Editor's Note: This story won a Best of SNO Award Sept. 4, 2020.The fall semester of the 2020-2021 academic year is rapidly approaching, and Mercer University students are preparing to return to campus. Some students’ trips, however, will be a bit longer than others’.Only about 13% of Mercer undergraduates hail from outside of Georgia, according to the school’s website. Not only does this mean their trips to and from Mercer could take several hours by car or plane, but it also means their tuition could be higher than their in-state peers’ due to the benefits of the Georgia Hope Scholarship. For some of these out-of-state students, higher costs and longer travels won’t be their only concerns this fall. Returning to campus in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic has some students on edge. Sophomore Gracie Jack currently lives in Tennessee and said many schools in her state have announced “hybrid” plans, with some classes online and some in-person.“Mercer isn’t doing that, and to be paying $50,000, without the (ability) to have in-state grants such as (Georgia) Hope Scholarship, it’s unfortunate,” she said. “I’ve even heard that (Mercer administration) said if you don’t like it, go to another school.”Jack said that she plans on living in an apartment, but she would feel even more uncomfortable if she were living in a dorm.“If I were having to share communal bathrooms and communal showers, I would feel very unsafe because it is impossible to regulate their cleanliness in between each use,” she said.Like Jack, senior John-Allen Stone lives in Tennessee. He recognizes that Nashville is a hotspot, “as most larger cities have been,” he said. “In some surrounding counties, there is a mask mandate, but I see that as no big deal. Not a problem with me,” Stone said.Stone said he feels comfortable returning to campus with the regulations Mercer has already announced but would not be opposed to more being put in place. He also said he expects more to come soon.“I know that the administration has faced a good deal of criticism from the student body, but I believe the administration's loose details comes from the fact that they are still trying to work out a plan to accommodate at-risk students, professors and other staff members,” he said. “It's naive to think that President (Bill) Underwood, Dean (of Students Doug) Pearson and the rest of the high-ranking administration does not care about every person that steps foot on this campus.”[pullquote speaker="John-Allen Stone" photo="" align="left" background="on" border="all" shadow="off"]It's naive to think that President (Bill) Underwood, Dean (of Students Doug) Pearson and the rest of the high-ranking administration does not care about every person that steps foot on this campus.[/pullquote]North Carolinian and senior Miriam Kennedy, on the other hand, said that Mercer’s current position goes against what the administration says they stand for. “I think the administration’s insistence on having in-person classes goes against the very values we promote as a liberal arts college,” Kennedy said. “Ignoring health and safety concerns puts the community at risk and shows a blatant lack of respect and understanding for the science and data at hand.”On top of Mercer’s stance, Kennedy said that Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s mask mandate ban made her “nervous.” Macon-Bibb County Commissioners defied Kemp’s ban in a 7-2 vote on July 21, requiring face coverings to be worn in all public places. However, the current mask requirement is set to expire Aug. 20 — just two days after Mercer classes resume.Kennedy is not alone with her concerns surrounding the state’s reaction to COVID-19. Georgia’s pandemic response was one of the factors that contributed to former Mercer student Reilly Moncrief’s decision to transfer to a school in her home state of North Carolina.Following Mercer’s transition to virtual learning in March, Moncrief hastily packed her things, put them in a storage facility and made the five-hour trip back to North Carolina. “Travel costs and storage units cost well over $1,000. It doesn’t make any sense for me to bring my stuff all the way back to (North Carolina) when at this point I still planned to go back in August,” she said. Once April came around, Kemp started reopening Georgia, and Moncrief said she believed this was far too early. “This scared me,” she said. “Spiking in Georgia wasn’t expected to rise for a while later and I started questioning how this would impact school in the fall.”She said she was also worried about being stuck in a position where she would have to pay out-of-state tuition at Mercer, just “to be online or to be stuck in a lease.”Moncrief knew at that point she would rather stay close to home than risk moving back to Macon to possibly move back again sooner than she planned. “If COVID hadn’t forced schools to close in-person, I never would have even dreamed of leaving Mercer. But, to be closer to home amidst a shifting world appealed to me more than the comfort of my current college life,” she said. Now enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, just 10 minutes away from her home, she is comfortable in her new situation. “As I’ve seen my fellow Bears posting on social media and calling action for Mercer’s Administration, I am glad that I will now be attending a University that gives me more choices when it comes (to) how I want to take classes,” Moncrief said.
