing began on the Mercer undergraduate campus. Since the initiative began, the weekly number of tests completed has hovered around 500 to 600. Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Mercer has documented 259 total positive cases. 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 has tested positive will receive an email notifying them of their risk.Caitlyn Patton contributed reporting.
A Mercer University senior filed a class-action lawsuit against the school on behalf of all students who paid tuition for “in-person, hands-on educational services and experiences” in the spring 2020 semester. The lawsuit demands a tuition refund due to the fact that COVID-19 forced the university to put the remainder of the semester online. The student, Olivier Williams, claims in her lawsuit that failure to refund all or part of spring tuition is a breach of contract between the university and the students. She also says that the same quality of education that is promised to Mercer students was not achieved, according to the lawsuit. When asked to comment on the lawsuit, Mercer Director of Media Relations Kyle Sears told local station 13WMAZ that "the University does not comment on frivolous lawsuits."Full-time undergraduate students paid approximately $37,500 in tuition and $500 in mandatory fees last semester. However, over 90% of students receive financial aid, including scholarships and federal grants, according to the university. The lawsuit claims that up to $5,000,000 is at stake. University instruction transitioned to a fully virtual format March 28 due to the coronavirus pandemic, and most students moved off campus. While Mercer did not refund tuition, partial refunds for housing and dining services were offered to students depending on certain factors, such as where the student lived and when they moved out of their rooms.“We value our Bears and are sensitive to the unique circumstances presented by COVID-19 in the lives of our students and families. Mercer recognizes the financial hardship and other challenges these necessary interruptions have created for our students,” a May 14 email from the Office of the Bursar said. Mercer is not the only university to receive a lawsuit from students during the coronavirus pandemic. As of May 5, class action lawsuits have been filed against at least 26 universities across the U.S., according to NBC News. Among those schools are Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Michigan State, Purdue and the University of Colorado, Boulder.Williams declined to comment Tuesday. The Cluster is awaiting comment from her lawyers.
Mercer University began surveillance testing on the Macon campus for undergraduate students on Sept. 1. The university previously began this testing procedure in graduate and professional programs in Macon and Atlanta on Aug. 25. The surveillance testing initiative aims to gain more information about COVID-19 on Mercer’s campus by randomly testing undergraduate students on the Macon campus. Surveillance testing is one of Mercer’s efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Interim Dean of Graduate Studies Keith E. Howard said. “Mercer has a number of initiatives geared at keeping the campus safe and ensuring that we're able to have a safe and successful semester for students, faculty and staff,” Howard said. “Surveillance testing is just one small initiative part of that overall initiative.”What is surveillance testing?The term “surveillance testing” might cause some anxiety, but it is important to understand what it really means.According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, surveillance testing “includes ongoing systematic activities, including collection, analysis and interpretation of health-related data that are essential to planning, implementing and evaluating public health practice.” In other words, Mercer plans to use this method of testing to monitor the community at large and analyze data relating to the spread of coronavirus. Howard said he thinks it is more accurate to refer to this method as asymptomatic testing. “It’s not surveilling the individual,” Howard said. “It gives us an additional piece of information about how safe the campus is at this moment.”Other schools in Georgia and around the country have also established surveillance testing procedures, including the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech. What if I’m selected?In the event that a student is selected for surveillance testing, they will receive a message sent to their Mercer email address. The email will instruct them on how to proceed with scheduling their test. The surveillance testing procedure is voluntary, so students can decline to participate. Additionally, according to the Provost’s office, students may choose to be tested at any time, for any reason without being selected for surveillance testing. Testing costs are covered by insurance, and students do not pay a co-pay or receive a bill for the test. After the test is conducted, students may continue going to class as normal. Tests typically come back between two to three business days. If the tested student is negative, they will receive an email from Mercer Medicine notifying them of their results. What happens if I’m positive?Positive students will receive a phone call from Mercer Medicine informing them of their results, and they will be instructed of their next steps. A Mercer staff member will also be notified. They will help the positive student make food and housing arrangements, as well as speak to the roommates of the student.At that point, the student will be in an isolation space for 10 days. Immunosuppressed people must remain in isolation for 20 days. Vice Provost Kelly Reffitt said that there are both on and off-campus spaces for isolation.“We have worked hard to make sure that students feel comfortable in isolation. It's not punitive at all. We don't want anybody to feel like they're being punished,” Reffitt said. “We just want to protect you if you're positive and protect the people around you.”In addition to assistance relating to housing and food, students will also be given accommodations for their academics. Faculty have been given training on how to best aid students who are isolating due to coronavirus this semester.“These absences are absolutely excused,” Howard said. “But we also want to provide the opportunity for our students to not get behind. And that's why (faculty) have been very diligent in terms of providing access to the learning materials and access to what's going on within the course.”At the end of the isolation period, Mercer Medicine will evaluate whether the student needs to remain in isolation based on their symptoms. After at least one day without fever and with improvement in respiratory symptoms, students can complete their isolation. Going forwardThe Provost’s office did not set an end date for surveillance testing. Howard did note, however, that Mercer’s campus will continue to be safe if people continue to be mindful of the safety guidelines.“I know time tends to make us a little bit more comfortable,” he said. “When you get more comfortable, you tend to put down your guard, but I'm very hopeful that we will keep it at the forefront of our mind that we are continuing to deal with a pandemic situation, and that we can do these very simple things to keep each other safe.”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 where a student has tested positive will receive an email notifying them of their risk.
