This is an opinion article. Any views expressed belong solely to the author and are not representative of The Cluster, any organizations the author is a member of or the faculty, staff or administration at Mercer University.
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Bear Perspectives is a series of first-person essays written by upperclassmen students at Mercer University about their experiences in college and what they wish they knew as a first-year. Throughout the beginning of the semester, The Cluster will publish a variety of these essays covering various topics for the benefit of the class of 2026.
In her sixth studio album, “Laurel Hell,” Japanese-American singer-songwriter Mitski poses a haunting question: how can one find worthiness in both romantic relationships and modern hustle culture?
After having worked as a student operations intern for Mercer Football since 2017, senior sports marketing and analytics major John-Allen Stone developed expectations for what his senior season would look like. “I was really disappointed that we were not able to play our full, regular season. It kind of threw my life off-balance,” Stone said. Alongside a significantly shortened season, Stone also lamented a cancelled game against Vanderbilt in his native Tennessee. “I grew up going to Vanderbilt games, so that would have been a cool and unique experience,” he said. In the midst of this disappointment, Stone and the rest of Mercer football’s staff had to innovate new methods to safely play football. A day in Stone’s life reveals the depth of these measures. 7:30 A.M. Stone wakes up, beginning his day by bringing breakfast from the Fresh Food Company to any COVID-positive players. After this, he goes into his office to prepare itineraries and other important materials for the team. “My job is anything and everything that makes both the players’ and coaches’ lives easier,” Stone said. 10:00 A.M.-1:00 P.M. Stone briefly sets aside his football duties to attend class, but his world is still very much composed of sports. Classes like sports economics, sports professional selling and sports sponsorship sales occupy the interim. 2:00 P.M. Before Stone and his coworkers enter the facility to do their work, numerous precautions are taken. Coaches, players and student assistants are tested weekly. No one with COVID-19 symptoms is allowed to enter the football complex, and masks are always required. Once these measures have been accounted for, Stone and other student assistants prepare water and coolers for the players. They also distribute prepackaged snacks. As a final pre-practice precaution, Stone ensures that splash guards are properly secured to all of the helmets. Once practice is finished, Stone sanitizes equipment like shoulder pads, helmets and balls. “After practice, it takes a lot of time to clean up because we are sanitizing every single thing that someone has touched,” Stone said. 6:30 P.M. Stone again delivers a meal to COVID-positive players. After that, he continues his operations work. If there are lulls in his responsibilities, he can focus on studying and homework. “I just have to find a way to make it work,” Stone said. “Even if that means staying up until 2:00 in the morning.” Stone said that football was only able to adjust so easily to COVID-19 because of a collective effort from numerous offices on campus. He highlighted Housing and Residence Life, Mercer Dining and Mercer Athletics for keeping a plan in mind throughout this semester. “They’ve been understanding of our situation and our efforts,” Stone said. Collaboration like this ensures that football and other pieces of our normal lives can still exist amidst a pandemic.