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An informational event advocating for Mercer University to adopt gender-inclusive residence halls was held on the evening of March 12 in the Connell Student Center. The “GIH Pajama Party,” hosted by Mercer’s official URGE, or Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity, chapter was an event for supporters to get to know one another, craft and learn more about what gender-inclusive housing would look like for the community.Gender-inclusive housing allows students to live with anyone they choose regardless of the gender they identify with. Some of the positive effects that the initiative has identified are promoting a welcoming and safe campus environment, retaining students who want to live on campus and improved academic performance. The idea to implement gender-inclusive housing was in response to former Mercer student James Stair’s Bear Day project. Adri Rosario, one of the students involved with the event and Mercer URGE, said she was surprised it was not implemented following his research.“He had two years worth of just plain numbers, like a lot of data. And it was kind of wild to me that Mercer emphasizes doing research that reaches out, and yet he was stifled in his research that would actually get something implemented on campus,” she said.Mercer student Jessica Smith identifies as nonbinary and said that gender-inclusive housing would make them feel more comfortable living on campus.“It would be a lot easier to room with people if there was gender-inclusive housing because then you don’t have to base it around gender. You can room with trans people and not just AFAB (assigned female at birth) people,” they said. Other schools in Georgia, such as Georgia State University, Emory University and Georgia Tech, have adopted gender-inclusive housing. “I think it’s ridiculous that Mercer does not have a gender-inclusive housing program already,” said Mercer student Sarah Moore. “When I told my friends last year I was living in an all-girls dorm, they said their dorms don’t even separate floors by gender.”Rosario emphasized during the presentation that other schools have implemented gender-inclusive housing with success and that “it’s not a revolutionary idea.”“I can’t even imagine what it would be like if I don’t even feel comfortable with how my gender affects the way that I live,” Rosario said. “I think it would actually improve not only people’s home life but also their performance in school, which is the reason we’re all here.”
Classes have been canceled until March 23 to give professors time to transition online, according to an email from President Bill Underwood. After that, all courses will be delivered online. The university will make a decision about whether or not to remain online for the remainder of the semester by April 3. All student services, including residence halls and dining areas, will remain available due to concerns voiced by students and parents.“Many students in our residential community in Macon do not have the option of leaving,” Underwood said. “Some have nowhere to go. Some don’t currently have a home to which they can return.”Prior to the announcement, The Cluster polled 317 students about their plans concerning COVID-19. Almost 65% said they intended to transition to online instruction and about 58% said they would remain on campus. Students who decide to return home have been asked by Underwood to contact the Office of the Dean of Students at (478) 301-2685 to inform the university of their plans. Students in the School of Medicine, College of Pharmacy, College of Nursing and College of Health Professions were directed to their respective deans to learn more about how they will proceed, according to the email.“I am grateful to the many of you who have exercised grace, patience, and understanding as we have worked through the myriad problems associated with reducing the unintended adverse consequences of moving forward with measures designed to address the spread of this new strain of coronavirus,” Underwood said.Mercer has started a 24/7 hotline for students who have any questions or concerns at (478) 301-7425. The number connects students to the university’s School of Medicine physician practice group.Mercer communications can be found on the COVID-19 page on their website. The Cluster will continue to report any developments with the University’s plans.