Seventeen students and faculty have tested positive for COVID-19 across all campuses, according to Mercer’s weekly testing summary released Friday. The Macon campus makes up 15 of those cases, with 14 students and one faculty member testing positive. This is the first report that has come after Mercer began surveillance testing for undergraduate students on the Macon campus Aug. 1. Students have been emailed at random to be tested for coronavirus in order to catch asymptomatic cases. A total of 567 tests were completed this week, which is roughly a 19.1% increase from the previous report. 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 where a student has tested positive will receive an email notifying them of their risk.
The National Panhellenic Council made the decision to move all organization “bid days” to a virtual format Sept. 9. The judgment affects all four Panhellenic sororities on Mercer’s campus—Alpha Delta Pi, Alpha Gamma Delta, Chi Omega and Phi Mu—which are set to celebrate bid day on Friday. Each of the 26 member organizations voted Tuesday to direct all chapters to transition to a virtual format for all bid days happening in the next 30 days, according to an email from the council. “Our organizations want to continue partnering with colleges and universities to provide guidance that aligns with local/state public health guidelines to help prevent the spread of COVID-19,” NPC said in the email.Mercer’s four Panhellenic sororities were previously set to proceed with both virtual and in-person bid days. In-person bid days, however, were set to take place on off-campus locations in order to allow for adequate social distancing. Panhellenic campus advisor Meredith Keating White said in a statement to The Cluster that Mercer Panhellenic continues to follow local and national guidelines to keep members safe. “The chapters and council are excited to create a new and meaningful experience for new members of the Panhellenic community,” White said. “All council organizations and chapter organized events will be following this directive for 2020 Bid Day.”Interfraternity Council fraternities are planned to proceed with in-person fall recruitment and bid day.
A student organization meet and greet, also referred to as Bear Fair 2.0, organized by Mercer Campus Life occurred in the wake of a fully virtual Bear Fair that occurred Aug. 17. Clubs and student organizations from the Mercer community advertised their groups at Bear Fair 2.0 on Aug. 28 in an effort to gain new members. Booths were sprawled around Cruz Plaza about six feet apart, and masks were required. According to Director of Campus Life and Student Involvement Carrie Ingoldsby, Campus Life surveyed students and student organization representatives about their experiences at the virtual Bear Fair. About 130 individuals responded. Of those respondents, about 75% said they experienced some technical difficulties. The Caribbean Student Association was among the roughly 70 student organizations in attendance at Bear Fair 2.0. Member Tamara Barnard manned the organization’s booth for both the virtual and in-person Bear Fair. “I wish it worked for more people,” Barnard said. “I didn’t really have any trouble, it just took a while to download. If everyone was able to, it would have been a really cool experience.”Although participation was not as high as a traditional Bear Fair, Ingoldsby said that she thinks the virtual Bear Fair was a success.Virtual Bear Fair was also hosted by Campus Life and utilized a virtual platform by Degy Entertainment called Degy World.“We took a little bit of a chance, and we booked a virtual experience with Degy World,” Ingoldsby said. “This was their first really, really large event where a lot of people would be accessing the world at once. So, some lessons learned, of course.”Within the two-and-a-half-hour window, Ingoldsby said that about 550 students attended the virtual Bear Fair. Many students in attendance reported technical issues ranging from Wi-Fi connectivity problems, computers being unable to run the program or being unable to speak to other participants. Despite the issues surrounding Degy World, Ingoldsby said the in-person event was not scheduled in response to the results of virtual Bear Fair.“As much as virtual events are a good way to continue to engage students, we felt like if we could get through a few weeks safely of class and other events, we could offer a face-to-face option as well,” she said. Many of the attendees of Bear Fair 2.0 were students who had trouble accessing Degy World.Lindsey Tatum and Charity Cook, both freshmen, said they could not get the program downloaded on their computers. However, they said they were happier to see the student organizations in person.“It’s definitely easier to see it in person than trying to do it over a computer,” Tatum said.Sophomore Nick Moss said that he would have liked to attend virtual Bear Fair, but he never received a link to access it via his Mercer email. Instead, he watched his friend, freshman Aeryn Cronin, explore the world. “It did not seem as good as (Bear Fair 2.0),” Moss said. “It just seemed clunky.”Moss noted that the in-person event looked successful, and he thought it was organized well with coronavirus in mind.“It looks like it’s a hit with everyone. Lots of people coming out,” he said. “I think it’s good with everything going on that they’re still hosting things where people can get out. Stops people from going other places.