When the onset of a pandemic brought the world to a halt, photographers around Mercer’s campus had to reimagine their work. Between moving home and adapting to online classes, they changed their subjects and methods to continue producing content. “There are so many things I used to take photos of that just aren’t happening anymore,” said Mitch Robinson, a junior media studies and Spanish major. As soccer is the only sport that has resumed competition, Robinson’s work as a photographer for Mercer Athletics remains sparse. Beyond the shortage of athletic events, Robinson also said he cannot stand on the sidelines of the soccer games he attends. Because of challenges like these, Robinson said that COVID-19 “forced me to start trying new things and new subjects that aren’t sports.” While still at home, he took advantage of the additional time to learn new techniques and experiment with portraits of his family. “Pushing my creativity was the main thing,” Robinson said. Ashley Conlon, a senior art and Spanish major, said the pandemic has inspired her to be “thinking of new ways to keep doing photography, keep brightening your feed, and keep being safe.” For Conlon, this task involved taking her Great Pyrenese, Henry, to the dog park and photographing the other dogs there. “It’s just a fun little surprise for them,” Conlon said of the dogs’ owners. “And then I got to post some cute puppies on my page for other people to enjoy sweet puppies throughout their day.” Like Robinson, Conlon also moved away from her usual subjects by beginning to do product work instead of portraits. She does have a plan of returning to portraits, though. Conlon endorsed wearing a mask and social distancing in future sessions. She also intends to employ more technology. “I have a really nice lens that zooms all the way in,” Conlon said. For Abby Smith, a junior global health studies major, portrait photography is a social activity as well as an art. “It’s a chance to bond better with some of my friends,” Smith said. Despite COVID-19, she has still been able to take portraits. She does this with a plan very similar to Conlon’s. “I’ll wear my mask, use my macro lens and stand further back,” Smith said. Additionally, she no longer repositions subjects by touching them. With these measures in place, Smith has been able to maintain the style of her pre-COVID-19 work. Even though Smith created photos similar to her previous ones, lockdown still provided her with an opportunity to experiment. She used the free time to try more landscape work. “It gives me the chance to improve other skills, like figuring out different settings on my camera, without ruining someone’s picture,” Smith said. Like countless other things, photography has had to adapt to a COVID-19 world. In adapting their craft, photographers around Mercer demonstrated creativity and growth.
In the early days of quarantine, Chloe Ting became a social media juggernaut. She skyrocketed to acclaim with her Two Week Shred Challenge, a fitness program promising ab development and weight loss in two weeks. Fourteen million YouTube subscribers flocked to Ting. TikTok’s #chloetingchallenge, which is composed of a host of sweaty post-workout videos, has been viewed upwards of 450 million times. The culture that developed around Ting’s workouts parallels the larger home fitness movement that began in March. Alongside at least 14 million others, Mercer students joined the home fitness craze that Ting represents. Whether trying to fend off boredom or to maintain a small piece of normalcy, fitness became a new priority. In quarantine’s abundance of free time, senior global health and global development major Sally Deitchman committed to Ting’s Two Week Shred Challenge. For Deitchman, this meant working out with greater regularity than in a typical school year. “Following a regimen is what makes you have those noticeable results,” she said. Deitchman praised the challenge. “It’s really approachable,” she said. “You only needed an exercise mat and access to YouTube.” Although she enjoyed the challenge, Deitchman did have a warning. “Just because it worked for me doesn’t mean it will work for everybody,” she said. Instead, she urged fitness beginners to prioritize regularity and a sufficient diet to support their activity. Sophomore business major Emma Duncan and junior neuroscience major Theresia Jahja similarly worked out with greater consistency because of quarantine. As she added daily runs to her routine, Duncan transitioned from her “no pain, no gain” mindset to focus on “listening to your body and understanding you have to be a little nicer to it.” “For me,” Duncan said, “if I were only looking at the scale, I wouldn’t have any results. I was feeling so good, though.” Jahja adjusted her routine to include more frequent runs and high intensity interval training. For both Duncan and Jahja, fitness has become a way to feel good. “Exercise is a great stress reliever for me,” Jahja said. “It makes me feel better and more focused on academics.” Alexis Quarcoo, a senior marketing major, maintained a quarantine fitness routine that was comparable to her usual one. Quarcoo took advantage of existing online workout programs alongside the virtual content Orangetheory Fitness released. She said transitioning to online workouts was not entirely negative. “It’s helped me learn to be more adaptable and handle change more,” Quarcoo said. Because she continued her pre-COVID routine digitally, Quarcoo felt that she had very similar results. To get the best results, she encouraged beginners to “know their body type and what their body responds best to.” In the uncertainty of COVID, the Two Week Shred Challenge and similar fitness regimens restored a sense of normalcy by helping people maintain a schedule and boost their energy. Being part of a massive online movement towards home fitness was an unexpected bonus. We can thank Chloe Ting for that.