Mercer administration has introduced a plan in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In an email from President Bill Underwood, it was announced that students have a choice between in-person and online instruction.“Online delivery of coursework for students choosing the latter option will begin on March 23, and faculty will communicate details of how that will work to their students by the end of next week,” Underwood said in the email. Underwood clarified in another announcement that students who decide to choose the online route will receive more information from their course instructors in the next week.Students are required to inform the University of what they plan to do by 5 p.m. on Monday.In a poll conducted by The Cluster, 269 students responded about how they plan to proceed in light of Underwood’s announcement. The majority of students (39%) say they plan to return home and proceed with online classes.Another 34.9% say they intend to remain on campus and continue attending in-person classes, and 26% say they are remaining on campus but opting for online instruction.It was also noted that students have the ability to change their minds if their situations change.“A student who initially decides to continue with in-person classes on campus can move to a virtual format at any time,” Underwood said. “Likewise, a student who initially decides to convert to a virtual format can decide to return to campus as circumstances continue to evolve.”For students who plan to remain on campus, all student services, including residence halls, food service and the Student Health Center, will remain operational.In a March 10 email to the student body from Underwood, he said that the University expects students to “develop symptoms associated with this new strain of coronavirus,” but he is “confident that Mercer is well-positioned to care for these individuals.”Journalism professor Evey Wilson said in an email that there have been brief preparations on the part of faculty.“At our faculty meeting on Tuesday, we spoke about the possibility of going online,” Wilson said. “Professors were urged to start thinking about how to use Zoom and Skype in their classrooms in the off chance we would go online.”All Mercer communications can be found on the COVID-19 page on their website. The Cluster will continue to report any developments with the University’s plans.
Common Ground, Mercer’s LGBTQ+ and ally organization, is currently planning their third annual drag show. The president of the group, McPherson Newell, said he is hopeful for another great year. “Last year was our first year having it on campus, and we had six student performers, variety of years and majors and all that,” he said. “We had a really great turnout. Definitely over 200 people.”Each year, the proceeds are donated to a local LGBTQ+ charity. The HOPE Center, a Macon HIV/AIDS clinic, was the charity of choice last year. The event raised $300, but Newell said they are aiming higher this time with a goal of $500.Tangerine Summers, who has been involved in the drag scene since the late 1970s, was the featured performer last year. This year, the León Sisters, a Georgia drag queen group, will perform. Common Ground has opened a call for Mercer students to serve as volunteers or performers. Newell said that everyone is welcome, especially first-timers. “Even if you don't really know what you're doing, or you're not sure what kind of routine you might want to do, or how you could help as a volunteer, we have a space for you,” he said.Student performers in the show are expected to take the event seriously. Performers are held to strict standards. Newell said student performers in the past, despite being amateurs, “are professionals in the sense of behavior and dedication.”Those interested in performing or volunteering need to fill out a form that can be found on the group’s Facebook page or Bear Blurbs. Applications close on Feb. 29.The show will take place on April 3 at 7 p.m. in the Tattnall Square Center for the Arts. Tickets are $5. Common Ground is Mercer’s LGBTQ+ and ally organization. Meetings are Tuesdays from 6 to 7 p.m. in Knight Hall room 101. Meetings are centered around discussion, education and community support, as well as opportunities for members to share their experiences. For more information, contact Common Ground at email@example.com.
Mary Helene Hall traveled to Iowa with Mercer's special topics course on presidential primaries, communications and the media. She attended the Democratic caucuses Feb. 3.
[video credit="Mary Helene Hall" align="left"][/video]Over winter break, a new vending machine sprung up in Tarver Library.The machine, which is located on the 24-hour floor, is a Pharmabox, and it contains items ranging from over-the-counter medications, sunscreen, batteries and vitamins, as well as sexual health, feminine hygiene, eye care and dental health products. Auxiliary Services is responsible for bringing Pharmabox to Mercer. Associate Vice President for Auxiliary Services Ken Boyer said that he first learned of the product at the National Association of Auxiliary Services Officers in October. “Pharmabox was actually debuting their product to the university markets at that conference,” he said, “and we began conversations mid-to-late October.”Boyer said that the Pharmabox was installed in response to results from a student survey that suggested a need to be able to purchase health products 24/7. The products in Mercer’s machine are part of “a package that was suggested based on surveys that Pharmabox has done with university and college students around the country,” Boyer said.Pharmabox vending machines are located in public locations such as airports and malls across the country, but Mercer is the first university campus with one in the state of Georgia. Since Mercer’s installation, Boyer said that other schools around the state have begun to look into getting their own. “Georgia Tech most recently came and looked at our Pharmabox here at Mercer and is looking at putting one on the west side of their campus,” he said.Many students were surprised when they returned to campus after the break and found the Pharmabox with no explanation until a formal announcement was emailed to students on Jan. 17. For students who are unable to leave campus easily, the Pharmabox’s proximity is a plus.