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted change in practically every area of student life this fall, and Greek-letter organizations are no exception. Following guidance from the National Panhellenic Conference released Aug. 17, Mercer’s Panhellenic chapters—Alpha Delta Pi, Chi Omega, Alpha Gamma Delta and Phi Mu—will hold each of their three rounds of recruitment via Zoom.“We care so much more about the safety of affiliated sorority women and the potential new members than we do about having an in-person recruitment,” said Mercer Panhellenic Vice President of Judicial Affairs Lauren Cheek. “We will be wholeheartedly complying with National Panhellenic Conference’s guidelines.”Cheek said that Mercer Panhellenic is constantly updating their recruitment politics for the four chapters based on the development of coronavirus.Emily Hartley, Mercer Panhellenic’s vice president of recruitment, said that adjustments have been made to ensure both members and rushees of chapters feel comfortable this semester. “We’ve spent all summer gathering intel from other Panhellenic chapters around the country and really seeing what they’re doing,” Hartley said. “We’ve tried to find other (Panhellenic) chapters that are about the same size and in the same circumstances as Mercer to get a feel for what they’re doing.”One change is that each potential new member will have the opportunity to upload a video introducing themselves to the chapters. Additionally, neither rushees nor members of any Panhellenic chapter will be required to attend in-person events if they are concerned about safety.“We’re trying to keep the most authentic experience as we can while also maintaining social distancing guidelines, Mercer mandates and state mandates,” Hartley said.At press time, 93 students were registered to participate. According to reports from Mercer Campus Life, in fall 2018, there were 142 new members of Panhellenic sororities. In fall 2017, there were 131. Fall Panhellenic recruitment is set to take place Sunday, Sept. 6 through Friday, Sept. 11.
There are 17 new positive cases of coronavirus between Mercer’s Macon, Atlanta and Savannah campuses, according to a weekly testing summary from the university released Friday.Of the 17 cases, 14 are students on the Macon campus, one is a student on the Atlanta campus, one is a student on the Savannah campus and one is a Macon campus faculty member. In total, 272 tests were conducted between Aug. 20-27.The results of those tests yield a 6.25% positivity rate across both campuses. The total number of cases across all campuses since the beginning of the pandemic is now 145 students and faculty. This is the second scheduled testing summary from the university, which said results will be released each week.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 where a student has tested positive will receive an email notifying them of their risk.A previous version of this story reported that 15 of the 17 positive cases were students on the Macon campus, one was a Macon faculty member, and one was a student on the Atlanta campus. This story has been updated with a corrected campus case distribution.
Mercer University’s commencement ceremonies are set to take place for both the Macon and Atlanta campuses starting Aug. 7. According to Senior Vice President for Marketing Communications and Chief of Staff Larry Brumley, there will be about 1,500 total participants in the commencement ceremonies. There are 561 on the Macon campus, 826 in Atlanta and 88 from the law school. Typically, there are between 2,000 - 2,100 attendees out of around 2,600 graduates who are invited. “The experience we’ve had over the last few months is that if we follow these guidelines astutely—if we mask, if we social distance—we can do these things safely,” Brumley said. Commencement for the class of 2020 graduates was originally set to take place in May but was rescheduled to August due to safety concerns during the coronavirus outbreak. “While we are making progress as a state working through this pandemic, it does not appear likely that we will have made sufficient progress by early May for these large gatherings of graduates, family, friends, and teachers to be either wise or perhaps even legally permissible,” said President Bill Underwood in a communication to students on April 14.On Wednesday, Georgia became the fifth state in the U.S. to surpass 200,000 confirmed coronavirus cases. Cases in the state doubled in less than one month. With schools across the state beginning to reopen, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that health experts fear another surge in cases. The graduation ceremonies will have strict guidelines to uphold the safety of everyone in attendance, Brumley said.“There’s not going to be a procession like there normally is. Graduates come to the venue, they go straight to their seat, they can’t get up and wander around. Once you get in your seat, you have to stay there,” he said.Everyone will also be required to wear a mask except when they are getting a photo with President Bill Underwood, and volunteers will be present to enforce social distancing and prevent crowds. Some graduates said they feel that attending commencement is a safety risk during the coronavirus pandemic.Emily Cuarenta, a recent graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in women’s and gender studies, made the decision to not attend commencement. She said that in July, she examined the Georgia Tech COVID-19 Event Risk Assessment Planning Tool and noticed that with 100 people in attendance at an event in Macon, there would be a 99% chance of coronavirus infection.Cuarenta’s decision was influenced by the fact that she was recently diagnosed with an autoimmune disease.