This is an opinion article. Any views expressed belong solely to the author and are not representative of The Cluster. As Mercer students, we are united by a similar experience. After spending our junior and senior years of high school combing through college websites and going on campus tours, we all committed to Mercer University. Our decisions to matriculate here primarily represent a transaction: 120 hours of classes in exchange for a degree. However, we are not solely bound together by the pursuit of a degree. We chose Mercer because we believed in the experience it provides. My freshman year evidenced that the Mercer experience is not merely an abstract concept or moralizing lingo. My choice to attend Mercer was validated each time I walked to the University Center with a new friend or met with a professor in office hours. The abundance of faculty members and students who actively work to make Mercer a good place helped me to ease into its community. As I made friendships in my residence hall, sorority and classes, I felt lighter and happier than I had ever been in my life. However, in a matter of days after classes were moved online in March due to COVID-19, my motivation lagged and my anxiety heightened. COVID-19 upended so many things, but the constant excitement of my freshman year was one of them. Mental health is just one aspect of our lives that COVID-19 affected. We lost the Mercer experience when we went online, and Mercer students and the Macon community alike suffered economically by our sudden mass exodus from campus. That’s why Mercer is right to offer in-person classes this fall. A return to normal college life will benefit students’ mental health COVID-19 is far more complex and harmful than its effects on my own life, but this narrative does draw attention to a larger concern regarding student mental health. According to a survey conducted by college student mental health awareness organization Active Minds, 80% of college students reported that COVID-19 negatively affected their mental health. Of those responders, 20% said their mental health had significantly worsened. These statistics reflect a collective lamentation of many things—discarded schedules, cancelled events, financial instability, political unrest and incompetence. Although maintenance of a regular routine is not a matter of life or death, that element of our pre-COVID lives bolsters our mental health. Furthermore, transitioning back to being on campus makes mental health support more accessible. Out-of-state students may have suffered throughout lockdown because of their inability to access Counseling and Psychological Services’ virtual appointments, a telehealth service that is strictly available to students who are in Georgia. However, returning to campus will grant them access to this alongside CAPS’s list of COVID-19 resources. Students can also reconnect with their friends and support networks through low-risk activities like outdoor lunches and socially distanced walks. Although these examples may seem inconsequential in comparison to the threat of the coronavirus, the notion that mental health matters as much as physical health demands that we acknowledge how our pending return to campus can alleviate some pandemic-related stressors. Returning to Macon will support students and the local community economically Despite these benefits, many students have urged the administration to consider the effect that our return will have on the Macon community. While Macon has suffered because of COVID, that suffering could have been exacerbated in one way by our absence. The economies of many college towns rely on students. We cannot assume that Macon is the exception. This is significant, especially because the economy is not the abstract concept that many believe it is. Although economies are the amount of profit generated in a specified area, this embodies so much more. It determines the amount of jobs that are available and fuels the operation of our favorite local spots, like Margaritas and Francar’s. Our support provides the Macon economy with a small cushion amidst this national downturn, ensuring that a larger amount of jobs can exist and that these businesses can still thrive. Students’ return to campus will maintain the Macon we know and love. Not to mention, Mercer’s plan to return to in-person instruction and on-campus housing in August also means that students can avoid the financial burdens of being displaced from on-campus jobs. Offering an online option for some is still a good idea My belief that Mercer’s reopening provides benefits to both students and the Macon community is not intended to discount the fight for an online option. I echo the questions that countless students have posed about what will happen if classmates or professors get sick. I believe that it is a misstep on the part of the administration to not offer an online option for both immunocompromised students and those who simply do not feel safe enough to return. As the student body has broadly voiced, the University’s plan is flawed. For it to work, students must act with responsibility, adhering to guidelines that already alter the college experience I have praised. The Mercer experience is worth preserving Regardless, I believe that this modified form of the college experience can be upheld by healthy, cautious students. The reality is that the college experience is a driving force in our lives, the reason we chose to pay a private school’s tuition as opposed to a state school’s. Returning to this experience, especially if the administration does announce an online option for some, does not strictly impose a risk. Students experience greater structure and stability, both in academics and their mental health, when they attend school in-person. The Macon community benefits from the money we spend at grocery stores and restaurants when we live on and around campus. Although our return to campus demands a great deal of conscientiousness, I believe that Mercerians are prepared to make this transition. Savannah Smith is a rising sophomore majoring in English and economics.