“I thought it was interesting. I thought it was neat. There's a lot of things that think that we'd have to go to Walmart to get or go off-campus, and it's right here,” said Taj Patterson, a sophomore majoring in business management.There are some items in the Pharmabox that were unexpected to some. For instance, a wireless speaker is available for purchase.“The speaker kind of surprises me because it seems like everything else is more of need-based, and a speaker doesn't seem like it's needed, but everything else seems very pretty practical and useful,” Patterson said.Logan Scott, a freshman music and biology major, said she did not expect the presence of the morning-after pill.“I was a little surprised whenever I saw like Plan B and stuff like that in there,” Scott said. “But like, we're on a college campus so, stuff happens. Makes sense.”Many of the products that are available in the Pharmabox can also be purchased at the Provisions on Demand locations on campus. The medication at the PODs come in smaller quantities, though. For example, Tylenol Extra Strength is available at both locations, but the Pharmabox sells 24 caplets for $6.75 and the University Center POD sells four for $2.59.The PODs’ products cater to on-the-go needs, but the Pharmabox offers a wide variety of health and beauty necessities. The University Center POD carries two variations of Advil, whereas the Pharmabox offers eight. Mercer is not profiting from the Pharmabox, Boyer said. Instead, anything that it earns goes straight to Pharmabox. “It's just like you (are) going off-campus to buy your stuff. It's a convenience item,” Boyer said. “I do understand the prices might be a little bit higher, and you're paying for convenience.”Currently, Pharmabox accepts all major credit cards, Apple Pay and Google Pay. Bear Bucks as a form of payment is coming soon.
In high school, Lauren Cheek, a current junior studying biology at Mercer, was a good student who was known for thriving in the classroom. She did her due diligence, got straight A’s and, as a senior, was preparing to apply for college. However, she and her family began to notice some changes.She had been feeling unwell for a few months. She experienced weight loss and fatigue and began to lose motivation to finish her schoolwork. At first, her family mistook it for depression. “I just had no willpower or motivation to do any work,” Cheek said. “I would come home and just sleep. I would go to class and tell myself, ‘Okay, Lauren, if you take notes for the first fifteen minutes, you can just zone out for the rest of it’ because I couldn't get through much more than that.”Her mom also noticed that she began to smell like alcohol, “like nail polish, rubbing alcohol, liquor alcohol,” Cheek said. “A couple of times, she'd be like, have you been painting your nails? And I was like, no. And my mom knows I don't drink.” At that point, her mom took to the web to figure out what was going on. She learned that the alcohol smell could be a symptom of diabetes.She contacted a friend who has a diabetic daughter. After describing her symptoms, Cheek said that her mom’s friend told her to immediately check her out of school and take her to the hospital.Her mom promptly took Cheek to an urgent care clinic, where she was held for over 4 hours for blood tests, then transported via ambulance to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. She said she knew that things were serious when she and her mom pulled up to the hospital, and she got a glimpse of her dad red-faced. “I could tell he just been crying. I'd never seen my dad cry. Seventeen years of my life, I had never seen him cry,” she said. “Regardless of IVs and ambulance and anything, that's what made it hit.”Cheek was diagnosed with diabetes during the fall of 2017, which would ultimately change many aspects of her life.According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30.3 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, which is 9.5% of the U.S. population. Of those people, nearly 24% have gone undiagnosed. There are two primary forms of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2. Cheek has Type 1, which is far less common than Type 2. The CDC reports that only 5% of those with diabetes have Type 1.Currently, there is no cure.When it comes to explaining what diabetes is, Cheek offers a simple anecdote. “My immune system thinks that the cells that produce insulin … were foreign invaders, and so the immune system does its job, and it attacks the cells and kills them,” she said. “But unfortunately, they weren't foreign invaders.”She describes Type 1 as “having a light switch in your DNA that at some point will flip. And you don't know when.” Anyone can be diagnosed with diabetes at any point in their life, and it does not matter if they’re 8 years old or 80 years old.Upon diagnosis, Cheek had to make some serious and immediate changes to her lifestyle. She had to get used to being mindful of what she eats and monitoring her blood sugar. Cheek has a device called a continuous glucose monitor that takes readings of her blood sugar through a patch on her arm, then sends the readings to an app on her phone. She also uses a tubeless insulin pump which is connected via Bluetooth to a device that “looks a little bit like the world's oldest phone or a GPS,” Cheek said.A CGM can be a game-changer for someone who has diabetes. According to WebMD, “it can help detect trends and patterns that give you and your doctor a more complete picture of your diabetes. The data can help you find ways to better manage your condition.” However, Cheek was incredibly lucky to get one so soon after diagnosis.