“I don't want to find out how COVID-19 will affect my body,” she said. “I've had healthy friends and family experience it and it sounds awful.”Aesha Patel graduated from Mercer with a Bachelor of Science in Biology and said that she also decided against attending graduation. “I was planning on it, but I had to re-evaluate once the number of cases started spiking again,” Patel said. “With Macon-Bibb (being in a red-zone state) and a lot of the outside community not being able to get proper healthcare, having in-person ceremonies is going to bring devastating consequences to the area.”The potential negative impact the commencement ceremonies could have on the Macon area was a primary influence in her decision.“People come from out of town for graduation. Those people are going to go to restaurants, stay in hotels, go out and about in Macon. They could be spreading the virus to the entire community without knowing,” Patel said. Cuarenta shared Patel’s concerns surrounding the security of the community.“I didn't realize how selfish I was being when I was considering attending the ceremony in the first place. It's not just our families and ourselves who we are possibly exposing and risking,” Cuarenta said. “It would be a lot to carry in my conscience to feel responsible for increasing cases in our area.”Brumley noted that the administration is aware that there are students who do not feel comfortable attending the in-person ceremonies, “and that’s fine,” he said.“We honor that, respect that. They don’t have to be there. No one is being forced to participate in this ceremony,” Brumley said. “These graduates have their diplomas. They are fully recognized as graduates of Mercer University.”The Mercer University School of Law is the first to hold its commencement ceremony on Aug. 7 at 1 p.m. in Hawkins Arena.The Macon commencement ceremonies will take place Aug. 8 at 9 a.m for graduates of the School of Business, School of Engineering, College of Education and College of Professional Advancement and 3 p.m. for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, School of Music and College of Health Professions. Both will be held in Hawkins Arena. The Atlanta campus will hold two ceremonies at the Infinite Energy Center in Duluth on Aug. 9. The School of Business, College of Education and College of Professional Advancement’s commencement will be at 10 a.m. and the College of Nursing, College of Pharmacy, College of Health Professions and School of Theology’s will be at 5 p.m.
Bear Fair will be getting a makeover this year due to COVID-19. The event, traditionally hosted in person, introduces new students to Mercer’s student groups including volunteer clubs, Greek-letter organizations, intramurals, religious organizations, honor societies and more. An event to which the entire freshman class and over 100 organizations are invited would not have met Mercer’s new safety protocols due to the coronavirus, so Campus Life had to brainstorm new ways to keep Bear Fair an interactive and engaging event for students. “We can’t do it face-to-face because it’s just too massive an event with people having too much contact, especially in the beginning,” said Director of Campus Life and Student Involvement Carrie Ingoldsby.Campus Life landed on an emerging virtual event platform called Degy World. Degy World, created by Degy Entertainment, provides environments for events including concert stages, auditoriums, classrooms and convention halls, which is what will be used for Bear Fair. “It’s really cool,” said Ingoldsby. “It’s like going to a virtual conference.”Each user will be able to make their own avatar, walk around the event and visit different booths for each participating organization.[video credit="DEGY ENTERTAINMENT" align="left"][/video]“It was just kind of fun to make it different than a Zoom meeting,” Ingoldsby said. “It offered a different and unique way to do Bear Fair that I think will feel more interactive and feel kind of fun.”Organizations will be able to provide Campus Life with photos, presentations and other visual elements for their virtual booths. Each organization will also be allowed to have two representatives hosting their booth. At press time, Ingoldsby said that 106 organizations have already registered for virtual Bear Fair. Ingoldsby said that Mercer is one of the first collegiate institutions to conduct a large-scale event with the new platform. “It’s surprising every day the number of universities that are going virtual or getting hybrid options that are looking into alternatives for their events,” said Degy Entertainment Major Event Operations Manager Natalie Sitter. “We are hopeful that we are providing a great alternative that still gives that human interaction and the ability to speak voice-to-voice to someone and to feel like you are in an actual venue.”Bear Fair will be the first expo hall event hosted in Degy World.“We’ve been in there testing it and making sure that everything is good to go,” Sitter said.A concern that Ingoldsby addressed was making sure new students actually take advantage of Bear Fair despite it going virtual.“That’s the only downfall,” she said. “You’ve got to have it on your computer, but I really don’t think it’s all that difficult, so I’m hoping that does not sway people.”Campus Life will reach out to students soon with information about how to install Degy World on their PC or Mac computers. Ingoldsby said that installation took her less than 10 minutes. “My hope is that the (peer advisors) will help us push (attendance) and really remind them that this is the same event; it just happens to be online, and that it’s a really cool virtual experience,” she said.Bear Fair will take place Monday, Aug. 17 from 6 to 8 p.m.