“I got my CGM six months into diagnosis. That's pretty early,” she said. “I know people who have been diabetic for five years and they're still waiting on insurance approval. I got my insulin pump probably about nine months in. I have really good insurance. I was really lucky with the speed that I was able to get it.”Despite the positives of a CGM, it is not a perfect device. Cheek noted that her CGM has failed before, which could be the difference between a safe night of sleep and a fatal accident. “I used to go to sleep, and every single night I would lay there and think, ‘Maybe this is the night that I don't wake up. Maybe this is the night my mom comes in to my room in the morning to wake me up for school. And I'm dead because I just don't know.’ And that was very scary for my parents,” she said.She also had to begin thinking ahead. If anything unexpected happens, she has to be prepared. “I was never a wild child before this, but you lose the ability to be spontaneous,” Cheek said. She recalled an instance where being diabetic held her back from enjoying time with her friends. Cheek was traveling to a friend’s birthday party when she accidentally knocked off her insulin pump. “I… didn't have an extra one. So, I didn't get to eat for the rest of the time,” she said. “I worry that my friends will think I'm, like, ruining the fun. And it's just hard to not be as carefree as I used to.”In terms of Cheek’s day-to-day life, it looks similar to any other person’s life but with more nuances. “You get up, you eat food. But before you actually get to eat any food, you have to do math for it, because for me, every time I eat is algebra. I have an insulin to carb ratio,” Cheek said. Her academics can be an entirely different struggle. Having diabetes means pushing through the day even if she feels sick. “I get to try and pay attention, take quizzes and tests. And it's hard to focus. It's hard to pay attention. It's hard to be a student. It's hard to do work. It's hard all the time,” she said.Something as little as a milkshake, a frequent guilty pleasure that most students partake in, can throw everything off course for her. While studying in the UC for a chemistry test during her freshman year, Cheek drank a milkshake and dosed what she thought was the correct amount of insulin. However, dosing for insulin is a constant guessing game, and her blood sugar lept too high. At that point, she contacted her professor to push the test back because of how sick she felt. Working with professors can be a struggle, especially because Cheek has to be able to check her phone in class to monitor her blood sugar. “It's a continual surprise to see every semester which teachers are going to be the ones who work with me and which ones are the ones who work against me,” she said. “But, you know, my rules trump yours, and that's hard for some teachers.”Luckily for Cheek, she said that she has a solid support system that walks alongside her through all the difficult moments.“I was in the hospital when I was diagnosed for a few days, and it made it easier having my family around, and they were willing to learn everything,” she said. Her CGM phone app allows family and friends to follow her blood sugar. If her blood sugar is abnormal for a while, she said they will often send her a text to make sure everything is okay.“They've supported me. Never pressured me,” she said. “ They always just make sure I know that they're there, if I need them, which is all that I could ever want.”[pullquote speaker="Lauren Cheek" photo="" align="left" background="on" border="all" shadow="on"]It's sleepless nights and working through accommodations and crying on the phone with my mom because I feel terrible. The quote about like, everyone's fighting a battle you don't see? Everyone has something that's going on with them that's behind the scenes that you don't know. And I think that's especially true for Type 1.[/pullquote]Her support system is always there for her if she needs it, but Cheek has smaller battles that she has to fight on her own.Dealing with ignorance surrounding diabetes can be challenging, she said. “People come up to me — strangers, people I've never even seen before — who get up in my personal space and go, ‘what's that weird thing on your leg?’” Cheek said that she is always okay with questions, but some comments or quips can come off as insensitive, especially if they are made without knowing anything about the disease.On the contrary, she said that she tries to make light of her situation as best she can, but the key is knowledge and consent. “I have a friend who, every time she sees me pull out my insulin pump. She goes, ‘Oh, how's your Tamagotchi?’ And I think that's hilarious,” she said. “I just think the difference is when the joke line is, ‘haha diabetes’ is… funny, but laughing with me versus laughing at it.” What Cheek wants people to understand is that Type 1 is so much more than it may appear on the outside, even if she may act like what she’s going through it okay.“It's sleepless nights and working through accommodations and crying on the phone with my mom because I feel terrible,” she said. “The quote about like, everyone's fighting a battle you don't see? Everyone has something that's going on with them that's behind the scenes that you don't know. And I think that's especially true for Type 1.”November is National Diabetes Month, “a time when communities across the country team up to bring attention to diabetes,” says the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. To learn more, visit their webpage for this month or the American Diabetes Association website.
Mercer participated in National Cybersecurity Awareness Month for its third consecutive year in October.NCSAM is hosted by the National Cyber Security Alliance and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and began as “a collaborative effort between government and industry to ensure every American has the resources they need to stay safer and more secure online,” according to the National Cyber Security Alliance’s website. The program is in its 16th year.The NCSAM Champion program represents companies, colleges, universities, schools and school districts, government organizations and nonprofits that wish to officially show their support for the month.Mercer University is among over 1,000 NCSAM Champions this year.The university has been a Champion for several years as a way to share important online safety information with the Mercer community, said April Mills, the director of IT Marketing Communications at Change Management at Mercer.The theme for this year was “Own IT, Secure IT, Protect IT.” After identifying issues that are relevant to the Mercer students and faculty, Mercer IT chose to put a spotlight on learning to secure one’s online identity and privacy. Information distributed to students via email throughout October focused primarily on creating strong passphrases and identifying and social engineering.According to IT, phishing is one of the most prevalent cybersecurity issues on campus. “That is one thing that we try to get out at every opportunity. That's one that we struggle with for sure,” Mills said.Mercer’s IT website defines phishing as, “attempts to trick you into releasing your email, bank, credit card, or other private information to an unidentified individual,” usually via email.“Everybody at Mercer community gets phished,” Brett Walker, director of Help Desk and Field Support Services at Mercer IT, said. “Faculty, staff, students, administrators. It happens to everybody.” When receiving an email, IT advises to check the sender and the content of the email closely, but most importantly, never share personal information. Anyone can be vulnerable to phishing, but Walker said it’s important to remain vigilant. “If it looks like an email that you were expecting to get and you just let your guard down just a little bit, people can click and can give away their credentials to a hacker,” he said.Due to website breaches in the last several years, creating strong passphrases is another topic that IT chose to focus upon this year.When large companies’ websites are breached, emails and passwords can be gathered and used to attempt to log on to other websites. Walker said he has seen cases where accounts have been accessed due to data breaches because the victims use the same password on all of their accounts.However, he said the key to avoiding accounts being stolen is a strong passphrase. “There’s two key things: a strong passphrase, but a different passphrase for everything you do … some long phrase can't be just hacked in a billion years,” he said.Another method to protect accounts that could be acquired through phishing or data breaches is two-factor authentication. This can currently be on Microsoft 365 accounts, which would protect Mercer email accounts.An initiative to require Mercer accounts to enable two-factor authentication is in the works, but “there’ll be pushback,” Walker said, despite the fact that it “protects them, their information, their money, and university information.”“It's a great thing and it’s there to protect students and faculty and staff and information and money. But, you know, people don't like change, and they don't like inconvenience ... I would love to just turn it on. But that won't go well,” Walker saidMercer IT’s job doesn’t stop in October. They constantly update their “Security Alerts” tab on their website, said Denise Rogers, executive director at IT Client Support Services. “That is basically an avenue that we use to communicate to students to let them know about any active phishing attempts and other types of security breaches that may impact them,” she said.As for the future of Mercer’s involvement in NCSAM, Mills said that the streak of participation will go on for many years to come. “We're going to continue to participate each year and do our best to get the information out. And we will always highlight what we think is the most important at the time,” Mills said.
Each student at Mercer is probably familiar with brochures that boast the glorious autumns of Macon. With the red-bricked buildings blending beautifully with the surrounding orange leaves and the happy students meandering campus in their boots and cardigans, it all seems too good to be true… Well, it just may be. Yep. The weather is bouncing between 80 and 40 degrees almost on a daily basis. Macon has completely forgotten our beloved cozy season and has jumped straight from summer to winter. What’s the deal? Did Mother Nature not get the memo that Labor Day has come and gone? Even though the weather may be confused, we Bears are not. We want fall! Don’t you worry, Mercerians. The Cluster has your back with some tips on how to make it feel more like fall until it actually does. Attempt to intimidate a tree. As you stroll to class drenched in sweat and humidity or shivering in the sudden cold, take a moment to stare at some trees, attempting to frighten them into changing the color of their leaves. Be careful, though: if you give them a mean enough look, they might just lose all of them! If that doesn’t work, just bust out the paint. Show those stubborn trees what Mercer spirit really is and purchase some orange paint from your nearest retailer. Consume at least one pumpkin spiced good per day. It’s scientifically proven: a pumpkin a day keeps the summer away. Why else do you think Starbucks started serving this sweet treat so early? Set your clock back early. November 3 is just around the corner, and it cannot come fast enough. Why not jump the gun and start your day a little earlier now? It’s chilly in the mornings, after all, so you’ll have an extra hour of fall temperatures! Tell your phone that you’re in any city north of Macon. Sure, it’s not exactly admirable to tell a lie, but at the very least, it will offer at least a moment of bliss each morning when you check your phone to look at the weather. Of course, that only lasts until you leave your room. Pretend to actually enjoy the warm weather. It’s glaringly obvious that the weather is only acting like this to spite us. If we all go outside throughout the day and dramatically sigh, “Oh, how I wish the temperature would be normal for once!” then maybe, just maybe, the trees will believe us.
With colorful skates, bold personalities and unwavering determination, the Derby Demons are hard at work preparing for their season’s final skirmish at the end of the month.The Derby Demons, founded in April of 2011, consist of both experienced and novice female skaters in the Middle Georgia area. When watching them during practice, it is not difficult to tell that the women have a strong sense of camaraderie and pride for their sport.In roller derby, two 15-skater teams compete against each other in a “bout,” or match, comprised of two 30-minute periods. There are three player positions: jammer, blocker and pivot. The jammer’s goal is to pass the blockers to score points, the blockers attempt to prevent the other team’s jammer from passing the pack and pivots are the only position that can switch from jammer to blocker.The sport experienced a resurgence in the early 2000s, and there are now several hundred teams across the world, according to the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. Roller derby is a largely female-dominated sport, allowing players to defy stereotypes of how women are supposed to act.For Jamie Wall, who also goes by the derby name “Wreck-It-Rae,” breaking down gender norms is one of the things she loves most about being a player.“It is a full-contact sport,” Wall said. “People do get hurt and at no point does anyone look at us less feminine if we want to be feminine. If we don't want to be feminine, we don't have to be feminine. We can be anything that we want to be.”Another aspect Wall enjoys about roller derby is how easy it is to get involved regardless of skill level.“You don't have to be super-uber thin or fit. I mean, we're all fit once we start playing, but all different sizes … make up a fantastic team,” Wall said. “We all bring different skills to the table, so somebody might be really fast, but somebody else might be really strong.”For those who are ready to lace up their skates and join the team, the process of becoming a full team member can be challenging for those who have never skated before; however, according to coach Dawn “Your Worst Nitemare” Grice, the Derby Demons are willing to help out newbies.“We'll walk you through it when you get on skates. Then build you up where you could actually move safely by yourself,” Grice said. Last year, the team also held a boot camp in the spring for women interested in roller derby.On Oct. 26, the team will compete in their final scrimmage of the season at 6th Annual Halloween Mash-Up at Gray-8-Skate. Tickets are $10 for adults, and doors open at 6 p.m. with the first whistle at 7 p.m. As far as spectating goes, an administrator for the Derby Demons, Laurel “Dr. Who’s Yer Momma” Cordell, said this scrimmage is a good entry point for those who are new with roller derby.“The thing about roller derby is that it’s unlike any other sport you'll see ... It's a great place to see a strong group of women working together," Cordell said. “In all honesty, this one is just fun.”To purchase tickets for the Halloween Mash-Up or learn more about the Derby Demons, visit their website or find them on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Crystal’s Call Walk of Honor, a walk fundraising for domestic violence, will be held on the streets of Macon Oct. 5.According to a report gathered by Lt. Mike Kinirey at the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office, there were over 1,600 offenses of domestic violence in 2018. The walk hopes to decrease that number, and is hosted in memory of Crystal Harris, a nursing student who was killed by her ex-boyfriend in an act of domestic violence Oct. 3, 2005. “By having this walk in Crystal’s memory, hopefully it will prevent other victims from a tragic end and give them courage to leave a bad relationship,” Police Col. Aubrey Evins wrote to The Cluster in an email.Teresa Harris, Crystal’s mother, founded the event to raise awareness about the realities of domestic violence in the Macon area. This is the fourth consecutive year of the walk.This year, Lekeshia Henderson with A.I.D.E. Solutions L.L.C. is organizing the event due to Teresa being ill. This is her first year with the event. “It does affect my family,” she said. ”I’ve had a few family members that have been victims of domestic violence and one who lost his life to it, so it’s dear to my heart.”Each year, a different organization is chosen for the event to support, with this year’s being Street to Success, a Macon non-profit that helps youth with “connecting to God and knowing that there are other options outside of crime and violence,” Henderson said. In previous years, nonprofits such as the Crisis Line & Safe House of Central Georgia and the Family Counseling Center of Central Georgia were supported by the walk.Registration begins on-site at 7 a.m., and the event will take place from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m.. The $25 registration fee includes admittance to the event, as well as a t-shirt, tote bag and towel. Donations are also accepted.Preceding the walk from Macon City Hall to Rosa Parks Square, the event will feature a short program with different organizations and community leaders speaking about domestic violence in Macon and beyond. Henderson said there has been a decent turnout in the past, but she has higher hopes for this year and that Mercer students will get involved. “My hope for this year is that I would like to see the community come out in big numbers,” she said. “We never know the actions and the words we say could possibly save someone’s life, if not today, then tomorrow, or next year.”
Over the past year, Mercer’s Office of Access and Accommodations relocated and rolled out changes in their services. The office has moved from the second to the main floor of the Connell Student Center, which is where the student post office used to reside. “Being on the main floor where a lot of students come in, we’ve had a lot of stop-ins, so a lot of students seem to be able to find us,” said Katie Johnson, who works as the Director and ADA/504 Coordinator of the office.She said the new office space offers more area that can be utilized for the services they offer the Mercer community. With pastel-colored walls, paintings and natural light, Johnson said the new space provides a calm environment where students can take tests and work with less distraction and stress. The goal, Johnson said, is to provide an open space for students to “come in and feel comfortable and relaxed before they tackle what they have to do for school.”The office now has three test rooms, with the capacity to host 11 total students for testing. Additionally, there are two offices for both Johnson and Testing Coordinator Andreena Patton, a lobby and a room devoted to creating materials such as braille for students with visual impairments. Johnson said the testing rooms used to be a tight fit because files had to be stored in them, and a staff member also needed to be in the room to monitor testing. Now, there is space for the files to go elsewhere, and Patton’s office has a window that can see into the testing room for proctoring.Evan McKenzie, a student worker for the office, said that the new office allows for fewer distractions while testing. “I think the conditions are a lot nicer. Also, it’s nice that Mrs. Andreena is able to observe … without having to swing the door open,” he said.Additionally, the office has transitioned from paper documentation to an online system. Students are now able to request accommodations, inform faculty of their accommodations, sign forms and more all through a program called Accommodate. This initiative aims to make the path to requesting accommodations more accessible for students and faculty, and it decreases the number of physical files that need to be stored in the office.To learn more about the Office of Access and Accommodations or to begin the process of requesting accommodations, go to access.mercer.edu or visit the office in the Connell Student Center.